Power to the Northeast

Valley Voice

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The first burst of data from the 2020 U.S. Census has been a trove of numbers for statisticians to moon over. The City has relayed a preliminary breakdown that includes Lindsborg and McPherson County and columns of figures for every city and county in Kansas. Kansas News Service was out of the gate with an interactive map of Kansas showing the gains and losses from corner to corner.

It takes time to gather the numbers and to suppose what they tell us. According to the census, the Kansas population in 2020 was 2,937,880, a three percent increase of 84,762 from 2010.

The figures, broken down by cities and counties, are of special interest to Kansas legislators, who have begun the work of drawing new boundaries for legislative, congressional and State Board of Education districts. This is reapportionment, a realignment every ten years of seats and power in Topeka and Washington. Control lies with those in command and in Kansas the Republicans are in charge.

Overall, the gains and losses were not surprising. The metropolitan northeast grew by big numbers. Sedgwick County and its cousin, Butler, grew as well. Rural Kansas lost population and in some places, lost a lot. Pockets of slight or mild growth, or holding steady, were seen in a few western counties – Ellis, Rawlins, Wallace, Gove and Scott among them. The Finney County population, 38,470, was up five percent, helped by five percent growth in Garden City (28,551); Ford County (34,287) and Dodge City (27,788) were up one percent.

Otherwise, the western news was glum. Some counties in the southwest lost from ten to 16 percent of populations that had already dwindled to a few thousand. Excepting Rawlins County (up two percent, to 2,561), the populations of every western county along Kansas’s northern tier from Cheyenne to Marshall were down from one to six percent. Along the western tier, from Cheyenne to Morton, only Wallace gained – two percent, to 1,512. The others recorded losses of from one to 16 percent.

In central Kansas, only McPherson County offered encouraging numbers, with a 2020 population up nearly four percent, to 30,233. In-county, McPherson increased seven percent to 14,082; Lindsborg’s population was up more than nine percent, to 3,776. Moundridge was up nearly 14 percent, to 1,974. Canton (685), Galva (834) , Inman (1,341), Marquette (599) and Windom (85) were down.  Saline County was down two percent, to 54,303; Salina was down 1.7 percent, at 46,899.
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As expected, the big surge happened in the northeast. Five counties – Leavenworth, Wyandotte, Johnson, Douglas and Shawnee – grew in population by a combined 92,012 to 1,158,683; this is nearly 40 percent of the state’s total population. Central to this growth was Johnson County, up by 12 percent (65,684) with a 2020 population of 609,863.

Within Johnson County, Overland Park, at 197,238, grew 13 percent; Olathe, 141,290, up 12 percent; and Lenexa , 57,434, up 19 percent. Gardner, once only the spot of a farm town southwest of Olathe, grew by 22 percent, to 23,287. Smaller cities, including Prairie Village, Leawood, Mission, Westwood and others, also gained.

The population power of Johnson County gives leverage to its political power. Overland Park, Olathe and Lenexa, for example, gained a combined 48,528 in population; add the gains in Gardner and Leawood (7,709), and the total is 56,237, more than the population of Saline County.

In Sedgwick County, the 2020 population was up five percent to 523,824, a gain of 25,459. Add Andover and Butler County (67,880), and the combined populations are up nearly 27,000.

Seven counties – five in the northeast plus Sedgwick and Butler – have a combined population of 1.75 million, nearly 60 percent of the state census. Their population gains mean that legislative districts must be reconfigured to allow more legislators for urban and suburban growth, and even fewer for the declining regions in central and western Kansas.

The makeup in Topeka will shift again, more voice for Sedgwick and especially the northeast, less for the rest. The rural districts will get bigger and the urban regions will gain legislators; the details are for now out of our reach.

Meanwhile the machinery of reapportionment continues. The majority Republicans will advance boundaries to their advantage. Politicians are allergic to unfamiliar or unfriendly territory, and rarely inclined to draw themselves out of power. Ten years ago the courts intervened and drafted equitable maps. There is always that.
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