Written by House Democratic Leader Paul Davis
August 31, 2011
Every ten years, the Kansas Legislature is required to redraw boundaries for all congressional, legislative, and State Board of Education districts. This becomes necessary as populations shift significantly over the course of a decade. And every ten years, like clockwork, this exercise becomes so muddled in partisan politics that it brings many other important issues debated in the Statehouse to a grinding halt.
As we gear up for the next round of reapportionment, I’ve had the opportunity to hear what many Kansans think about this ugly process. The message remains the same across the entire state: draw the lines based on what is best for the people of Kansas, not based on what is best for the politicians who are seeking re-election. Voters should choose their elected officials, not vice versa.
I wish Kansans could trust their elected officials to tackle the redistricting process free of political gamesmanship, but history has shown us that this is rarely the case. We need only look back 10 years to see how quickly redistricting can take a legislative session hostage. The 2002 session presented serious budget challenges (much like we will face in 2012) that needed a great deal of attention. When this was coupled with a partisan redistricting process, the session drug on a record 107 days. Unfortunately, it appears that partisanship is already rearing its ugly head as the next round of redistricting gets underway. We have already heard of proposals that would gerrymander congressional districts so that current officeholders can bolster their chances of re-election while marginalizing entire communities.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The political wounds of reapportionment ran so deeply in 2002 that a bipartisan group of legislators called for a complete overhaul of the process. In 2009, I was pleased to be able to join the Senate President, the Senate Majority Leader, and the Senate Minority Leader in a bipartisan effort to enact a nonpartisan redistricting commission. Our proposal was modeled after Iowa, where a nonpartisan group draws new districts free of political tension and based only on well-established guidelines. Iowa has already completed its decennial reapportionment process - before Kansas has even started. It’s amazing how quickly things get done when politics is removed from the equation.
I hope the Legislature and Governor Brownback will support the creation of a nonpartisan redistricting commission. Ultimately, redistricting is about giving the people a fair and equal voice in their elected representation. It is not about securing political dominance or seeking political retribution against individuals with whom we don’t see eye to eye. Hopefully we can all agree that we have too many other battles to fight - like getting people back to work and the getting the economy back on track - to waste time and resources on something so blatantly self serving.
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