Published February 8th, 2022 at 4:30 PM
TOPEKA — The Kansas Senate completed Tuesday a rebuke of Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of a congressional redistricting map shifting moderate-voting Lawrence to the rural 1st District and realigning the 3rd District to weaken re-election prospects of the state’s lone Democratic U.S. representative.
The configuration crafted by the GOP-led Senate and House was rejected by Kelly, arguing it would improperly mangle the 3rd District of eastern Kansas by moving one-third of its Hispanic population and nearly half its Black population to the more rural 1st and 2nd districts.
The Senate failed Monday to muster the two-thirds majority required for an override. In the subsequent 24 hours, Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, secured the 27th vote to meet the minimum constitutional requirement for overriding a governor’s veto.
The congressional map outlining new district boundaries for the state’s four representatives is expected to be the subject of a lawsuit.
Sen. Mark Steffen, R-Hutchinson, and Sen. Alicia Straub, R-Ellinwood, flip-flopped from “no” to “yes” on the congressional map. Their decisions followed a Senate committee’s decision to endorse a bill sought by Steffen to derail the Kansas Board of Healing Arts’ investigation of doctors approving off-label treatments for COVID-19. Steffen, a physician who has gone against the grain to endorse use of ivermectin against the coronavirus, is under investigation by the state regulatory board.
That same bill would allow children to sidestep vaccination requirements put in place by child-care facilities and schools, which is a provision endorsed by Steffen and Straub.
“I’ve never stood for anything really that our current governor has stood for,” said Straub, acknowledging her previous “no” vote had more to do with thwarting vaccination mandates and less about opposing the congressional map. “What I do stand for is freedom, and freedom from fear. This is not about standing with the governor. It’s standing for freedom.”
Another pair of “no” votes Monday on the map by Sen. Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, and Sen. John Doll, R-Garden City, were changed to “present and passing.”
Sen. David Haley, a Democrat from Kansas City, Kansas, said he was disturbed GOP lawmakers were so intent on diluting communities of interest by breaking up Democratic U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids’ 3rd District of Wyandotte, Johnson and Miami counties. The map labeled Ad Astra 2 will harm representation of both urban and rural Kansans, he said.
In the new map, the top half of Wyandotte County would become part of the 2nd District held by GOP Rep. Jake LaTurner. To appease LaTurner, the new map swept Lawrence out of his 2nd District and into the 1st District served by GOP U.S. Rep. Tracey Mann. The 1st District stretches to the Colorado border. Bottom line: The GOP nominee in the new 3rd District has a better chance of beating Davids.
“I hope that whomever got them to change their mind will get what it is they bargained for,” Haley said. “We have no desire to become more rural in the division that is in this map. Ad Astra clearly takes the values of an inclusive, broader community into a more rural, homogenized if you will, spectrum in our state.”
There was no full-throated Senate debate during Round Two of this redistricting conflict, but Democrats not pleased with the outcome voiced their criticism.
“This map is a travesty,” said Sen. Cindy Holscher, an Overland Park Democrat. “It does not serve the people. When we do things like this, democracy dies a little bit.”
Senate Democratic Leader Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa, joined Haley in denouncing “backroom deals” struck by GOP leadership to find the 27th vote for an override.
“I am disappointed with this chamber and in the leadership on the other side of the aisle,” Sykes said.
Tim Carpenter covers the Capitol for the Kansas Reflector, a nonprofit news operation covering Kansas state government and politics as part of States Newsroom. This story first appeared on the Reflector.