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Archive for Thursday, March 14, 2002

commissioner says

March 14, 2002

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— Lawrence officials Wednesday said a plan to split the city between two congressional districts represents politics at its worst.

"This is embarrassingly partisan. This is bare-knuckle politics at its ugliest," said Douglas County Commissioner Charles Jones.

Jones, a Democrat, was faulting a Republican plan to divide Lawrence between the 2nd and 3rd congressional districts.

The measure, approved Wednesday by the House redistricting committee, would split the city roughly along Iowa Street, moving west Lawrence into the 2nd District and leaving east Lawrence, including Kansas University, in the 3rd District.

The plan may be considered Friday by the full House. An alternative map unveiled Tuesday by the committee's chairman would have divided Lawrence down Massachusetts Street. But that plan was withdrawn from consideration.

Lawmakers are redrawing political boundaries for congressional, legislative and board of education districts as part of the once-a-decade redistricting process connected to population counts from the national census.

Republicans in control

Currently, Lawrence is in the 3rd District along with the Kansas City area of Johnson and Wyandotte counties. And that is where Lawrence officials say it should stay, citing economic and KU links to the Kansas City-area.

But because of tremendous growth in the 3rd District, the district had to lose some population to even out the size of the state's remaining three congressional districts.

Republicans, who control the process thanks to large legislative majorities, have refused to split either Johnson County or Wyandotte County to make room for Lawrence in the 3rd.

"Johnson County is the 3rd District, has been and will be in the future," said Rep. Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, chairman of the redistricting committee.

Democratic proposals to keep Lawrence in the 3rd and shave off southern Johnson County into the 2nd met protests from Republicans.

"Southern Johnson County has more in common with northern Johnson County than Lawrence has with Johnson County," said Rep. John Ballou, R-Gardner.

As a second choice, Lawrence officials argued that if the city could not fit in the 3rd, then it should be placed wholly in the 2nd.

Again, Republicans opposed the proposal, saying that would create a domino effect resulting in massive changes in the remaining districts.

Economic split

But Democrats have claimed Republicans simply are trying to hurt U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore's re-election chances in the 3rd District. Moore is the only Kansas Democrat in Congress and Lawrence is an important vein of votes for him.

Lawrence Mayor Mike Rundle also complained that the proposed congressional split would reinforce the image that the city is divided between rich and poor along Iowa Street.

"If we have to be divided, I wish they would let us come up with a division. I hate to see that plan inscribed in stone for the next 10 years," Rundle said.

He said if the city must be divided he would rather see it split along the line that divides attendance zones for Lawrence High School and Free State High School, which runs roughly along 15th Street.

But other Lawrence officials weren't ready to concede the city must be split  to the point they wouldn't discuss which split would be best.

"We still want to see Lawrence and as much of Douglas County in the 3rd District as possible," said Tim Holverson, vice president of public policy for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce.

Rep. Troy Findley, a Lawrence Democrat on the redistricting committee, agreed.

"I'm not really a fan of splitting Lawrence, so I'm not really going to comment on it," he said of Rundle's proposal. "I'm not really open to considering any (splitting) option at this point."

Earlier, O'Neal proposed a map that would have split Lawrence along Massachusetts Street. That would have put all of KU's Lawrence campus in the 2nd District.

O'Neal backed off the proposal saying that after thinking more about it he believed KU should remain in the 3rd District to stay linked with its Kansas City-area campuses.




 Staff writer Joel Mathis contributed to this story.

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