Topeka Kansas legislators have begun the thorny task of redrawing the state's political maps to account for the continued shift of population from west to east.
Kansas retained its four U.S. House districts following the 2010 census. But the boundaries will look vastly different for the 2012 elections.
The census showed the 3rd Congressional District in the Kansas City metro area has roughly 55,000 people more than it should, and that the sprawling 1st District is about 58,000 residents short and must be further expanded to make up the difference.
Changing boundaries also has political implications as Republicans look to solidify gains made in the 2010 election and make contact with new constituents before the next campaign cycle.
"There is a never a good time to do redistricting," said Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican. "I think it'll be a little prickly."
The job of drawing the congressional boundaries, as well as the state House and Senate, falls to legislators, who will finalize the new maps next year. A committee has already discussed holding meetings this summer in each congressional district.
Kansas last lost a congressional seat following the 1990 Census, going from five districts to the present four. There was some concern following the 2000 Census that the state could lose another seat, but after the middle part of the last decade it became clear that the state would not lose representation.
To draw each district, legislators will be trying to assemble boundaries containing about 713,280 residents. Federal law requires that the deviation between districts be zero.
According to figures released in March, the 3rd District grew the most over the past 10 years and has 54,289 residents more than the ideal district. It will have to get smaller geographically, losing parts or all of Douglas, Johnson and Wyandotte counties. Only part of Douglas is in the district, including half of the city of Lawrence and the University of Kansas.
"If people had their druthers in Lawrence, they would rather be in the 3rd, but I don't see how that's possible," said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat. "I've always operated under the assumption that Douglas would go in to the 2nd district as we went through this process."
Legislators consider a variety of factors when drawing the districts, such district demographics and communities of interest.
For example, the 2nd District covers the eastern portion of Kansas touching the borders with Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma. It has three state universities and the state's two Army installations, Fort Riley and Fort Leavenworth.
The 2nd District is also above the ideal size, growth attributed to the Pentagon's decision to base the Army's 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, increasing the soldier population by almost 50 percent.
Davis said Lawrence and Douglas County share a community of interest with Johnson County linked to the university and business development.
In addition to the congressional districts, legislators will redraw 40 state Senate and 125 state House districts. The changes in population suggest that urban areas like Johnson County will add one state Senate seat and about three state House districts. The ideal district sizes will be about 71,320 residents per state Senate seat and state 22,825 residents per House district.
Democrats hold just eight seats in the state Senate and 33 in the state House, and the party has mostly been reduced to representing areas of Kansas City, Wichita, Topeka and Lawrence where its core constituencies reside. The fight is likely to be within the GOP between a growing conservative majority and remaining moderates who have aligned with Democrats on education, tax, and social issues.
Emler said the shift from rural to urban representation is evident as legislators debate such issues as education funding and forcing school districts to consolidate.
Rural legislators have been able to prevent bills that would cut spending to smaller schools or force them to close buildings. But Emler said there is a point where there is only one school in a county and it would require students to be on buses for extended periods of the day.
"The folks who live in the urban areas who don't have many counties that have to travel around and don't understand that consolidation could be huge issue in rural areas," he said. "They simply aren't as aware of the time and distance."