The Kansas House advanced a congressional district map Monday splitting Wyandotte County along I-70 and pairing Lawrence with Western Kansas.
The House Redistricting Committee capped a tense hour-long meeting with a party line vote moving to the House floor a proposal identical to the map passed in the Senate last week.
The full body could vote on the “ad astra” map proposal as early as this week. If it passes the House the map will still need approval from Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who has said the Kansas City metro area should not be split in congressional maps.
Every 10 years state lawmakers must redraw state and congressional lines to adjust to decennial census numbers.
Under the lines approved by the Republican-dominated committee Monday, Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District — which encompasses the Kansas City metro and is represented by Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids — stretches south through Miami, Franklin and Anderson counties. The map splits Wyandotte County along Interstate 70, shifting the North half to the 2nd District, represented by Republican Jake LaTurner, and moving Lawrence, a left-leaning college town, to the vast First District, which takes in western and central Kansas.
Throughout the meeting Democrats criticized Republicans for a seemingly rushed process to green light a map that would dilute minority voting strength in the 3rd Congressional District and weaken Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids’ odds of reelection.
“What is most important to having Wyandotte County in the 3rd Congressional District is the ethnic makeup of that community and the strategic attempt to divide Wyandotte County is destroying ethnic voice,” Rep. Tom Burroughs, a Kansas City Democrat, said.
Republicans defended the map and the process as fair.
“There are an infinite number of maps that can be drawn,” said Rep. Bradley Ralph, a Dodge City Republican. “Any line we draw ... will divide neighbors.”
Throughout the meeting, however, Republicans repeatedly declined to answer questions from Democratic lawmakers about the intent and process.
When asked who drew the map, Rep. Chris Croft, an Overland Park Republican and chair of the committee, initially told lawmakers he did not know. He later clarified that it was a coalition of lawmakers but declined to say who was involved. Senate Vice President Rick Wilborn, a McPherson Republican, said he was among the lawmakers working on the map.
“There were many people involved in the process,” Croft said.
Monday morning a group of Wyandotte County residents held a press conference detailing concerns with the map. Thomas Alonzo, who lives in the Strawberry Hill neighborhood of KCK, said it was evident to him that the lawmakers defending the map did not understand the county..
“We are a unique community, one of the few truly diverse communities in Kansas,” Alonzo said. “There is nothing democratic or patriotic about deliberately cutting up a district to prevent its voters from having the ability to select individuals to represent us that will respect and protect our interests.”
The map, Croft said, was based around a central goal of keeping Johnson County whole. Much of the rest, he said, came down to numbers. Interstate 70, Croft said, created a logical natural barrier to split Wyandotte County.
“It’s a math problem,” Croft said. “There’s many different ways to solve the problem. This is just one of those ways.”