Could Manhattan and Riley County, which are moving into the First Congressional District next year, be moved back into the Second District in 2015?
Some conservative legislative leaders are floating a proposal that could lead to that result in advance of the 2013 session. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, a Hutchinson Republican, said Thursday he’s open to readjusting the state’s four newly drawn Congressional districts if the state’s Congressional delegation can agree on a plan to do so.
Bruce said he has heard “an awful lot of talk” about that idea.
The Legislature was supposed to redraw districts last year, but feuding conservative and moderate Republicans were unable to agree on a plan. As a result, a three-judge federal panel redrew the districts. Leaders in Manhattan and Riley County had fought hard to keep this area in the Second District represented by Republican Lynn Jenkins, but the judges instead moved it into the First District represented by Republican Tim Huelskamp.
During the extended legislative infighting over thee shape of Congressional districts, conservatives — led by then-Speaker Mike O’Neal — generally favored keeping Manhattan in the Second District. Moderates — led by reapportionment committee chair Tim Owens — generally favored moving the area into the First District.
In the August primary election, Republican conservatives solidified their hold on power in both chambers, ousting Owens and several other moderates including former Manhattan Sen. Roger Reitz.
The big question now appears to be whether the Legislature has the legal authority to revisit the redistricting question.
“That may be the most asinine idea that’s been floated in Topeka this year,” said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat. He said if legislators pursue redistricting next year, “It would land us back in court.”
The state constitution requires the Legislature to redraw its political boundaries in the second year of every decade, following the federal census. Some legislators don’t think it’s clear whether the language would prevent more frequent redistricting.
“I would like to hear different legal opinions about whether that’s possible,” Wagle said.
State Rep. Tom Phillips, a Manhattan Republican, said Friday the idea struck him as “something I’d want to move cautiously on.” He said he shared concerns about the legality of revisiting the topic, and added that the public was likely to ask “why are you going back right now?” He added, however, that he was willing to listen to discussion.
State Rep. Sydney Carlin expressed concern about the redistricting question diverting lawmakers’ attention from other priority items this year. “We have such critical issues with budget … health care exchange, Medicaid,” she said.
Hutchinson legislative and community leaders closely allied with Manhattan in the losing effort last year.
When the three-judge panel moved Manhattan and Riley County into the First District, it stripped Hutchinson of its position as the largest city and population hub of that district, and may yet threaten the location of a congressional district office now in Hutchinson.
Some legislators were concerned about moving the site for a planned $1.15 billion federal biosecurity lab from Jenkins’ district into Huelskamp’s. That concern only intensified this week when House Speaker John Boehner removed Huelskamp from two prominent committees — budget and agriculture — as punishment for Huelskamp’s unwillingness to support certain measures favored by Boehner.