House redistricting map creates bipartisan celebration rather than conflict

Population changes concentrate 60% of districts in five urban counties

By: - March 23, 2022 1:34 am
Rep. John Toplikar, an Olathe Republican, wanted to amend the Kansas House map reorganizing the chamber's 125 districts but surrendered to the disarming bipartisan view of colleagues who decided not to engage in a big debate. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Rep. John Toplikar, an Olathe Republican, wanted to amend the Kansas House map reorganizing the chamber’s 125 districts but surrendered to the disarming bipartisan view of colleagues who decided not to engage in a big debate. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Olathe Rep. John Toplikar settled into his seat at the Capitol to prepare for a partisan debate on a map outlining new boundaries of the 125 Kansas House districts.

He was eager to persuade a majority of peers to vote for a tweak in the northeast section of his district in Johnson County. And, then, one after another Republican and Democratic legislators grabbed a microphone to praise the work of Rep. Chris Croft, the Overland Park Republican who led the special redistricting committee through months of mapmaking.

“I thought about running an amendment,” Toplikar said. “I think I wound up at the celebration instead of the debate. Apparently, we’ve all agreed to move forward. So, I guess I’ll just join in the celebration.”

The discussion set the stage for passage Wednesday of a map nailing down borders of House districts that would remain in place for the next decade. The Kansas Senate approved a map for that chamber’s 40 districts. The new state Board of Education map has yet to be adopted. The U.S. House map dividing the four congressional districts has become mired in lawsuits.

District borders must be recast every 10 years to reflect population changes. The process has potential to take on the look of a cage match. In 2012, for example, the Legislature failed to agree on maps that were eventually drawn by a panel of federal judges.

Rep. Tom Burroughs, the top Democrat on the House redistricting committee, lavished praise on Croft for listening to interests of lawmakers and officials of both political parties.

He said the process would leave some legislators with bruised egos, but also lawmakers pleased to have dodged maps that could have imperiled their political careers.

“We were cussed, shunned, discussed and berated,” Burroughs told House members Tuesday in a floor speech. “But we persevered anyway. We were pushed back, pushed in. We were pushed out. And, sometimes, I’m not so sure some of you didn’t want to push us off a cliff.”

Not even the merger of districts to produce a potential incumbent-on-incumbent contest in August between Rep. Jim Minnix, R-Scott City, and Rep. Tatum Lee, R-Ness City, produced fireworks.

Croft said redistricting committees of the House and Senate fanned out to 25 cities last year to gather input from the public. He said legislative staff compiled a dozen large three-ring binders stuffed with input from Kansans.

He said the goal was a bipartisan map with House districts containing close to 23,500 people, based on the 2020 Census count.

“I’m really excited about all the input we received,” Croft said. “This has been a great experience.”

The House map named “Freestate 3” would deliver 27 districts to Johnson County and two dozen districts to Sedgwick County. Douglas County would claim all or parts of nine districts, while Wyandotte and Shawnee counties would have ownership of eight each. Those five counties would account for 60% of the seats in the House.

Rep. Adam Smith, R-Weskan, said boundaries established 10 years ago by the U.S. District Court were “absolutely atrocious” because too many districts crossed county lines and the result was a flurry of primary races. The 2022 version restored order to the map, he said.

“Trust me when I say I don’t like the fact that rural Kansas is losing population and losing representation,” he said. “I wish the population shifts had not been what they were, but we can’t argue with numbers.”

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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