Lawmaker protests “damn ugly” district, but Senate redistricting map moves forward

TOPEKA — After a short committee meeting and an angry outburst from one member, the state Senate inched toward approving new districts for its members.

On an 8-3 vote, the Senate Redistricting Committee advanced new district maps for the Senate, House and state Board of Education.

But not before a tirade from Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, who protested the large geographic size of the redrawn 40th Senate District in the northwest corner of the state.

Ostmeyer complained that it would take him 3 1/2 hours to traverse the 40th from corner to corner while other more urban districts are far more compact.

“Some of you are just picking up a precinct, you can walk across your damn district in a day,” Ostmeyer said. “I think my district deserves better from this committee. I am disappointed to think that anybody in this chair, and you can grin about it, try covering my district.

“I make the choice to serve that district, but to serve a district that damn ugly … I think is wrong.”

Ostmeyer declined to comment after the meeting.

The Senate is working to catch up to the House in the once-every-10-year process of redistricting. The Legislature and governor are required by the state Constitution to redraw district lines to reflect population changes in the Census and ensure equal representation across the state.

The committee made only slight changes to the Senate map, known as “Ad Astra.”

The changes included swapping numbers between a western Kansas area that is essentially losing a district because of loss of population and Johnson County, which is gaining one due to population increase.

Another change slightly moved a district line to avoid dividing the towns of Baxter Springs and Keats, a small community near Manhattan.

The committee also approved a map for the state Board of Education and “Cottonwood 1,” a House map that had been drawn by the House earlier.

Those maps are expected to come before the full Senate for a vote next week, said committee Chairman Tim Owens, R-Overland Park.

The Ad Astra map has been criticized by leaders in the House and some senators because it separates some Senate incumbents from challengers who have announced intentions to seek the seats.

In Sedgwick County, the Ad Astra map would put Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, in a different district than a challenger, Rep. Brenda Landwehr, also R-Wichita.

It also would move businessman Gary Mason out of the district of the senator he wants to challenge, Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick,

Owens said the Redistricting Committee will be called back next week to work on Congressional districts.

The Senate has already rejected the House’s first shot at a congressional map, which would have divided Topeka between two districts. It has also narrowly rejected a conservative-leaning Senate map proposed by Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, that would have put the challengers in the districts where they want to be.

Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said he has concerns about the Ad Astra map because it creates a head-to-head matchup in western Kansas between two sitting senators, Garrett Love, R-Montezuma and Allen Schmidt, D-Hays.

Although Senate leaders made it a priority to avoid districts pitting incumbents against each other, rural Kansas has to essentially lose a Senate district somewhere to accommodate a new district in growing Johnson County.

Senate Republican leaders have said it made sense to put Love and Schmidt in the same district, because both were appointed to fill vacancies and neither has had to face an election for his current seat.

Hensley, however, said he thinks some other part of the state should lose a district.

“Western Kansas took the hit 10 years ago and I’m not sure it’s fair that western Kansas should once again take the hit,” he said.

Hensley said he does not plan to offer amendments to the revised Ad Astra map and said he’s not sure whether Democrats will try to help pass it.

The Democrats on the Redistricting Committee, Hensley, Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, and David Haley, D-Kansas City, all voted to advance the Ad Astra map to the full Senate.

Hensley did say that he thinks the Democrats will have a key role because of the division among the Republicans, who numerically dominate the Senate.

“I think there is a tremendous amount of conflict in the Senate map between the Republicans and I would view the Senate Democratic Caucus’ role as, well, we have seven or eight votes that are important in terms of getting to the constitutional majority of 21,” he said. “We have yet to really sit down as a caucus and visit about where we will be in the whole scheme of things, but I think we’ll play a very important role in terms of whether this map is actually going to end up passing.”