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Mapping a path to sensibility

Some things never seem to go away, like the stench of last week’s grass fire east of Lincolnville.

Our brief encounter while photographing it was nothing like the exposure endured by underappreciated firefighters from seven communities, who prevented flames from consuming homes and outbuildings. But the stench has remained as an unwelcome reminder every time we get into our car this week to run errands.

It’s not unlike the stench that state and county voters smell after each gerrymandered reapportionment.

Despite what fellow Republicans in the legislature might say, the governor was 100% right in vetoing their plan to carve the state up into oddly shaped districts designed not to serve voters but to serve their own partisan interests.

For far too long, we in Marion County have been like some downtrodden nationality, constantly shifted from one district to another. We started out on the very northern edge of the Fourth District, dominated by Wichita, and then were moved to the eastern edge of the First District, dominated by western Kansas. The latest plan would move us to the west edge of the Second District, which oddly swings from the northeast corner of the state to the southeast corner, arching out just far enough to grab us.

Just what do we have in common with Atchison and Independence, anyway? When was the last time any of us even visited those towns?

You be the judge — which is precisely who will end up drawing our congressional boundaries if politicians can’t agree. Is this a compact, rectangular district or a Rorschach inkblot designed to test the sanity of those — including our own Sen. Rick Wilborn — who unconscionably defend it?

The not-so-secret aim is to dilute the influence of Lawrence and Douglas County, an hour or more’s drive to our east, by putting them in the western Kansas district and moving us to an eastern Kansas district, which also carefully avoids taking in too much of the main cities in eastern Kansas.

Bad as this plan might be, one still to be unveiled is likely to be worse — the one that shows how our legislators, including Rep. John Barker, plan to gerrymander our county into separate legislative districts.

It’s hard to imagine they could do worse by us than they did last time around, tacking parts of Marion County onto misshapen blobs designed to make sure those currently in power stay that way.

You have to drive at least 90 miles to get across the 70th District, which includes Marion and stretches from near Florence all the way to Longford in Clay County yet conspicuously excludes Herington, with which we might actually have something in common.

The 74th District is even worst, arching from Florence to Moundridge to Burrton to east of Sedgwick, all carefully avoiding Newton.

See for yourself if you think these are compact rectangles that represent commonality of interest or an exercise in carving up a pot roast to work around fat and bone that represent challenges to existing legislators.

Far better in both reappointments would be to adopt a strategy of, where possible, including entire counties intact and splitting up only those counties too big to fit in one district.

A new legislative district consisting of the entirety of Marion, Chase, and Morris counties plus Herington and the eastern half of Dickinson County would accomplish that and be perfectly sized. Basically, it’s the late and lamented Cottonwood Valley League, reconstituted politically.

The same logic needs to be applied within Marion County, where an isolated piece of the City of Marion, surrounded for at least six miles in every direction by a different county commissioner district, has been carved out and attached to a rural northern district, mainly to ensure that two incumbents at the time wouldn’t have to face each other.

Redistricting is one of those definitely un-sexy parts of government to which voters rarely pay attention. But now is the time to come not to the aid of your party but your community — and common sense — and insist that all redistricting preserve existing city and county boundaries wherever possible.

Our failing to do so may explain why we end up having such poor representation when issues that truly matter come before our elected bodies.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Feb. 9, 2022

 

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