TOPEKA, Kan. — Wrapping the northeast Kansas community of Manhattan into a congressional district that extends to western Kansas would be the easiest way to redraw the district lines, the state Senate's top Democrat said Friday.
But the idea suggested by Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, of Topeka, is likely to generate opposition from local leaders. Manhattan officials prefer to keep their community in a district with other eastern Kansas communities.
Hensley also serves as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Reapportionment Committee, which will draft a proposal for adjusting the boundaries of the state's four U.S. House districts. Legislators redraw the lines every 10 years, following the federal census, to account for shifts in population.
The 1st Congressional District, which covers western and central Kansas, is almost 58,000 residents short of the ideal population of about 713,000 residents. It stretches enough to the east that it includes Junction City, fewer than 20 miles to the southwest of Manhattan.
"I'm a minimalist when it comes to redistricting," Hensley said during an interview. "We should try to keep the core of the existing districts intact and then just make the minimal number of changes."
The Senate committee plans to have its first meeting Wednesday, having canceled a Friday meeting because of members' scheduling conflicts. Chairman Tim Owens, an Overland Park Republican, said the committee will tackle redrawing congressional districts before adjusting state Senate districts. He hopes to have the full Senate approve a congressional plan by the end of February.
In an interview, Owens wouldn't explicitly endorse moving Manhattan into the 1st District, but he acknowledged that it will be difficult to avoid discussing because of the need to meet past court mandates for districts to be as equal in population as possible.
"That is probably going to be one of the primary issues that the committee and the Legislature are going to have to resolve," he said. "I know we're going to hear from them."
Area officials worked in both 1992 and 2002 to make sure that the community stayed in the 2nd District, and Manhattan Mayor Jim Sherow said his community has economic ties to eastern Kansas, particularly through the biotechnology industry. Also, he said, there's a tie between the state's two largest universities, the University of Kansas and Kansas State University.
"All of this has unified the interests and economy of the 2nd District, and we would like to keep that focus," Sherow said.
But putting Manhattan in the 1st District could allow Hensley and some fellow Democrats to accomplish their goal of ensuring that Lawrence, home to the University of Kansas, is in a single district. The city and the university are now split between the 2nd District and the 3rd, which is centered on the state's portion of the Kansas City metropolitan area.
Hensley said he thinks legislators should move both Riley County, home to Manhattan, and neighboring Pottawatomie County into the 2nd, which would allow Lawrence to be reunited in the 2nd, as it was before the 1992 congressional redistricting.
Then, Hensley said, the 3rd District could comprise Johnson and Wyandotte counties and perhaps part of Leavenworth County.
Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org
Manhattan, Kan.: http://www.ci.manhattan.ks.us/