Kansas Senate Republicans tee up redistricting map with goal of maintaining dominance
Sen. Rick Wilborn, a McPherson Republican, said the redistricting map for the Kansas Senate would hypothetically retain the GOP’s 29-11 majority over Democrats. The Senate approved his map Wednesday after lengthy debate and rejection of two alternatives. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

The Kansas Senate offered preliminary approval of a redistricting map Wednesday defended as a politically fair arrangement of the 40 districts designed to retain Republicans’ supermajority in the chamber and come to terms with population growth in urban areas.

The map presented by Sen. Rick Wilborn, the McPherson Republican who chairs the Senate Redistricting Committee, was denounced by Democrats as a violation of guidelines related to maintaining integrity of political subdivisions, preserving communities of interest and avoiding incumbent-on-incumbent races. The Senate rejected three alternative maps suggested by individual senators.

Wilborn said the GOP map would create 40 districts with population deviations of less than 5% from the average of 73,000 residents.

Republicans hold a 29-11 partisan advantage in the Senate, and Wilborn said the new map would hypothetically maintain that GOP edge based on application of 2020 vote totals. None of the senators, who serve four-year terms, must worry about consequences of redistricting until the 2024 election cycle.

“We solidified districts for both parties,” said Wilborn, who characterized the map in Senate Bill 563 as the GOP’s best offer to Democrats. “Believe me, if we wanted to be much harder, we could have come up with a map where it would be 32-8. We chose to be fair. Every district was rearranged somewhat.”

Lenexa Sen. Dinah Sykes, leader of Senate Democrats, said it was difficult to redraw 40 districts in response to the 120,000-person population growth in metropolitan areas and abide by other guidelines important when weighing the legal standing of redistricting maps.

“I think I’m going to start a fund for wrinkle cream because this process has aged me quite a bit,” Sykes said.

Sykes said she couldn’t support Wilborn’s “Liberty 3” map because it gutted the core of the district served by Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, and moved him into a showdown with GOP Sen. Beverly Gossage, R-Eudora.

“The process is broken. Incredibly broken,” Holland said. “I’m not here to complain about me being drawn into another senator’s district. This process has totally eviscerated my communities of interest in the 3rd District.”

Holland’s “Free State 5” map and Sykes’ “Eisenhower” map were rejected by the Senate. In addition, a map offered by Sen. Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, was deflected.

In addition to the possible Gossage-Wilborn showdown, the Senate GOP’s map would place Wilborn in a district with Sen. Michael Fagg, an El Dorado Republican. It is assumed Wilborn won’t seek re-election.

The Senate is scheduled to take a final vote Thursday on the redistricting map. It would need to be endorsed by the Kansas House before sent to the desk of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly.

The Kansas House is moving toward a vote on its own redistricting map recalculating shape of 125 districts. In terms of the federal congressional map, Kelly voted that plan. The House and Senate was able to override her veto, but the U.S. House map is now subject of three lawsuits.

Under the Kansas Constitution, state lawmakers must redraw state House and Senate districts, the four U.S. House districts and the 10 state Board of Education districts every 10 years to make them as equal in population as possible. In 2012, the Kansas Legislature failed to complete the mapping and it was turned over to a panel of U.S. District Court judges.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.