All of Lawrence could be moved into the 2nd Congressional District in time for the 2012 election when the Kansas Legislature reconsiders its boundaries after the 2010 Census.
“It’s something to watch, and I think it would be the most-watched development when Kansas redistricts the next time,” said Allan Cigler, a Kansas University political science professor.
Redrawing boundaries is one of the most partisan tasks the Legislature undertakes. Cigler said the Republican-controlled Legislature would likely try to shift the map to try to capture the 3rd District seat in the Kansas City area from U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, a Democrat first elected in 1998.
“It’s always a very difficult process because it’s inherently political,” said Kansas Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence. “By definition, it’s about choosing political leadership, but at the same time there has to be a balance of a whole range of interests.”
The political blog Swing State Project on Friday speculated about a scenario that would move all of Lawrence and Douglas County into the 2nd District, which Republican Lynn Jenkins now represents. The 3rd District would still include Wyandotte and Johnson counties and gain the northern part of Miami County.
Cigler said that could be an option, but it also might not be a sure thing because it would put more Democratic-leaning voters from Lawrence into the 2nd District.
“It will get involved in some political give-and-take in that situation,” he said.
Shaking up Lawrence
The other main redistricting issue for Lawrence is whether it will be divided or shipped all together into the 2nd District. That would also be a historic shift because Lawrence was once all in the 3rd District.
“Our commonality is more with Johnson County than with Horton and Topeka,” said Wint Winter Jr., who represented Lawrence as a Republican in the state Senate during the last redistricting process.
After the 2000 Census, the Legislature essentially split Lawrence in half, moving the western half into the 2nd District.
Opponents in the Legislature at the time complained it was a partisan move meant to strengthen Rep. Jim Ryun, a conservative Republican in the 2nd District, and hurt Moore’s chances at re-election. It didn’t work, at least in the 2006 election when Democrat Nancy Boyda shocked Ryun. Moore has won re-election each time.
Jenkins won the seat back from Boyda for the GOP last year.
Winter said if legislators determine they have no better alternatives to moving all of Lawrence into the 2nd District, it would be OK, but he said it should not be strictly for political purposes.
“I’m still not a big fan of it, but this might be the least evil that’s possible,” Winter said. “It certainly sounds to me like at least we’re getting our community identity back in Congress.”
It’s still speculation about what can happen because the Census numbers still have to come in. It’s unlikely the state will lose a seat in Congress, but Schmidt said metropolitan areas are the ones gaining in population, meaning legislators will have to redraw boundaries to make districts even.
As Johnson County, a GOP stronghold, grows, Cigler said that could give Republicans more clout in the process.
“It will be a battle within the Republican elements, and the Democrats won’t have much to say,” he said.
But others say because the GOP often is split between conservatives and moderates, they might not be able to agree on a plan that shifts all of Douglas County into the 2nd District.
“It’s very likely that whoever gets their redistricting plan successfully passed is going to have to bring Democrats in the Senate along as well,” said Chapman Rackaway, an associate professor of political science at Fort Hays State University.
To eliminate some politics, Schmidt and other legislative leaders last session introduced a bill that would have authorized nonpartisan legislative staff members to draw up districts, and legislators would vote up or down on the proposals. But the idea didn’t gain traction in Topeka.
For the next round of redistricting discussions, the current Senate majority leader who is also running for Kansas attorney general next year expects partisan and geographic discussions to loom large.
“That’s just part of it,” Schmidt said, “and it always will be as long as the Legislature draws its own boundaries.”