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John Celock
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Kansas Redistricting: Lawmakers Still Unsettled Over Maps

Posted: 05/07/2012 6:05 pm Updated: 05/07/2012 6:09 pm

Kansas Redistricting
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback

The war between moderate and conservative Republicans in Kansas is threatening to send the state's redistricting process into a tailspin.

With a Thursday deadline looming to submit the first part of new legislative and congressional maps, state lawmakers appear no closer to agreement. The state already is the last one in the nation to adopt new district lines. Lawmakers were sent back to the drawing board Monday after the Republican-controlled House of Representatives took the unprecedented step last week of rejecting new Senate districts drawn by the Republican-controlled Senate.

"We did something that we have never done," Rep. Bob Grant (D-Frontenac), a member of the redistricting committee, said of the House vote against the Senate districts. "I have never seen the House vote down a Senate map."

The redistricting process comes as moderate and conservative Republicans wage a political war that has engulfed Kansas state government since last year. On one side, moderate Republicans, who control the Senate leadership, have joined Democrats to dictate most Senate actions. On the other, conservative Republicans dominate the House and include Gov. Sam Brownback (R). A faction of conservative Republicans is in the process of challenging moderate Republican senators in the August primary.

The Senate redistricting proposal included districts Grant and House Minority Leader Paul Davis (D-Lawrence) said were seen as favorable to the moderate Republicans in this year's primary. The House will now attempt to draw the Senate lines, a first for the state, they said.

The current redistricting debate is the latest front in the war, said Grant.

"This is not a Democratic/Republican issue, it is a moderate/ultraconservative issue," Grant told HuffPost. "(The conservatives) are trying with the help of Governor Brownback to eliminate the competition in the GOP. They want to do away with the moderate Republican senators. This is a powerplay to get more ultraconservatives into the Legislature, so there is no way of controlling what the ultraconservative governor does."

Brownback's spokeswoman, Sherrine Jones-Sontag, declined to discuss Brownback's involvement in creating district lines or the GOP war. She did say that Brownback wants the Legislature to come up with new maps before the matter gets sent to the courts, which is possible if lawmakers cannot reach an agreement.

Brownback -- who took office in 2011 -- has found parts of his agenda stymied by the moderate Senate, including proposals for judicial selection reform, an overhaul of the state tax code and the abolishing of the state's arts agency.

Moderate and conservative Republicans have also done battle over rewriting state education aid formulas and a bill that could provide stronger state regulation of strip clubs. The two warring factions came together last week on a bill that would strengthen the state's "conscientious clause" for doctors and pharmacists regarding abortion. One moderate House Republican suggested the agreement had to do more with election year politics than anything else.

Kay Curtis, spokesman for Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), said the clock is ticking. If the maps are not completed by Thursday, the deadline to file petitions to get on the August primary ballot will be pushed back 10 days to June 11, she said. Kobach has not addressed the possibility of delaying the August primary.

Among the other issues bogging down redistricting is a proposal to place urban areas of Topeka and Kansas City into the state's 1st Congressional District, which encompasses the entire western -- and very rural -- part of the state. Democrats have accused Republicans of drawing the lines in an attempt to end Democratic voting blocks in parts of the state.

Part of the issue with the congressional lines, according to lawmakers is the state does not have strict laws governing how the draw the lines, preferring non-binding guidelines instead. This includes keeping "communities of interest" together.

"We put the guidelines in place and then no follow them," Grant said. "They are doing whatever the hell they want."

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