Now that 2010 Census figures have confirmed that Kansas will keep its four seats in the U.S. Congress, political observers are starting to speculate on logical ways to redraw the state’s congressional districts to accommodate the continuing population shift from western Kansas to the northeast corner of the state.
The only problem is that the redistricting process has almost nothing to do with logic and everything to do with politics.
That became painfully obvious to Lawrence residents 10 years ago when the city was split down the middle between the 2nd and 3rd Congressional Districts. The only basis on which that division made sense was that it split one of the state’s most reliably Democratic counties in an effort to diminish the influence it would have on congressional elections in either district.
Despite that decision, the 3rd District continued to elect Democrat Dennis Moore throughout the last decade until he announced his retirement this year. He will be replaced by Republican Kevin Yoder, and Kansas again will be represented in Congress by four Republicans.
Republicans generally control the redistricting process in Kansas, but their influence will be even more dominant following November elections that increased their majority in the Kansas Legislature. Interestingly, however, some observers say the redistricting battle still will be contentious, mostly because Republicans will be fighting to keep pockets of Democratic voters out of certain districts.
Because of population shifts, Lawrence and Douglas County again will be in play. Growth in Johnson and Douglas counties in the last decade means that some of the territory in the 3rd District will have to be carved off, probably into the 2nd District. Johnson and Wyandotte counties have about the right population to constitute the 3rd District by themselves. That could mean all of Douglas County goes into the 2nd. That makes a certain amount of sense politically for Republicans because it helps neutralize the only two Kansas counties that reliably vote Democratic: Douglas and Wyandotte.
That would be logical, but, as we said, this process isn’t always logical. Rep. Lynn Jenkins may not want all of Douglas County in her 2nd District. U.S. representatives aren’t directly involved in the redistricting process, but they have their champions among Republican legislators.
Douglas County could make the case that it has significant ties to Johnson County, but it would be hard to trump the ties Johnson County has to Wyandotte County, which are both included in the Kansas City metropolitan area.
State Democratic leaders recognize that they will have little, if any, power over this redistricting process. Douglas County also will be hard-pressed to exert much influence over what district it is placed in or whether it remains whole or is split between two districts.
We have been in this position before, and, fortunately, being a pingpong ball in the redistricting game hasn’t severely damaged Douglas County in the past. Local officials should keep their eye on the upcoming process to make sure it doesn’t go too far awry, but local residents also must recognize that where Lawrence ends up is largely out of our hands.