Susan Wagle hasn’t been in office for months.
Yet, words she spoke last summer as Senate president continue to reverberate as lawmakers hold public meetings on how they should draw election boundaries.
Wagle’s name has surfaced several times as the public makes its case for election districts that aren’t rigged to favor Republicans.
They drew on Wagle’s comments from last year when she told a Republican audience that the Legislature could draw four congressional districts that could take out Democratic U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids in the 3rd District.
“I find it to be a shameful effort, one that is disrespectful of voters and devaluing of democracy,” Angela Schieferecke of Prairie Village told the panel of lawmakers traveling across the state holding hearings on redistricting.
“Politicians should not be picking voters. Voters should be picking politicians,” Schieferecke said during a two-hour hearing in Overland Park on Thursday.
The standing-room-only hearing was held in the biggest city in the 3rd Congressional District, where population growth is threatening its current boundaries and possibly undercutting Davids’ chances for winning a third term.
There is fear that the Republican supermajorities that control the Legislature will break up the district in a way that it would potentially help Republican Amanda Adkins win the 3rd District seat in 2022.
In the last redistricting debate in 2012, there was concern that Republicans would try to move Wyandotte County into the sprawling and largely rural 1st Congressional District.
There is still worry that the Legislature might try to do that next year when election boundaries are redrawn, especially with a Democratic congresswoman.
“Unfortunately, drawing a district that Sharice cannot win relies heavily on taking an Exacto knife to the KC metro area,” said Stacey Knoell, an Olathe resident who ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate last year.
“Any plan to draw Wyandotte County into, say, the Big First congressional district would have a chilling effect on the African American voting bloc in Wyandotte county,” she said.
“Those of us living in Johnson County would know that a map breaking off Wyandotte
County would have no other purpose than to break apart the Democratic voting base that northeast Kansas has become and, of course, meet the stated goal of drawing Sharice Davids out of a winnable district,” Knoell said.
The testimony came on the same day that the Census Bureau released new population data that suggests that Wyandotte and Johnson counties may no longer be able to totally remain within the same congressional district.
The population in the 3rd District is about 792,000, or roughly 58,000 more than the targeted population of 734,000 for the district.
The new population data shows Wyandotte and Johnson counties with a combined population of about 780,000, making it mathematiclly impossible to keep the two counties completely together when new election lines are drawn.
Data crunched by Wichita State political scientist Brian Amos shows that Congressman Tracey Mann’s 1st District is about 34,000 below the targeted population and U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner’s 2nd District is about 21,000 below the mark.
Both districts potentially could stand to gain population carved off from other districts as lawmakers start redrawing election boundaries.
Leading Democratic lawmakers acknowledge that parts of the 3rd District might have to be moved into other districts because of the enormous growth in Wyandotte and Johnson counties.
“We have to look at the core and try to keep the core together,” said Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes.
“With the population growth, there will have to be changes,” Sykes said. “I hope we can make sure that Johnson County and Wyandotte are properly represented.”
She said Wyandotte and Johnson counties are a community of interest that should be kept together as much as possible.
“The core and the foundation of the district need to stay together,” she said.
House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer said a clear case can be made that Wyandotte and Johnson counties should be kept together even if it meant that a small piece of the district district gets moved into the 2nd District.
He said any part of the 3rd District that might get moved should go into the 2nd District not the sprawling 1st District.
“The problem comes if they really try to split Kansas City and take all of Wyandotte County out” of the 3rd District, he said.
Meanwhile, lawmakers were urged to keep the district together as much as possible.
“While there are population shifts with the Kansas City metro region growing, it is vital that Wyandotte and Johnson Counties stay whole and stay connected in one congressional district,” said Democrat Mike Swenson of Leawood.
“Since the modern era of redistricting began almost 50 years ago, these two counties have always remained connected with the same member of Congress representing
them, both Republicans and Democrats,” Swenson said.
“Fairness dictates that these diverse communities remain connected and represented by the same member of Congress, regardless of which political party they belong to,” he said.
“Splitting up Wyandotte and Johnson Counties would not be fair to its residents or to the state as a whole,” he said.