Enjoy the lull, voters. The Kansas Supreme Court decision is behind us. Memorial Day weekend is ahead. While some other states have already voted in primaries, Kansans who want to run for Congress in August still have until June 10 to file.
That deadline is later than normal because until last week everyone was waiting on the high court to decide whether the state legislature improperly redrew congressional district lines to weaken the votes of Democrats and non-white residents.
It didn’t, according to the justices. So get ready. Political hopefuls everywhere are busy looking at who’s now in those districts and refining the messages that will soon start flooding mailboxes and television.
Johnson Countians won’t have to vote in a new Congressional district.
It will still be Kansas’ Third District of the U.S. House of Representatives, where Democrat Sharice Davids is the current officeholder.
But although Johnson County stays intact, the new boundaries of the rest of eastern Kansas may affect the outcome of her next race.
Here’s what you need to know:
The new district
- New lines are drawn after Census numbers are released every ten years to keep the populations about the same between districts.
- Since the last redistricting in 2012, the Third District had included all of Johnson and Wyandotte counties plus a slice of northeastern Miami County that included Louisburg, but population growth in Johnson County made it impossible for the district to continue to keep both Johnson and Wyandotte counties intact.
- The new Third District keeps Johnson County in its entirety, but it splits Wyandotte County along Interstate 70, with the northern part going into the Republican-leaning Second District. All of Miami County is now included in the Third, plus all of mostly rural Franklin and Anderson counties.
- The new district, which is now more rural overall, was the centerpiece of the lawsuit before the Kansas Supreme Court, which alleged GOP lawmakers gerrymandered Wyandotte County to dilute the impact of Black and Hispanic voters.
Does either party benefit from the new map?
- A common conclusion among political analysts is that the new district got an injection of Republican voters but will still be competitive.
- Vote analysis site FiveThirtyEight rates the new district as “highly competitive,” but more Republican than it was before. The former district leaned Democratic by about four percentage points more than the national average, while the new district leans Republican by about three points, according to the site.
- Michael Smith, a professor of political science at Emporia State University who was an expert witness for those challenging the new maps before the Kansas Supreme Court, puts it at more of a 50-50 split now, where it might have been considerably more Democratic in the past.
- A county-by-county breakdown in Politico of the 2020 presidential election shows a strong preference for former President Donald Trump in the rural counties in the district, with Anderson, Franklin and Miami County votes for him in 2020 ranging from 68 to 77%. Meanwhile, totals for all of Wyandotte County gave Trump 33%.
- Politico listed Johnson County as “flipped” in the 2020 election, with 53% of the vote overall going to President Joe Biden. Only five Kansas counties went for Biden – Douglas, Riley, Shawnee, Johnson and Wyandotte.
Prepare for a lot of political ads
- A truly competitive Congressional district is becoming something of a rarity, Smith said.
- “And so what happens is you have just a few that are and then all of these resources from across the country pour into those few districts that are actually competitive. The Third District in Kansas is and will continue to be one of those districts,” he said.
- That’s going to mean a lot of ads, calls, mailings and everything else that goes with political campaigns, as candidates do whatever they can to get more turnout, he said. “We’re not going to be toning down the culture war any time soon,” he predicted.
- The new district will get its first road test on August 2, when political parties each choose their nominees in primary elections.
- So far Davids and two potential Republican challengers have entered. The Republicans are Amanda Adkins of Overland Park, who lost to Davids by about 10% in 2020, and Army veteran John McCaughrean of Kansas City, Kansas.
- In a statement, Adkis said the new map “is evidence that our democratic process works,” and welcomed the new mostly rural counties. “I am excited to get to work for the new district, a thriving community of urban, suburban and rural areas,” she said.
- McCaughrean made brief comments on his Facebook page: “Nothing in my campaign changes,” adding that his campaign had been working under the assumption that the new maps would survive a court challenge.
- Davids’ staff quoted a different figure on the partisan lean of the new district, saying it leaned Democratic by two points. Ninety-two percent of people who were in the district in 2020 are still there under the new map, they said.
- Davids’ statement said the redistricting process didn’t offer a sense of transparency for Kansas voters: “I look forward to introducing myself to the new voters in the Third District, continuing my work to find common ground and tackle the everyday issues facing our community, and showing all Kansans that to me, their voice matters,” she said.
What happens now?
- The list of candidates is not final yet.
- Candidates for U.S. House, Kansas House and Senate and the state Board of Education have until noon June 10 to file to run for the Aug. 2 primary.
- Meanwhile, candidates for offices not affected by redistricting — including Johnson County Commission chair — have to file by June 1.
Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist who reports frequently for the Post and other Kansas City area publications. You can reach her at email@example.com.