Last week, Republican-led committees of the Kansas Legislature announced plans to pack into five days, the 14 town hall meetings offering opportunities for the public to share ideas on redrawing boundaries of the state’s congressional, legislative and state education board districts. Redistricting is required to be completed every 10 years in response to new census population count.
Kansas Democrats weren’t happy with the announced town hall meeting schedule saying inadequate notice was given for the meetings that begin on Mon., Aug. 9, and that 10 of the 14 listening tour sessions are during the meetings were during the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. time frame when many people would be at work. Only meetings in Hays, Dodge City, Chanute and Kansas City were set in the evening hours. In addition, each session was designed to last no more than one hour and 15 minutes.
In 2011, the bipartisan joint House and Senate committees on redistricting spread the same number of town halls in the same cities across July, August, September and October.
Martha Pint, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Kansas, complained the listening tour shouldn’t be conducted prior to the Census Bureau’s release Aug. 16 of detailed population counts necessary to draw new districts, she said. She also complained that the town halls are being held before the redistricting committee adopts “Guidelines and Criteria” for legislative and congressional districts.
While non-binding, the guidelines and criteria gave legislators and other Kansans a method of evaluating and comparing the merits of competing proposals for maps of Kansas House, Kansas Senate, U.S. House and state Board of Education districts.
“Without guidelines,” Pint said, “Kansans’ testimony and information provided to the committees during the hearings will lack essential framework.”
Last October, former Senate President Susan Wagle was caught on tape demonstrating how Republicans might choose to politicize redistricting.
In GOP lawmakers in 2020 and 2021 expressed interest in shifting the four congressional district boundaries in Kansas to drain support for U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, a Democrat serving the 3rd District in Wyandotte and Johnson counties. She won re-election in 2020 by nearly 40,000 votes, which prompted discussion of moving Democrat-heavy areas into the 2nd District held by Republican U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner.
During an interview on MSNBC in June, Davids said the Kansas GOP’s goal of redrawing the 3rd District was insulting to voters because the Republican Party was essentially admitting, “If you can’t beat them, cheat them.”