Posts Tagged ‘Governor Steve Beshear’

Remapping Process Is Intimate Exercise for Lawmakers

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

Governor Steve Beshear has approved new legislative boundaries for the state House and Senate. With his signature today, the new lines will apply to future elections.

“I’m pleased that our legislators have met the constitutional requirements for new districts,” the Governor said in a statement released by his office. “I expect these maps will withstand legal scrutiny, so all Kentuckians can be assured of appropriate representation in the General Assembly.”

Let’s hope so. A three-judge panel monitoring the process will make the final determination.

The legislators’ first attempt at redistricting in 2012 ended with the Kentucky Supreme Court labeling their plan unconstitutional. This year the state House of Representatives took another stab at it, but the Senate didn’t, leaving the chore for this week’s special session.

The good news is lawmakers finally completed their assignment and did so in the five workdays anticipated for the session. Whether or not they receive a pass or fail grade remains to be seen.

Winners and Losers
One thing is for certain: both losers and winners criticized the process and the outcomes. Even House Speaker Greg Stumbo, the main mastermind behind the House plan, has bemoaned legislative districting an “ugly” task. Indeed it is a herculean effort to carve out districts with the ideal population count of 43,000, give or take a five percent deviation above or below.

Speaking before the House State Government Committee earlier this week, Stumbo explained the trio of federal and state constitutional orders lawmakers had to follow to complete the process: they must abide by the federal voting rights act, adhere to the “one person one vote” requirement, and mathematically split the required minimum number of counties as directed by the state Supreme Court last year. The Speaker said the new House map follows those rules, counts state and federal prisoners (which was a point of contention earlier this year), and pairs four sets of incumbents in both parties against each other.

That last point is where feelings get hurt – but not as much as when the plan splits some counties to such a degree that a legislator may not even reside in the district he or she represents.

Enter, Republican Representative Ryan Quarles of Georgetown. He jokingly quipped about the new map for Scott County by saying that “spaghetti must be on the menu this week because that’s what my district looks like.”

Democratic Representative Jimmie Lee of Elizabethtown sympathized. Hardin County will be split into six districts. Lee, a 21-year legislative veteran said, “Under the plan… we have the possibility of having 60,000 folks in Hardin County will become donors, [they] have the possibility of not having a legislator who lives in their county represent them – unheard of.”

A Bipartisan Creation
There were also complaints the House plan is skewed against high-growth metropolitan areas. Northern Kentucky Republican Joe Fischer pointed to population figures that indicate 50 percent of the Republican-registered districts are over 4 percent from the ideal, compared to just 13 percent of the Democrat districts. He worries the deviations could spur court intervention and said the metropolitan areas should be redrawn for equal partisan population among the districts.

House Democratic Caucus Chair Sannie Overly defended the plan as a “bipartisan creation,” even though she admitted it was far from perfect.

Complaints about the new maps weren’t isolated to the House. The new Senate arrangement jolted Carter County Democrat Robin Webb, who will be forced to forfeit representation of key areas near her northeast Kentucky home. Yet the new Senate boundaries do not pit incumbents against each other like the House plan does.

While some legislators grumble about the perceived inequities in redistricting, others are calling for a new approach to the process. Lawmakers will have to go through this dance again in eight years. House Republican leader Jeff Hoover advocates for a commission to offer suggestions for an alternative method, while some of his colleagues prefer an independent panel take over redistricting.

In the meantime, please join me tonight at 11:30 on KET for a wrap-up of the week’s activities. And stay tuned to see what the courts say about the new plan. Will the judicial panel approve it – or send legislators back to the drawing board yet again.

Annual Kentucky Chamber Event is “Fancy Farm Gone MILD”

Friday, January 11th, 2013

At Thursday night’s 18th Annual Kentucky Chamber Day with 1500+ politicians, lobbyists, and business leaders looking on, affirmations of bipartisanship abounded from the podium speakers that included the governor and top ranking legislators from both chambers. KET’s Bill Goodman emceed the event held in Lexington. While business attire at the Kentucky Chamber dinner is expected, spectators are eager for the Capitol’s top brass to infuse a less buttoned-up approach in their addresses.

Think of it as “Fancy Farm Gone Mild,” with light-hearted partisan punch lines and polite audience laughter instead of the fist-pounding, call and response rhetoric to which the yearly western Kentucky political event claims ownership.

Some of the speakers come with prepared text that’s more policy than joviality. House Speaker Greg Stumbo started with the latter, but cranked up the decibels on his main takeaway: “It’s time to quit kidding ourselves in Kentucky with 1 in 4 kids in poverty…we need to stop talking and be courageous to do something for Kentucky, he said in signature animated fashion. “Let’s stop talking about bi-partisanship and do it,” he added.

Bipartisanship was the theme of the night, as were calls to act on public pension and tax reform, legislative redistricting; even industrial hemp got a mention. With about 2/3 of the state legislature in attendance and a handful of former governors sitting among the packed crowd, newly-elected Senate President Robert Stivers kept to the script on policy points after jokingly expressing gratitude to Governor Steve Beshear for the judicial appointment of former state Senate chief David Williams that made way for Stivers’ ascension to the top slot. Perhaps the most salient remark from the 17-year legislative veteran was that “systemic changes in Kentucky will be made through education.”

That remark is particularly poignant on the same day he stood among a phalanx of lawmakers and university presidents to announce bipartisan support for a plan to let public universities issue their own bonds for projects ranging from classrooms, to housing, and athletic complexes. House Republican leader Jeff Hoover pointed to that shared goal as one demonstration of the new day in Frankfort.

