Senate tackles fresh redistricting controversy with Board of Education map

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TOPEKA — The Kansas Senate leadership proposed Monday a redistricting map for the 10-member Kansas Board of Education that critics indicated unnecessarily placed four incumbents in head-to-head showdowns.

The proposed map ran into opposition when unveiled during a meeting of the Senate Redistricting Committee, which previously contributed to shaping new Kansas Senate and U.S. House maps. The state Board of Education boundaries must include four contiguous Senate districts.

Under the “Apple” map offered by Senate Republicans in the form of Senate Bill 577, districts of the state Board of Education would be modified to create a hypothetical race between Salina Republican Deena Horst against Garden City Republican Jean Clifford.

In addition, the proposed map could pit Democrat Janet Waugh of Kansas City, Kansas, against Democrat Melanie Haas of Overland Park. Waugh is unlikely to seek re-election in 2022.

Shifts contemplated by the Senate GOP could result in transitioning the board’s six Republican, four Democrat construction to an eight Republican, two Democrat split.

Five state Board of Education members must stand for re-election in 2022 if they want to remain on the board. The other five members would each serve a newly drawn district, even if they didn’t live within boundaries of that assigned district, until up for re-election in 2024.

Jim Porter, chairman of the state Board of Education, proposed an alternative map developed by members of the state board. It was named “Little Jerusalem Badlands,” a reference to the state’s newest state park, and labeled Senate Bill 576. It was based on redistricting standards endorsed by the Senate and House, including deference to incumbents.

He said the map followed new Senate boundaries and grouped together four contiguous counties for each Board of Education district. None of the current 10 members of the state Board of Education would have their residence drawn out of their current district, he said.

“This map was created by the Kansas State Board of Education for the Kansas State Board of Education, which has for the last decade developed a tight relationship with its districts,” Porter said. “We realize that populations shift, so some Kansans will have to adjust to new district constituents. However, we desire to keep these changes to a minimum.”

“Our proposal takes into heavy consideration existing district boundaries and incumbents. With only half the body up for election every two years, it is prudent to draw boundary lines that resemble current district lines as closely as possible,” he said.

The Senate committee didn’t vote on a map during its initial meeting, but plan to keep working this week on the mapping project.

None of the people submitting testimony to the committee were in support of the Senate GOP’s map.

Patrick Gouger, who lives in the Shawnee Mission School District and the 2nd District represented by Haas, said the GOP Republican map violated redistricting guidelines. He said it would dramatically change geographic areas served by board members, displace incumbents and neglect the goal of keeping school districts, cities and counties whole.

Gouger said it would split north Johnson County’s Shawnee Mission School District among three separate state Board of Education districts. The three state Board of Education members sharing that piece of Johnson County also would be responsible for diverse interests of residents of Wyandotte, Miami, Douglas, Leavenworth, Franklin, Osage and Shawnee counties.

“Let me be clear from the outset. SB 577 smacks of the aggressive, partisan overreach so favored by this committee throughout the 2022 redistricting process,” said Leslie Mark, who piggybacked on Gouger’s critique. “‘Apple’ is a rotten, worm-eaten gerrymander.”

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: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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