U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins knows she’s caught literally in the middle of a redistricting plan that will send about 50,000 Kansas voters into new Congressional districts.
But don’t ask her to take sides.
Jenkins, R-Kan., isn’t about to speak up about the potential repercussions — for herself, for Lawrence, for her party’s new majority in the House — resulting from what promises to be a political decision: whether her 2nd District should continue to represent only the western half of Lawrence, or instead be shifted to cover the entire city or include none at all.
“I really have no idea,” Jenkins said, after visiting with about two dozen attendees of a Kiwanis luncheon meeting Thursday at Lawrence Country Club. “I trust the lawmakers will figure it out. … (And) I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to engage the lawmakers, as it is for me to encourage my constituents to engage the lawmakers.”
The political stakes aren’t exactly small, given Lawrence’s strength as a Democratic stronghold. This past November, only one precinct in Lawrence — one already in Jenkins’ district — voted in favor of Republican U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback for governor, a race that Brownback ended up winning handily statewide.
In general, the state’s four Congressional districts each need to have about 700,000 residents. Jenkins’ 2nd District literally bisects two districts widely regarded as needing changes: The 1st, whose land area must expand in western Kansas because of dwindling population; and he 3rd, whose area will be expected to decline, because of population growth in Johnson, Wyandotte and Douglas counties.
Jenkins emphasized that she would much prefer to see her district — which stretches from Nebraska to Oklahoma, and includes Topeka, Manhattan, Pittsburg, Fort Leavenworth, Fort Riley and other population centers — “stay exactly the same.”
“There’s a case to be made” to keep her district, which includes Kansas University’s West Campus, together with communities that include Washburn, Kansas State, Pittsburg State and Baker universities.
Then again, she concedes that “we’re going to get shoved around” in the upcoming redistricting debates in Topeka, expected to play out during the 2011 legislative session and perhaps extend into 2012. She’s a Republican, and will have Republicans serving on both sides of her district.
Something’s gotta give.
“There will be a (new) map for every day of the year,” said Jenkins, who herself had been a state senator back in the early ’90s, for the last round of redistricting. “I know politics plays into that, but at the end of the day there has to be judicial oversight.”
Lawrence Mayor Mike Amyx also recalls those previous redistricting rounds, back when the Lawrence City Commission lobbied unsuccessfully to keep all of Lawrence in one district, and one district only.
“I believe we’re going to see one district this time,” he said Thursday. “Is that good for the community? Absolutely. The ‘one representative’ is something I’ve always been supportive of, and I think makes sense. Rather than having to deal with multiple people, we deal with one.”
Amyx, of course, declined to say whether Lawrence should shift completely into the 2nd District with Jenkins, or move entirely into the area covered by Rep.-elect Kevin Yoder, also a Republican. No sense wading into those political waters until absolutely necessary.
Jenkins, for her part, rests assured that the coming changes will follow the law, although she’d welcome a novel approach for keeping her district intact.
“It has to be contiguous,” she said, of district boundaries, “unless we want to take some of Nebraska, which they might want to give us.”