Controversial House map splits city, Riley County

By Bill Felber

The controversial redrawing of congressional boundaries approved by a key House committee Wednesday delivers on the central hope of Manhattan’s leadership, keeping most of the city in the Second Congressional District.

But it splits northern Riley County into the First District, and also shifts Pottawatomie County — including the Manhattan portion of that county — into the First. Beyond that, it separates Fort Riley from Fort Leavenworth and K-State from KU, undermining two key “community of interest” tenets advanced by locals for keeping the county in the Second District.

Area legislators evinced discomfort extending to pain in their reactions to the map, which was approved by the House Redistricting Committee on a 12-11 vote. Speaker Mike O’Neal, who drew the map, cast the deciding vote.

The map is expected to be voted on by the full House, possibly as early as Friday, although a joint redistricting committee would have to reconcile it with a far different map drawn by the Senate several weeks ago. In that map, all of Riley and Pottawatomie Counties were moved into the First District.

State Rep. Tom Phillips, a Manhattan Republican, described the product of Wednesday’s committee vote as “not my preferred scenario,” although he indicated he could support it if necessary. 

State Rep. Sydney Carlin, a Manhattan Democrat, was more critical in her assessment of the map. “It is not friendly to Democrats at all; it is gerrymandering,” Carlin said.

Both representatives added that they expect additional maps to surface, and possibly be substituted, before the House takes final action.

“My intuition tells me there’s going to be some new maps; it’s not over yet,” Phillips said. Remarked Carlin, “I certainly hope we can amend this.”

The map approved by the House panel Wednesday takes all or part of 10 northeast Kansas counties — including, controversially, most of Wyandotte County, into the First District. Leavenworth County is also moved into the First District. It shifts the Second District south and westward by adding Saline, McPherson, Emporia and numerous other central counties. The Third District would lose virtually all of Wyandotte County, picking up the portion of Douglas County that is not presently in that district. The portion of Riley County from Riley north is moved from the Second into the First District, with the county’s southern portion — including most of Manhattan — remaining in the Second. But the largely commercial Pottawatomie County portion of the city — the area east of Tuttle Creek Boulevard and south of Casement Road — would also shift into the First District.

Riley and Wyandotte are two of three counties that would be split between two Congressional districts in the House version of the map. Kingman County, west of Wichita, would be divided between the First and Fourth Districts.

The revised Second District would lose nearly all of its area north of I-70, and would pick up 14 central Kansas counties as far west as Great Bend.

Noting that the map envisions the First District running border-to-border across the state, Carlin characterized the result as unwieldy. “When you look at the district that representative has to cover, it puts a terrible burden on the representative,” she said.

Chamber of Commerce President Lyle Butler characterized the map as “a step in the right direction.” But he said the chamber will continue to push for all of Riley County to stay in the Second District.

He said the chamber was less concerned with the potential movement of the University of Kansas, Fort Leavenworth and a large portion of the animal health corridor into other districts. He said Manhattan prefers to stay in the second district because Rep. Lynn Jenkins played a major role in helping Kansas State and Manhattan get NBAF. “We want to have that consistency,” Butler said.

Legislative Democrats blasted the map.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, of Lawrence, the ranking Democrat on the Redistricting Committee, called O’Neal’s plan “the epitome of gerrymandering.” He said committee members who backed the plan ignored the wishes of numerous communities, including Wyandotte County, where officials want the county to remain whole and in the 3rd.

“They instead listened to partisan insiders who want a congressional map drawn to protect incumbents in perpetuity,” Davis said.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, recalled his prediction last summer that Republicans would try to link Wyandotte County in with the First District in an effort to reduce the voting impact of Democrats there.

Meanwhile, the Senate Reapportionment Committee wrapped up hearings on separate bills to redraw Senate and House districts. Chairman Tim Owens, an Overland Park Republican, said he expects the committee to vote on them Friday.

The proposal for new House districts already has passed that chamber, and if the Senate sticks to tradition, it won’t modify the bill before passing it.

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