Archive for Tuesday, March 20, 2001

Storms brewing over redistricting

Politics and regionalism complicate legal process

March 20, 2001


— When the Census Bureau released population figures for Kansas last week, it kicked off what could become one of the state's fiercest political conflicts.

A few legislators already are speculating about how population shifts will affect the lines of the state's four congressional districts. Their speculation is likely to intensify in coming months, as public hearings across the state begin.

The 2002 Legislature will do the redistricting. If the 1992 Legislature's experience is any guide, the task will be complicated by political and regional tensions.

It will be about more than shifting lines. The Republican majorities in both chambers could make it more difficult for Democrat Dennis Moore to keep his 3rd District seat. The lines also could affect the lineup in the governor's race.

And next year's congressional redistricting essentially comes down to the question of what to do about three counties: Douglas, Geary and Riley.

"A lot of difficult decisions are going to be made in northeast Kansas," said Rep. Troy Findley, D-Lawrence. "You never really know where all the dominoes are going to fall."

Ideal figures

The Legislature redraws the state's political boundaries once each decade, after the federal census. The U.S. Supreme Court's historic 1962 decision in Baker vs. Carr requires that districts be as equal in population as possible, so that some citizens' votes are not diluted.

The state can get close to districts that are exactly equal in population. In 1992, a panel of three federal judges adjusted the Legislature's congressional map so that the worst deviation was 45 residents from the ideal figure of 619,394.

The ideal figure for congressional district population from the 2000 census is 672,105.

The 4th District of south-central comes closes to meeting it, being only about 3,600 over. The 1st District, which includes western and central Kansas, is about 34,000 short; the 2nd District is almost 31,000 residents short.

The 3rd District, centered on the Kansas City metropolitan area, is about 61,000 over the ideal figure. Three of its four counties Douglas, Johnson and Miami, are among the state's 10 fastest growing.

Communities of interest

The U.S. Supreme Court has said states must consider more than just numbers in redistricting. They must try to make districts as compact as possible, and they must try to preserve "communities of interest."

For example, legislators would have a difficult time justifying a decision to put Johnson and Wyandotte counties in different districts, given that both are part of the Kansas City metro area.

Many legislators view Geary and Riley counties as a package because Fort Riley is split between the two.

Legislators must consider larger communities of interest, as well.

Ten years ago, then freshman Sen. Lana Oleen, R-Manhattan, almost single-handedly kept Geary and Riley counties from the massive 1st District, arguing that its communities had more in common with others in northeast Kansas. She stood her ground and built a coalition of rank-and-file senators to prevent it.

Now Oleen is Senate majority leader and not so sure which district the two counties prefer. Nor does House Speaker Kent Glasscock, R-Manhattan.

For example, Glasscock notes that Kansas State University, in Manhattan, is known for its agriculture programs, making the area a fit with rural counties to the west. But both counties have long been lumped with northeast Kansas in congressional districts.

"Ten years ago, there was unanimity," Glasscock said. "I'm sensing more flexibility on the part of some in my area."

Douglas County interests

Findley insists that Douglas County residents want to stay in the 3rd District because more of them work and identify with Johnson County than the Topeka area.

But U.S. Rep. Jim Ryun, a Republican, lives across the line in the 2nd District, and he's been tied to Lawrence since his days as a track star at Kansas University.

Democrats are watching nervously, because Douglas County has a large bloc of Democratic votes, and the removal of that bloc from the 3rd District would hurt Moore.

Yet, as Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, noted, if legislators add Douglas to the 2nd District, "It makes it much more attractive to a Democratic challenger in mounting a campaign against Jim Ryun."

Redistricting even could affect the 2002 governor's race. U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran, who represents the 1st District, is considered a possible GOP candidate, as is Glasscock.

But with Geary and Riley in the 1st District, Moran could run for governor and Glasscock for Congress. There's been some speculation about it already, though Glasscock describes it as "groundless."

"There will be a lot of jockeying," Oleen said. "Congress is kind of hands off in state government until it comes to congressional reapportionment."

Rep. Mike O'Neal, chairman of the House redistricting committee, said he expects and wants to hear from the state's four congressmen.

He also said joint hearings across the state by his committee and its Senate counterpart later this year will be important in gauging communities' feelings.

"I don't see these meetings around the state being fluff," said O'Neal, R-Hutchinson.

O'Neal and other legislators have a tough job ahead of them. But they know the biggest questions involve Douglas, Geary and Riley counties.

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