TOPEKA — The Senate Committee for Congressional Redistricting approved a map that moves Riley and Pottawatomie counties into the First Congressional District on a 9-3 vote Wednesday. Now the bill moves to the floor of the Senate and eventually to the House, where it faces an uncertain future.
For decades, Riley County has been in the Second Congressional District, and county officials have lobbied hard to keep that status. They cite the area’s connections to the military and education focuses of other aspects of the district, which also includes Leavenworth and part of Lawrence. If Riley County does move in to the First District, it will join a largely western Kansas area with an agricultural focus. Tim Huelskamp represents the First District while Lynn Jenkins represents the Second.
Jenkins has publicly stated that she would like to keep Manhattan in the 2nd District.
Sen. Tim Owens, who chairs the Senate redistricting process, said Riley County was a heavily discussed area and referred to the dispute as the “Manhattan problem.” But Owens said it was not possible to keep Riley County in the Second District since the First District must add about 58,000 people.
“It was not easy for any of us,” Owens said. “For me because that’s where I come from, but for each of the persons in the different area it was not easy to address that. You heard comments about NBAF, the military and the connections that are there. Of all the decisions we had to make this one came out the cleanest.”
One opponent of the idea said the county’s proposed move to the First District is a result of the area being overlooked.
Dick Carter Jr. , a lobbyist who handles local issues, said the city feels slighted by the committee’s decision.
“I think the folks are very well aware that the City of Manhattan would prefer that it be in the boundaries of the Second District,” Carter said.
He characterized himself as “disappointed,” with the Senate committee’s vote.
Senators looked at one proposed map that would have allowed Riley County to stay in the Second by dividing Wichita. Committee members said that residents of Wichita were unhappy with the proposed idea.
Carter added that it “becomes increasingly difficult” for Huelskamp, who is from Fowler in far southwestern Kansas, to give as much attention to Manhattan and Riley County.
Owens, who lived in the Manhattan and Junction City area for nine years, dismissed those claims, citing the fact that Huelskamp maintains offices in Hutchinson and Salina. “It’s not that far,” the chairman said.
Speaker of the House, Mike O’Neal, is also opposed to the idea of moving Manhattan. O’Neal, who resides in Hutchinson and chairs the House Redistricting Committee, said Manhattan should stay put.
The placement of Manhattan was not the only question raised by the proposed map. State GOP chairwoman Amanda Adkins said the new map is a “coldly calculated attempt” to draw a Second District more favorable to Democrats.
Douglass County, which was divided between the First and Second District in the last map and is historically Democratic, would be moved into the Second District.
State Chamber of Commerce PAC Chariman Ivan Crossland said, “This map hurts Republicans.”
Owens has long said that he is more concerned about balancing out the numbers.
“I was fairly well assured that the districts were all Republican districts, but I never looked up the numbers at all,” Owens said.
The Associated Press also contributed to this article.