Topeka — The principle that all Kansans, regardless of where they live in the state, have equal representation is a fantasy.
And nowhere is that more evident than the 38th State House District in Douglas and Johnson counties.
That district has 40,677 people, which is 17,961 people more than the ideal size House district of 22,716. That means the 38th District has almost the population of two House districts.
Head to Hodgeman County in western Kansas and the 117th District has 18,133 people, which is 4,583 fewer than it should have.
In other words, the 40,677 people in the 38th have the same political might in the Kansas House — one representative — as the 18,133 people in the 117th.
“The folks in my district don’t have the same voice as people in rural Kansas do,” said Rep. Anthony Brown, R-Eudora, who represents the 38th.
Kansas legislators this year must redraw these legislative district lines to even out the population shifts that have occurred since the last redistricting 10 years ago.
But in a move last week, those urban and growing legislative districts in Kansas may continue to get the short end of the stick.
The House redistricting committee voted to allow population deviation in drawing new legislative district lines of plus or minus 5 percent. That means the final maps could establish districts already 10 percent out of whack before further deviations occur as population continues to shift over the next 10 years.
Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, tried to get the committee to approve guidelines that would allow zero deviation, which is the same target state legislators have when they redraw maps of the state’s four congressional districts.
Rural legislators, and some urban ones, defeated that motion.
“It is not feasible to keep counties and towns together” with zero deviation, Rep. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, said. Others argued that courts that review redistricting plans are more strict with congressional lines but will allow population deviation between state legislative districts.
Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, then bargained for a 3 percent deviation. But that was also defeated.
“People are protecting their own interests,” Brown said.
Douglas County is further hindered in the redistricting process because Kansas is the only state in the nation that recalculates census figures to allow students to chose their home for redistricting purposes rather than their campus. The adjustment has the effect of reducing the population total of places like Lawrence, home of Kansas University.
Lawrence lost 12,000 people for redistricting purposes, even though these people live in Lawrence most of the year and many are registered to vote in Lawrence.
Ending this adjustment would require a constitutional amendment, and that is not likely to happen because rural legislators pick up population through the recalculation and it takes a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate to put proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot for voters to decide.