Legislators expect legal challenge of map diluting minority, Democratic voices

The Kansas House ratified action of their brethren in the Kansas Senate to complete Wednesday an override of Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of the congressional redistricting map designed by the Republican legislators to undercut viability of Democratic candidates.

The GOP-controlled House cobbled together a 85-37 margin for the two-thirds majority necessary to thwart the governor’s veto of the map known as Ad Astra 2.

The Senate initiated the override process Monday, but fell short of votes. On reconsideration Tuesday, Senate leadership produced a 27-11 margin to deflect Kelly’s objections to a map splitting the 3rd District held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids. It would move Wyandotte County Democrats into the 2nd District and transfer the moderate stronghold of Lawrence from the 2nd District to the 1st District.

The fundamental idea is to weaken Davids sufficiently for a GOP nominee to prevail, but not alter the balance of power in the two nearby districts enough to matter.

“Ad Astra 2 is a good map,” said Rep. Chris Croft, an Overland Park Republican and chair of the House’s redistricting committee.

Initially, the GOP struggled to deliver the minimum 83 votes required by the constitution. There was a “call of the House,” in which the doors were locked and nine absent representatives were summoned to the floor. The missing included six Republicans and three Democrats.

‘Voices don’t matter’

Rep. Tom Burroughs, D-Kansas City, Kansas, said the congressional map placing Wyandotte County north of Interstate 70 into the 2nd District held by Republican U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner shattered a majority minority community.

By one count, the move would deposit half the Hispanic population and one-third of Black residents in Wyandotte County into the agrarian 1st District stretching beyond the Capitol in Topeka, the Flint Hills of central Kansas to the feedlots of Garden City about 380 miles away. The heavily Republican Big First is represented by GOP U.S. Rep. Tracey Mann.

“When you divide communities of color, you take away a voice,” Burroughs said. “The subliminal message is your voices don’t matter. Your very existence and contribution to the community and to the state process don’t matter.”

Burroughs also said it was his hope the judicial branch eventually finds the state’s congressional map unconstitutional.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican candidate for governor in 2022, said he endorsed the Legislature’s override of Kelly. She is running for re-election this year.

“At its heart, the once-per-decade redistricting process is about ensuring every person’s vote counts,” Schmidt said. “The newly enacted congressional boundaries do that, and we are prepared to vigorously defend them against any partisan political lawsuits that long have been threatened.”

Micah Kubic, executive director of ACLU of Kansas, responded to the Legislature’s votes by noting the organization wasn’t without resources to counter the unconstitutional congressional map and make certain fair maps were implemented and voting rights shielded.

“We are considering every tool at our disposal to defend against this grievous attack on the Constitution as well as on the rights of Kansas voters,” he said. “We’ve taken none of our options off the table.”

‘Betrays public trust’

House Democratic Leader Tom Sawyer, a Wichita Democrat, said he was disappointed with the Legislature’s failure to follow a transparent and accountable process in developing the congressional map. During public hearings in 2021, dozens of people testified in support of keeping Wyandotte and Johnson counties together in the 3rd District and for keeping communities of interest together.

“The House voted to override the governor’s veto of the extremely gerrymandered Ad Astra 2 map,” Sawyer said. “The public could not have been more clear. They repeatedly demanded — through email, through phone call and even in-person at town halls — that the redistricting maps be constitutional, just and fair. Ad Astra 2 makes a mockery of the redistricting guidelines and betrays the public trust.”

He also referenced redistricting comments made in September 2020 by then-Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican. Wagle said outcome of 2020 legislative campaigns needed to generate a two-thirds supermajority to thwart Kelly’s likely veto of a congressional map that “takes out Sharice Davids” and leads to election of four GOP congressmen in Kansas.

“I guarantee you we can draw four Republican congressional maps,” Wagle said.

The Legislature also is responsible for crafting new maps for the 125-member House and 40-member Senate as well as boundaries of the 10 Kansas State Board of Education districts.

In 2012, conflict over the maps in the Legislature led to drawing of the boundaries by a three-judge panel in U.S. District Court.

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