The 2020 federal census will be used again to guide another reapportionment of the seats (and power) in the Kansas House of Representatives, State Senate and State Board of Education. The process has again kindled controversy as the state’s rural population declines and metropolitan areas grow. This is the third in a series of articles about a Kansas lawsuit that ignited national reforms.
On March 13, 1965, nine days after the Kansas Supreme Court declared the composition of the House of Representatives unconstitutional, Gov. William Avery signed into law the maps of new Kansas congressional districts.
Federal reapportionment, ordered by the courts because the districts suffered great population disparities, had been accomplished. But the state was also on order to reapportion the Kansas House. New maps for the state senate also were to be drafted.
More, the legislature was headed for the final days of a regular session burdened with other work including budgets, taxes, reservoir and highway projects. There would be no time to complete the long, grinding work of drafting new districts for the Kansas House and Senate.
To deal with reapportionment, Avery would order a special session of the Legislature following the 1966 budget session. Legislators would be pressed for time and pressured by politics; the court’s deadline was April 1, 1966.
Adding to complications and distractions was a requirement that the secretary of state’s office send notice of new representative districts even before April 1 so primary elections could occur.
“I don’t expect the special session will take very long,” said Rep. Jess Taylor, a Tribune Republican and former House Speaker (1957-61). “I don’t look for any great deal of argument.”
On Feb. 23, 1966, the first reading of the proposed reapportionment of the Kansas House lasted more than 90 minutes; the 47-page bill described each of 125 districts.
There were enormous pressures on all legislators, and long debates preceded the governor’s special session. But once convened, nearly every member of the House believed in the mission to comply with the court’s order. “I don’t agree with the Supreme Court decision, said Rep., J. C. Tillotson of Norton, who later became a distinguished member of the state senate, “but it is our duty to comply with the law of the land.”
In the Senate, Republican leader Frank Hodge, a Hutchinson attorney, also disagreed with the decision but said it was time for legislators to “come to grips with the problem.”
A drastic upheaval and reform of representative government was accomplished with remarkable smoothness and diplomacy. In complying with court-ordered reapportionment, at least 38 members of the House knew they could not possibly return because new boundaries had erased their districts.
The new 122nd, 123rd, 124th and 125th districts in western Kansas, for example, would each elect one representative to the reapportioned House; those four new districts were composed of counties that had once sent 15 legislators to the House.
Representation was drastically reduced in many areas, especially western Kansas, where 54 counties had once sent 55 members to the House and would send 28 under reapportionment.
On March 2,1966, the Legislature finished an historic special session, complying with court orders to reapportion the Kansas House. The 125 new House districts had an average population of 17,583 with the range from 15, 609 in the 89th district (north Harvey and south McPherson counties) county to 19,521 in the 9th district (Wilson and Woodson Counties).
One district, the 123rd, took in five counties: Hamilton, Kearny, Greeley, Wichita and Scott . Today these counties are part of the 122nd and 118th districts. The city of Garden City alone, based on a 2010 population of 26, 665, is the 123rd.
There were many new statistics then, with countless meanings and interpretations. But a special session of the legislature had swiftly and without prejudice achieved democracy; a century of one-county one-vote had been changed to one person, one vote. In the following decades, shifting populations and changing economies would tell another story.
(Next: Past and present issues)