Kansas House map plan raises concerns about Leavenworth County, LGBTQ representation

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TOPEKA — Kansas representatives began deliberation Wednesday on a proposed map redrawing House districts, taking a slower approach to the task than their counterparts across the rotunda.

More than 50 people submitted testimony to the House Redistricting Committee urging modifications to the map titled Freestate 3, with debate largely centered around Leavenworth County districts, LGBTQ representation, and the need for further analysis. Unlike the Senate redistricting panel, which approved the maps after a single hearing on Tuesday despite requests to give more time for map analysis, the House committee indicated it would take feedback into account and amend the map.

“This is a difficult process that we’re going through, but I really do appreciate the dialogue today from the committee members and from the community that did have input,” said Rep. Tom Burroughs, the ranking Democrat, from Kansas City. “In reference to working bills, looking at amendments, I know there have been some comments about people that still want to visit with you. I think that’s extremely important after we take testimony.”

Kansas legislators are tasked with redrawing congressional, legislative and school board districts every 10 years. The brand-new 125 House Districts may have a less dramatic impact on the state’s political landscape, but the new proposal would see a wave of incumbents swept out of office.

The maps, introduced Monday, pair House Speaker Ron Ryckman with Rep. Megan Lynn, R-Olathe, in the 49th House District. Ryckman has held office since 2012 and is in his third term as speaker.

Ryckman’s current district is trending less conservative. Ryckman won reelection by five points over a Democrat challenger in 2020, but in 2016 that margin was 23 points.

The new maps also would drastically alter the district served by Rep. Steven Johnson, an Assaria Republican who is not seeking reelection, campaigning instead for state treasurer. Johnson’s 108th District constituents would be scattered among several other central Kansas districts held by Republicans that lost population.

Reps. Kyle Hoffman, R-Coldwater, and Boyd Orr, R-Fowler, would be placed together in the 115th District.

Jeffrey Howards, chairman of the Leavenworth County Democratic Party, took issue with how the map dealt with districts in his county. He said input provided in town halls last year was ignored and the city is subject to “gross gerrymandering” under the Freestate 3 proposal.

He said the city was still divided between two districts, and now a finger runs from the southern end of the county to relocate one precinct from the center of Leavenworth into another district.

“Coincidentally, that one precinct happens to be the precinct that I and vocal opponents of Rep. (Pat) Proctor happen to live in,” Howards said. “If I were paranoid, I might believe that our precinct was purposely cherrypicked so as to remove a majority of the opposition from District 41.”

He urged the committee to revisit and ensure the population changes were adequately distributed rather than one precinct being removed. Howards and others testifying echoed complaints heard in the Senate hearing that ample time was not extended to the public for review. The House maps were introduced Monday.

Tom Witt, executive director at Equality Kansas, took issue with the approach the committee took to House District 30 in Johnson County, stretching it westward instead of south. He said this unnecessary alteration would alter the partisan balance of the district represented by the first openly gay man elected to the Kansas Legislature, Rep. Brandon Woodard.

“Drawing one of the first LGBTQ legislators out of their districts is the latest legislative attack against our community and follows the gerrymandered redrawing of the 3rd Congressional District,” Witt said. “We have spent nearly two decades working to earn our seats at the table, finally succeeding in 2018 and again in 2020. Now, instead of allowing voters to choose LGBTQ candidates to represent them in Topeka, Freestate 3 proponents have decided to choose new voters for him.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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