TOPEKA — Only a cartographer or a state legislator could get this excited over maps.
Cartographers, because they like maps. Legislators, because where the lines are drawn for their district can directly affect their future as officeholders.
Today, the Senate Reapportionment Committee added a third map to two proposals that had drawn some condemnation from conservatives because they drew a conservative challenger out of the district of Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick.
Map No. 3, proposed by Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, puts McGinn and businessman Gary Mason in the same district, as they are now.
In written testimony to the committee, Mason complained he was being “Gary-mandered” out of the district where he wants to run, a play on words alluding to “Gerrymadering,” the practice of drawing districts to favor one candidate or party over another.
The committee chairman, Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, forbade confreres from reading their testimony at the hearing.
“This is not a political debate,” Owens said. “This is not a political discussion, if it were to turn into any kind of session like that … I will close this hearing in a heartbeat.
In his written statement, Mason said: “I am from the private sector and I believe in competition … Competition in government is good. It is healthy and results in better governance, transparency and most importantly creates better citizen representation.”
McGinn released a statement of her own noting that the district she represents, the 31st Senate District, must shed about 7,500 voters to reach population parity with other districts.
She said that is “a reflection of the hard work our local leaders and I have put into growing jobs and attracting new residents.”
“As the Legislature works through this process, it should not be focused on where one person lives or doesn’t live” she wrote. “It should be focused on making sure the new districts include communities with common interests.”
Although he was admonished not to read his prepared statement, Mason did speak to the committee and asked if he could submit his own redistricting map. A representative of the Legislative Research Department offered to help him.
Owens warned Mason that there could be a long line of people also looking for Legislative Research assistance. “Certainly, the priority is going to be given to legislators who are trying to get maps drawn,” he said.
Sen Ruth Teichman, R-Stafford, who served on the last redistricting committee 10 years ago, questioned whether private citizens should even be allowed to tap state resources to create their own redistricting maps.
Back then, “I don’t believe then that there was availability for outside people to use our staff,” she said.
Owens said he’d check and see if that is allowable and put the policy on the state’s reapportionment web site, redistricting.ks.gov.
McGinn said she thought the state has already made accommodations for members of the public to develop their own redistricting maps.
“We have a web site, I thought, where people can go in and play around with that,” she said.
The Progressive Congress Action Fund has set up an online redistricting map-making program at http://action.progressivecongress.org/redistricting. Emporia State University Professor Michael A. Smith used that site for his students to make their own redistricting maps, and announced a statewide contest for the general public to try to come up with maps that most closely match those that ultimately emerge from the Legislature.
Owens acknowledged that the first two maps have “gotten a lot of discussion, a lot of anxiety and a lot of angst.”
He said he doesn’t support them himself, but released the maps to create a starting point and spur committee members to bring in their own proposals that have, so far, been kept under wraps.
“One of the worst things is how many people have secrets,” he said. “I don’t want to talk about this ‘you show me yours and I’ll show you mine.’ We’re beyond that.”