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Archive for Sunday, September 2, 2001

Redistricting ignites debates

Redrawing congressional boundaries proves difficult for battling legislators

September 2, 2001

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— They have plenty of maps, but they've still not found their way home yet.

The 34 members of a legislative committee hope to emerge from discussions this month with a plan for redrawing the state's four congressional districts. Doing so will give the 2002 Legislature a jump on the difficult and intensely political task.

But the debate behind the scenes has been more about what shouldn't happen than what should. The state's three Republican congressmen each have goals, centered on preserving as much of the districts they now have as possible, but haven't agreed on a single plan.

And Douglas County remains at the center of legislators' discussions. Its leaders have made it clear that they don't want their community split between two districts, but the Special Committee on Redistricting is contemplating just that.

"Just about everybody in this process is playing defense," said Sen. David Adkins, R-Leawood, the committee's co-chairman. "We need a few more people playing on the offensive line of scrimmage."

The Legislature redraws the boundaries of congressional districts every 10 years to reflect shifts in the state's population. The goal is to get the districts as close in population as possible, something the U.S. Supreme Court has said is necessary to ensure that all citizens are equally and fairly represented in Congress.

Having finished hearings in communities across the state, the committee meets Thursday to discuss congressional redistricting and give directions to its staff. Adkins expects another meeting in late September or early October to vote on a plan.

Republicans have 23 seats on the committee, reflecting their large legislative majorities, and can control the debate if they can agree among themselves.

"It's not going to be easy, because the congressmen themselves can't agree on anything," said Rep. Doug Mays, R-Topeka, a committee member. "We're going to let this go for a while. If they can't agree to something we can sell to the Legislature, then we'll have to do it ourselves."

Congressman Todd Tiahrt, who represents the 4th District of south-central Kansas, has the simplest goal: He'd like to keep his district as it is.

He argues that he can. The district exceeds the ideal population 672,105 by fewer than 3,700 residents, or 0.5 percent. It has 11 counties and part of a 12th, and it is centered around Wichita.

"I'd just like to see minimal change," Tiahrt said. "I think a good case can be made for doing nothing."

Goals aren't as simple for the other two Republican congressmen, Jerry Moran, of the 1st District of western and central Kansas, and Jim Ryun, of the 2nd in eastern Kansas. Moran's district must pick up more than 34,000 residents and Ryun's almost 31,000.

Moran said he wants to keep the 65 counties he now represents and add a few more.

"I've not gotten serious about trying to come up with a map," Moran acknowledged.

Ryun, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, wants to keep forts Riley and Leavenworth in his district.

"I think the thing I'm interested in is keeping our districts pretty much together," he said.

The congressman facing the most change is Democrat Dennis Moore, who represents the 3rd District, centered on the state's portion of the Kansas City metropolitan area. His district must lose more than 61,000 residents.

"We hope this will be a fair process," spokesman Jack Martin said. "Since we're outgunned in the Legislature, he doesn't think he has the ability to influence this process to any great extent."

Democrats profess dismay at the thought that congressmen will play a key role in the redistricting debate, even though Democrats Jim Slattery and Dan Glickman, when serving in the U.S. House, weren't shy about trying to influence the 1992 debate.

"I would hope that the priorities of the redistricting committee and its members is drawing maps that are fair and respect communities of interest," said House Minority Leader Jim Garner, D-Coffeyville.

Because Moore's district must lose population, Lawrence is at the center of the debate over congressional redistricting. Most of Douglas County, including the city of Lawrence, is in the 3rd District.

In April, Democrats outlined a map that would put more of Douglas County outside of Lawrence and southern Johnson County in the 2nd District, arguing that Kansas Highway 10 links Lawrence and Johnson County suburbs.

"If we split Lawrence, we're setting what I believe is a bad precedent that's totally unnecessary," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.

Republicans dismissed the Democratic plan, saying Johnson County shouldn't be split. A side benefit of the Democratic plan is that Moore keeps Democratic voters in Lawrence in his district.

"I don't think there's any way all of Lawrence and Douglas County can go into the 3rd District," Mays said. "There's no way the numbers can work out."

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