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Archive for Thursday, March 14, 2002

Redistricting outrage

March 14, 2002

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The train to split Lawrence between two congressional districts is gaining speed, and local residents seem powerless to stop it.

The congressional redistricting map that was passed out of the House Redistricting Committee Wednesday has a lot of people in Lawrence asking what this city has done to make state lawmakers so angry with us.

The Kansas House volunteered to take over the congressional map-drawing chores after the process became stalled in the Senate. Leaders reasoned that because the process of the House redrawing its own districts had been relatively smooth, that chamber also could take a more reasonable, less partisan approach to the congressional map.

Maybe, but we don't see it.

Initially, the process went from bad to worse for Lawrence when a legislator proposed a map that would split Lawrence right down Massachusetts Street. However, on Wednesday, the House committee reverted to  and passed  the Iowa Street split that had gained support in the Senate.

Lawrence leaders and legislators have worked hard since last summer to show the logic of keeping Lawrence in the 3rd District in recognition of the many historical, business and educational ties the city has to the Kansas City area.

In recent weeks, as political lines became more firmly drawn and the likelihood of keeping Lawrence in the 3rd District declined, leaders said they could accept configurations that put Douglas County entirely in the 2nd District. There has been almost no local support for a plan that splits Lawrence between two districts.

The only group that might have favored a split was Kansas University officials who were eager to keep the Lawrence campus in the same congressional district with the KU Medical Center and the Edwards Campus in Johnson County. The map forwarded Wednesday accomplishes that goal by running along Iowa Street but dipping west to pick up KU's West Campus.

Some in Lawrence question whether an attempt to please KU should be such an important factor in how the districts are drawn. Rather, the primary focus should be on what is in the best interest of the entire city. The map currently on the table shows little regard for the "community of interest" that is Lawrence. It is primarily a political map.

The Republicans in power in Topeka don't want Rep. Dennis Moore to retain his Democratic support in Lawrence and Douglas County, which helps offset GOP majorities Moore faces in Johnson County, and they don't want to place too many additional Democratic voters into Rep. Jim Ryun's district. The only way to diminish Moore's support without hurting Ryun too much is to draw a line through Lawrence, so that's what they've done. Lawrence is caught in the middle in this redistricting fight.

It's simply untrue that there is no way to equalize the population among the state's four congressional districts without slicing through Lawrence. For whatever reason, legislators have decided they want Lawrence to be the loser in this process.

If the House approves the current map, it seems likely the Senate will follow suit. Gov. Graves said at the start of the session that he favored a map that put all of Lawrence in the 2nd District, but it's uncertain at this point whether he would veto a map that splits the city.

Beyond that, Lawrence would have little recourse except in the courts, and unless the city can show blatant numerical or racial imbalances among the districts, it may be difficult to make a compelling case. It would be nice if we  or anyone  could offer advice on how local residents could fight the proposed split, but right now it seems that few in Topeka are interested in the concerns or opinions of Lawrence residents.

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