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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Capital city divided by redistricting plan; East Topeka goes west and West Topeka goes east

By Dion Lefler
Eagle Topeka bureau

TOPEKA — After an hour of debate and Democratic accusations of Republicans playing politics with district maps, the state House passed a plan that divides the capital city between two congressional districts.

The House voted 77-43, along nearly party lines, to advance a map splitting Topeka between the 1st and 2nd congressional districts.

At present, Topeka is entirely a part of the 2nd District in eastern Kansas.

Under the map passed Wednesday — dubbed “Bob Dole 1” although the former Republican senator had no role in putting it together — the east side of Topeka will be combined with Kansas’ westernmost congressional district, while the west side of the city will remain in an eastern Kansas district.

The map accomplishes that by creating a peninsula from the 1st District through Osage County north into the divided Shawnee County.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, blasted Republicans for, in his view, failing to follow guidelines passed at the committee level to keep together “communities of interest.”

He proposed an amendment that would have made those guidelines a matter of state law.

“The fact of the matter is we’re not following the guidelines and I think most of the people in this room know that,” Davis said.

He said the Republican lawmakers “adopt (guidelines) in committee because they sound nice,” and then ignore them on the floor “to achieve whatever political ends” they want.

House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, argued against Davis’ amendment.

He called the amendment “really in my view an effort to make it more likely to have a court challenge by someone who is aggrieved by this.”

All four Kansas congressional districts are currently in Republican hands. However, the 2nd District has elected a Democrat as recently as 2006, when it sent Rep. Nancy Boyda to Washington. Boyda lost to Rep. Lynn Jenkins, who still holds the seat, in 2008.

Democrats say the map change will shuffle largely minority and Democratic neighborhoods of east Topeka into the overwhelmingly Republican 1st District, which reaches about 400 miles west to the Colorado border. West Topeka — whiter and more Republican-leaning, will remain in the 2nd District, an L-shaped district hugging the Nebraska and Missouri borders.

To get to the final result, Republicans had to overcome two proposed amendments, by Reps. Anne Keuther, D-Topeka, and Joe Patton, R-Topeka, who sought to keep their city in a single district.

“The 1st District is a rural, agricultural district,” said Davis. “We ought to keep it that way.”

Davis said Keuther’s proposed map would do “the least amount of harm” of any map yet proposed because fewer than 5 percent of Kansans would be shifted from one district to another.

The Keuther bill encountered some opposition from representatives in Geary and Riley counties, because it would have preserved a current split between Fort Riley, now in the 2nd District, and Junction City, the military base’s main bedroom community, which is now in the 1st District.

The Senate approved a bipartisan congressional redistricting plan last month and negotiators for the two chambers are likely to draft the final version.

In addition to passing the congressional map, the House made some tweaks to their proposed state House districts.

One change shifted a strip of territory in the Cheney area from 101st District Rep. Joe Seiwert, R-Pretty Prairie, to 93rd District Rep. Dan Kerschen, R-Garden Plain.

Both lawmakers said they favored the change.

The House bill also eliminated a line dividing the town of Erie between two state House districts.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Rep. Joe Seiwert's name.

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