Redistricting committees urged to avoid temptation of drawing convoluted maps

Partisan influence in 2nd, 3rd congressional districts a point of emphasis

By: - November 23, 2021 2:40 pm
State and federal agencies reported the Kansas unemployment rate dropped in November to 3.6%, a reduction from 3.9% in September and October. Joblessness at outset of the COVID-19 pandemic was 12.6% in April 2020. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

State and federal agencies reported the Kansas unemployment rate dropped in November to 3.6%, a reduction from 3.9% in September and October. Joblessness at outset of the COVID-19 pandemic was 12.6% in April 2020. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Atchison County resident John Settich is convinced the boundary of the 2nd congressional district in Kansas is a politically grotesque distortion.

Settich, professor of political science at Benedictine College, said that when he worked for Congressman Bill Roy in the 1970s the 2nd District was a reasonable block of contiguous counties in northeast Kansas. Today, the district stretches from Nebraska to Oklahoma and runs along the Missouri line.

The Kansas Legislature’s work to redraw congressional and legislative boundaries in 2022 is an opportunity to return the 2nd District to good form, he said.

“Too often in too many states, including Kansas, the Legislature starts and ends with the political results and redraws lines as little or as much as they might to assure results that preserve the existing political order,” Settich said. “I hope that you will resist that temptation.”

Settich said during a remote meeting of the House and Senate redistricting committees Monday that shifting census demographics on population, race, income, education and occupation should guide lawmakers. The state’s maps shouldn’t be formed based on electoral data of party registration and votes cast, he said.

The Republican-controlled Legislature is expected to lean toward adoption of boundaries in the four congressional districts favorable to winning each of the partisan elections. The GOP holds the 1st, 2nd and 4th districts, winning all the seats in 2020 by comfortable margins. U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, the Democrat elected in the 3rd District centered on the Kansas City area, is a target of map makers.

U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, a Republican, serves the 2nd District that covers Atchison, Leavenworth, Topeka, Lawrence, Ottawa and Pittsburg.

Edward Acosta, a former Johnson County resident now living in Lawrence, said he was wary of the potential of distorting the 2nd and 3rd districts to advantage candidates of one political party over another.

“The 3rd congressional district should be maintained as compact as possible. It should not be diluted with another district which is overwhelmingly of the other party,” Acosta said.

Changes to the congressional boundaries must occur given population changes in the four districts between the 2010 and 2020 census counts. During that decade, the rural 1st District of western Kansas lost 12,500 people and the 2nd District dwindled by fewer than 300. The 4th District anchored by Wichita gained 18,500 people and the 3rd District substantially grew with addition of 78,900 people.

The underlying goal of redistricting is to bring population totals of the four districts into balance. The same principle is applied to mapping the 125 Kansas House and 40 Kansas Senate districts.

Steven Clay, of Leavenworth, said state lawmakers ought to reconfigure the Kansas Senate district map so Leavenworth County wasn’t split in half.

“The current shape of Senate District 3 and Senate District 5 violates the U.S. Constitution and U.S. Supreme Court rulings on redistricting by splitting Leavenworth County, a historically and culturally distinct community of interest with its own policy concerns,” Clay said.

Carol Sanders, of Caney, said she was disappointed the city of Independence was split in half by Kansas House boundaries. The oddball design of District 11 includes a narrow strip leading away from Independence to pick up a portion of Coffeyville.

“Keep Independence in one district, Coffeyville in the other and don’t create convoluted boundaries such as we have now,” she said.

Ottawa resident Darrell McCune was thinking along those lines by advocating for retention of a map that since 2012 placed the entire city of Ottawa in a single Kansas House district. In the previous decade, Ottawa had been fractured among three districts of the Kansas House.

The joint legislative committee is scheduled to conduct online hearings Tuesday and Nov. 29 and Nov. 30 to gather input from residents of the three other congressional districts.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.