State party officials say the legislative delay in redrawing Kansas political boundaries is making it difficult to recruit candidates to run for House and Senate openings.
Until they know where the district lines will fall, parties are reluctant to have candidates put their names on the ballot.
“All it does is insulate incumbents, and that’s not fair,” said Joan Wagnon, chairwoman of the Kansas Democratic Party.
Legislators had expressed a desire to make quick work of redrawing the boundaries, but self-imposed deadlines and goals to finish the maps by March passed. Legislators now find themselves in the throes of the wrap-up session, where not only do redistricting issues linger, but also the 2012-2013 state budget, proposals to cut taxes, and changes to the state public employee retirement system.
The Senate hasn’t approved a redistricting plan yet, as conservative and moderate Republicans have accused one another of trying to gain an advantage in GOP primary contests that will determine whether moderates retain the Senate’s GOP majority.
“It is obvious that internal Republican political conflicts are making it impossible for the Legislature to do their job and pass a map. Every other state in the country has already passed a map,” Wagnon said. “It is an embarrassment to Kansas that GOP leadership has failed at this essential democratic function.”
Wagnon, a former state legislator and secretary of revenue for Kathleen Sebelius when she was governor, said it is in the Democrats’ long-term interest to see strength among moderate Republicans in the Legislature.
“This is going to be an uphill battle, but we still believe there is an opportunity” Wagnon said. “We’re going to go out and fight in every district across the state.”
The stalemate also has kept the Senate from voting upon a bipartisan plan approved by the House in February to redraw state representatives’ districts. Each chamber has passed a congressional redistricting bill but killed the other chamber’s plan.
Senators will get a chance to vote on a new map that emerged from committee this past Friday.
It collapses a district in western Kansas and creates a new one in Johnson County where population has been growing.
The issue, however, isn’t the shift from rural to urban districts, but boundaries that House Speaker Mike O’Neal says are unfair to challengers.
O’Neal said that there was no excuse for the Senate to not have approved a House district map, moved it to the governor and obtained the approval of courts.
“That’s the fair way of doing it. It just makes the Legislature look bad, like incumbents are trying to run out the clock to keep the competition away,” said O’Neal, a Hutchinson Republican.
It also complicates trying to raise campaign funds, he said. Candidates who aren’t in elected office can raise money during the legislative session, but not knowing whom to ask and for what seat can restrict the ability to raise funds.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said most candidates should have a good idea, especially with the House map that has been largely settled since February.
“I don’t think there is any potential candidate that is hamstrung by the process,” said Hensley, a Topeka Democrat. “The core of existing districts has been preserved.”
He cautioned candidates “not to tip their hand too soon” by filing or declaring their intent before the maps are finalized.
“We just have to see where this process takes us,” Hensley added. “We may end up in court.”