Every 10 years, Kansas’ congressional districts are tweaked to account for changes in population as shown by the U.S. Census. In his “Legislative Update” column this week, District 70 Rep. J. Robert Brookens warns that this decade’s redistricting could move Marion County out of the “Big First” and into the Fourth Congressional District.
Such a move would change Marion County’s congressional representative from Tim Huelskamp to Mike Pompeo. Both congressmen are Republicans, and both districts have a history of electing conservatives, so gerrymandering — drawing district boundaries for the political gain of one party — isn’t an issue in this case.
There is an issue of which district is more representative of Marion County, however. It’s no secret that Marion County is predominantly rural, and so is the First District. No more than 7 percent of the First District’s population is tied up in any single city, with Salina being the largest in the district.
In contrast, the Fourth District is largely urban, dominated by the Wichita metro area. More than 56 percent of the Fourth District’s population lives just within the city limits of Wichita.
I agree with Brookens that Marion County’s voice wouldn’t be strongly heard in the Fourth District. And why should it be? Any candidate who can win a strong majority in the Wichita metro area has little reason to pay heed to rural concerns.
In the Big First, Marion County would have just the same portion of the vote as in the Fourth District, but there are many more rural voices that care about the same issues facing Marion County. Agriculture, critical-access hospitals serving rural populations, unified schools serving multiple communities, rural emigration to urban population centers, and losing business to big-box stores — these are all issues that affect rural areas.
In the grand scheme of things, it may never make a difference in an election which congressional district Marion County is in, but that doesn’t mean we should just be tacked on to Wichita’s congressional district. There must be choices that would be a better fit in the Fourth District.
— Adam Stewart