Reitz backs move of Riley and Pott into 1st District

By Paul Harris

TOPEKA — With each passing step, it seems more likely that Riley and Pottawatomie Counties will be moved into the First Congressional District. The Kansas Senate voted 23-17 to adopt such a map Wednesday, with even Manhattan Sen. Roger Reitz voting for the change.

The vote was a surprise, since Reitz had several times in recent days warned against the implications of moving the area from its long-time home in the Second District. Sen. Mark Taddiken, a Clifton Republican whose district includes Riley County north of Marlatt Avenue as well as the Northview portion of Manhattan, voted to oppose the shift, as did Sen. Dennis Pyle, whose district includes Pottawatomie County. And both of Reitz’s declared challengers for the Republican Senate nomination this year sharply criticized his vote Thursday morning.

Explaining his vote on the Senate floor Wednesday, Reitz sounded frustrated but resigned. “I would have preferred Manhattan to be there (in the Second Congressional District), but Manhattan did not make it,” Reitz said, adding, “I can’t change the general feeling.”

Sen. Tim Owens, the Johnson County Republican who chaired the redistricting effort and whose desk is next to Reitz on the Senate floor, said the Manhattan senator “did what was best for his constituents. Owens said Reitz’s vote to support the shift “was the right thing to do and Roger does that.”

Owens said he tried to keep Manhattan in the Second Congressional District, but found it impossible without splitting either Shawnee or Sedgwick County.

Prior to the vote, Reitz proposed a map that would have kept Riley County in the Second District. That map did not split either Sedgwick or Shawnee Counties, although it did split Leavenworth and two smaller counties.  Reitz earlier in the week suggested that moving the area from Lynn Jenkins’ district into Tim Huelskamp’s district might endanger support for the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility. Huelskamp released a statement Tuesday asserting his support for the NBAF.

“I would like to be reassured that all of our Congress people say they support this no matter what,” Reitz said. “If advocacy is there, then I have no problems with that. But ...  I think we are still at risk there.”

Reitz expressed concern about Huelskamp’s general philosophy of smaller government. The two men were both in the Kansas Senate for close to a decade before Huelskamp was elected to Congress in 2010.

Reitz believes that NBAF is going to be a driving force for the Kansas economy, especially with the loss of Boeing.

“The big thing about NBAF is not about its 450 or whatever it is million-dollars of federal government,” Reitz said. “It’ll bring companies in here. It will hire people with significant salaries and it will be a driving force for things that are ahead of us. I am still looking 10 years ahead.”

NBAF is currently awaiting federal construction funding, and Gov. Sam Brownback said earlier this week that lawmakers needed to be concerned about whether those funds would actually be appropriated.

Owens’ map still has to go through the Kansas House, where Speaker Mike O’Neal has said he would like to see Manhattan stay in the Second Congressional District.

Joe Knopp, a former House majority leader and a candidate for Reitz’s position, said the senator’s vote in favor of the shift will undermine the efforts of House lawmakers to modify the Senate map.

“It certainly weakened the position of (67th District Rep. Tom) Phillips and (66th District Rep. Sydney) Carlin, who want us to stay in the second,” Reitz said.

He said Reitz’s decision left him confused. “The community is unanimously in favor of having us in the Second Congressional District,” Knopp remarked.

Bob Reader, who has also declared for Reitz’s seat, echoed Knopp’s sentiments. “Along with most of Riley County, I am surprised and disappointed that Senator Reitz voted against us in the final vote yesterday,” Reader said.

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