Topeka The Kansas Legislature is headed toward a collision over congressional redistricting.
House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, is pushing a plan that would redraw the district boundaries in a way that would put most of Kansas City, Kan., in Wyandotte County in the 1st U.S. House District.
Democrats are indignant over the idea of joining Democratic-voting, urban Kansas City with a district dominated by western Kansas and currently represented by one of the most conservative Republicans in Congress, U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Fowler.
“It’s political gerrymandering at its worst” and will dilute Democratic votes, said Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka.
Hensley gave reporters a list of published quotes from O’Neal, in which O’Neal repeatedly over several months dismissed Hensley’s contention that Republicans had a plan to put Kansas City into the 1st.
House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence said O’Neal’s map, which was approved by the House Redistricting Committee and will be considered by the full House this week, is “just making wholesale changes to create districts where four incumbents … won’t ever have to worry about having a tough race.” All of Kansas’ incumbent congressional representatives are Republican.
But O’Neal said his map accomplished several goals. It keeps in the 2nd District Manhattan, and the site of the proposed National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, a $650 million federal laboratory.
In addition, the state’s major research universities, Kansas University and Kansas State University in Manhattan, would be in the 2nd, he noted.
“There’s just no clean, pretty way of drawing these,” O’Neal said of the redistricting process. “If there is a better way, it has not emerged yet in either the House or Senate. Changing congressional boundary lines does not change or alter those historic connections.”
Manhattan city officials say they prefer O’Neal’s map over a bipartisan plan approved in the Senate that would place Manhattan in the 1st.
The problem that must be solved is making the districts as equal in population as possible. The 1st has lost population over the past 10 years and needs to expand to pick up approximately 58,000 people. The rapidly growing 3rd District must shed a similar number of people.
Douglas County is currently divided between two districts, with the eastern portion in the 3rd and western portion in the 2nd.
Under O’Neal’s plan, Douglas County would be wholly in the 3rd, along with Johnson and Miami counties and the portion of Wyandotte County that includes the KU Medical Center.
In the Senate-approved plan, Douglas County would be wholly in the 2nd. But state Republican Party officials have denounced this plan.
A new proposal is emerging among Senate leaders that would keep Manhattan in the 2nd and draw a 3rd that included Johnson, Wyandotte, and the southeast corner of Leavenworth County.
“There is pretty solid support for that,” said Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton.