Opinion: Rep. Ballard: Splitting Lawrence from Douglas County makes no sense in Congressional redistricting

photo by: Richard Gwin/Journal-World File Photo

Rep. Barbara Ballard

I serve on the 17-member, 2022 House Redistricting Committee, which includes five Democrats and 12 Republicans. I was appointed to represent the Douglas County area. In August of 2021, members of both the House and Senate Redistricting Committees did a statewide tour. These five days of public comment came before U.S. census information had been released. A second round of virtual hearings was held in November after census data became public.

Lawrence residents are concerned and perplexed that Douglas County is being targeted again. This is the second time Lawrence has been carved up in redistricting. Twenty years ago, the City of Lawrence and Douglas County were split in half. Everything east of Iowa Street was placed in the 3rd District, while everything west was placed in the 2nd. Currently, Lawrence and all of Douglas County are in the 2nd Congressional District. I voted against Senate Bill 355 and the Ad Astra 2 redistricting plan because it makes no sense. As a longtime state representative from Douglas County, I object to the intentional separation of Lawrence from the rest of the county. This separates the county seat from the rest of our communities. It separates the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University from Baker University farther south in Douglas County, diluting the college-age voting bloc between two districts.

Separating the largest city in the fifth-largest county in the state makes no logical sense. Splitting only the City of Lawrence from the rest of Douglas County will weaken our collective vote. According to Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew, at 94,934 people, Lawrence becomes the largest entity in the 1st District, which means the largest city now competing for federal funds allocated by congressional district. Lawrence is one of the fastest-growing areas in Kansas. Up to now, Lawrence has been in districts which also have growth. With the passage of the new map, Senate Bill 355 and the Ad Astra 2 redistricting plan, Lawrence becomes the fastest-growing area in a district of slow growth and declining population. This means it will become a larger player in the 1st District for years to come. Interesting fact: At nearly 95,000, the population of Lawrence equals that of 26 counties in the 1st District.

However, as much as I love Lawrence and Douglas County, my concerns about this bill go beyond my home address. As the only person of color on either the House or Senate Redistricting Committee, I sometimes see things differently from many others. Wyandotte County is also being split between two different congressional districts. After looking at the six diverse maps introduced, why did we only discuss and vote on one map — Ad Astra 2? How do we know that we have the best map for our constituents in Kansas? Why this map? My constituents think it is to weaken our collective vote, for political gain and to increase the population in District 1. When one looks at the map, you can see Wyandotte County is split, allowing Franklin and Anderson counties to join the rest of Miami in the 3rd. District 2 includes the northern half of Wyandotte in a bizarrely salamandered map. It goes up and down Kansas, all the way to Marion County, and separates one tribal reservation from the other two.

Granted, it is difficult to draw a perfect map. However, other maps that have been offered work to protect the voting power of minority Kansans. The Mushroom Rock map works to keep the court-approved boundaries where possible and retains unity among the tribal reservations. The Prairie Dog map expanded the 4th District west to ensure the growing Hispanic population is given a solid voice in the selection of their federal representative. It also maintains minority population centers elsewhere across the state, instead of purposefully dividing them.

Amendments were offered on the House floor to force discussion of the other maps. Republican legislative leadership pushed one map, and only one map, Ad Astra 2, through both chambers. Where did this map come from? We do not know. We asked in committee, but there was no response to the question “Who drew Ad Astra or the amended version?” Why the secrecy? What special interests are being promoted/protected? Do the people of Kansas deserve to know who is carving up their counties and voting power? During our entire listening tour, there was no discussion of fracturing Lawrence and Douglas County. There were repeated calls to keep communities of interest unified. Let there be no doubt, constituents across the state deserve fair and transparent maps.

In closing, moving Lawrence to the 1st District makes no logical sense. I addressed redistricting in committee and during House floor debates. I voted to sustain the governor’s veto, because I believe any new map should be fair and transparent. We should allow the people to select their U.S. congressional representatives. All our voices must be heard. Lawrence and Douglas County should remain united within a single congressional district. It makes no sense! A fair map must be adopted for the people of Kansas.

Multiple lawsuits have been filed challenging the Ad Astra 2 map, and its future is now in the hands of the courts.

— Democratic State Rep. Barbara Ballard represents the 44th District in the Kansas House.


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