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

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.

Under the map passed today — dubbed “Bob Dole 1″ although the iconic 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 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, took the rare step of going to the well himself to argue 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 former Rep. Nancy Boyda to Washington.

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 Minority Leader Paul 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.

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 Siewart, 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.

The bill, House Substitute for House Substitute for Senate Bill 176, is expected to go to a House-Senate conference committee to work out differences between the chambers’ maps.