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Keeping the legislature in bounds

Next week, Marion County residents will have a once-in-a-decade opportunity to play a key role in righting a serious wrong.

For most of its history, our county has been represented by a clear voice in the legislature. Since 2012, that voice has been gerrymandered into small, separate whispers.

A decade ago, our county, long represented by legislators who put our needs first, was carved into pieces and swept like crumbs into other districts dominated by other areas.

District 70, which includes Marion and the northern part of the county, cuts in snaggletoothed fashion across the very heart of our county, then thrusts upward to take in Abilene and all of Dickinson County — except, inexplicably, Herington — before stretching an hour and 17 minutes’ drive north to Longford in Clay County.

Why would any representative elected in that district care about Marion on the district’s absolute edge or Marion County, which contains only a tiny fraction of the district’s voters?

District 74, which includes Hillsboro and the southern part of the county, is just as bad. Its crescent shape loops around three sides of Newton. An even longer drive is needed to traverse that district: an hour and 34 minutes to get from Burrton to Florence. The district even reaches all the way to Sedgwick.

Not only do the districts cut up Marion County. They also cut up the Hillsboro and Marion school districts. They even cut up three of our five equally gerrymandered county commissioner districts.

To drive across either of our legislative districts, you in all likelihood would have to cross through one or maybe two other legislative districts. That just isn’t the way districts are supposed to be constructed. Both the 70th and 74th violate almost every standard by which redistricting was supposed to have been accomplished.

Kansas is a state of counties. The first rule of redistricting should be that county boundaries be preserved whenever possible.

There’s no way to create a district that attaches Marion County intact to any intact adjoining county — except for Chase and Morris. Those three counties together would make the logical basis for a legislative district. If necessary, a few border communities from adjoining counties too large to be in just one district could be added.

Morris and Chase now are part of the 68th District, which snakes out like a giant phallic symbol to include half of Junction City.

Clearly, the current legislative map was designed to minimize representation of smaller, more rural counties by carving them up and attaching them to larger, more urban areas.

A new district preserving the community of interest represented by Marion, Morris, and Chase Counties would give all three counties the voice they need in making sure state laws consider not just the needs of urban areas but also the needs of rural areas.

So what can be done about all of this?

Testimony delivered in person or submitted electronically for any of a series of meetings next week could help. Help with submitting testimony is available by calling (785) 296-3181 or emailing redistricting@klrd.ks.gov.

Also a help will be messages to people leading redistricting committees in the House and Senate — Rep. Chris Croft (Chris.Croft@house.ks.gov) of Overland Park and our own Sen. Rick Wilborn (Richard.Wilborn@senate.ks.gov) of McPherson.

If elected officials and average citizens deluge the redistricters with support for ending the gerrymandering of Marion County into separate House districts, perhaps our voice in Topeka no longer will be restricted to occasional whispers.

We’ve suffered our decade of legislative laryngitis. Now it’s some other county’s turn.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Aug. 4, 2021

 

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