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Federal judges impose new Kansas political lines

6/8/2012

TOPEKA -- Three federal judges set new political boundaries for Kansas, approving changes to congressional districts that many Republican legislators have opposed.

TOPEKA -- Three federal judges set new political boundaries for Kansas, approving changes to congressional districts that many Republican legislators have opposed.

The judges drew new boundaries for congressional, state House, state Senate and State Board of Education districts -- adjustments needed to account for population shifts over the past decade -- after a bitter feud between conservative and moderate Republicans in the Legislature prevented them from reaching a consensus.

"As a result, the court has regretfully resorted to the painstaking task of drawing its own plans," the judges said in the more than 200-page long unsigned order released late Thursday night.

A key change in the state's congressional map expands the 1st District of western and central Kansas to include Manhattan, home to Kansas State University. Many Republicans wanted the city to stay in the 2nd District of eastern Kansas.

Manhattan-area officials also wanted to stay in the 2nd District, arguing that their community had more in common with eastern Kansas. That prompted legislators to consider proposals that split major eastern Kansas communities -- Kansas city, Topeka and Lawrence -- so that part of each would have been lumped into the 1st District with farming communities 400 miles or more away.

Many GOP lawmakers were willing to do that because moving Manhattan to the 1st District created a slightly more Democratic district for U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, the senior member of the state's all GOP delegation in the U.S. House.

The plan also unites all of Lawrence in the 2nd District; the city had been split between the 2nd and the 3rd districts. The 3rd District is centered on the Kansas City area.

The fight over state Senate districts was the most bitter. Conservative Republicans hoped to oust the chamber's moderate GOP leaders and accused them of trying to draw district boundaries to thwart primary challengers.

The judges considered multiple proposals for redrawing Kansas Senate districts, some submitted by key figures in the legislative stalemate.

"Most of the interveners have unabashedly political reasons for intervening, and they seek to advance their respective political agendas," the judges wrote.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, said he would have preferred to keep the Manhattan-area in the 2nd District, but that proposals that would have done that clearly violated redistricting guidelines.

"The map does at least preserve the core of the existing district," said Davis, one of the interveners in the case.

Senate President Steve Morris, a moderate Republican from Hugoton, said the proposal approved by the court was reasonable except for the placement of Manhattan. "It's not surprising," he said.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach said he was reviewing the ruling Thursday night. Kobach was named as the original defendant because he oversees elections in the state.

A message left late Thursday night for House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a conservative Republican from Hutchinson, wasn't immediately returned.