Nine years ago, Douglas County, one of the most Democratic-voting counties in the state, got sliced by a Republican-dominated Kansas Legislature and governor and placed in two congressional districts.
Now, even stronger GOP majorities will be cutting up the state’s political boundaries during the once-a-decade redistricting process.
Will Douglas County stay as it is — generally the western part is in the 2nd U.S. House district and the eastern part in the 3rd — get diced up in another way, or be reunited and put into the same district?
The Lawrence City Commission will talk about what it would like to see happen today at City Hall as a precursor to a public hearing of the Legislature’s Special Committee on Redistricting that will be held from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Sept. 2 at the Dole Institute of Politics at Kansas University.
“We have to decide whether to weigh in,” said Lawrence Mayor Aron Cromwell.
Every 10 years, the Legislature redraws district boundaries in state House, Senate, congressional and State Board of Education districts to bring districts into balance population-wise based on the updated census. Legislators will redraw the districts during the 2012 legislative session, which starts in January.
Kansas has grown by 6.1 percent since 2000 with most of the growth occurring in northeast Kansas and around Wichita in south-central Kansas, while much of western Kansas continued to lose population. Seventy-seven counties lost population, while 28 counties gained.
The 1st District has lost population while the 3rd has gained. So the 1st must take in more counties, and the 3rd will lose some area.
This shifting may put Douglas County in play.
Prior to 2002, Douglas County was wholly in the 2nd District.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, and the ranking member of the legislative redistricting committee, said it makes more sense to make the 3rd more compact by making it a Kansas City metro area district, which means Douglas County would be placed in the 2nd District.
“It certainly makes a lot of sense to keep the Kansas City metro area whole,” Davis said.
Cromwell said he thought Lawrence would have a stronger voice if placed entirely in the 2nd District, where it would join Topeka and Manhattan, rather than having its political voice diluted between two districts.
But Cromwell noted that some believe there is an advantage in having two representatives watching out for Lawrence’s interests.
Congressional incumbents usually take a big interest in the redistricting process.
But U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, who represents the 2nd District, said she is staying on the sidelines, trusting state legislators to “do the right thing.”
“I love my district as it sits today, but I would welcome all of Douglas County if that’s what the lawmakers in the Statehouse deem appropriate,” she said.
In earlier redistricting committee meetings this summer, Democrats have alleged that Republicans have a plan to extend the 1st District, which takes in all of western Kansas, all the way to the Kansas-Missouri border, taking in Wyandotte County.
That would have the effect of removing Democratic voters in Wyandotte County from the 3rd, which would make it easier for U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park, and putting those Democrats in the overwhelmingly Republican 1st District, represented by U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler.
But Republican legislative leaders have said moving Wyandotte County into the 1st would be difficult to justify.