Following a debate that compared Kansas to New York City, the Republican-controlled Kansas House of Representatives on Friday passed a new congressional district map that favors the reelection of the state's entire GOP congressional delegation. The map still needs approval from the state Senate.
Just days before, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) had asked a federal court to take control of the Sunflower State's redistricting process, which has left the state as the only one to not finalize new congressional boundaries. The Legislature has also not passed new lines for the state House and Senate districts. Instead, the mapmaking has been held hostage by the increasingly bitter civil war between moderate and conservative Republicans in the state.
"This map is a protection map for the current incumbents in Congress," said Rep. Mike Slattery (D-Mission) before the House narrowly OK'd the plan 56-54.
The congressional map passed Friday would shift the state's largely rural 1st District from its western Kansas home to include much of northeastern Kansas, including urban areas of Douglas County. Similarly, several other proposed maps would have placed heavily urban and more Democratic areas, including Topeka and parts of Kansas City, in the "Big First," which covers more than half of the state's land mass. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R) represents the 1st District.
The new map maintains the splitting of Lawrence between two congressional districts and also divides up Fort Riley and Fort Leavenworth.
Rep. Lance Kinzer (R-Olathe) defended splitting counties and cities as a way to give multiple votes to a community.
"I don't think anyone in New York City is saying, 'We don't want 20 congressmen,' that we want one voice," Kinzer said.
Twelve members of Congress represent parts of New York City, which has a population nearly three times that of the state of Kansas.
Republicans were not united in support of the GOP-friendly map, with some arguing that pushing an urban area into a rural district did not keep "communities of interest" together. Rep. Anthony Brown (R-Eudora) proposed an alternate map that would keep Lawrence in one district and split very few counties, along with placing two military bases in one district, a change sought by business leaders. The map would split Hutchison, the home of Speaker Mike O'Neal (R), between two districts.
"The only reason to turn down a map like this is to turn away voters," Brown said of his proposal. "This is a good, fair map."
Brown's proposal was able to unite a faction of Republicans -- including several Tea Party-leaning members -- with Democrats, who saw it as a way to potentially elect a Democrat to Congress. The map would make the state's 2nd District, represented by Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R), competitive. But the proposal failed.
Kansas' legislative map-making has been delayed by the ongoing fight between the conservative Republican House and the moderate Republican Senate, with House members trying to draw state Senate maps that favor conservative challengers in the August primary. Kobach, a member of the conservative faction, has asked the courts to take control of the process, noting that the June candidate filing deadline has already been postponed once due to legislative inaction. Court hearings are scheduled for later this month.
Kinzer said the map passed Friday could provide guidance to the court. Federal judges have already drawn New York's congressional lines following legislative failure in Albany.
Kansas Democrats have complained about the conservative Republicans' domination of the process, saying they were not allowed to even debate a state House map.
"We were muzzled," Rep. Annie Kuether (D-Topeka) said. "We were not sitting around in a circle singing 'Kumbaya.'"