TOPEKA, (KSNT) — A major political year is shaping up in Kansas in 2022. One thing Republicans may have their eye on is taking back the only liberal seat in Congress.
Lawmakers are planning to hold a set of virtual redistricting town hall meetings with in-person options next week, as they look to a busy week ahead.
“What we’re really looking for is people to tell us about your communities and what has changed over the last 10 years, because as we’re back up here drawing maps, we don’t always see what’s happening on the ground,” said Rep. Chris Croft, chair of the state’s redistricting committee. “And the point is what do you want us to be thinking about when we’re drawing maps, and that comes a lot from this input we’re receiving right now, from the public.”
The second round of town halls will gather input from Kansans before they go to draw party lines next year. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say it’s a critical process, and they’re hoping to get as much feedback from the public as possible. However, these meetings and plans to redraw maps next year could lead to Republicans being the only party representing the state in Congress.
Right now, Sharice Davids is the only Kansas Democrat in Congress. Now that her district is overpopulated, it gives Republicans an incentive to set new lines and hurt Davids politically.
Lawmakers have to decide the shape for all 165 legislators, 10 state board of education members and four Congressional seats. Some Democrats are worried Republicans will create districts to unfairly favor the GOP.
Talks of potential gerrymandering arose last year, after a video surfaced showing former Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle making controversial comments on redistricting.
In a clip taken from a video posted on Sept. 25, 2020, Wagle speaks to the Wichita Pachyderm Club about redistricting around 19 minutes in. She discussed the need for a Republican majority to redraw district maps, and to make it harder for Congresswoman Sharice Davids to keep her seat.
“I guarantee you, we can draw four Republican Congressional maps,” Wagle said in September. Currently, Republicans hold three seats, while one is held by a Democrat.
Some users reacted to the video on Twitter, calling the GOP leader’s statement “blatant partisanship” and accusing leaders of using redistricting to “sway elections.” Wagle responded to the comments in an interview with KSNT News, and said the video is taken out of context. She said the governor is trying to get Democrats elected and to turn districts blue, and that she’s within reason to push for her party’s candidates.
“I’m the Senate President. I’m a Republican, and I’m working very hard to get Republicans elected all throughout Kansas,” Wagle said.
However, current Senate President Ty Masterson said the state’s current redistricting committee has no plans of gerrymandering, and said his goal is different than the previous senate president’s.
“Every human has a natural bias, and it’s not on either side of the aisle, it’s on both sides of the aisle. Each side would like to see itself get stronger, but that’s not this process,” Masterson said. “We’re going to bring in the data and try to get as close as we can to one person one vote.”
Right now, redistricting happens every 10 years and is done by lawmakers. If Republicans can keep their supermajority in the state legislature this year, they may be able to override the governor if she doesn’t like how districts are drawn in 2022.
Last year, Kansas political science professor Patrick Miller pointed to Republicans holding a three-seat advantage for a supermajority in the Senate and just one seat in the House. If Republicans lose those seats, Democrats could side with the governor to make sure Republicans don’t get their way.
“Then they can uphold Governor Kelly’s veto of any gerrymander, and force a compromise,” Miller said. “Our legislative elections this year will have huge implications for this.”
However, as things stand, Republicans could override the governor’s veto as things stand. Proposals will run through the legislature as bills next year. That means they can be vetoed by the governor, and possibly overridden. If plans aren’t passed, redistricting could go to the courts for them to draw, like what happened in 2012.