Published January 25th, 2022 at 9:50 AM
TOPEKA — Wyandotte County resident Connie Brown Collins says new congressional boundaries passed by the state Senate appear to “literally cut through backyards” of several diverse communities.
Republicans in the Legislature have fast-tracked an effort to redraw congressional districts in a way that would divide the Kansas City metro area along Interstate 70.
As a result, Brown Collins said during a news conference Monday at the Statehouse, 39,000 Latino residents and 30,000 Black residents would be relocated from the 3rd District, the only one in Kansas currently represented by a Democrat, and into the 2nd District. This “population shuffle,” Brown Collins said, will decrease the voting power of a majority-minority vote.
“If legislators think we in Wyandotte County are snoozing through this travesty, that we are not aware or we do not care, think again,” Brown Collins said. “You have awakened a sleeping lion.”
Kansans for Fair Maps, a coalition of advocacy groups, organized the news conference to elevate the voices of residents in the Kansas City metro area who are upset about the proposed new map. They spoke in front of the Brown v. Board mural on the third floor, a tribute to the landmark civil rights case that ended segregation in public schools.
Senate and House redistricting panels introduced the Ad Astra map favored by Republicans during a hearing last week and heard overwhelming opposition in testimony. The Senate panel proceeded to pass a version of the map that corrected the oversight of splitting the Kickapoo Indian reservation between districts. On Friday, the full Senate endorsed Ad Astra 2.
The House panel held additional hearings Monday.
“The House process is still ongoing. It has been fair, deliberate and transparent,” the House Republican leadership said in a statement for this story. “We look forward to seeing the results of the committee’s work.”
Under current lines drawn by courts a decade ago, the 3rd District currently includes the Kansas City metro area that sprawls across Wyandotte and Johnson counties. U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, a Democrat, American Indian, and the first openly LGBTQ member of Congress from Kansas, won election there in 2018 and retained the seat in 2020.
Republicans redrew her district to eliminate Democrats’ votes in the northern half of Wyandotte County and move Republican strongholds from Anderson, Miami and Franklin counties into the district.
“The way this map is drawn really diminishes her chance of being reelected,” said Tom Witt, of Equality Kansas. “The voters chose her, and they chose her twice. And now Senate leadership is trying to choose different voters for her. I don’t know how the rest of you grew up, but I grew up in America where democracy matters.”
Thomas Alonzo said he has lived in Wyandotte County his entire life, except for when he served in the military. He said his Kansas City, Kansas, community’s interests are deeply tied to their neighbors to the south.
The Ad Astra map “demonstrates a lack of competent, moral and ethical leadership,” Alonzo said.
“There is nothing democratic or patriotic about deliberately cutting up a district to prevent its voters from having the ability to select individuals to represent us that will protect our interests,” Alonzo said.
Liz Meitl lives in Johnson County and works for the Kansas City, Kansas, public school district in Wyandotte County. She said there are thousands of others who work in one county and live in the other. Their lives are interconnected, she said.
“When you divide us by congressional districts, you are creating schisms, unnatural schisms that both perpetuate racist and systemic institutionalized inequalities and perpetuate a system in which the elites disenfranchise voters,” Meitl said.
Senate Republican leaders have dismissed concerns about the way the map affects the voting power of Democrats and communities of color. The map also moves heavily Democratic Lawrence from the 2nd District to the rural 1st District.
Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said all four members of Congress would retain their seats based on 2020 election results, although Witt said that claim hasn’t been verified since underlying data was made available late Thursday.
“On balance,” Senate Republicans said in explaining their vote, “this map will serve the state well for the next decade.”
This story first appeared on the Kansas Reflector, a nonprofit news operation covering Kansas state government and politics that is part of States Newsroom. Sherman Smith is editor of the Reflector.