TOPEKA In a decision shaping this summer’s Republican primaries, the Kansas Senate on Tuesday agreed to new election boundaries that would give challengers to two moderate Republican senators.
The bill, approved on 21-19 vote, would put two conservative Republicans back in Senate districts that they were cut out of when the maps were originally crafted weeks ago. The measure now goes to the House, where its future is still uncertain.
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The maps, a key part in the battle over control of the Senate, place conservative Republican Rep. Greg Smith of Overland Park back in a district with moderate incumbent Republican Sen. Tim Owens, also of Overland Park.
They also put conservative Republican Rep. Brenda Landwehr of Wichita back in a district with moderate Republican Sen. Jean Schodorf.
The Senate agreed to the district changes after it thought it had reached an agreement with the House to pass the Senate’s maps on the condition that the two challengers were placed back in their districts.
Senators hoped that by making the deal they could expedite other legislative issues that had slowed down because of the feud with the House over the Senate’s map.
But Senators learned late Tuesday they didn’t have a deal after House Speaker Mike O’Neal visited with Senate leaders in their offices during the redistricting debate.
“My impression was that if the opponents were back in, the map would be seen favorably by the House,” said Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican.
The Senate did not put a third conservative challenger — Gary Mason of Wichita — back in a district now represented by moderate Sen. Carolyn McGinn of Sedgwick.
That drew a sharp rebuke from O’Neal, who said there was no deal made with the Senate.
“I strongly believe it is unacceptable to draw challengers out of their current boundaries,” O’Neal said. “I support a Senate district map that allows challengers, which have filed, to run in their districts.”
The dispute over Senate election districts figures into the battle for control of the Senate, which is now run by moderate Republicans and is seen as the last obstacle to Gov. Sam Brownback’s agenda.
Conservatives are targeting eight moderate senators in this summer’s Republican primaries including, Owens, Schodorf and McGinn.
Owens, chairman of the Senate redistricting committee, has been under fire in recent weeks for maps approved by his committee that drew Smith out of his district.
Owens has said that politics did not play a part in the drawing of the districts. He noted that Smith decided to run for the Senate last year, months before new districts were drawn.
“The 800-pound gorilla in this room is that the governor and the folks from the House who are of a very conservative mind decided they were going to take on anybody who disagreed with them, anybody who had a different view,” Owens told the Senate.
“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.
Smith, who at one point suggested he might move into Owens’ district, said he had no foreshadowing of plans to put him and Landwehr back in their original districts.
“It was not at all what I was expecting,” he said.