TOPEKA, Kan. — Power in the Kansas House is likely to shift next year from rural parts of the state to the Kansas City area after members overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan bill Thursday for redrawing their districts.
The House's 109-14 vote means the new district lines specified by the bill are likely to become law, starting with this year's elections. The bill goes next to the Senate, but its approval is considered a formality because, by tradition, neither chamber alters the other's plan for redrawing members' districts.
The bill had the support of House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, and Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat. The GOP could have used its 92-33 majority to push through a more partisan measure, but both O'Neal and Davis said they had wanted to avoid the acrimony, though they acknowledged they couldn't avoid hard feelings completely.
"There's not a necessity on our part to overreach," O'Neal said after the vote.
Legislators must redraw the lines of their districts at least once every 10 years to reflect shifts in population. The bill for redrawing state House districts eliminates one each in southwest, southeast and central Kansas, then draws two new ones in the Kansas City suburbs of Johnson County and a third one with parts of Johnson and neighboring Wyandotte counties.
"We were able to work pretty well with the Republicans on the map," Davis said. "Except for a few places, the Republicans were very willing to work with Democrats."
The bill creates four districts with two incumbent House members each. In southwest Kansas, Republicans Larry Powell, of Garden City, and Gary Hayzlett, would share a district. In Salina, Republicans Tom Arpke and Charles Roth would be together, and in Wichita, Republicans Brenda Landwehr and Gene Suellentrop would be lumped in the same district. In southeast Kansas, Republican Forrest Knox, of Altoona, would be paired with Democrat Jerry Williams, of Chanute.
But Powell, Arpke and Landwehr will give up their House seats to run for the state Senate this year, and Williams is retiring from the Legislature. Williams acknowledged that because of population shifts away from southeast Kansas, he saw multiple proposals for new lines that put paired him with another lawmaker, influencing his decision to step down.
Knox and Williams both voted against the bill, with Knox having complained publicly about how it split Erie, a southeast Kansas community of less than 1,200 residents, between two districts. Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican, objected to having one of the new Kansas City-area districts split between Johnson and Wyandotte counties, rather than centered on his hometown.
Six no votes came from Topeka-area legislators upset with how lines changed to account for population shifts, with Democrats arguing that districts for Democratic Reps. Annie Kuether and Annie Tietze were redrawn to separate them from the cores of their existing districts. GOP backers of the new lines argued they kept Topeka-area districts closer in population than the lines Democrats favored.
State House redistricting plan is HB 2606.
Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org