The Ad Astra Map & Its True Purpose
The congressional redistricting map passed by the Republicans in the Kansas Legislature and vetoed by Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly flips our democracy upside down.
It does a few patently partisan and particularly egregious things.
The map is deliberate in splitting “communities of interest.” A community of interest is a neighborhood, community, or group of people who have common policy concerns and would benefit from being maintained in a single district. In the past, redistricting has been done to preserve communities of interest. Yet the map passed by the GOP would split Wyandotte County because the GOP believes that designating a majority-minority community as a “community of interest” is too Democratic (yes, with a capital D). Wyandotte County votes overwhelmingly for Democrats and, in the minds of Senate President Ty Masterson, House Speaker Rep. Ron Ryckman, and their majority, all tethered to the national level GOP, that has resulted in the election of Sharice Davids, a Democratic member of Congress. So, Ty and Ron say that a Democrat must not be allowed to prevail in any future elections, so ‘fixing’ a map to disenfranchise a community of interest is one way to ensure that an entire group will go unrepresented.
The map also pulls the city of Lawrence out of the 2nd congressional district and puts it in The Big First. This district comprises all of western Kansas and most of the northern portions of the state, is the largest geographically in Kansas, and is predominantly rural. Lawrence is an urban community that, like Wyandotte County, is a Democratic stronghold. Ty, Ron, and their GOP majority fear that left unchecked, the voters in Lawrence might keep the vote too tight for comfort in the 2nd district. Thus, redrawing a map that places Lawrence in the 1st district ensures that the votes of all those urban Democrats will always be overwhelmed by the massive Republican advantage in the mostly rural 1st district. This map also keeps the rest of Douglas County – the all-rural part of the county – in the 2nd district. Republican Congressman Jake LaTurner no longer has to worry about Lawrence voters supporting a Democratic challenger.
Past president of the Kansas Senate, Susan Wagle, was clear in remarks she made in a speech to the Wichita Pachyderm Club not too long ago. She called for a map that will guarantee that Democratic votes count for nothing. Many Kansas news services reported Wagle’s remarks. Here is what the Kansas City Star had to say:
Wagle wants supermajorities in both houses so her party can rig the redistricting process to elect and protect Republican candidates.
She wasn’t subtle. “During redistricting, I need to give (my potential successor) some more Republican neighborhoods in order to make sure she stays elected,” Wagle said.
Without a supermajority, Wagle added, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly could veto a congressional map that “takes out Sharice Davids” in the 3rd Congressional District in Kansas.
“I guarantee you, we can draw four Republican congressional maps,” Wagle said.
Gerrymandering – which is exactly what this is – is wrong and anti-democratic. It is wrong when Republicans do it and it is wrong when Democrats do it.-KNEA PRESIDENT SHERRI SCHWANZ
Redistricting is done to ensure that districts remain in balance and guarantee “one person, one vote.” It is intended to make sure that each legislative and congressional district has the same number of voters. It is intended to preserve the vote of each citizen.
Gerrymandering – like the Ad Astra 2 map passed by the GOP in Kansas – allows politicians to pick their voters and denies voters the chance to pick their representatives. And in a democracy, voters do the picking.
Gov. Kelly was right to veto this map. She was right to call for a bipartisan solution.
A vote to override this veto is a vote to deny democracy. Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach led the charge in voter suppression in Kansas. The courts and Kobach’s successor, Republican Scott Schwab, have done much to reverse that voter suppression.
Some will call this map voter suppression. I call it voter DEPRESSION. Masterson, Ryckman, and the GOP hope that Democratic voters in Lawrence will give up when put in a district that voted over 70% for Trump and nearly 75% for Republican Congressman Tracey Mann. They hope that minority voters in Wyandotte County, finding their votes dramatically diluted, will just decide to stay home.-KNEA PRESIDENT SHERRI SCHWANZ
If the legislature votes to override the Governor’s veto- and after a night of arm-twisting and backroom deals (see below) they’ve done exactly that- we can be certain that the map will be challenged in court. Let’s hope our judicial system, serving as a check on partisan overreach, will call this map out for what it is – gerrymandering at its worst.
Are there moderate Republicans who will stand against using the safety and well-being of Kansas kids as chess pieces to deliver votes on rigging the system?
If you were to look to the Kansas Senate on Tuesday to answer the question in the title of this article, the answer would be a resounding no!
Many typically moderate-leaning Republicans in the Senate were planning to be a ‘yes’ vote to override the Governor’s veto, arguing that it was best to allow the rigged map to land in court as quickly as possible, where it was inevitably headed anyway. But, circumstances changed dramatically when the wink-and-nod deals from the night before started to play out.
It was only the day before that Republican Sen. Mark Steffan an anesthesiologist from Hutchinson- who is currently under investigation by the Kansas Board of Healing Arts for illegally prescribing drugs to treat COVID-19– had voted against the override of the Governor’s veto. Less than 24 hours later, Steffan was able to persuade Republican leaders to expand a bill that would give him a “get-out-of-jail-free” card on his purported wrongdoing, but also permit physicians to prescribe anything to be used as a COVID-19 treatment, and- most alarmingly- allow parents to opt-out of requirements to vaccinate their children for ANYTHING to enter schools or other childcare facilities.
Under this new bill, every Kansas child, including those with compromised immunity, undergoing cancer treatments, or anything else, would be at risk of being exposed every day in classrooms to a spate of potentially deadly viruses and diseases. Forget that recent polling indicates that an overwhelming majority of Kansans agree that requiring childhood vaccines is necessary for the health and safety of all kids. Forget that adults who work with kids are also at risk. It became clear, very quickly, that the payment for Steffan’s vote to override the Governor’s veto of the rigged voting map was the advancement of this bill.
Once it became clear that Kansas students and the adult professionals who educate them were now being put at risk- essentially being used as chess pieces to advance a partisan agenda- the excuse to vote for a gerrymandered map (if there really was a viable excuse to begin with) dissolved. Moreover, moderates voting to support the veto override effectively consummate the deal brokered with Steffen and assure that Senate President Masterson will advance this piece of dangerous legislation that would have otherwise not seen the light of day.
KNEA and its members have supported moderate Republican candidates like Jeff Longbine, of Emporia, and Brenda Dietrich, of Topeka, over the years because their record of supporting public education and Kansas kids has been consistent and clear- even when there was partisan pressure to cave. Under the circumstances that became clear to anyone within a mile of the statehouse, I’m absolutely dismayed that ANY elected official with a hint of a moral compass that points towards the health, safety and well-being of children, would simply ignore that compass and vote to support yesterday’s veto override of the rigged map.-KNEA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR KEVIN RIEMANN
It also has not gone unnoticed that Steffan’s bill to essentially remove childhood vaccine requirements was given no hearing. It faced no public scrutiny or criticism. In any “normal” period of time, that distortion of democracy alone would be enough to rebuke those who support such a bill. Sadly, after years of growing partisanship, we’ve come to expect this lack of transparency.