Republican Infighting Leads to Chaos in Kansas Redistricting

Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS)

The filing deadline for state races in Kansas passed earlier today, just four days after a federal court had to redraw the state’s legislative maps because two factions of the state Republican Party could not agree on which maps they wanted to pass. With only a few short days to round up candidates for the new districts, both political parties spent the weekend in chaos:

There are 25 open House seats, fully 20% of that branch of the legislature. Forty-six incumbent members have been tossed into potential races with other incumbents (not counting the spouse of the late Bob Bethell.)

Kansas law requires filers to “reside” in the district they wish to represent at the time of filing. That means the political parties mush work all weekend to find candidates for the open seats, and/or convince incumbents to establish residence in the new open districts before Monday at noon.

Yet, while the legislature’s failure to draw districts led to a hectic weekend for politicians across the state, the true victims are the people of Kansas. In some districts, it’s likely that only one candidate will manage to file, leaving the voters with no choice regarding who will represent them. It’s even possible that some districts could have no candidates at all.

Even members of the legislature themselves appear to be disgusted with the entire process. Leading moderate Republican Sen. John Vratil announced his retirement in response to the ordeal, claiming to have lost interest in the being part of the Senate and taking a shot at his fellow Republican Gov. Sam Brownback in the process. House Minority Leader Paul Davis (D) expressed similar concerns, telling ThinkProgress “the redistricting situation was caused by Governor’s Brownback desire to oust members of his own political party from the Kansas legislature. He is very intent on trying to drive out Republicans that don’t support his agenda – that’s really the root cause of why the legislature was not able to successfully complete the redistricting process.”

Yet, while state lawmakers no doubt deserve blame for being unable to complete a fairly basic legislative task, much of the blame for these events rests with the Supreme Court, which largely abdicated oversight over politically motivated gerrymanders in a case called Vieth v. Jubelirer. Thanks to this decision, partisan lawmakers now have no adult supervision when they set out to draw maps, and little real incentive to avoid using redistricting as a once-in-a-decade opportunity to consolidate their own power.