Midterm elections are, at least in my humble opinion, the best to cover in the United States. The focus is placed on the House and Senate, as it should be. Especially since that’s where most of the governing is done. However, years that end with two in the United States come with an added twist. Whether its a midterm or presidential year, in years ending in two, it means its time to redistrict. And with redistricting comes the threat of gerrymanders.
Why Kansas is Intriguing
Now I’m not going to take time to explain gerrymandering here. Most people readings this know what gerrymandering is. Instead I’m going to focus on a particular state, Kansas.
Now, Kansas has been slightly overlooked in the gerrymandering discussion when it comes to possible GOP attempts in 2022. Much of the focus there has gone to Texas, Florida and Wisconsin. But Kansas is comparable to Maryland in this situation; does the legislature want to get rid of the one seat that is held by the minority party?
For both sides, the obvious answer seems to be yes, they should get rid of that last minority seat. After all, both Maryland and Kansas are safe Democratic and Republican states, respectively. However, Kansas has some major differences, and those major differences are exactly why a 4-0 map would be so risky.
Why a 4-0 Map Might Backfire
While Kansas’s current map is a pretty stable 3-1 map, it’s also crucial to remember that this was the original GOP gerrymander. By taking the deep blue college town of Lawrence out and adding in parts of deep red Miami county, this previously red-leaning district was now an even darker red. It was considered Republican enough that then-Representative Kevin Yoder ran unopposed in 2012. But that district proceeded to shift very quickly.
The trends in Johnson County are maybe some of the sharpest in suburban areas in the nation. Those trends started to show in 2016, when Yoder won by only 10 percentage points – a major change from being unopposed four years before. Of course, he was defeated in 2018 by Sharice Davids, and the seat zoomed left at all levels in 2020. Davids was one of the few 2018 wavers to get re-elected by a stronger margin in 2020 than 2018 – which only shows how fast Johnson has moved.
The Johnson County Problem
This map is a hypothetical fair map of Kansas. It has the general 3-1 split that’s considered normal in Kansas, with the second district having potential to be competitive. If anything, this map shows how fast Johnson County has moved. The third district here goes from a D+3 district in 2016 to a D+13 district in 2020. Johnson County is moving, and fast, which makes it much harder to cut up in the coming years.
I do know that there’s probably a better gerrymander for Kansas out there than mine. But, I think mine shows a good example of the struggles of doing a 4-0. The biggest is it puts much more stress on Jake LaTurner and Tracey Mann as representatives by adding a lot of blue to their districts. And they’re in areas that only seem set to get bluer in Johnson County.
While for 2022 and maybe 2024 these seats would hold, even in what could possibly be a decent year in 2026, it’s likely that Johnson County’s trends ends up overpowering the red in one, or maybe even two of these seats. The second district especially does take in some blue-trending area outside of Johnson, mainly around Topeka. While the trends in Johnson will eventually stagnate, its blue trends will likely continue for the next decade and it will become a darker blue than it is now. The incumbent congressmen in Kansas don’t want to deal with those trends. And if they try too, it could end up ending not just one, but maybe two of their careers in a bad GOP year.