MANHATTAN -- Following the release of the 2010 U.S. Census, legislative redistricting will begin across the nation. Though the process isn't slated to occur in Kansas until the 2012 legislative session, a Kansas State University expert says many in the state have already begun thinking about what the redrawn districts may look like.
Joseph Aistrup, professor of political science with expertise in Kansas politics, says the state will maintain its four current congressional seats. Because of shifts in population, however, new boundaries will be drawn for each. The 1st Congressional District stands to become even larger in area because many counties in western Kansas lost population in the past decade.
Aistrup thinks the focus will be on Manhattan and Riley County, currently a part of the 2nd Congressional District, and Lawrence and Douglas County, currently split between the 2nd and 3rd Congressional districts.
According to 2010 census figures, the 1st Congressional District is 57,000 people short of 713,000, the new target population for all four of Kansas' congressional districts. By contrast, the 3rd Congressional District, which represents the Kansas City, Kan., area, has a current population of more than 767,500 people -- meaning the district needs to shed 52,000 people to meet the population target.
Aistrup says that the current political leanings of Manhattan/Riley County and Lawrence/Douglas County add an interesting dimension to the redistricting debate, pitting the desires of freshmen Republican U.S. Reps. Tim Huelskamp and Kevin Yoder against two-term Republican U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins. Huelskamp represents the 1st District, Yoder the 3rd District, and Jenkins the 2nd District.
"Manhattan is a prime real estate for the 1st District, also known as the Big First, because it adds nearly all the people the district needs without adding a significant amount of territory," he said.
If Jenkins loses Manhattan, she will need to gain almost an equivalent number of voters, most likely to come from the 3rd District. Whereas Manhattan is competitive between the two parties but leans Republican, the eastern half of Douglas County has a decidedly Democratic voting history, Aistrup said.
"No one should expect Rep. Jenkins to volunteer to exchange Manhattan and Riley County for Lawrence and the eastern half of Douglas County," Aistrup said.
Overall, Aistrup said the census results show that the state's balance of power continues to tilt toward urban centers.
"We'll see the Big First continue to grow in square miles, whereas the 3rd District in the Kansas City area will continue to shrink," he said. "As this happens, the political power will continue to move to the eastern side of the state, just as it has since the mid-1960s with the 'one person, one vote' decision issued on reapportionment by the U.S. Supreme Court."
Aistrup said that the establishment of new districts sometimes is greeted with a sense of political finality, as if the new district boundaries cast into stone the election winners for the next 10 years.
"The reality is different," he said.
In the first couple of elections after redistricting there can be much variability, Aistrup said, and because of population change, the demographic mix of districts can be altered, shifting their political leanings.
"So even though some legislators may want to use redistricting to help their party cement control, voters can thwart their best-laid plans," he said.