The area’s representative in the Kansas Senate cautioned Monday that funding for the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility could be jeopardized if the Legislature approves a new Congressional map moving Riley County into the First District.
State Sen. Roger Reitz told attendees at a Chamber of Commerce legislative briefing he is concerned about the level of support that First District Rep. Tim Huelskamp would provide for the NBAF funding. Reitz said Huelskamp, whose home in Fowler is several hundred miles from Manhattan, has a reputation as an advocate of smaller government who may not see the facility as a priority.
In contrast, he said, current Second District Rep. Lynn Jenkins has made funding for the NBAF a top priority.
“Many of us feel uncomfortable that the First District has a representative who has a reputation of being for small government, come what may,” Reitz said, specifically referencing efforts to continue NBAF funding. Huelskamp, who was not elected until following Manhattan’s selection as the NBAF site, has not spoken on the facility. “I don’t want our programs at risk, but I know his (Huelskamp’s) positions (on funding questions),” Reitz said.
Huelskamp did not return a phone call Monday morning seeking comment.
The Kansas Senate is expected to vote Wednesday on a map that would shift Riley and Pottawatomie counties into the First District. Area lawmakers and community leaders have argued strongly against the map, and state Sen. Mark Taddiken said Monday that opponents of the map “might be able to get a coalition together to defeat it.” Taddiken said even some senators who are not concerned about Manhattan’s place in the Congressional district scheme are concerned that the map reduces the Republican’ registration advantage in the Second District to just two percentage points.
He and State Rep. Sydney Carlin both held out hope that even if the map clears the Senate, it may fail in the House, where leadership is against it. “I think we can get the Speaker’s support,” Carlin said of Mike O’Neal, a Hutchinson Republican who has advocated for Manhattan’s cause. Those in the Hutchinson business community are said to feel as strongly on the matter as their counterparts in Riley County, in part due to the fact that if Manhattan was shifted into the First District, it would supplant Hutchinson as the district’s largest city.
Both Reitz and Taddiken said they do not expect work on a new map for the state Senate districts to begin until after the Congressional map is substantially completed. There has been open discussion, including at Monday’s briefing, about the prospect of severing Junction City from the 22nd Senate District, and refashioning that district as an all-Riley County district. Taddiken, who would lose his constituency in the northern two-thirds of the county under such a proposal, said that possibility would hinge on how decisions are made in the western part of the state. But he added that he wants to see his district remain primarily a rural one under any scenario.
The session marked the Chamber debut of newly appointed State Rep. Tom Phillips, representing the 67th District.