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Republican infighting stalls remapping in Kansas

State Senate, Hill lines tangled

- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2012

It has a Republican-led Legislature, a GOP governor, almost perfectly straight-line borders and only four U.S. House districts, but Kansas somehow is the only state that hasn't completed its new congressional map for the 2012 elections.

A nasty intraparty GOP squabble — unusual for Kansas — has delayed the drawing of a new map, which by law is supposed to be done by Friday when the state Legislature is scheduled to adjourn.

What's at stake isn't just the completion of the decennial process of redrawing the state's congressional boundaries, but rather a fight for the soul of the Kansas Republican Party.

The snafu centers on a fight between social conservative and moderate Republican legislators over redrawing the Kansas state Senate district boundaries, with each side determined to pass a map that will enhance their electoral future. And while coming up with a new congressional map has been somewhat less controversial, it has been caught in the crossfire of the Senate map dispute.

"In some ways, the congressional map is really hostage" to the state Senate map, said Joe Aistrup, a political science professor at Kansas State University. "It's a bloodbath battle, that's the only way to describe it."

The irony, Sunflower State political experts say, is that a state known for moderate Republicans like former Sens. Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum Baker until now has largely avoided the "Republican on Republican violence" between tea party social conservatives and moderates that has engulfed other parts of the country.

"In Kansas, we're not used to this vitriolic type of politics," Mr. Aistrup said.

Wichita State University political science professor Mel Kahn said the driving force behind the debate is social conservatives' push to take over the Kansas GOP.

"It's primarily, I would say, a fight within the Republican Party for dominance," said Mr. Kahn, who has followed Kansas politics for more than four decades. "It's primarily a battle in terms of knocking off a combination of remaining Democrats and [Republican] moderates so they wouldn't be enough to stop anything" put forth by the social conservatives.

If state lawmakers can't agree, the issue likely would be resolved by the Kansas Supreme Court or in federal court. But time is running out to finalize a new congressional map, as the deadline to send ballots for overseas voters for the state's August primary is June 23, meaning a map must be finalized about June 1.

The Kansas House earlier this week advanced a proposed new Senate map favored by conservative Republicans. A vote that would send the measure to the Senate was expected later Thursday.

Many legislators think the House plan will help conservatives gain control of the Senate. But the bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, where the moderate GOP leadership is pursuing its own proposals — none of which are acceptable to conservatives, who see them as designed to keep moderates in control of the Senate.

The Senate map also is holding up the process on other bills, leading to speculation the state lawmakers may extend their current session beyond Friday.

"The conflict has moved to a crescendo, because there are a lot of other things on the plate right now, like tax cuts," said Mr. Aistrup. "All the compromises, everything else, is really kind of the logjam behind this state Senate map."

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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