Opinion: Proper redistricting
Every 10 years, the Kansas Legislature is required to redraw boundaries for all congressional, legislative and State Board of Education districts. This is necessary as populations shift significantly over the course of a decade. Every ten years, like clockwork, this exercise becomes so muddled in partisan politics that it brings many other important issues debated in the Statehouse to a grinding halt.
As we gear up for the next round of reapportionment, I’ve had the opportunity to hear what many Kansans think about this ugly process. The message remains the same across the entire state: Draw the lines based on what is best for the people of Kansas, not based on what is best for the politicians who are drawing them. The voters should choose their elected officials, not vice versa.
I wish Kansans could trust their elected officials to approach the redistricting process without partisan politics being the top consideration, but history has shown us that this isn’t always the case. We need only look back 10 years to see how quickly redistricting can take the legislative session hostage. The 2002 session presented some serious budget challenges (much like we will face in the 2012 session) that needed a great deal of attention. When this was coupled with a partisan redistricting process, the session drug on a record 107 days. Unfortunately, it appears that partisanship is rearing its ugly head again as we have already heard of proposals that would gerrymander congressional districts so that the current officeholders can bolster their chances of re-election.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The political wounds of reapportionment ran so deeply in 2002 that a bipartisan group of legislators called for a complete overhaul of the process. I was pleased to be able to join with Senate President Steve Morris, former senate majority leader and current Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley in 2009 to propose a nonpartisan redistricting commission. Our proposal was modeled after Iowa, where a nonpartisan group draws the new districts free of political tension and based only on well-established guidelines. Iowa has already completed its decennial reapportionment process — before Kansas has even started. It’s amazing how quickly things get done when politics is removed from the equation.
I hope the Legislature and Governor Brownback will support the creation of a nonpartisan redistricting commission. Ultimately, redistricting is about giving the people a fair and equal voice in their elected representation. It is not about securing political dominance or seeking political retribution against individuals with whom we don’t see eye to eye. Hopefully we can all agree that we have too many other battles to fight - like getting people back to work and the getting the economy back on track - to waste time and resources on something so overtly self serving.
— Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, is Kansas House Minority Leader