May 2, 2012

New congressional districts sail through Senate committee

TOPEKA — The morning after an acrimonious three-hour floor debate on state Senate redistricting, a Senate committee today easily passed through a map to redraw the state’s four congressional districts.

The congressional map is the Senate’s answer to an earlier map drawn up by the House of Representatives, which senators have rejected because it would have divided Topeka.

In drawing their map, Senators were careful to avoid splitting any major cities and to put Riley County and Kansas State University in the state’s 2nd District.

Senate President Steve Morris has expressed concern that friction between 1st District Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, and House Speaker John Boehner could threaten funding for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, a national anti-terrorism laboratory under development near the university.

Huelskamp’s spokeswoman has said that he has a good working relationship with Boehner, and Huelskamp doesn’t think the laboratory funding would be threatened if he represents Riley County.

Both houses of the state Legislature are engaged in the once-every-10-year process of redrawing legislative district lines to reflect population shifts in the Senate and ensure equal representation.

In contrast to the 21-19 passage of the state Senate map Tuesday, the congressional map passed without opposition in the Senate Redistricting Committee. The vote was unanimous with the exception of Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, who abstained saying that she had not had a chance to discuss the map with her district’s representative, Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita.

Given the lack of opposition on the committee, the congressional map is expected to easily pass the Senate when it comes up for a floor vote later today or Thursday.

However, it could face a tougher road in the House, where members have been more attuned to drawing district lines to protect Republican dominance of the state’s congressional delegation.

As recently as 2009, two of Kansas’ four representatives were Democrats. The current delegation is all Republican.

With state legislative districts, courts allow lawmakers to draw districts that are within 5 percentage points of each other.

But federal law requires much more precision for congressional districts.

As counted by the Census, three of the congressional districts approved by the Senate Redistricting Committee today have exactly the same population, 713,280. The 1st District has two voters fewer than the others.

The Senate map accomplishes equal population in the districts without dividing any major population centers.

District 1 will remain the large, rural western-Kansas focused district it is now.

District 2 runs from the northeastern corner of the state through the Topeka area and south along the Missouri border to the the southeast corner of the state.

District 3, the smallest geographic district, contains the heavily populated Kansas City suburbs.

District 4, anchored by Wichita and Sedgwick County, also would include Butler, Harvey, Cowley, Greenwood, Elk, Chautauqua, Woodson, Wilson and Montgomery counties, and the northeast corner of Sumner County. Kingman and Harper counties, plus three-fourths of Sumner County, would shift out of the current 4th District into the 1st District.

Several senators mentioned that rural counties west and east of Wichita had lobbied to be included in the 1st and 2nd districts rather than the 4th.

“It’s just the natural urban-rural split,” said the committee chairman, Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park. “The farther out you go, the more (rural) people are concerned they might not be represented as well as the urban areas.”

But senators acknowledge that it’s impossible to draw a map with a legal population balance that doesn’t put some rural counties together with Wichita.

“The only other way we could think of was maybe going into Oklahoma, but that wouldn’t work too well,” joked Sen. Duane Umbarger, R-Thayer.

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