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Kansas GOP fails to undo veto of remap plan hurting Democrat

Kansas capitol
Posted at 7:04 PM, Feb 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-07 20:04:11-05

TOPEKA, Kan. — Top Republican lawmakers in Kansas learned Monday that they didn't have the votes yet to override Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's veto of a GOP redistricting plan that would make it harder for the state's only Democrat in Congress to win reelection.

The GOP-controlled state Senate voted 24-15 to overturn Kelly's action, but Republican leaders needed three more, or 27 in the 40-member chamber, for the necessary two-thirds majority. Four of the chamber's 29 Republicans broke ranks with GOP leaders and joined 10 of the chamber's 11 Democrats in voting no. The absent Democrat also would have voted no.

Senate President Ty Masterson, a Wichita-area Republican and one of the architects of the plan, also voted no, so that under the Legislature's rules he can ask senators to reconsider Tuesday. If GOP leaders fail to muster a two-thirds majority then, or the Senate does not vote Tuesday, the GOP plan will die.

"I can already hear the sounds of bones breaking," said Democratic state Sen. David Haley, of Kansas City, suggesting the GOP dissenters will face heavy pressure to change their minds.

The Republican plan would split the state's portion of the Kansas City area into two congressional districts, costing Democratic U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids some of the territory in her 3rd District where she performs best. The map also would move the liberal northeast Kansas community of Lawrence, home to the main University of Kansas campus, from the 2nd District of eastern Kansas into the 1st District of central and western Kansas with conservative communities six or more hours away by car.

The vote Monday was an unexpected setback for Kansas Republicans as the national GOP tries to recapture a U.S. House majority in this year's elections.

States must redraw congressional districts at least once every 10 years to make them as equal as possible in population following shifts in population. If the state doesn't enact new boundaries, federal judges are likely to draw the lines.

After a decade of growth, the state's side of the Kansas City metropolitan area has too many people for an ideal Kansas congressional district with 734,470 residents. Republicans argued that lawmakers shouldn't divide the faster-growing suburbs south of Kansas City, Kansas, and made I-70 roughly the boundary between the 2nd and 3rd Districts.

Democrats argued that the plan would be unacceptable to the courts because the percentage of Black and Hispanic voters in the 3rd District would drop, lessening their political clout. Masterson countered by noting that the percentage of minority voters in the 2nd District would increase.

"The truth is, it preserves fairness," Masterson said. He also has argued that that Davids still would be reelected based on 2020 election results.