A congressional redistricting map that bumps most of northern Butler County and Harvey, Kingman and Harper counties out of the 4th Congressional District won tentative approval in the state House on Tuesday.
The map, which faces a final vote in the House today and further debate in the Senate, would extend the 4th District of south-central Kansas into the state’s southeast corner, splitting that region in half between the 4th and the 2nd District of eastern Kansas. It would add portions of Greenwood County to the 4th District along with all of Labette, Cherokee and Crawford counties.
Wichita would remain the population center of the 4th District, though it would be in the far northwest part of the district under the new map.
The move capped a back-and-forth debate that largely focused on whether to put Wyandotte County in the traditionally rural 1st District that sprawls across most of western Kansas. The map approved keeps Wyandotte County in the 3rd District.
Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, had pushed a plan that would have pulled part of the Kansas City area into the 1st Congressional District of western and central Kansas, tying urban neighborhoods to rural communities more than 400 miles away. His proposal would have kept most of southeast Kansas in the 2nd District.
Rep. Tom Arpke, a Salina Republican who pushed the new plan, said he wanted to avoid having the 1st District extend across the state’s northern border. O’Neal shrugged off the House’s action, noting that the final version of the congressional redistricting plan will be drafted by House and Senate negotiators anyway.
“This moves the ball forward,” O’Neal said.
Legislators must redraw congressional districts to account for shifts in population over the past decade. The 1st District is nearly 58,000 residents short of the ideal population of 713,280 and must gain territory.
Last month, the Senate approved a bipartisan plan that puts the entire nine-county southeast Kansas region into the 2nd District and keeps the Kansas City area whole in the 3rd District. But that proposal pulled Manhattan – home to Kansas State University – into the 1st District, over the objections of local officials who want to keep the 2nd District with other eastern Kansas communities.
O’Neal and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback argue that Manhattan should remain in the 2nd District to protect a proposed federal biosecurity lab there. But many Republicans disliked the Senate plan because it would create a slightly more Democratic district for U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, the senior member of the state’s all-GOP congressional delegation.
In order to keep Manhattan in the 2nd District, legislators have to consider splitting another area between two districts. Previous alternatives have included both the Kansas City area and Topeka.
Southeast Kansas legislators are upset about the latest plan, because officials in their nine counties have often acted together on political and economic issues. Though Wichita is only 150 miles from Pittsburg – a shorter distance than that between some 1st District communities – southeast Kansas officials see themselves as living in a separate region.
“We’ve got as much in common with them as Oklahoma City,” said Rep. Bob Grant, D-Cherokee.
The House plan is “Capitol 1” under “Drafts” on the Legislature’s redistricting website, redistricting.ks.gov. The Senate plan is “Sunflower 9C” under “Proposed Plans.”
Contributing: Brent Wistrom of The Eagle’s Topeka bureau; Associated Press