Manhattan’s hope of remaining in a redrawn Second Congressional District got a powerful champion Friday when the Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives endorsed that position.
Rep. Mike O’Neal, who also co-chairs the redistricting committee that is drawing the maps, had been expected to support the effort here to remain in the district of Rep. Lynn Jenkins because O’Neal is from Hutchinson. That city is not only the largest in the First District, which is represented in Congress by Tim Huelskamp, but it is the site of one of Huelskamp’s two district offices. If Manhattan were moved into the First District as suggested earlier in the week by Sen. Tim Owens, the other committee co-chair, it would supplant Hutchinson as the district’s largest city and would be a candidate to take one of the district offices.
O’Neal told The Associated Press that Manhattan officials have made a strong case that their community has more in common with other eastern Kansas communities in its current 2nd District than with the western part of the state. For example, the 2nd District includes part of Lawrence, home of the University of Kansas, and Manhattan is home to Kansas State University.
O’Neal said sweeping Manhattan into the 1st District also forces changes in other district lines that can be avoided.
“I’m not ready to say that Manhattan just gets dumped into the 1st,” O’Neal said. “I don’t see that being the final product by any stretch of the imagination.”
Legislators must redraw congressional districts at least once every 10 years to account for shifts in population and follow court mandates that districts be as equal in population as possible. The 1st District is almost 58,000 residents short of the ideal population of about 713,000 and must gain territory.
The Senate committee plans to meet Monday to discuss congressional redistricting, and he said he expects it to hear testimony from Manhattan officials. Hensley predicted that the plan Owens drafted would have strong support from committee members and said a vote could come as early as next week.
But Owens, who doubts there would be a quick committee vote, said he drafted the plan only to open the debate over congressional redistricting, which the Senate is taking up first.
“I felt like we needed to have something out there to start the discussion and it looks like we’ve done that,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot of positive support for it, but there are questions about it from the Manhattan folks.”
The 1st District currently includes Junction City, which neighbors Manhattan, but not adjoining Fort Riley. A decade ago, Manhattan officials also worked to keep their community in the 2nd District, in part to keep the college towns mostly in the same district.
“We feel that it gives us a better presence in Washington to have the strength of the university communities gathered together in one district,” said state Rep. Sydney Carlin, a Manhattan Democrat.
Kansas has an all-Republican delegation in the U.S. House, and it’s unlikely that changing the district lines would alter that because no serious Democratic candidates have started campaigning in this year’s elections.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, who has vociferously supported Owens’ proposal, said legislators can’t avoid upsetting some Kansas residents during the redistricting process, and that shifting Manhattan into the 1st District would result in relatively compact districts.
“That is the easiest fix with the least amount of partisan pain to be injected into the process,” he said.
But O’Neal doesn’t find the changes simple. Under the plan, the over-populated 3rd District — which centers on the Kansas City area — would lose its half of Lawrence, which would be united in the 2nd District, as it was before redistricting in 1992.
The 2nd also would pick up Montgomery County from the 4th District of south-central Kansas. The county is part of a bloc of nine counties in the state’s southeastern corner where officials traditionally have worked together on economic projects.
To compensate, the 4th District also would expand westward to pull in six counties and part of a seventh in southwestern Kansas.
“What they do to the 4th District is unnecessary,” O’Neal said.