TOPEKA — The Senate has redrawn its members’ districts, including an amendment that sets up a primary election showdown between two popular Wichita Republicans, Sen. Jean Schodorf and Rep. Brenda Landwehr.
That particular corner of the electoral map has been one of the epicenters in a series of charges and counter-charges that legislative factions are playing politics with district lines, to try to either protect or make it easier to defeat moderate incumbent senators.
After three hours of debate and two amendments that put conservative challengers in districts now held by moderate senators, the Senate passed the map on a 21-19 vote, the bare majority.
That map passed after the Senate rejected a more conservative-friendly map put forward by Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, by 19-21. It was the second time Abrams had brought forward a map that was narrowly defeated.
Charges of “conniving,” “blackmail” and “gerrymandering” flew back and forth as the Senators worked out details of the legislative lines, which have to be redrawn by the Legislature and governor every 10 years to reflect new Census numbers and assure equality of representation.
Seeking to head off the issue, Schodorf proposed an amendment on the Senate floor that would put her and Landwehr up for election in the same Senate district, the 25th.
Schodorf accused Gov. Sam Brownback and conservative elements in the House of obstructing important work on taxes, the budget, school finance, public employees’ retirement and other issues in order to pressure the Senate to pass a map favorable to conservative Senate challengers.
“All of these issues are being held on the south side (the House side of the Capitol) and the second floor (the governor’s floor) until the Senate passes a map,” Schodorf said.
She said her amendment “would draw my potential opponent into the district” and could “help us get back to work on issues of major concern to Kansas.”
Landwehr, who has already announced she’ll challenge Schodorf for the Republican nomination, attended the Senate’s redistricting meeting.
She sat at the side of the Senate chamber, a few feet behind Schodorf and next to Schodorf’s daughter, Kelly.
Later, she said she thanks and applauds Schodorf for stepping forward and amending her into the district. But she said the same map had been debated and Schodorf supported it before the Legislature’s spring break.
She said if the changes had been made then, the Legislature could have avoided “all the political games” since and spent its attention on issues such as the budget, tax reform and school finance.
“I believe we need proactive public servants like myself who are more concerned about helping the people find a job than a senator trying to keep her own job,” Landwehr said.
In a preview of election issues to come, Schodorf sent out a press release quoting Landwehr as saying she wanted to be included in a district “where primarily Caucasian voters reside in homes that are upward of $800,000.”
“While I can’t respect Ms. Landwehr’s disregard for the hard-working people who live in my district, I do respect her right to run in this election,” Schodorf said in the statement. “The 25th District is a community of working families from all economic backgrounds who care about having job opportunities, strong schools and state roads. I invite Ms. Landwehr to get to know the people of the 25th District and the issues that matter most to our community.”
Landwehr acknowledged that Schodorf had accurately quoted her testimony to the Senate Redistricting Committee, but said the statement was in reaction to a now-rejected map that she felt would have diluted minority and low-income representation by moving some of those voters into a more affluent district.
“I’m not a snob,” she said. “I grew up in that (25th) district, I was born and raised in that district and I know what it’s like to be poor.”
Minutes after the Schodorf amendment passed on a voice vote, the Senate passed a second amendment by Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park and chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee, to draw his opponent, Rep. Greg Smith, R-Overland Park, into his district.
But in proposing the amendment, Owens addressed the “800-pound gorilla in the room,” which he called “planning and conniving” by conservative House leadership and the governor to replace moderate Republican senators with conservative ones.
“They don’t like the fact that this body has had the ability to moderate many of the things that are going on,” he said. “There has been a lot of discussion that has gone on behind the scenes, a lot of planning and conniving … so that you can change the way things are done in Kansas.”
Owens said he personally opposed drawing district lines based on who wants to run against whom, and that the only reason he proposed amending Smith into his district was an agreement by Senate leaders to get House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, to acquiesce to the Senate map.
Owens said Senate leaders have told him O’Neal agreed not to challenge the Senate map if Landwehr and Smith were drawn into the districts they wanted.
“I want it clearly understood that House Speaker O’Neal promised the leadership in this body that he would support the maps that we sent over if we put the two people into the map that were allegedly drawn out,” Owens said. “I am going to hold him to that promise and I hope the people of the state will hold him to that promise.”
He said if the House passes a different map, he will oppose it at the House-Senate conference committee that would result.
O’Neal dropped by the Senate and said that there was no deal struck of the type that Owens outlined.
“I don’t appreciate being misrepresented on the floor of the Senate,” O’Neal said.
He said that he had personally indicated to the Senate leaders that he had a problem with drawing potential challengers out of incumbents’ districts. And that moving Landwehr and Smith was not enough to alleviate that concern.
He said he also had concerns about the potential matchup between Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, and businessman Gary Mason, who wants to challenge her.
Mason is currently out of McGinn’s district but has said he’ll move if necessary to run against her.
“Should a known candidate have to move when the Senate intentionally draws them out?” O’Neal said.
Following the meeting, Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, confirmed that he and Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, R-Emporia, had met twice with the governor, O’Neal and House Majority Leader Arlen Siegfreid, R-Olathe.
Morris said the senators felt like they had reached agreement with O’Neal about including challengers in incumbents’ districts and thought they had met his concerns.
“He specifically talked about Smith and Landwehr,” Morris said.
“I’m disappointed,” Morris said of O’Neal’s comments. “Hopefully he will look at our agreement and honor it.”