Senate Democratic leader R.J. Palmer spoke of how tax reform has been “studied to death and now it’s time to act,” and stressed the need to tackle legislative redistricting this year.

“This is the first legislative session in five years that I’m looking forward to,” said a grinning Governor Steve Beshear at the dinner. He bragged about recent rankings showing Kentucky’s progress in education and government metrics giving the state a second place ribbon for job growth. Beshear also tempered pleas for public pension reform now without creating “a massive influx of revenue” to mitigate the system’s multi-billion dollar unfunded liability. He added that it can’t be accomplished by slicing and dicing government programs. What he didn’t mention was the prospect of expanded gaming as a coffer-plumping measure.

Many folks are cautiously optimistic about a new day in Frankfort. By session end, there will be a clear record of vows made and kept. When the seasons change from winter haze to spring’s splendor, we’ll know if (in the words of Senator Stivers) “gotcha politics are a thing of past.”

“Legislative Update” has the wrap-up of the first week tonight at 11pm ET on KET. And, we will present a one-hour highlights program of the Kentucky Chamber dinner on Monday night at 9pm ET following “Kentucky Tonight.”

No Dice on Dealing Voters a Hand on Casino Gaming

Friday, February 24th, 2012

A constitutional amendment to allow casino gambling was dealt a losing hand yesterday when the Kentucky Senate rejected the measure 16 to 21. Senate Bill 151, chiefly sponsored by Senator Damon Thayer, a Georgetown Republican, proposed a constitutional amendment to let lawmakers approve up to seven casinos across the state.

Amid a cacophony of groans about constitutional protection for one industry – the horse industry – the bill’s language was massaged to remove the promise of guaranteeing casino licenses to five horse tracks and two casino operations at stand-alone locations. The version ultimately rejected by the Senate allowed for up to seven casinos anywhere, but casinos not located at horse-racing facilities would have needed to be at least sixty miles from a racetrack.

Governor Steve Beshear, who made expanded gaming a central plank of his 2007 bid for the state’s chief executive, pitched it at press conferences and committee hearings as an economic boon for a cash-strapped state. And he repeated the oft-touted political catchphrase latched onto the measure, “It’s time to let the people decide.”

A rare coalition of political bedfellows from the ‘R’ column appeared to have the Governor’s back on the issue – those who cheered its robust financial blessings to state coffers and to the horse industry beleaguered by competition from states cashing in on Kentuckians’ chance-taking at casino parlors across the river. Newly elected Agriculture Commissioner and former State Representative James Comer cast the expansion of gaming as a balm to an endangered horse industry that is losing its signature status, which effectively hinders the entire farm economy of Kentucky.

Key among the Governor’s legislative allies was Senator Thayer, chair of the State and Local Government Committee, which approved the bill Wednesday by a vote of 7 to 4.  But realizing the vote count in the full Senate was short the necessary 23 votes, he sought to delay the vote in order to wrangle more votes. His request was met with resistance by party leaders and the bill was called to a floor vote on Thursday. Thayer’s last pitch against forbidding odds attempted to appeal to the sensitivities of those in opposition, as he asserted “casino gambling isn’t my cup of tea.” He added, “I’m not a casino guy. I’m a horse racing guy.”

During yesterday’s floor debate, the bill’s co-sponsor, R.J. Palmer of Winchester, praised Senator Thayer for his steadfast commitment to the issue despite his party leadership’s sneers, and characterized the matters as one rectifying “the problems Kentucky gets from casino gambling while our neighbors get the benefits.”  He added that Kentucky already has gambling, with Kentucky Lottery, charitable gaming, and pari-mutuel wagering. “Kentuckians lose money to gambling already – nearly half-a-billion-dollars’ worth outside our borders,” Palmer said.

Arguments against it came from those who proclaim the immoral peril of casinos. Lexington Republican Alice Forgy Kerr said she represents folks from all walks of life in her district, including Keeneland, but “not the out-of-state casino owners get rich by preying on the poor.”

Others, like Bowling Green Republican Mike Wilson, argued that Kentucky’s constitution should not be littered with language enshrining one industry and affording it monopoly protection. Pikeville Democrat Ray Jones spoke of how gambling addiction breaks family bonds and dooms habitual gamers to insurmountable debt and other problems the state ends up subsidizing. Louisville Republican Julie Denton said Kentucky’s search for tax revenue should come by tax reform and enacting right-to-work laws.

Regardless of pleas and familiar contentions for and against the issue, it was clear that most senators’ convictions were firm and unswayable as members announced their decision to be cast by their electronic nameplate on the voting board.

Senate Bill 151 was defeated on a vote of 16 in favor and 21 against.

In a statement to the press, Governor Beshear said in part: “Obviously, I am disappointed that several of the senators who had publicly said they would support letting the people decide did not follow through on their commitment to our citizens. However, for the very first time, we were able to get this issue considered by the state Senate, and I appreciate the bipartisan cooperation of Sen. Thayer and others, which allowed that to happen. This is a good omen for the future of expanded gaming in our state, and I look forward to continuing to work with the legislature to address this issue.”

To see the debate on expanded gambling, check out recent editions of Legislative Update. Watch February 22. Watch February 23.

600 Cooper Drive, Lexington, KY 40502 (859) 258-7000 (800) 432-0951