Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Kansas House panel to vote on Senate remap plan

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

The political war between conservatives and moderates escalated on Monday.

Conservative Republican legislators approved a plan to redraw Senate district boundaries that is similar to one that has already been rejected by a bipartisan coalition in the Senate.

House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, said his plan was for the House Redistricting Committee to finalize the proposal today and then have the full House vote on it Wednesday. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn Friday, although it can extend the session.

Redistricting is one of several key issues, along with the state budget and proposed tax cuts, that legislators are fighting over.

“I’d like to keep pushing forward,” said O’Neal, who also serves as chairman of the House Redistricting Committee.

While the committee’s redistricting plan will probably gain House approval, House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said he didn’t think the proposal would fare any better in the Senate than the last time a similar plan was rejected.

“It’s a map that a lot of moderate Republicans as well as Democrats would have difficulties with,” Davis said.

A bipartisan coalition of Republicans and Democrats have approved a Senate map, 21-19. But conservative Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and the conservative Republican majority in the House don’t like that map.

On Monday, a parade of conservative Republican senators told the House Redistricting Committee that the Senate-approved map had numerous flaws.

They got agreement from their conservative counterparts in the House.

Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, said moderate Republicans agreed to a Senate map that reduced Republican voting strength in several districts.

“That is not in the best interest of Kansas,” she said.

The Senate-approved map collapsed a district in western Kansas, which is losing population as a region, and added a district in fast-growing Johnson County.

But conservatives argued the collapse of the western Kansas district diluted Hispanic voting strength, while the additional Johnson County district was added to an area of the county that wasn’t growing.

The map approved by the House committee, however, would change boundaries in Sedgwick County to boost the chances of Landwehr, who is challenging moderate Republican Sen. Jean Schodorf.

“To say this map was not drawn for political considerations, is absolutely false,” said Davis, who was on the losing end of a 12-5 vote for the map in the committee.