Forget the mind-boggling demographic data the federal census produces. One of the most important products of the census is political power.
The decennial census, which is counting America this month, produces the numbers upon which congressional and state legislative apportionment are based, and that's political power.
Chris McKenzie, Douglas County administrator, said he couldn't stress enough the importance of the census in determining representation in the Kansas Legislature and the U.S. Congress.
"That's the thing that most people really don't understand about the census," McKenzie said, "how important it is for legislative apportionment. The census is very important for political representation purposes."
So important are those numbers that Douglas County is among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought against the state of Kansas over state census figures that were used for the latest reapportionment of the Kansas Legislature.
The suit challenges the way college students and military personnel were counted in the state census. In that redistricting, which took place in 1989, Lawrence's population figures were diluted by the state, McKenzie said.
EVEN THOUGH the city is home to thousands of Kansas University and Haskell Indian Junior College students for at least nine months of the year, the state treats the majority of those students as residents of their parents' communities.
In 1992 and for the first time in its history, the state will use adjusted federal census figures as a base for apportioning its 125 House seats and 40 Senate seats. The adjustment will be made for college students and military students, whom the federal census counts as residents of the community where they attend classes or are stationed. Previously the state had conducted its own census every 10 years.
McKenzie said the court case hinges on the contention that because Douglas County's population figures were diluted, local representation in the Legislature is not equal to that in other areas of the state.
On the federal representative front, some experts expect Kansas to lose one of its five congressional seats following the tallying of 1990 census figures.
"As far as I can tell, Kansas' population will go up 2 to 3 percent," Allan Cigler, KU associate professor of political science, said. "But that's a lot, lot slower than some of these other states, and we'll probably lose a seat in Congress."
THE EFFECT of the lost seat likely will mean that Kansas' 5th Congressional District seat, now held by Rep. Bob Whittaker, will be eliminated, and its area added to the existing 2nd, 3rd and 4th Congressional Districts. Those seats now are held by Reps. Jim Slattery, Jan Meyers and Dan Glickman, respectively. The so-called "Big 1st District" of western Kansas, represented by Pat Roberts, is likely to grow even farther to the east, Cigler said.
However, the congressional redistricting, which will take place during the 1992 Legislature, is far from a done deal.
"That's the tough part," Cigler said, "redesigning the districts once a state loses a seat."
The Census Bureau estimates that other states losing congressional seats are likely to be Iowa, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey and West Virginia (one seat each); Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania (two seats each); and New York (three seats).
Those states gaining congressional seats are likely to be California, a whopping seven new seats; Texas and Florida, with three new seats each; and Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia, with one each.