With friends like Rep. O’Neal…

By Walt Braun

Riley Countians once had reason to hope that House Speaker Mike O’Neal would help keep Riley County in the Second Congressional District. Among other motivations, such a move would ensure that the city he represents, Hutchinson, would retain its clout in the First District.

Suffice it to say the congressional redistricting map he pushed through a House committee by breaking a tie vote himself this week takes far better care of Hutchinson than it does either Manhattan or Riley County. In fact, in splitting both the city and the county into the First and Second districts, his map does vastly more harm than good.

Riley County is a natural fit for the Second District, largely because the district contains both Fort Riley and Fort Leavenworth as well as both Kansas State University and the University of Kansas. Those are two significant communities of interest.  Keeping the two posts together and the state’s two biggest universities together has long made sense.and served Kansas well.

Yet Rep. O’Neal’s map places the two posts and the two universities into separate districts. Rep. O’Neal would split both Manhattan and Riley County into separate districts as well. In so doing, he would leave Riley County and Manhattan with a muffled voice in two districts instead of the strong voice they have enjoyed for decades in the Second District.

We disagree with Manhattan Chamber of Commerce President Lyle Butler, who called the map a “step in the right direction.” We think it is a big step in the wrong direction.

Mr. Butler is more concerned about keeping NBAF in the Second District than he is with Fort Leavenworth or the University of Kansas because of Second District Rep. Lynn Jenkins’ efforts on behalf of NBAF. We acknowledge those efforts, but we’re confident that all members of the Kansas congressional delegation —including Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran —as well as Gov. Sam Brownback and the entire Kansas Legislature — recognize NBAF’s importance to the state.

There are other reasons to question Rep. O’Neal’s map, including, as 66th District State Rep. Sydney Carlin pointed out, its consolidation of Republican power at the expense of Democrats. Our primary concern, however, is the harm it does Manhattan and Riley County.

We continue to believe that within the constitutional parameters, a reasonable map can be drawn that keeps Riley County in the Second Congressional District and does so without defeating much of the purpose for its presence there.

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