Topeka Republicans on Wednesday approved a congressional redistricting plan that would split Democratic-voting Kansas City, Kan. between the 1st and 3rd districts.
House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence said the proposal, which was pushed by House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, "is the epitome of gerrymandering."
Congressional redistricting map ( .PDF )
But O'Neal defended his plan as he cast the deciding vote for it when the House redistricting committee was deadlocked 11-11.
State Rep. Michael Peterson, D-Kansas City, said putting most of Kansas City in the 1st, which includes western Kansas, violated the Legislature's rule to maintain communities of interest when re-drawing political boundaries.
Davis added, "This map shifts 25 counties and 640,000 Kansans into a new congressional district when this is completely unnecessary. After 15 public hearings across the state of Kansas where this proposal was presented, not one single Kansan stepped forward to support this and numerous Republicans and Democrats all across the state opposed it."
But O'Neal said simple math dictated the proposal to make Kansas' four congressional districts equal in population. Legislators have to redraw district boundaries to accommodate for population shifts that have occurred over the past 10 years.
The vast 1st is losing population while the 3rd is gaining. "We have to shrink one and add to the other," O'Neal said. Kansas City and all of Wyandotte County are currently in the 3rd with Johnson County.
O'Neal added that splitting a city can be a benefit. He used the city of Lawrence as an example. Lawrence was split 10 years ago between the 2nd and 3rd districts. "Those who don't want to be split, we find out over time, do benefit from having more than one congressman," he said. And, he said, because the 1st needs more population, some city will have to be split. Earlier versions to split Topeka or reconfigure the Wichita-based district were rejected by the committee.
The Kansas Senate has passed a bi-partisan congressional map that would keep Kansas City and Johnson County in the 3rd. But it moves Manhattan, which is currently in the 2nd, into the 1st, which is contrary to what Manhattan officials want.
In the Senate map, Lawrence would be made whole and placed in the 2nd. In the map proposed by O'Neal, Lawrence would be wholly placed in the 3rd along with Johnson County, and the southeast part of Kansas City, which includes the Kansas University Medical Center, and Miami County.