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Archive for Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Unpalatable split

September 11, 2001

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Lawrence shouldn't accept proposals to split the city between two congressional districts.

It looks as if Lawrence may be the big loser in the current plans to redraw the state's U.S. House districts.

State legislators working on the redistricting plan refuse to consider cutting through either Wyandotte or Johnson counties to equalize congressional districts in the state because of the "community of interest" those counties supposedly represent. But Republican lawmakers, who hold a majority on the redistricting committee, seem to have little concern for the Lawrence community and now are promoting maps that would slice the city in two.

One possible dividing line for the city would run along Iowa Street. That would keep the eastern portion of the city in the 3rd District with Kansas City and move the western part of Lawrence into the 2nd District. GOP legislators promoting this plan say it would maintain ties between the Kansas University campuses in Lawrence and Kansas City, but they seem unconcerned by the fact that an Iowa Street line would actually place part of the Lawrence campus in another district.

Although state Sen. David Adkins was quoted as saying KU favored such a plan, Chancellor Robert Hemenway refused last week to confirm that support.

The motivation for splitting Lawrence is unclear. Redistricting is a highly political process, and it would seem that the majority Republicans would be most concerned about increasing their numbers in the 3rd District in order to mount a challenge to Democratic Rep. Dennis Moore. However, the eastern part of Lawrence traditionally supports more Democratic candidates, while Republicans are in the majority to the west, so an Iowa-Street split wouldn't boost GOP numbers in the 3rd District.

KU connections to Kansas City are important, but they aren't the only issue. Although local officials have played up the importance of KU's community of interest with Kansas City, they also have stressed the importance of keeping Lawrence together. Some have specifically stated a preference for moving all of Lawrence to the 2nd District rather than splitting it.

The focus on splitting Lawrence could make local people wonder whether other motivations were at work. Is this an attempt to reduce Lawrence's clout in Congress? Is it a way for Republicans to punish one of the state's most Democratic counties?

It makes no sense to hold entire counties sacred from splits, then turn around and draw a line right through the center of one of the state's largest cities. How can the city of Gardner, for instance, have a greater community of interest with Kansas City than one side of Lawrence has with the other?

Plans to split Lawrence between two congressional districts have an almost punitive undertone. Lawrence officials should voice their opposition to such a move in the strongest possible terms.

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