Having been mangled into a morass by the Kansas Legislature, the process of drawing new boundaries for the state’s Congressional, legislative and state school board districts finds itself in court starting Tuesday.
A Manhattan man will be part of that legal debate as three federal judges create the district boundaries that will govern state elections for the next decade.
Frank Beer, owner of the local Radio Shack, said he elected to join the case in order to give views championed by local political and business leaders a voice in the process. Beer said, however, his testimony for the court will be limited to the debate over the Congressional map, and will not deal at all with questions concerning the even more contentious state Senate maps.
“Our interest lies solely in the congressional map,” stated Beer. Specifically, that interest revolves around trying to keep Manhattan in the Second Congressional District.
The three-judge federal panel has set aside three days next week for the hearing — Tuesday through Thursday — but since more than 30 people have been certified to “join” the case it’s not yet clear how much time each person will be given. To the extent he has an opportunity to make his argument, Beer will reiterate the local community’s long-standing contention that its compelling “community of interest” relationship with both the educational and military components of the Second District should prevail. He is hopeful the judges will accept that, noting most of the intervenors seem more interested in the state Senate map than in the Congressional map. He believes most of maps likely to come before the court will put Manhattan in the Second District.
The two maps submitted early in the legislative session by the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, either of which Beer would be happy to support, are similar. Both envision a Second District focusing on the state’s northeast quadrant, one extending as far west as Riley County and the other also bringing Geary and Clay Counties into the district. “They look as reasonable as any of the maps out there,” he said.
Judges are not required to consider any of the maps that will be submitted by intervenors, or for that matter to consider any of the several maps that passed one legislative body. They may if they choose to do so draw an entirely new map.
Beer said he, other local officials and attorneys “will be working through the weekend to prepare for the case, although he acknowledged having little information as to exactly how the case would proceed.
Beer was a candidate for the 67th District House seat in January that was eventually won by Tom Phillips. But he said his one-time interest in the legislative seat had no bearing on his willingness to represent the community’s interests in the Congressional map debate. “It is absolutely, positively not the case” that he hopes to use the case to influence the legislative maps in some way favorable to him, he said. “We are not involving ourselves at all in either the House or Senate map discussions.”
The judges actually face four tasks. They must draw a Congressional map that breaks the state into four districts balanced by population while respecting racial balances and communities of interest. They must also draw the boundaries of 40 Senate districts and 125 House districts. As they draw the Senate boundaries, they will simultaneously be drawing the boundaries of 10 state Board of Education districts, since the latter are by law tied to the former.