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Archive for Thursday, July 12, 2001

KU professor offers plan based on marketing

July 12, 2001

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George McCleary said he heard plenty of partisan talk while sitting in on the Legislature's Special Committee on Redistricting public hearings this spring.

But McCleary, a Kansas University associate professor of geography, thinks he's found a plan that sets politics aside. Instead, it's based on business marketing data.

"This stuff is going to give you communities of interest," he said. "It's marketing data. Companies are in business to make money. If it's wrong, they're probably going to fix it pretty quick."

McCleary was asked by the Legislative Research Department to sit in on the 10 meetings. He was not paid for his efforts. Previously, he has worked with Kansas county clerks to help establish boundaries for precincts after the 1990 Census.

Population shifts in the 2000 Census meant there were too many people in the state's 3rd District. The redistricting committee will begin talks on boundary changes today in Topeka. The full legislature will approve a plan next session.

The bulk of McCleary's redistricting proposal was based on information from MOSAIC, a marketing database developed by Experian, an information company.

The data works this way: Residents are grouped into 62 categories, each with distinct socioeconomic characteristics, including age, income, occupation, type of residence and number of vehicles.

The information then is entered into bar graphs that show which counties are similar and which are different.

McCleary's analysis revealed some obvious results, including that Kansas has a lot of families living in rural areas. Some counties, such as Sedgwick, are more diverse, while others, such as many in western Kansas, are more homogeneous.

New insights

But the data also had one surprise. According to McCleary, Wyandotte County is more similar to counties to its north and west than it is with Johnson County. Also, Johnson County's growth is moving south.

His proposal is the first to place the two counties in separate Congressional districts, dividing the Kansas City metropolitan area. Wyandotte County would be placed in the 2nd District, which also would include all of Douglas County. Johnson would be in the 3rd District with much of southeast Kansas.

The proposal also divides districts solely along county lines, which leads to a problem of equal representation. There are 12,781 more people in the 3rd District than in the 1st. In contrast, another plan proposed by Sen. Anthony Hensley and Rep. Troy Findley has a difference in districts of seven people.

McCleary said several precincts could be moved from the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Districts to the 1st to make the representation more even.

Congressmen on both sides

Sen. David Adkins, R-Leawood, who chairs the redistricting committee, said McCleary's plan provides new options for legislators who hadn't thought about placing Wyandotte and Johnson counties in separate districts.

But, he said, he didn't think any plan that placed Wyandotte and Douglas Counties in the same district would gain approval in the Republican-controlled legislature. The two counties are traditional Democratic strongholds and were the only two counties in Kansas to vote for Al Gore in the 2000 election.

Leawood Mayor Peggy Dunn said having two Congressmen represent the metropolitan Kansas City, Kan., area could be an advantage. The area already benefits from having Congressmen on both sides of the state line, she said.

"We could probably do the same thing with the county lines," she said. "I've always been told it helps to have additional people lobbying for you, it doesn't hinder you. The likelihood of receiving federal money would be greater."

'Rubik's-cubes' divisions

McCleary's plan like the others proposed isn't likely to survive in its entirety. There are too many factors involved in the process. Adkins said the process is like "playing Russian roulette with Rubik's cubes."

"This is the height of political compromise here," Adkins said. "I would guess all of the plans will form a basis for people to discuss the issues."

McCleary realizes his plan probably won't be accepted in whole. He was just glad to be part of the process.

"I'm not wed to the plan," he said. "If somebody says 'Well, there's a glaring error there,' I'm not opposed to going in and changing the thing."

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