Kansas Senate proposes congressional redistricting map

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Neil Nakahodo

The Kansas City Star

A Kansas Senate committee on Thursday approved a congressional map that reduces the voting power of minority voters in Kansas’ 3rd congressional district, which encompasses the Kansas City metropolitan area.

Republican lawmakers on the Senate redistricting committee voted to move the “Ad Astra” map, which combines the northern half of Wyandotte County with southeast Kansas and Lawrence with western Kansas, to the Senate.

Lawmakers approved the plan with unusual speed, holding hearings and voting just two days after Senate Speaker Ty Masterson proposed the map and one day after detailed data was made public.

The Senate is due to debate the card on Friday. It will need to be approved by Kansas House and Governor Laura Kelly before it becomes law.

The House committee, citing concerns that citizens had not had enough time to process the information, postponed its hearing on the bill until Friday.

The Senate vote followed testimony from many activists and community members criticizing the decision to split Wyandotte County. They called it a brazen attempt to dilute the votes of the predominantly Democratic county and weaken the voting power of minority residents in the only majority minority county in the state.

Three of Kansas’ 105 counties are spread across the “Ad Astra” map: Wyandotte, Douglas, and Pawnee. Jackson County, Kansas was split in a later map amendment to ensure that the Kickapoo Native American Reservation was consolidated into a single district.

“Two of the three split counties are two of the three most racially diverse counties,” said Sen. Ethan Corson, a Fairway Democrat.

Critics said the sole purpose of the Ad Astra map appears to be to move the largely Democratic black population of Kansas City, Kansas, out of the state’s 3rd congressional district, thereby reducing the representative’s chances of re-election. Sharice Davids.

Davids, a Native American, is the only person of color in Kansas’ four-member congressional delegation and the only openly LGBTQ member of Congress in state history.

The Ad Astra map divides Wyandotte County north and south along a line that would place most black voters in Kansas City, Kansas in District 2, a sure Republican represented in Congress by Rep. Jacob LaTurner.

Every decade, lawmakers redraw the lines of Congress and legislative districts to reflect demographic changes reported by the U.S. Census. According to 2020 census data, the entirety of Johnson and Wyandotte counties exceeds the federally mandated district size of 44,000 people.

“You can see the African American vote is on the north side of the border,” said Sherri Grogan of the League of Women Voters. “This map also divides the Hispanic community of interest . . . specifically Armourdale is on the north side of the line and Argentina is on the south of the border.

Hispanics are the largest population group in both neighborhoods; around 70% in Armourdale and 40% in Argentina.

By dividing Wyandotte County voters between two districts, county officials argued that the map reduced the county’s ability to receive Washington’s attention.

“We’ve always found that whether we’re represented by a Republican or a Democrat, when we’re consolidated as a metropolitan area with Johnson County in the Third District, that Congressman has always been mindful of Wyandotte County” , said Mildred. Edwards, Chief of Staff to KCK Mayor Tyrone Garner.

According to data from the nnonpartisan legislative research department the 3rd arrondissement under the “Ad Astra” plan would go from 70.6% white to 77.4%. The black population would drop from 8% to 4.8% of the district and the Hispanic population would drop from 14% to 10%.

In contrast, the 2nd District, which will take over the northern part of Wyandotte County and lose Lawrence, is diversifying with an increase of 4.6% black to 8.6% and 7.3% Hispanic to 12.9 %.

Republicans on the committee rejected arguments that racial differences invalidated the map, noting the increased representation in the 2nd District.

“If we’re going to talk about communities of interest, it’s more important to talk about the types of things that interest them and not about race,” said Sen. Beverly Gossage, a Republican from Eudora.

Michael Li, senior attorney for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, called Kansas’ plan “aggressive” and said it would likely result in legal challenges.

“You are talking about the only county where white people are not in the majority. Obviously the changes would impact the ability of communities of color to elect a candidate,” Li said.

Legal challenges, Li said, may not succeed because, although racial gerrymandering is illegal, lawmakers can claim they made decisions based on politics rather than race.

A count

The proposal crosses Wyandotte County in a way that residents and activists say does not make sense to the community.

Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, called the proposal a “joke.”

“What’s it like to keep a community of interests together when you’re drawing lines through people’s backyards,” Witt said.

Masterson said he chose to split Wyandotte County in two because he heard from speakers at redistricting town halls over the summer that they wanted Johnson County to remain whole.

However, much of the testimony in the 3rd District hearings focused on keeping the core of the Kansas City metropolitan area — not Johnson County itself.

“It seemed a cleaner line in Wyandotte,” said Masterson, a Republican from Andover. “(Johnson and Wyandotte) really don’t have much in common, I know they share resources.”

In reality, Masterson said, North Wyandotte County had more in common with Topeka in the 2nd District than with South Wyandotte County and Johnson County.

“It’s basically suburban versus real subway,” Masterson said. “Diversity is relative and you try to help those communities as much as possible.”

Wyandotte County residents and officials disagreed.

Senators David Haley and Pat Pettey, both of Kansas City, Kansas, said they saw no noticeable difference between communities north and south of I-70.

“We’re all one county, one vital county,” Haley said. “There are some who may have different social, economic, and even political leanings in Wyandotte County. These lines that have been proposed also divide, especially one of the most racially diverse, the counties to accommodate partisan gerrymandering.

Wyandotte County Commissioner Andrew Davis, whose district is divided according to the proposed map, said a divided Wyandotte County would be “disastrous”, telling residents that while their interests are aligned, their votes won’t don’t matter.

“Our votes only have power when they’re together. And for residents of color, that becomes even more important because our vote is already disenfranchised and we already have problems making sure our vote counts. and that we have access to the ballot, so that would just be one more hurdle in getting federal representation for Wyandotte County,” Davis said.

The Star’s Aaron Torres contributed to this report.

This story was originally published January 20, 2022 7:41 p.m.

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Katie Bernard covers the Kansas Legislature and state government for the Kansas City Star. She joined the Star as a breaking news reporter in May 2019 before joining the political team in December 2020. Katie studied journalism and political science at the University of Kansas.

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