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Census sure to shuffle House, Senate

2/27/2011

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Kansas has always been a Republican state, but it's been more than 60 years since anyone has seen the lopsided majority in place today in the Kansas Legislature.

"We have, and I don't use this in a pejorative term, we have the most skewed party representation in the state Legislature at this moment that we've had since the 1950s," said Mark Peterson, professor and chairman of the political science department at Washburn University in Topeka.

There are currently 92 Republicans and 33 Democrats in the House and 32 Republicans and eight Democrats in the Senate.

While that's certainly not the type of conversation you'd expect at the annual forum on Kansas water issues, the focus Wednesday was on the state's population, and especially how that affects the task of forecasting the state's water needs.

It was a timely topic, however, as speakers focused on data -- to be released later this week -- that will be used to redistrict the Kansas Legislature.

Likely, Peterson said, changes are in store for House and Senate districts in the Hays area, notably the 36th Senate District and the 110th House District.

Once Kansas legislators get the numbers in hand, they can start the task of redistricting the state's Senate and House districts. That task must be complete by the end of the 2012 legislative session.

Peterson has been using estimates upon which to base his early predictions, while comparing it to official state totals released earlier.

The actual population of 2.85 million for Kansas is 30,000 more than the estimate he's been using.

The first congressional district, he said, will get bigger and "will probably finally touch all four corners of the state."

The Third District, in northeast Kansas, will get even smaller.

There, he said, the representative "should be able to cover the entire territory in a Chevy Volt without getting a recharge."

Counties west of U.S. Highway 81 will probably only account for about 14 percent of the state's population. That's down from 17 percent in 2000.

The 85 counties that have been losing population could have a combined loss of about 60,000 residents, he said, most from west of U.S. 81. The other 20 counties gained as many as 200,000 residents.

That likely means four to five House seats will shift to the east, gobbled up by Shawnee, Jackson, Pottawatomie and the five counties in the Kansas City metro.

A couple of those districts might come from north-central and northwest Kansas, Peterson suspects, specifically naming the 110th and 107th Districts.

The 110th, represented by Dan Collins, R-Plainville, covers Osborne, Rooks and Russell counties, and the northern half of Ellis County.

The 107th District covers Cloud, Lincoln and Ottawa counties, and a small slice of Dickinson County.

"The 110th and 107th are hypothetically positioned to have territory reallocated," he said.

He's also expecting to see a district disappear in Rice and Reno counties, as well as one in the southeast corner of the state.

As for the Senate, only two seats likely will be shifted.

And while Peterson said it's unlikely dramatic changes will be made in the eight Senate seats in western Kansas, he said the 36th District, now represented by Democrat Allen Schmidt, Hays, won't be left untouched by Republican leaders.

"Of course, 36 has the annoying problem of being represented by a Democrat," he said. "They'll probably try to shave off some portion of Ellis County to reduce the influence of Democratic voters."

He's confident a court challenge will follow.