‘You have awakened a sleeping lion’: Kansas City residents denounce GOP congressional map

By: - January 24, 2022 1:05 pm

Connie Brown Collins, a Wyandotte County resident, says during a news conference Monday at the Statehouse in Topeka that lawmakers awakened a sleeping lion with their proposal to divide the Kansas City metro area between congressional districts. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Wyandotte County resident Connie Brown Collins says new congressional boundaries passed by the state Senate appear to “literally cut through backyards” of several diverse communities.

Republicans in the Legislature have fast-tracked an effort to redraw congressional districts in a way that would divide the Kansas City metro area along Interstate 70.

As a result, Brown Collins said during a news conference Monday at the Statehouse, 39,000 Latino residents and 30,000 Black residents would be relocated from the 3rd District, the only one in Kansas currently represented by a Democrat, and into the 2nd District. This “population shuffle,” Brown Collins said, will decrease the voting power of a majority-minority vote.

“If legislators think we in Wyandotte County are snoozing through this travesty, that we are not aware or we do not care, think again,” Brown Collins said. “You have awakened a sleeping lion.”

Kansans for Fair Maps, a coalition of advocacy groups, organized the news conference to elevate the voices of residents in the Kansas City metro area who are upset about the proposed new map. They spoke in front of the Brown v. Board mural on the third floor, a tribute to the landmark civil rights case that ended segregation in public schools.

Thomas Alonzo says the map proposed by GOP leaders “demonstrates a lack of competent, moral and ethical leadership.” (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Senate and House redistricting panels introduced the Ad Astra map favored by Republicans during a hearing last week and heard overwhelming opposition in testimony. The Senate panel proceeded to pass a version of the map that corrected the oversight of splitting the Kickapoo Indian reservation between districts. On Friday, the full Senate endorsed Ad Astra 2.

The House panel held additional hearings Monday.

“The House process is still ongoing. It has been fair, deliberate and transparent,” the House Republican leadership said in a statement for this story. ” We look forward to seeing the results of the committee’s work.”

Under current lines drawn by courts a decade ago, the 3rd District currently includes the Kansas City metro area that sprawls across Wyandotte and Johnson county. U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, a Democrat, American Indian, and the first openly LGBTQ member of Congress from Kansas, won election there in 2018 and retained the seat in 2020.

Republicans redrew her district to eliminate Democrats’ votes in the northern half of Wyandotte County and move Republican strongholds from Anderson, Miami and Franklin counties into the district.

“The way this map is drawn really diminishes her chance of being reelected,” said Tom Witt, of Equality Kansas. “The voters chose her, and they chose her twice. And now Senate leadership is trying to choose different voters for her. I don’t know how the rest of you grew up, but I grew up in America where democracy matters.”

Liz Meitl says the decision to divide the Kansas City metro area creates “unnatural schisms” that perpetuate racist inequalities. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Thomas Alonzo said he has lived in Wyandotte County his entire life, except for when he served in the military. He said his Kansas City, Kansas, community’s interests are deeply tied to their neighbors to the south.

The Ad Astra map “demonstrates a lack of competent, moral and ethical leadership,” Alonzo said.

“There is nothing democratic or patriotic about deliberately cutting up a district to prevent its voters from having the ability to select individuals to represent us that will protect our interests,” Alonzo said.

Liz Meitl lives in Johnson County and works for the Kansas City, Kansas, public school district in Wyandotte County. She said there are thousands of others who work in one county and live in the other. Their lives are interconnected, she said.

“When you divide us by congressional districts, you are creating schisms, unnatural schisms that both perpetuate racist and systemic institutionalized inequalities and perpetuate a system in which the elites disenfranchise voters,” Meitl said.

Senate Republican leaders have dismissed concerns about the way the map affects the voting power of Democrats and communities of color. The map also moves heavily Democratic Lawrence from the 2nd District to the rural 1st District.

Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said all four members of congress would retain their seats based on 2020 election results, although Witt said that claim hasn’t been verified since underlying data was made available late Thursday.

“On balance,” Senate Republicans said in explaining their vote, “this map will serve the state well for the next decade.”

A map proposed by Republicans in the House and Senate would place Lawrence in the 1st District, which stretches to the Colorado border, and split Wyandotte County between 2nd and 3rd districts. (Submitted)

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the editor in chief of Kansas Reflector. He writes about things that powerful people don't want you to know. A two-time Kansas Press Association journalist of the year, his award-winning reporting includes stories about education, technology, foster care, voting, COVID-19, sex abuse, and access to reproductive health care. Before founding Kansas Reflector in 2020, he spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He graduated from Emporia State University in 2004, back when the school still valued English and journalism. He was raised in the country at the end of a dead end road in Lyon County.