Topeka — Exactly a year ago, Lawrence officials asked state lawmakers at a meeting in the Douglas County Courthouse to keep Lawrence in the 3rd Congressional District.
It didn't happen.
Thursday, senators accepted a House proposal they had rejected Wednesday, and on a 22-17 vote sent a map to Gov. Bill Graves that would split Lawrence between the 2nd and 3rd districts.
Graves has said he thinks a split Lawrence was an acceptable solution to congressional redistricting dispute that has held up the Legislature.
If signed into law, the division would roughly be along Iowa Street south of Sixth Street and north of the southern city limits. The western portion of the split city and most of the county would go into the 2nd District, represented by Republican Jim Ryun. The eastern portion would stay in the 3rd District, which is represented by Dennis Moore, the only Democrat in the Kansas congressional delegation.
The Legislature's work brings to an end at least for now a contentious battle over redistricting. Once every 10 years, lawmakers must redraw the district lines to accommodate population shifts as measured by the U.S. Census.
The fast-growing 3rd District had to give up about 60,000 people to even out Kansas' other three districts.
Douglas vs. Johnson
Rep. Troy Findley, D-Lawrence, and other Democrats had fought against splitting Lawrence, saying the city was more closely linked to the 3rd District, which includes the Kansas City-area counties of Johnson and Wyandotte. They pointed to the economic ties within the area, and Kansas University's campuses in Lawrence and the Kansas City metro area.
But plans to keep Lawrence in the 3rd would have meant splitting Johnson County, a Republican-rich voting area that the GOP was unwilling to divide. With significant majorities in the Legislature, the Republicans pretty much called the shots in redistricting.
Sen. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, had sought to keep Lawrence whole in either the 2nd District or 3rd District and voted against the proposal, which passed the Senate 22-17 en route to the governor.
But Praeger said the final map shouldn't provide any problems for Lawrence.
"I think Lawrence will be fine and we will get good representation from two members of Congress," she said.
Findley said, "Our community will rise to the challenge and take advantage of the opportunity and make the most of it."
Fort Riley flap
Splitting Lawrence produced other problems in the congressional map, most notably placing Junction City in the 1st District, separated from neighboring Fort Riley.
Sen. Lana Oleen, R-Manhattan, opposed taking Junction City out of the 2nd District, saying no other military base in the country had been placed in a separate district from its home city.
Some senators accused Ryun of wanting to jettison Junction City from his 2nd District because it had a lot of Democratic voters, and because he was taking in a lot of Democrats from the split of Lawrence.
Ryun's office denied the congressman wanted to get rid of Junction City.
Oleen said groups in Junction City may challenge the map in federal court, and that she would help them.
Until the governor signs the plan into law, Kansas remains one of only four states in the nation that hasn't completed the congressional redistricting process.
The Kansas Secretary of State's Office last week warned lawmakers that their lateness in approving a map could produce problems in meeting deadlines for mailing absentee and military ballots for the Aug. 6 party primaries.
The Legislature finished redrawing the state's Senate, House and Board of Education districts earlier in the session. They had planned to be finished with congressional redistricting by early March.
The two chambers passed vastly different congressional maps earlier in the session. Legislative negotiators hit an impasse and the House took a minor liquor bill passed by the Senate, stripped its provisions and put in its congressional plan.