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Speaker O’Neal helps kill House redistricting map

By Paul Harris

Kansas House members grappled Wednesday over proposals to redraw the state’s Congressional map. After passing one such map Tuesday afternoon by a 20-vote margin, legislators reconvened Wednesday and voted the same map down with more than 76 House members in opposition.

The Wednesday action was a big letdown for many in Manhattan, who supported the map that was approved Tuesday. That map, known in Topeka as “Capitol 1,” had kept Manhattan and Riley County united in the Second Congressional District along with Fort Leavenworth and the University of Kansas.

The House reconsideration apparently followed extensive lobbying by Speaker Mike O’Neal, whose own map had barely cleared the House redistricting committee by a single vote last Thursday. The O’Neal map also kept most of Manhattan in the Second District, but it moved much of Riley County into the First District, and also moved Pottawatomie County – including the Manhattan portion of it — into that district. The O’Neal map also separated both Fort Leavenworth and KU into separate districts.

Rep. Sharon Schwartz, the Washington-based Republican who sits on the House Redistricting Committee, said the committee intended to try to draw a completely new map some time next week. There will be some parameters to the new map, according to Schwartz. She said Riley County will remain in the Second Congressional District and Johnson and Wyandotte counties will be partnered in a district, presumably the Third.

Support for the map approved Tuesday afternoon on a 70-51 vote apparently collapsed when O’Neal and some other House leaders asserted that it undermined Republican primacy in some Congressional districts.  Other points of contention included concern among several legislators about relocation of southeast Kansas into the 4th Congressional District, and movement of Harvey County from the Fourth District into the First District. Harvey County is directly north of Wichita, the population centerpiece of the Fourth District.

Schwartz said the committee is going to look at keeping the 4th Congressional District as intact as possible.

The Washington-based legislator said she was in favor of the Capitol 1 map because it “was a compact map.”

The need to draw a new map will add time to the legislators’ session. At session’s outset, lawmakers indicated a goal of wrapping up redistricting work by March 1.

“I don’t know how long we will be here this spring,” Schwartz said.

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