New senate district boundaries would mean change in county

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The once-every-10-year process in Topeka of redrawing legislative boundaries won’t affect Marion County residents the next time they vote for state representative.


But a significant number of voters-including those living within the city limits of Hillsboro-will inherit a new senator if present reapportionment plans are ratified by this year’s legislature.


Under those proposals, all of Marion County will remain in the 70th House District, served presently by Don Dahl of Hillsboro.


But a significant portion of the county will bid farewell to the 35th Senate District served by Jay Emler, an attorney from Lindsborg, and join the 17th Senate District represented by Jim Barnett, a physician from Emporia.


Currently, a thin strip of southeastern Marion County, including the communities of Florence and Burns, is already part of District 17.


The new plan would extend the north-south boundary westward to Limestone Road, which would incorporate the communities of Marion, Peabody, Pilsen, Ramona and Lincolnville.


A small aberration in that boundary would extend the line further west to Falcon Road, creating a small peninsula-like area that includes the city of Hillsboro.


People living immediately south of Hillsboro’s city limits will remain in the 35th District, as will the communities of Lehigh to the west and Durham and Tampa to the north.


“I’m very pleased,” Barnett said about the new boundaries. “Marion County to me seems to be a nice fit with other counties in my district. I have a rural background-my folks still farm and we have some pasture land in the Flint Hills, too, so it seems very much at home to me.”


“In point of fact, I don’t want to lose Hillsboro,” Emler said. “I think I have some good support, I felt like I worked well with a lot of the folks over there. I know we don’t always agree on everything, but that’s to be expected.


“Of course, representing part of Marion County means I’ll still participate over there at parades and coffees and forums at the appropriate times.”


Barnett’s 17th District will include all of Chase, Morris and Lyon counties and portions of Greenwood, Coffey and Osage counties.


The new boundaries are driven by a state population shift from western Kansas to northeast Kansas. Districts in the northeast corner of the state are getting geographically smaller as the population grows and new districts are being added. Meanwhile, districts to the west are taking in more territory and are slowly being reduced.


Barnett said the plan is controversial in the two diagonal extremes of the state because some current senators would find themselves in the same district.


“I think the area that involves us is a noncontroversial area,” he said. “It’s amazing how the lines get drawn, but it’s all to come up with that population number.”


He said drawing boundary lines around the city limits of a particular community isn’t all that unusual, even in rural Kansas. He sees the Hillsboro-area’s political position as being strengthened rather than weakened by having, in essence, two senators serving them.


He said a similar situation exists in Burlington, which currently rests just outside of his district.


“I’m not their senator by the lines, but I get calls,” he said. “In essence it gives them two votes in the senate-if they’re the right votes for them. Of course, my desire is to vote correctly for them.”


Emler, meanwhile, wasn’t so sure having two senators to deal with was a good idea.


“What I had told the mappers is that I felt like we needed to try and consolidate counties-keep them whole,” he said. “I said this is just not good. These counties would like to be whole.


“It’s not as good from the stand point that I represented most of the county, and therefore the county only had to deal with one senator,” Emler said. “Now I have significantly more of the county under the new plan than Jim had under the old plan. But actually, the population centers all go to Jim.”


Emler added that the new constituents in the expanded 17th District will like their new senator.


“Philosophically, I think Jim and I are very close,” Emler said. “I think both of us try to listen to our constituents. We don’t go in with any preconceived ideas and vote only by our own philosophies.”


Barnett and Emler both completed their first legislative session in 2001, so neither wields more power through greater seniority.


Barnett is vice chair of the Public Health and Welfare Committee and a member of the committees on Federal and State Affairs, Financial Institutions and Insurance, and a joint committee on Health Care Reform Legislative Oversight.


Emler, meanwhile, is vice chair of the Utilities Committee and a member of the senate’s Commerce and Education committees. He also serves on joint committees on Information Technology and Special Claims Against the State.

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