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.