Congresswoman Sharice Davids (D-KS) made history in 2018 as the first out LGBTQ person elected to Congress from Kansas, as well as one of the first Native American women in Congress.
Reelected in 2020, her chances at holding onto her seat for another term now hang in the balance due to a controversial redistricting bill that Democrats argue directly targets Davids’s district in a Republican effort to remove her from office.
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In early February, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) vetoed the Congressional redistricting map passed by the state legislature for “diluting minority communities” and failing to protect “the core of the existing congressional districts.” Kelly also criticized the map for failing to follow proper redistricting guidelines and providing “no justification for deviation from those guidelines.”
Nevertheless, the Republican-dominated legislature overrode her veto, and now the bill is being challenged in two separate lawsuits, both of which have been filed in Wyandotte County District Court.
One lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Kansas accuses lawmakers of “manipulation and abuse of legislative procedures” with a map designed “specifically to prevent Democratic voters in the Kansas City Metro Area from electing their preferred candidate, currently Congresswoman Sharice Davids.”
Both suits mention a 2020 speech by then-Senate President Susan Wagle (R). Speaking to Republican donors, the suits say Wagle outright stated that the legislature would create “a Republican bill that gives us four Republican congressmen, that takes out Sharice Davids in the Third.”
Davids is currently the state’s only Democratic representation in Congress. Her district, the third, is the most diverse in the state. The new map would split it up, thus diluting the minority vote.
“The bill as proposed would erase minority representation,” out Kansas state Rep. Brandon Woodard (D) told LGBTQ Nation.
“It [splits] the most diverse district, the most Latino, the most African American between two districts, diluting their vote and takes one of the most liberal cities, the entire city of Lawrence…and throws it into the most rural and white Congressional districts.”
Woodard said the bill also splits two tribal nations between congressional districts, which will dilute Native American representation in Congress as well.
When he first saw the new map, Woodard thought it was a joke. “It’s so stereotypical and textbook gerrymandering,” he said.
While the current bill only covers districts at the Congressional level, a new state legislative map proposal is also due any day. In that, Woodard believes his own district will also be a target.
“I was among the top targets of the Republican party in 2020, and I know they’re going to come after me once again…Kansas is one of the few states that has all four letters represented in the LGBT caucus…Our existence in this body makes a difference, but the leadership, it seems like, will go all out to try to get rid of us.”
When it comes to the Congressional map, it’s now up to the courts to decide, but Woodard believes it’s still possible to work with some of the legislature’s more moderate Republicans on the state map.
He explained that while the Republicans do have a super-majority in both the Senate and House, it is only by a thin margin. He said there is a significant faction of moderate Republicans that should be willing to work with Democrats.
“I think our approach will be to work with our more moderate colleagues – and our more conservative colleagues that are sometimes willing to buck leadership – that will be targets in this to work with them and to find out how we can make sure [Republicans] wouldn’t have the votes to override, which then forces the leadership back to the negotiating table to get votes from Democrats and moderate Republicans.”
According to Cesar Toledo, Deputy Political Director of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, LGBTQ politicians are at risk of being pushed out of their districts in more than just Kansas.
“We are seeing these anti-LGBTQ forces trying to erase out representation,” Toledo told LGBTQ Nation.
“What’s happening to Sharice…is just the tip of the iceberg…We’re seeing many of our folks having to consider dropping out or restructuring their campaign plans. It’s just a mess right now.”
He added that the results of new maps in Kansas and elsewhere will have repercussions for LGBTQ people for years to come.
“In 2021, we saw a flurry of anti-LGBTQ bills across the country, and even in Kansas, and it’s our openly LGBTQ representatives who can truly fight some of those terrible pieces of legislation.”