A Senate committee scheduled a vote Wednesday on a proposed redistricting of the state’s Congressional delegation that would shift both Riley and Pottawatomie Counties from Lynn Jenkins’ Second District into Tim Huelskamp’s First District.
Sen. John Vratil, an Overland Park Republican who is a member of the redistricting committee, submitted the map Monday. It is a variation of previously examined maps that were opposed both by Manhattan officials and by Jenkins. Also opposed to shifting Manhattan into the First District is House Speaker Mike O’Neal, a Hutchinson Republican who chairs the House redistricting committee. Any map approved by the Senate must also be accepted by O’Neal’s House committee.
Sen. Tim Owens, an Overland Republican who chairs the Senate redistricting committee, said he won’t support a plan that keeps Manhattan in the 2nd District. That alternative extends the 1st District through the counties that border Nebraska, down the state’s northeast corner and splitting Kansas City. Such changes would put urban neighborhoods in Kansas City, Kan., in a district with rural towns more than 400 miles away.
The 1st District is almost 58,000 residents short of the ideal population for a congressional district of 713,000, and Riley County, the home of Manhattan, is on the border of the 1st and 2nd districts, though officials there identify with eastern Kansas. Sen. Roger Reitz, a Manhattan Republican, said he senses that the Senate committee is ready to pull his hometown into the 1st.
“I think it’s too bad,” Reitz said after observing the committee’s meeting. “I think it’s pretty much moving in that direction.”
The plan Owens favors would result in a more Democratic-leaning 2nd District for Jenkins because, as it pushes the Manhattan area out of her district, it picks up half of Democratic-leaning Lawrence from the 3rd District. The 3rd District, which is centered on the Kansas City area and overpopulated, would shrink in size.
Jenkins last week declined to discuss a specific plan publicly, but legislators have said she’s encouraging lawmakers to pass the alternative plan that splits the Kansas City area.
That proposal has advantages for Republicans, because it distributes Democratic strongholds among the four districts, so that their votes are always outnumbered by GOP votes. But during the Senate committee’s meeting Monday, Owens derided it.
“There is no way that I can see that anybody can say that, that is not gerrymandering, and for whatever purpose,” Owens said. “That just doesn’t meet my test of rationality.”
Besides Jenkins, Manhattan officials have a powerful ally in O’Neal. He has said Manhattan’s ties to eastern Kansas are strong because both Kansas State University and the University of Kansas are tied to an emerging biosciences industry in the area. Also, with Riley County in the 2nd, the district is home two large Army posts, Forts Riley and Leavenworth.
Both Reitz and O’Neal also said the federal government’s plans to build a new biosecurity lab in Manhattan, the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, are an issue. As Congress debates whether to continue funding for the $651 million lab, Jenkins has two years’ seniority on Huelskamp.
“I feel pretty strongly about Manhattan remaining in the 2nd District,” O’Neal said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.