TOPEKA — As legislative redistricting careens toward a conclusion in the courts, the House today passed a congressional district map criticized for dividing the Democratic stronghold of Lawrence.
Under the new map, dubbed Kansas Six, east Lawrence would be part of a west Kansas district and west Lawrence would be part of an east Kansas district.
An earlier map, which was rejected in the state Senate, had split Topeka in much the same fashion, with the east side of the city going to the western district and west Topeka in the eastern district.
The new map passed with the barest of majorities, 56-54 with 15 members absent or not voting.
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The House and Senate have been at loggerheads all session over redistricting, which the Legislature is required to do every 10 years to equalize representation among legislative districts.
The districts in the proposed map are considered favorable to incumbent Republicans who now hold all four seats in the congressional delegation.
During floor debate in the House, it was revealed that the sitting Congress members had reviewed the maps, although it was not made clear how much influence they had over the drawing of their districts.
The primary objection to the new map was that it dilutes voting strength of moderate- to liberal populations in Lawrence, hometown of the University of Kansas.
East Lawrence would be at the end of a peninsula linking it to the 1st Congressional District, which includes all of western Kansas and is dominated by conservative Republicans.
West Lawrence would be part of the 2nd District, which is now held by Republican Rep. Lynn Jenkins, but is considered more of a swing district and sent Democrat Nancy Boyda to Washington from 2008 to 2010.
Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, said her city and her party are being treated unfairly by Republicans who want to dilute the Democratic vote and cement their control over the congressional delegation.
“We know that underlying agenda is there,” she said.
Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, who carried the bill on the floor, said splitting a city was necessary to balance populations among the districts.
He said Lawrence being part of two districts could benefit the area because two congresspersons would need to pay attention to the city.
“Actually there is a real benefit to being split,” he said. “Having more representation on balance … can be a positive thing.”
As the conservative-led Republican House and moderate-led Republican Senate remain deadlocked over redistricting, Kinzer acknowledged that the main reason to pass another map was to strengthen the House’s hand in the coming court case.
A federal judge in Kansas City has set a March 29 hearing on a lawsuit challenging the state’s legislative districts.
The named defendant, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, has asked the court to appoint a three-judge panel to select from maps that have made it partway through the Legislature, or to let him draw the maps.