House expected to vote on new map soon

Manhattan area lawmakers support redistricting plan, but have some reservations

By The Mercury

Legislators may find out as early as Wednesday whether a map approved Monday by the House Redistricting Committee will break the logjam that has held up redistricting progress to date.

Sources in Topeka indicated that the full House is likely to consider the map Wednesday or Thursday, although no firm schedule has yet been drawn.

The map, which was approved by House committee members on a 12-11 vote, is controversial because it splits Topeka between two congressional districts. The Statehouse and heavily minority city neighborhoods would be moved into a district with western Kansas farming communities.

House Speaker Mike O’Neal, a Hutchinson Republican who appointed himself chairman of the committee, cast the decisive vote at Monday’s hearing.

Manhattan area lawmakers appeared prepared Tuesday to support the map, albeit in one case with some concern. State Reps. Sydney Carlin, a Democrat, and Tom Phillips, a Republican, noted that the map gives the city and Riley County what it has sought in the process, a continued presence with Fort Leavenworth and Lawrence in the Second District.

“I have to represent my district first,” said Carlin. “I have no reason to disagree with this map at this time.”

At the same time, Carlin indicated doubt whether the full House would back the splitting of Topeka and Shawnee County between two districts, something that the Shawnee County delegation rallied against Monday. “I don’t know that it will hold,” she said.

Phillips said he was prepared to support the map when it came to the House floor for a vote.

Legislators must redraw the state’s four congressional districts to account for shifts in population over the past decade. The 1st District, of western and central Kansas, is nearly 58,000 people short of the ideal population of 713,280 and must gain territory and residents.

The House last week rejected a proposal supported by O’Neal to split the Kansas City area between two districts, moving part of it into the 1st, and an alternative plan to dramatically change district lines in south-central and southeast Kansas.

The House’s rejection of different proposals last week forced the Redistricting Committee to start over in drawing a congressional plan, under conditions that pushed members to seriously consider splitting Topeka.

“We backed into it,” said Rep. Clay Aurand, a Courtland Republican who supported the latest plan. “The 1st District had to have more people, and nobody was volunteering too much, and so we had to make a choice.”

The Senate approved a bipartisan congressional redistricting proposal last month, but it included Manhattan in the 1st District. Both O’Neal and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback oppose the idea, arguing that keeping Manhattan with other eastern Kansas communities will better protect a planned federal biosecurity lab there.

Political considerations also are a factor. The Kansas Republican Party criticized the Senate’s plan because it would result in a slightly more Democratic 2nd District for Rep. Lynn Jenkins, the senior member of the state’s all-GOP delegation in the U.S. House.

The House committee’s proposal would leave Jenkins and freshman Rep. Kevin Yoder, of the 3rd District, with slightly more Republican districts. The 1st District, represented by freshman Rep. Tim Huelskamp, would become significantly more Democratic — but still remain the state’s most GOP-leaning district.

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