Topeka Ten years ago, the Republican-dominated Legislature split Democratic-voting Lawrence between two congressional districts; putting the eastern part in the 3rd U.S. House district and the western part in the 2nd.
Now, Republicans are trying to carve up the city again, but in a different way. This time they want to put the north and east part of Lawrence into the vast 1st U.S. House district, which is one of the most conservative districts in the country and runs to the Kansas-Colorado border.
The new proposed congressional redistricting map was approved Thursday by Republicans on the House redistricting committee and may be voted on by the full House today.
Under the proposal, the 1st U.S. House District, which includes all of western Kansas and much of central Kansas, would snake over into northeast Kansas, running through Jefferson and Leavenworth counties and wrap around to come into Lawrence.
The Kansas University campus area would be secured into the 2nd district.
Under the proposal, the eastern portion of Lawrence, considered a high-performing Democratic voting area, would be represented by U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, who is considered one of the most conservative members of Congress.
The campus area would be represented by 2nd District U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka.
House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, said the proposed map made sense because the 1st and 3rd districts need to border each other so that the 1st, which is losing population, could take in population from the fast-growing 3rd, which includes Johnson County.
But House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, called the proposal “another ridiculous attempt at gerrymandering to protect the incumbent members of Congress.”
State Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said Republicans were trying to dilute Democratic voting strength.
He noted that earlier in the legislative session, Republicans proposed maps that would place other Democratic areas in the 1st, such as east Topeka and Kansas City, Kan.
“You have to go after the Democrats every time?,” Ward asked. “We are way too concerned about the politicians and not concerned about the voters,” he said. He added, “Douglas County has already had their time in the barrel,” as far as being split between two districts. Most earlier redistricting plans had united Lawrence and put it in the 2nd.
O’Neal denied that he was targeting Democrats. The proposal was recommended by the House redistricting committee on a 9-7 vote with only Republicans supporting it.
State Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, said that since the redistricting proposal will be challenged in court, it was better to give the court as many options as possible.
The 1st needs to expand in area to capture more population, but an earlier attempt to place Manhattan in the 1st was scuttled by Republicans, some of whom said they wanted to keep a proposed federal biosecurity lab in Manhattan in Jenkins’ district to protect federal funding of the $650 million project.
Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, had said that a split between Huelskamp and U.S. House Speaker John Boehner would jeopardize funding for the project if it were in Huelskamp’s district. Huelskamp has said there is no split with Boehner that would threaten funding of the project.
Redistricting has become one of the most contentious issues this session as moderate and conservative factions of the Kansas Republican Party have been locked in a bitter struggle over state Senate and congressional districts.
Gov. Sam Brownback said Thursday it may take a court to sort out Senate redistricting.
Brownback said he’d like the Legislature to approve congressional and state House maps, and possibly leave the rest to the judicial system.
“I’d like to even see them pass the other maps and leave the Senate and State Board of Education, which is tied to the Senate map. If that’s the one you can’t get, then let’s send it to court rather than all of them,” Brownback said.