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Archive for Monday, June 4, 2001

City’s political clout growing

Lawrence representation to expand in Statehouse, officials say

June 4, 2001

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— Lawrence can expect more clout in the Kansas Legislature after lawmakers redraw political boundaries to reflect the new census.

While the main redistricting battle currently is over congressional boundaries, the fight over drawing lines for state House and Senate districts is right around the corner.

And Lawrence, like most of Northeast Kansas, could gain some clout in the Statehouse because of its growing population.

"Lawrence should have three seats totally contained within the city," state Rep. Troy Findley, D-Lawrence, said.

Right now there are two House districts wholly based in Lawrence, which are represented by Findley and Barbara Ballard, also a Democrat.

Republican Tom Sloan's district includes Lawrence and a number of other small towns, such as Lecompton.

Every 10 years, after the national census, lawmakers re-draw district boundaries to equalize district populations that changed from the previous census.

In general, Northeast Kansas grew, while western Kansas lost population.

Based on the statewide figures, the optimum population of a House district should be about 21,500, and a Senate district, 67,200.

All of Lawrence's legislative districts have about one-third more people than the optimum-size district. Johnson County has even more packed districts one House district there has 60,000 people.

Rep. Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, and chairman of the House committee working on redistricting, said lawmakers will get serious about drawing legislative boundaries after population adjustments are made by the state in August.

He said first the redistricting committees want to complete a proposal on the congressional districts by September and then tackle the legislative districts.

The congressional fight has developed into one over whether to keep Lawrence in the 3rd Congressional District or split it between the 2nd District and 3rd District.

But the legislative redistricting fight will be over how much power swings from rural western Kansas to urban northeastern and south-central Kansas.

"It goes without saying that the opportunity to play politics is there," O'Neal said.

But, he said, he believes that common sense will prevail over geographic battles, or even partisan battles.

"No matter what kind of map you draw, there is the opportunity for good Republican majorities. You don't have to get greedy," he said.

Findley said Northeast Kansas will be the big winner in legislative redistricting "while the losers will be rural, western Kansas."

But Rep. Jim Morrison, a Republican who represents sparsely populated northwestern Kansas, said the region will hold its own in the redistricting process.

He said he will fight to keep as much legislative power as possible in western Kansas, and noted that in drawing district lines, the state can deviate from the optimum population by five percent more or less.

He said western Kansas is on the verge of increasing its population because of developing energy technologies and a quality of life "that most people would kill for."

"It would behoove the state not to cut its arm off, but to keep it viable," Morrison said.

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