The sounds of moaning and groaning have been coming from Topeka since late Thursday night, when judges announced the results of the court-decided Kansas redistricting process. Politicians on both sides found the new districts a far departure from what they expected.
"The House map is a mess," said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Democrat.
"You couldn't be more disruptive if you tried," said House Majority Leader Mike O'Neal, a Republican.
Looking at the major maps produced by the courts, there are two real winners and two real losers.
The most obvious winner was Sen. Tim Owens, who headed the Senate redistricting committee. Why was he a winner? Because the judges ultimately chose a slight variation of his map as the new lines for the state's four U.S. House seats.
Owens' map expanded the First District (essentially the western half of the state) expand to include Manhattan. The Third District, based around Wichita, expands a bit to the west to now include Kiowa County (Greensburg). Lawrence is now whole in the Second District. In fact, the only change from Owens' map is that the Fourth District around Kansas City, Kan., will include part of Miami County instead of Leavenworth County.
Incumbents were the most obvious loser. After more than a year of meetings, maps and intraparty arguments, the Kansas House and Senate ultimately punted on their required business of redistricting. So when they failed to produce any maps -- any at all -- the judges felt no need to hold to any sort of political alliance or tradition. Essentially, when the Legislature failed, that gave the judges free reign.
In its ruling, the court said that it had hit a reset button on the political maps of the state House and Senate. They did this, the court said, essentially because the complex issue was handed to the judges to solve in a short amount of time. And like Alexander the Great facing the Gordian knot, they sliced right through it.
About 25 new House districts and four new Senate districts were created by the judges. By one count, 46 House incumbent House members have been placed in districts with each other, including two House districts that have three incumbents grouped together.
The campaign staff of U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins described the map in a memo as making the Second District, which includes Pittsburg, "much more Democratic."
To which we say: So what? Redistricting shouldn't have anything to do with political party or affiliation. Politicians say little when redistricting helps their numbers, but claim the process is "too political" when it doesn't. This redistricting had judges drawing the lines -- in theory, a less politicized process.
With no obvious ties, the judges did not feel beholden to protect anyone or look out for any party or portion of a party. Free of influence, they shook the metaphorical snow globe of state House and Senate seats.
The other loser from the judges' new maps are new filers for political offices. If a person wanted to run for a House or Senate district, then one almost had to wait to make a decision until the districts were decided. Since the new maps didn't come down until late Thursday night, that gave potential candidates roughly three and a half days to decide if they wished to run, complete their paperwork and file in Topeka before Monday at noon. That deadline cannot be extended by state officials. So the effort to fill those 25 new House districts and four new Senate districts will likely be described as a scramble for both parties.
Finally, the residents of Kansas can be considered winners. There is one way to tell if redistricting was good for residents or not: If politicians agree, it's good. If politicians on both sides agree redistricting went well, it probably is good for the people. Likewise and in this particular case, if politicians on both sides agree the new districts are bad, it's probably actually good for the residents of the state.
But these are the costs of failure for the politicians. Kansas was the only state Legislature not to pass new redistricting maps. So it's no surprise that they would have to reap some sort of consequences for their inability to get work done.
When politicians were attempting to make maps, each side claimed the other side's maps were unfair. Perhaps the court-decided maps, by making the playing field seemingly unfair for politicians, were the fairest of them all.
For the Morning Sun