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Federal court opens 2-day trial in Kan. remap suit

John Milburn

A southeast Kansas senator testified Tuesday that Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and his staff were involved late the legislative session to help end a redistricting impasse.

Sen. Jeff King, an Independence Republican, told three federal judges in Kansas City, Kan., that the governor's office was willing to offer staff to end a stalemate over redrawing the state's political boundaries. That impasse never ended, resulting in a two-day trial that opened Tuesday.

King said Brownback and Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler asked King and others to work with the governor's staff to draw new maps. One of those maps is similar to one offered to three federal judges to consider. King said he worked with Peter Northcott, a staff member in Brownback's office to develop a Senate map as an alternative to plans that failed to gain House support after clearing the Senate with 21 votes.

"Mr. Northcott had it on his computer using the Maptitude software," King said, the same software program used by the Kansas Legislative Research Department.

The maps became the judges' responsibility after the Legislature could not settle a feud among Republicans over the districts' boundaries. The judges heard testimony into the early evening Tuesday and expected to finish Wednesday. They will consider proposals submitted by attorneys, as well as volumes of evidence filed over the past week to draw the new boundaries.

The Legislature adjourned May 20 without approving new maps for the congressional, state House and Senate and State Board of Education districts. The impasse was caused by a bitter feud among Republicans over new Senate districts and whether they're drawn to help GOP moderates keep control of the chamber and check conservative Republican Brownback's agenda.

King and Sen. Tim Owens, an Overland Park Republican and chairman of the Senate's redistricting committee, both said map drawing was an imperfect process but that they "did the best we could" to build maps with a consensus.

The trial comes less than two weeks before the state's candidate filing deadline. The three judges are allowing 29 people to participate in the case, potentially call witnesses and submit redistricting proposals.

Both federal and state courts in Kansas have settled redistricting disputes before, but they've started with maps approved by legislators. Three-judge federal court panels have reviewed congressional maps, while the state Supreme Court has considered legislative and Board of Education maps.

Robyn Renee Essex, a Republican precinct committee member from Olathe, filed the lawsuit earlier this month against Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the state's chief elections official.

However, the judges are allowing 27 other people to participate including some lawmakers involved in the Legislature's impasse.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said variations of the maps before the judges, including those that failed to get enough votes in the Senate, were efforts to gerrymander Democrats and moderate Republicans _ viewed as impediments to Brownback's agenda _ out of office by placing them in dramatically altered districts.

"It was a war between the conservative Republicans and moderate Republicans," said Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, adding that House GOP leadership and governor were "in lockstep" with each other to get favorable maps.

The Associated Press