Archive for Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Redistricting saga continues in Topeka

February 20, 2002

Topeka It took last-minute amendments and alliances last week to get House and Senate redistricting bills through their home chambers.

The House passed a House redistricting bill Thursday, and a Senate redistricting plan first introduced Wednesday passed the Senate on Thursday.

Gov. Bill Graves said at a press conference Thursday that he thought Kansans weren't following legislative redistricting closely, but that it was understandable. At that time, he said he hadn't even seen the map that came out of the Senate the day before.

And the politics can be confusing.

"I have Democrats and conservatives in the Senate banding together to put it on the moderates," he said. "I have Democrats and moderates in the House banding together to put it on the conservatives."

Graves said he knew something was up Wednesday when scheduled meetings with Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, and Speaker of the House Kent Glasscock, R-Manhattan, were canceled at the last minute

In the Senate

In the Senate on Wednesday, when the redistricting bill backed by the Senate Republican leadership came up, Sen. Stan Clark, R-Oakley, offered an amendment he said would protect rural interests.

The population of the state's urban areas has risen dramatically since 1990, while many rural counties have lost population. As a consequence, redistricting will reduce the number of rural districts and raise the number of urban districts. Minimizing the loss of rural influence in the Legislature has been a factor behind some of the redistricting plans.

Clark said his amendment kept districts as compact as possible, would have no incumbents run against each other, and preserved as much of legislators' present districts as possible.

He could reach anywhere in his current district in an hour and a half, Clark said, but that in the district he would get under the leadership's bill, it would take two hours to reach some places.

He told the Senate that his district in northwest Kansas had 57,000 people, while John Vratil's, R-Leawood, district had 110,000 people. However, Clark emphasized that 3,000 more people voted in his district voted than voted in Vratil's district.

"Rural Kansas is watching the vote," he said. "This bill will be the defining vote on where you stand on rural Kansas."

His amendment failed, but a new amendment offered by Sen. Ed Pugh, R-Wamego, passed 21-19. All of the Senate's 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans voted for the amendment.

Pugh said his amendment gradually moved district lines east as the population changes require, but tried to keep districts close to where they are now, and to keep them compact.

Like the Senate leadership's bill, the amendment put Janis Lee, D-Kensington, in a district with a Republican, but instead of pitting her against Clark, it put her in with Larry Salmans, R-Hanston.

Hensley said the amendment was an improvement over the leadership's map, which put Lee against Clark but with only 22 percent of her old district. Pugh's map put her in with Salmans, but with 40 percent of her old district. "This at least gives her a fighting chance if she chooses to run," Hensley said.

It took 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats to agree that redistricting wouldn't be a purely partisan process, Hensley said. "There were open-minded Republicans."

Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, who voted for the Pugh amendment, said, "It's the fairest map we can pass. It was really bipartisan." He said he would have liked to preserve one more rural seat, but that it was hard to fight the population figures.

Pugh said the vote wasn't a rural victory. "I wouldn't call this a victory for anybody," he said. "Everybody's going to leave here tomorrow a little bit unhappy."

When the Senate passed the amended bill the next day on a 21-19 vote, Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson, was more than a little unhappy. He told the senators the Pugh map was a poor example of legislation, a map drawn in secret overnight without public input. It was his second major defeat this session. The first was the failure of the rescission bill to cut state spending in the current fiscal year.

Two Senate Republicans changed their votes from Wednesday to Thursday. Senate Majority Leader Lana Oleen, R-Manhattan, voted for the Pugh amendment Wednesday but against the amended bill on Thursday. But her switch was canceled out by Karin Brownlee, R-Olathe, who voted against the amendment Wednesday, but for the amended bill Thursday.

Oleen said she changed her vote because she hadn't had enough time to consider Pugh's last-minute amendment.

Sen. Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, who voted against the Pugh amendment, said he thought the redistricting vote would make it harder to get through the session because of the loss of trust.

In the House

The House redistricting bill passed the House 105-16, with strong bipartisan support, but not without controversy.

Under the House bill, four districts now held by Democrats will be consolidated into two. Earlier proposals pitted incumbent Democrats against each other in as many as five newly consolidated districts.

In southcentral Kansas, Alan Goering, D-Medicine Lodge, will be in the same district with Dennis McKinney, D-Greensburg. And in Wyandotte County, which has lost 4,500 people since the 1990 census, the districts represented by Broderick Henderson, D-Kansas City, and Doug Spangler, D-Kansas City, will be combined. But Spangler announced last month that he wasn't seeking re-election.

The bill puts incumbent Republicans in with Democrats in two new districts. Bruce Larkin, D-Baileyville, and Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, will be in the same district, and Dan Johnson, R-Hays, will be in the same district with Laura McClure, D-Osborne. But the bill passed the House amid charges that House Republicans had forced McClure to promise not to run in order to save other Democratic districts.

Both redistricting bills are expected to pass the other chamber of the Legislature. The House and Senate traditionally approve each other's redistricting plans without amendment.

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