Two U.S. Senate candidates from Kansas sign term-limit pledge

by Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — Kansas Democratic and Republican candidates for U.S. Senate signed a pledge to support a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution setting term limits for the federal House and Senate.

Mark Holland, a Democrat and former mayor of Unified Government of Wyandotte County, and Joan Farr, a Republican who ran previously for Kansas governor and an Oklahoma seat in the U.S. Senate, agreed to support a limitation of three terms in the U.S. House and two terms in the U.S. Senate.

“Mark’s and Joan’s strong support of term limits shows that there are individuals who are willing to put self-interest aside to follow the will of the people,” said Phillip Blumel, president of U.S. Term Limits. “America needs a Congress that will be served by citizen legislators, not career politicians.”

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, a Republican from Kansas, is seeking re-election in 2022 to his seat in the U.S. Senate. He’s been a senator for the past decade and served in the U.S. House from 1997 to 2011.

Farr is listed as a candidate for U.S. Senate in both Kansas and Oklahoma. In Kansas, she would be on the August ballot with Moran.

Holland, executive director of Mainstream UMC that seeks inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals in the church, was pastor of Trinity Community Church in Kansas City, Kansas, until 2018. He was mayor of the unified city and county government from 2013 to 2018.

The constitutional amendment promoted by U.S. Term Limits has been introduced in both chambers by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican serving his second term in the U.S. Senate, and by U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, a South Carolina Republican finishing his second complete term in the U.S. House.

In 1996, U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas signed a pledge with U.S. Term Limits not to seek a third full term in the Senate. He complied with that agreement and was elected governor of Kansas. In 2010, Farr received 18% of the GOP vote in the gubernatorial primary against Brownback.

The resolutions regarding the amendment on term limits would require a two-thirds majority support n the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, and ratification by 38 states, to become part of the U.S. Constitution.

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Voting rights groups launch court battle over new Kansas congressional map

Thomas Alonzo says during a Jan. 24, 2022, news conference at the Kansas Statehouse that the congressional map endorsed by GOP leaders “demonstrates a lack of competent, moral and ethical leadership.” (Photo by Sherman Smith, Kansas Reflector)

by Sherman Smith, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Loud Light filed two separate lawsuits Monday arguing the congressional map endorsed by a GOP supermajority in the Legislature intentionally violates constitutional rights of Democrats and communities of color.

Republicans passed a map that divides the Kansas City metro area in an obvious attempt to make it harder for the state’s only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Sharice Davids, to hang onto her 3rd District seat. Last week, two-thirds of the Senate and House voted to override a veto by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and preserve the map, known as Ad Astra 2.

The map places the area of Wyandotte County north of Interstate 70, a majority-minority community, into the 2nd District. The infusion of Democratic votes into the 2nd District is offset by carving Lawrence out of Douglas County and placing it in the heavily Republican 1st District, which stretches to the Colorado border.

“The map that was passed shows that the Legislature was intentionally trying to silence our collective voice,” said Tom Alonzo, a Kansas City, Kansas, resident who lives north of I-70 in Wyandotte County. “There is nothing just or democratic about it. My community is the most diverse in Kansas — and they want to dilute us so we have no voice.”

A map produced by Republicans in the House and Senate would place Lawrence in the 1st District, which stretches to the Colorado border, and split Wyandotte County between 2nd and 3rd districts. (Submitted)

The ACLU filed a lawsuit in Wyandotte County District Court on behalf of seven Wyandotte County residents, including Alonzo, three Johnson County residents and one Lawrence resident. The Campaign Legal Center is working with the ACLU on the lawsuit, along with pro bono assistance from the Arnold and Porter Kaye Scholer law firm.

Kansas-based nonprofit Loud Light, with support from national voting rights attorney Marc Elias’ Democracy Docket, also filed a lawsuit in Wyandotte County.

The lawsuits ask the court to declare the Ad Astra 2 map to be invalid, set a deadline for lawmakers to pass an acceptable map, draw a map in place of lawmakers if they fail to meet the deadline, and make the state pay for attorney fees and court costs. Both lawsuits name Wyandotte County election commissioner Michael Abbott and Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab as defendants.

The legal challenges were widely anticipated. State lawmakers are tasked with drawing new maps for congressional and legislative districts every 10 years, based on census results. For months, a coalition of advocacy groups complained about the way Republicans in the Legislature handled the process.

The ACLU lawsuit twice references Kansas Reflector’s reporting in October 2020 of former Senate President Susan Wagle openly saying new congressional maps could be drawn to prevent a Democrat from winning office if Republicans gained the supermajority necessary to override a veto from the governor.

In late July, Republicans in charge of the redistricting process scheduled a series of town hall discussions on short notice, before census data had been released. They responded to criticism by holding virtual listening sessions in November, including one that coincided with the special session.

