TOPEKA — House Speaker Mike O’Neal has backed away from a plan to start redrawing state Senate districts.
Today, in a brief meeting of the House Redistricting Committee, O’Neal said he’s received assurances from the Senate leadership that they’ll bring a map to a vote by Friday. In addition to cutting today’s meeting short, O’Neal canceled a redistricting meeting scheduled for Friday.
“Hopefully the next meeting will be a conference committee,” where House and Senate negotiators will get together to work out any differences between their chambers’ maps, O’Neal said.
The two Houses of the Legislature and the governor are required once every 10 years to redraw legislative districts to reflect population shifts in the Census and ensure equal representation.
O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, had earlier announced that the House would begin work on Senate district maps today, because the Senate hasn’t yet done its own redistricting.
O’Neal’s plan to have the House draw Senate maps would have been a departure from long tradition.
Ordinarily, the House would draw up its maps and the Senate would draw its own, and each chamber would pass the other’s map without changes.
But this year, the Senate has been hard pressed to pass a map because of election-year pressures.
A map currently under consideration would separate at least three and possibly more incumbent senators from House members and others who hope to challenge them in the election.
One of those potential challengers, Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, said that even if the Senate does pass a map, she’d still like to see the House create its own Senate map.
Landwehr is one of the representatives who hopes to move up to the Senate and has announced plans to run against moderate Republican Jean Schodorf.
However, the Senate’s current proposed map would put Landwehr and Schodorf in different districts.
Landwehr accused the Senate of “gerrymandering” districts in an attempt to protect incumbents.
“I would hope if they continue down that path … the House might give some consideration to doing a Senate map,” Landwehr said.
Landwehr said she doesn’t understand why senators — including Schodorf — should be afraid to face an opponent if they were doing what voters elected them to do.
She said Schodorf runs on a conservative Republican platform and then votes more liberally in Topeka.
“Look how she votes, the majority of the time it’s with the Democrats,” Landwehr said.
Schodorf replied that she’s not afraid to run against Landwehr and has planned to run against her all along.
“She’s just blustering and trying to bully people,” Schodorf said. “I did not want be on that (redistricting) committee and I haven’t drawn any maps.
“The Senate’s going to draw a map they believe creates the best districts, not gerrymandered.”
O’Neal said the Senate will probably advance the “Ad Astra” map, the one that has troubled Landwehr and others, primarily conservative Republicans, who want to challenge sitting senators in the election.
O’Neal did not commit to challenging the Senate’s map if the final version does draw challengers out of incumbents’ districts, although he acknowledged that is a concern.
“We’ll take a look at it when it comes out,” he said.