OPINION

Kansas Republican leadership would be unwise to gerrymander our congressional districts

By The Editorial Advisory Board
Current Kansas' congressional districts

The redistricting process in Kansas has already gotten off to a shaky start.

Let’s review: Fourteen town hall meetings were set up in cities across the state but crammed into a near-impossible five-day schedule. When the meetings were last held in 2011, they spanned July to October. That gave residents more of an opportunity to weigh in on the drawing of congressional districts.

What’s more, the U.S. Census Bureau didn’t release preliminary data from its nationwide count until Thursday — at which point many of the town halls had already been conducted. The entire process is predicated on the once-a-decade counting of our population. What kind of substantive conversation could be had without it?

To be fair, a second round of town halls will be planned for the fall to collect more input, which is better than nothing. But why botch the first round?

That answer, of course, is politics.

Last time Kansas went through the process, the House and Senate clashed over maps. The courts ended up drawing the districts, which were fairer as a result. Many Republicans are eager to gerrymander the state, which has three GOP U.S. representatives and one Democratic U.S. representative, into a 100% Republican powerhouse.

That’s a short-sighted and destructive attitude. Yes, Republicans were elected to majorities in the Kansas House and Senate, which are tasked with drawing the maps. But Kansans elected a Democratic governor, who will also have a say in the process. And the country as a whole elected a Democratic U.S. House, Senate and president.

How would Kansas Republicans feel if the U.S. Congress tried to draw nationwide lines favoring Democrats? They would surely call it absurd overreach (and they have done so with even modest proposals for nonpartisan redistricting).

But those majorities in Washington, D.C., were duly elected as well.

The answer is simple. Republicans should step back from the precipice. They should listen to the testimony of so many Kansans at the town halls urging them not to gerrymander our state. They should understand that just because they can do something doesn’t mean they should.

For the rest of us? Engage with the process. This first week of meetings has finished. But there will be more opportunities to weigh in. Everyone should take a few minutes to read up on the issues. How do you feel about them? What would you want our state government to do?

Should voters pick our leaders? Or should our leaders pick their voters?