Redistricting belongs in neutral hands


May 3, 2012 - 12:00 AM

When Rep. Brenda Landwehr of Wichita appeared before the Redistricting Committee in the House she asked to be put in a district with predominately Caucasian residents who lived in houses valued at $800,000 or more. 

The white and the rich, that’s who government should serve.

Rep. Landwehr also wants to be in Sen. Jean Schodorf’s district so she can challenge her in the upcoming election.

Rep. Landwehr is part of a cabal determined to change the face of the Kansas Senate so it will no longer stand in the way of Gov. Sam Brownback’s far right initiatives. The governor and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce are working hand in glove to defeat Senate moderates now in control. Rigging the districts in favor of right-wing candidates is the key to the strategy.

In the Wichita case, no rigging was needed. Sen. Schodorf herself asked that her district be modified to include Landwehr’s residence. She was, she said in a public statement, not hesitant to trust the people of her district and would accept whatever decision they made.

It was a wise decision. If her voters decide they would rather be represented by Landwehr and her whites-only, rich-only philosophy, they should have their wish granted.

But there’s more to this redistricting battle than is represented by Landwehr’s ugly prejudices. Computers and comprehensive census data make it possible today to draw political district boundaries that are election-proof. Once elected, office holders can stay elected. As a consequence of scientific gerrymandering, only about 100 seats in the U.S. Congress are actually contested now — none of those are in Kansas. The other 325 members can relax. Their re-election is all but guaranteed. 

Today’s Kansas Legislature is so overwhelmingly Republican and the Kansas House is so completely dominated by Landwehrian conservatives that our state’s political districts could be redrawn to make Kansas elections just as predetermined for the next decade.

It shouldn’t be that way. Kansas should follow the example of California and other states that have taken redistricting out of the hands of partisan politicians and turned the task over to neutral bodies that use diversity as one of their decision-making criteria. 

Political districts drawn to produce political results — which is the definition of gerrymandering — increase polarization and increase the power of the extremists at either end of the political spectrum. The result is plainly visible in Washington today.

Give the state Chamber of Commerce, Gov. Brownback and their political allies free rein, and the already-polarized Kansas Legislature will become even more so.

IF THERE IS a glimmer of light in this dark picture it lies in the fact total power creates total responsibility.

When underfunding the public schools results in undereducated kids, when underfunded highways begin to crumble, when underfunded courts can deliver only part-time justice, when underfunded health care systems result in legions of under-cared-for Kansans who begin to protest, the voters will know who to blame and will turn the system upside-down again.

Unfortunately, that awakening will come too late to repair the damage done during the dark age to a generation of kids and the other victims of government reserved for middle-aged whites and the rich.