Calls for additional analysis go unheard as panel advances updated Kansas Senate map

By: - March 15, 2022 6:27 pm
Sen. Rick Wilborn presides over redistricting committee

The Senate Redistricting Committee, led by Sen. Rick Wilborn, advanced a proposal for new Senate districts favorably, despite requests from those testifying to delay any decisions until further analysis was completed. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Despite no testimony in support and calls for additional time for review, a Kansas legislative panel Tuesday advanced a plan to redraw Senate district boundaries.

The map introduced on behalf of Senate Republican interests would create a 4th District in Shawnee County and add a new seat in Johnson County. In addition, the map would put Sen. Michael Fagg, R-El Dorado, in the same district as Sen. Rick Wilborn, R-McPherson, who is chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee. Wilborn may not seek reelection in 2024.

The panel approved the plan despite pushback from Democrats on the committee and concerns from those testifying that legislators had allowed inadequate time for map analysis. No one was present to testify in support of the map.

“No one actually knows what these maps will do because we do not have the shapefiles that allow detailed analysis,” said Davis Hammet, president of Loud Light, one of several groups in the KS Fair Maps coalition. “Until detailed data is made public and the public is given adequate time to assess the impact on the entire state and their own neighborhoods, the maps should not have a hearing.”

Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes of Lenexa and Sen. Ethan Corson, a Fairway Democrat, objected to the maps. If approved, the updated districts would not be in play until 2024, when all 40 Senate seats are up for reelection.

The redistricting panel declined to entertain three other proposed maps — one introduced on behalf of Senate Democrats, one by the League of Women Voters of Kansas and one by Senate President Ty Masterson after the deadline for public testimony had passed.

The state constitution requires legislators redraw congressional, legislative and school board maps every 10 years.

Cille King, with the League of Women Voters, said the approved map ignored the input of Kansans from earlier statewide town halls and even went against the guidelines set in place by the redistricting committee.

“Citizens’ repeated requests for keeping communities of interest, especially marginalized communities, whole were ignored,” King said. “The map was the least compact and violates the committee’s own guidelines by splitting cities unnecessarily and by splitting precincts.”

The new map would shift the district of Sen. Rick Kloos, R-Berryton, east to include more of Douglas County and most of Franklin County. Most of Osage County would remain in his district. Sen. Kristen O’Shea, R-Topeka, will still represent northern Topeka and parts of Pottawatomie and Jefferson counties.

Meanwhile, Sen. Brenda Dietrich, R-Topeka, would continue to represent southwest Topeka and all of Wabaunsee County. A new district would encompass much of downtown Topeka and part of Douglas County along Interstate 70.

Oshara Hays, a Topeka resident, said the city has repeatedly been split, diluting communities of color and impeding their development. She said the city deserves to stay as united as possible.

“I live in Senate District 19 with Sen. Kloos and my district is, and this side of town, they have more Black and brown folks. We deserve to keep our humanity together,” Hays said. “It is important that our voices stay together so that we’re able to be a stronger voice.”

In another notable shakeup, Sen. Tom Holland, a Baldwin City Democrat whose current district represents Eudora, Baldwin City and Tonganoxie, would now be in the same district as Sen. Beverly Gossage, a Eudora Republican who represents part of Johnson County.

Eudora is predominantly in Douglas County, but some addresses are in Johnson County. Holland has been in the Kansas Senate since 2009.

He said he was testifying not to save his own spot in the Senate but to maintain communities with shared economic and cultural interests.

“Make no mistake — Tonganoxie, Eudora East Lawrence, South Lawrence, Baldwin City — they are all truly related,” Holland said. “I think this map would do a total economic disservice by blowing that up.”

Correction: Sen. Kristen O’Shea’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.