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Kansas Republicans overrode the Democratic governor’s veto and enacted a new congressional map that reduces the 2022 re-election prospects of the state’s only Democrat in Congress.
Republicans barely mustered the requisite numbers of 84 in the House and 27 in the Senate to override Gov. Laura Kelly, who vetoed the map Feb. 3. The votes were 85 to 37 in the state House on Wednesday and 27 to 11 in the state Senate on Feb. 8.
Kelly said the redistricting changes divide communities of interest and dilute the voting strength of racial and ethnic minorities.
“Let me be clear. If Kansas passes this illegal map, it will be sued,” Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias said on Twitter on Jan. 28.
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Kelly and Democratic legislators objected to how the map shifted most of Wyandotte County, a heavily Democratic and minority-majority area in and around Kansas City, out of the 3rd District held by two-term Democrat Sharice Davids.
In the 3rd District, the new configuration reduced President Joe Biden’s 2020 election margin of victory to 4 percentage points from 11 points.
Republican mapmakers noted Davids would have won in 2020 under the new lines, and said that Wyandotte County was cleaved because it and suburban Johnson County together were too populous to include wholly in one district.
They divided Wyandotte, placing the district line along Interstate 70, which bifurcates the county horizontally. Republicans added to the 3rd District some rural and Republican-friendly counties south of metropolitan Kansas City.
Davids faces a likely rematch with Republican Amanda Adkins, who lost their 2020 matchup by 10 points.
The party that controls the White House frequently loses seats in midterm elections, so altering that district to become only mildly pro-Biden could make a turnover more likely, or at a minimum force Democrats to work harder to avoid losing ground.
Most of Wyandotte’s residents were folded into the 2nd District, which includes the state capital of Topeka and is represented by one-term Republican Jake LaTurner.
To protect LaTurner, Republicans shifted the city of Lawrence, a liberal bastion that includes the University of Kansas, from the 2nd to the 1st District—a mostly rural 60-county district that takes in most of the state’s land area, including Dodge City more than 300 miles west of Lawrence. One-term Republican Tracey Mann represents that district, often called the “Big First.”
Republican Rep. Ron Estes would continue to be favored to win re-election in the 4th District anchored by Wichita.
Kansas Republicans have supermajorities in the legislature but labored to secure enough votes within their ranks to overcome the governor’s opposition. The Senate’s first override attempt on Feb. 7 fell short by two votes. Only after Republican leaders convinced two of their members to switch their position did the chamber override Kelly on its second try.
Democrats noted that one of the two vote-switching Republicans, Mark Steffen, did so hours after a Senate committee advanced vaccine and Covid-19 measures he sponsored. Steffen, a physician from Hutchinson in the overwhelmingly Republican 1st District, denounced “insidious redistricting” that added “Lawrence liberals” to the 1st even as he voted to override Feb. 8.
“We see what happens when you get 24 hours and you get to make some backroom deals to get your way,” Kansas Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes (D) said just before the final vote tally was announced.
Senate President Ty Masterson, the leading sponsor of the Republican map, said “extreme rhetoric” from some Democrats was “out of bounds” and that “hurling accusations that impugn motives of your colleagues based on your personal interpretation of political boundaries is truly beyond the pale.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Giroux in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org