Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Republicans at war with each other over redistricting

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

A Senate Republican caucus meeting on Tuesday exploded into a war of words between conservatives and moderates over redistricting.

At one point, state Sen. Tim Owens, a moderate Republican from Overland Park, who is chair of the Senate redistricting committee, stormed out of the meeting, saying, "I don't need to sit here and listen to this garbage."

Meanwhile, conservatives demanded that Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, and Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg, be summoned to the meeting.

"We're in a political war," said state Sen. Susan Wagle, a conservative Republican from Wichita. She accused Morris and Emler of wanting to work more with Democrats than conservatives.

Later in the evening, the Senate reconvened, and Morris postponed the redistricting debate until Wednesday. He urged opposing sides to try to reach a compromise.

The fireworks came as legislators continued to meet in overtime with no resolution in sight on key issues, such as the budget, tax cuts and redistricting.

The once-a-decade process of redrawing political boundaries to adjust for population shifts has been particularly nasty, especially between the factions of the Kansas Republican Party.

Gov. Sam Brownback, a conservative Republican, and the conservative-led House have opposed Senate-approved maps that were approved by a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats.

State Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, said the process was poisoned by Brownback when the governor's allies made it clear they were going to try to defeat moderates in the Republican Party primary.

"This whole collision course was started by people not in this room," Brungardt said during the caucus meeting.

But conservatives pounced on the latest map that Owens planned to carry on the Senate floor. They said it would have hurt conservatives and helped Democrats. Sen. Pat Apple, R-Louisburg, said Douglas and Shawnee counties were over-represented. "It would seem, the Democrats basically got what they wanted," he said.

But Owens said it was impossible to draw a map that would satisfy everyone. Frustrated over the issue, Owens said the committee process had been a waste of time and that Brownback politicized the issue further.

"This is about politics," Owens said. "It is not about a logical map. This is a political war, and I'm tired of it," he said, adding that he didn't care if the issue was resolved in the courts.

State Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, urged Owens to pull down the map, saying even if it passed, Brownback would veto it. "Why on earth are we doing this? We don't need to make a difficult week any worse," King said.