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Riley County in middle of redistricting quandary

By Paul Harris

Riley County is one of the fastest growing areas in Kansas, and will play a pivotal role in both the legislative and congressional redistricting. Currently, Manhattan sits at the western edge of the Second Congressional District. But that position makes it susceptible to being moved into the first district, which must gain about 70,000 persons.

Sen. Tim Owens, an Overland Park Republican who is co-chairing the redistricting process, said Friday he wants maps that can pass the eye test of the general public and the courts. Courts have previously ruled that in order to maintain the principle of “one person, one vote,” congressional districts must have population deviations as small as less than one percent.

Owens said he expects the maps to be completed by turnaround.

One outspoken member of the redistricting panel said Friday that he expects both Riley County and Pottawatomie County to be moved into the First Congressional District. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said moving Riley and Pottawatomie into the first district would be the easiest solution to shifting population.

City and other local officials have supported the position that Manhattan and Riley County remain together in the Second Congressional District. Local officials believe the region encompassing the city and county is strongly tied together by Fort Riley, Kansas State, the growing animal health corridor and NBAF.

“Sometimes we don’t always pick the easiest solution,” Hensley conceded.

“Something has to give,” Owens said, noting the competing forces at work.

Owens, who lived in the Junction City and Manhattan area for nine years, cited the location “as near and dear to my heart.” He said, however, that would not stand in the way of getting the congressional redistricting numbers as balanced as possible.

“I don’t want there to be a personality for these locations,” said Owens. “I just want to see numbers.”

On the legislative level, one other issue is whether to leave Johnson County and other growing areas — presumably including Riley County — lighter than they normally would be to cushion against anticipated population increases. House districts are supposed to have about 22,700 persons, and Senate districts are supposed to have about 79,000 persons each.

The 22nd Senate District as well as the 66th and 67th House districts all need to lose population in the redistricting process, a reality that raises the question of whether one or more of those districts might be significantly redrawn.

Owens opposes any approach that tries to outguess growth. He said the committee needs to be aware of the possible population increases, but shouldn’t try to anticipate them. “You just truly can’t project,” Owens said. “Weathermen do it all the time, but we can’t afford to be right 50 percent of the time.”

State Sen. Roger Reitz said redistricting will be “right at the top” of the issues the legislature will face this year.

“It makes a difference how the House and Senate will be put together,” Reitz said. “It will affect everyone in Kansas.”

Senate members of the redistricting committee were scheduled to meet on Friday, but Owens cancelled the meeting.

“Four people had very good reasons for not being there,” Owens said. “I wanted everyone to be there.”

All of the senate committee members will meet at the State Capitol Building in Topeka on Wednesday at noon.

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