Republican leaders then revealed their congressional map shortly after the session opened in January. Residents were given little time to prepare testimony for hearings two days later, and both chambers passed the map in less than a week despite hearing overwhelming opposition from residents.

The Loud Light lawsuit references Kansas Reflector’s reporting on the House debate, when Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, said gerrymandering and partisan politics “are just things that happen.”

Elias responded in a Jan. 25 tweet: “Litigation is ‘just a thing that happens’ too.”

Sharon Brett, legal director for the ACLU of Kansas, said lawmakers rushed the redistricting process without interest in gathering meaningful feedback from the people they represent.

“It’s always shocking when you see elected officials completely ignore their constituents and the will of the people in the state of Kansas, and choose to put partisan games over doing what’s right and fair by the state,” Brett said. “So although it is not surprising how this has played out, it is still shocking nonetheless. And that’s a choice the Legislature made. Now they have to defend that choice in a court of law.”

Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, has repeatedly dismissed complaints about the obvious impact of the map on Democrats and communities of color.

“I’m very comfortable defending this in court,” he said during debate in the Senate before voting to override the governor’s veto. “It is fair. It does meet the guidelines. It is good for Kansans. We did listen to the people and that’s what will be tested. I’m very comfortable with it.”

Masterson punished three Republican senators who initially opposed the veto override by stripping them of committee assignments.

The lawsuits contend the Ad Astra 2 map violates protections in the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights: All political power is inherent in the people, the power of government is for the people’s equal protection and benefit, and the right to suffrage.

“Through manipulation and abuse of legislative procedures, the Kansas Legislature rushed through an extreme and intentional partisan and racial gerrymander of the state’s congressional districts,” the ACLU lawsuit says.

Brett said she rejects the notion that partisan gerrymandering is inevitable.

“I would say this is a really extreme example of having a partisan goal in mind from the very beginning and basically all through the process,” Brett said.

The Loud Light lawsuit says the Cook Political Report concluded every district in the Ad Astra 2 map is favorable to Republicans, who would have a 2-point advantage over Davids in a “toss up” in the new 3rd District.

“By cracking Democratic voters across the state, the Republican supermajority deprived Democrats in Kansas of the fundamental right to equal voting power,” the Loud Light lawsuit says.

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Kansas Chamber PAC wades into attorney general primary for first time

by Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — Republican attorney general candidate Kellie Warren was endorsed Tuesday by the political action committee of the Kansas Chamber organization.

The Kansas Chamber PAC opted for the state senator from Leawood rather than GOP candidates Kris Kobach, the former secretary of state, and Tony Mattivi, a former federal prosecutor. The Democrat in the 2022 campaign is attorney Chris Mann.

Jennifer Baysinger, a Kansas Chamber staff member who oversees the political action committee, said the board of directors of the PAC met with the three GOP candidates. The board voted unanimously to endorse Warren in the August primary.

She said Warren had been an advocate for the business community during one term in the Kansas House and since transitioning to the Senate in 2021.

The Kansas Chamber PAC hadn’t previously made endorsements in primaries for statewide offices. Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, is seeking the party’s nomination for governor.

“The PAC’s historic endorsement speaks to the urgency and importance that the Republican nominee not only be the candidate who best supports businesses but also who has a path to victory in the November general election,” Baysinger said.

She said there was concern in the “Kansas business community” that Kobach and Mattivi wouldn’t effectively represent interests of businesses in court.

Warren, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said she was humbled by the endorsement from the political arm of the Kansas Chamber. She said it was understood the Kansas attorney general must push back against federal COVID-19 mandates and other government overreach into the business community by the administration of President Joe Biden.

“The importance of this role was made crystal clear as state attorneys general became the first line of defense against President Biden’s illegal vaccine mandates. We simply cannot trust such an important role to an individual who has repeatedly failed conservatives so visibly in past court cases,” Warren said.

In the past, Kobach lost campaigns for governor and U.S. Senate. Mattivi doesn’t have prior experience in elective politics.

Mattivi, who worked about 20 years for the U.S. Department of Justice, said he had never and would not be “beholden to any special interest.”

“My campaign continues to receive broad support from voters and business people across the state and especially from law enforcement and concerned citizens,” Mattivi said. “We will continue to focus on the real problems facing Kansans and as Kansas attorney general I will keep Kansas safe and strong.”

Kobach, who served as secretary of state for two terms, said he appreciated the Kansas Chamber’s endorsement of his 2018 campaign for governor and anticipated working with the business organization as attorney general.

“For more than a decade I battled the ACLU in federal courts across the country showing I will be an effective defender of Kansas businesses in court,” Kobach said.

He said he had two pending lawsuits against the administration of President Joe Biden regarding executive actions on COVID-19 vaccination mandates and the deportation of illegal immigrants.

“We will win those suits in court, and I will continue to fight the unconstitutional actions of the Biden administration as the next Kansas attorney general,” Kobach said.

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