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Move of county into 1st wins backing

By The Mercury

The chairman of the Kansas Senate’s redistricting committee proposed redrawing the state’s four U.S. House districts Wednesday by moving Manhattan and Fort Riley into the 1st District. 

Sen. Tim Owens, an Overland Park Republican, offered the new boundaries as the committee began redrawing the congressional districts and the 40 Senate districts. 

‘‘This is not without its controversy,’’ Owens said. ‘‘This is a template. This is something you put down over the terrain and then you adjust to the terrain.’’ 

Manhattan and Fort Riley are now in the 2nd Congressional District of predominantly eastern Kansas. Owens proposes consolidating Douglas County into the 2nd District. It’s currently split between the 2nd and 3rd districts. 

City officials have consistently opposed efforts to move the county out of the 2nd District. Manhattan is home of Kansas State University and where the Department of Homeland Security is proposing to build the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility to conduct plant and animal research. 

Other changes include moving Montgomery County from the 4th District, which centers on Wichita, to the 2nd District, and adding all or parts of six counties in central Kansas into the 4th District.  That news came as Secretary of State Kris Kobach pushed the Kansas Legislature to produce a first draft of house district maps by Friday, probably giving area lawmakers a good indicator of the impact of redistricting on Riley County.

In his appeal to lawmakers, Kobach asked for both House and Senate maps to be completed by Feb. 24, known in the Legislature as “turnaround day.” That’s the day that most bills have to make it through the chamber of origin to “stay alive.”

Both the 66th and 67th House districts, the two largely Manhattan-based districts, are expected to shrink in size due to population gains since the last redistricting in 2012. The 66th District, represented by Democrat Sydney Carlin, essentially consist of the north and east portions of Manhattan. The 67th District, represented by Republican Susan Mosier, consists of the south and west portions of Manhattan as well as nearby rural areas.

One of the most problematic aspects of whatever plan is drawn up will be how the redistricting panel deals with the 61st District, represented by Republican Vern Swanson. That district, which centers on Clay County but which also includes portions of Geary County and Fort Riley, must lose 9,000 people to get to the ideal district population of 22,716. Rep. Sharon Schwartz, a Washington Republican who is on the redistricting committee, said the excess population in Swanson’s district cannot be distributed to the north or to the west.

Much of the excess in Swanson’s district appears to be attributable to the state’s inability to adjust soldiers stationed at Fort Riley out of the statewide count. When that adjustment was conducted last year, Fort Riley did not participate.

Schwartz, along with Rep. Richard Carlson of St. Marys and Rep. Joe Patton of Topeka, is in charge of redrawing the districts for northeastern Kansas, an area that extends from the Missouri River to Republic County.

Swanson has drawn preliminary maps and presented them to Rep. Schwartz. Swanson has suggested that the fort’s population be distributed to Rep. Schwartz and Rep. James Fawcett, a Junction City Republican.

“I can’t complain about the solution that happens if I’m not a part of that solution,” Swanson said.

Schwartz, whose district stands to gain another 3,000 people, does not have Fort Riley located in her district in her first draft.

Schwartz said she and the other representatives have tried to follow a few simple guidelines in drawing up the maps.

The person representing the district is going to have a common interest. A politician with a rural background will not be placed in a mainly urban area.

Schwartz said she wants the post’s representative to live in that area.

The committee does not expect to be able to make every representative happy about his or her new district.

“We would be here until next December and I’m positive of that,” Schwartz said about considering individually drawn district maps. “Some compromise is going to be involved (by the representative).”

Schwartz said she has talked with Rep. Sydney Carlin about her district, which needs to lose around 2,0000 people. There are not expected to be any major change to Carlin’s area, according to Schwartz.

This is Schwartz’s second time with redistricting, but her first with the committee. She said that better technology has made the process of distributing population much easier.

Schwartz said the committee has not even started redrawing the Congressional districts.

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