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Controversial Kansas redistricting map is likely headed to court after lawmakers override a veto

Lawmakers leaving the Kansas House chamber.
Blaise Mesa
Kansas News Service
Lawmakers leave the Kansas House chamber after voting to override the governor's veto of a redistricting plan.

Republicans in the House voted to override the governor's veto of the redistricting plan Wednesday, which was the last step to approving the map over Democratic opposition.

TOPEKA, Kansas — The Kansas House voted Wednesday to override Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of a controversial congressional redistricting plan, which means the map is approved and is likely headed for a court challenge.

The vote in the House followed an override in the Senate and was the last step needed to bypass the veto and overcome Democratic opposition to the plan. Opponents of the congressional map argue it is gerrymandered to hurt Democrats and defeat U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, the state’s lone Democratic member of Congress.

“Gerrymandering is one thing. Political spite is another,” said Rep. Tom Burroughs, a Kansas City, Kansas, Democrat.

Now, the plan faces a likely court challenge. Some political watchers had already predicted that before the override succeeded.

Marc Elias, a lawyer who represents Democrats in redistricting disputes across the country, said he was monitoring the efforts to override Kelly’s veto.

“If the Republican Legislature overrides this veto and passes a blatantly unconstitutional map, they are going to be sued,” Elias said in a Tuesday interview on MSNBC.

The House vote was mostly along party lines, with only one Republican breaking ranks from the GOP. Republicans have enough members in the House that even with that loss they garnered the two-thirds majority needed to approve the map.

No Republicans rose to defend the map during the debate leading up to the override vote.

After the vote, House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, offered a succinct defense.

“It’s a fair map,” Hawkins said.

Republicans have said the changes are needed to ensure the state’s congressional districts are equal in population.

Democrats blasted the override process, charging that Republicans used strong-arm tactics and backroom deals to get the votes they needed to override the governor.

A Republican senator changed his vote to support the override shortly after a bill he favored was abruptly advanced from a Senate committee Tuesday.

Rep. Jason Probst, a Hutchinson Democrat, said the map represents “everything that people hate about us.”

“It’s only right by one measurement and that’s politics,” he said.

The proposal draws districts for the state’s four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Kansas lawmakers must draw a new map every 10 years to account for population shifts documented in the U.S. Census.

Democrats have said the plan dilutes the votes of left-leaning communities and people of color in an effort to defeat the state’s one Democratic member of Congress.

The plan would split part of Wyandotte County out of the 3rd District and replace it with Republican-leaning rural counties southwest of the Kansas City area.

The map would also move the left-leaning community of Lawrence from the 2nd District into the large, conservative 1st District that stretches west to the Colorado border.

Jim McLean is the senior correspondent for the Kansas News Service. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks or email jim (at) kcur (dot) org. 

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. 

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link toksnewsservice.org.

Jim McLean is a political correspondent for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration based at KCUR with other public media stations across Kansas. You can email him at jim@kcur.org.
As the Kansas News Service managing editor, I help our statewide team of reporters find the important issues and breaking news that impact people statewide. We refine our daily stories to illustrate the issues and events that affect the health, well-being and economic stability of the people of Kansas. Email me at skoranda@kcur.org.
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