Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Opinion

January 15, 2012

Pure politics

House plan favors Democrats, Senate plan will help the GOP

ASHLAND — Kentucky Speaker of the House  Greg Stumbo, the leading Democrat in a legislative body where Democrats far outnumber Republicans, is right when he says population changes during the first decade of the 21st century necessitated the redrawing of the 100 House districts. And with eastern and western Kentucky experiencing little or no growth in the last 10 years, it was clear from the start that this corner of Kentucky would lose representation in the Kentucky General Assembly in favor of growing areas in central Kentucky.

But for Stumbo to claim that politics had nothing to do with the redistricting plan the House approved Thursday on a nearly straight party-line vote is so absurd it’s laughable. Population changes may have necessitated the redrawing of district boundaries, but partisan politics had everything to do with deciding just where the new district lines were drawn.

While the rest of us may simply count noses and redraw the district lines based solely on that, the politicians who hold the power in Frankfort count registered Republicans and registered Democrats. In addition to equalizing the number of people living in the 100 districts, the redistricting plan drawn up by Stumbo clearly is aimed at helping Democrats at the expense of the minority Republicans.

The plan has nine incumbents — all but one of them Republicans — running against each other this year. What better way for the majority party to increase its strength than by eliminating seats held by Republicans?

State Rep. Jill York, R-Grayson, should have seen the handwriting on the wall. The census made it clear that this region was going to lose one seat in the House of Representatives, and as the only Republican representing northeastern Kentucky, York was the obvious target for elimination by the majority Democrats. It does help that she also has the least amount of tenure among area legislators.

With Carter County moving from the 96th to the 99th District, York will have to defeat House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins to retain her seat in a newly drawn district that includes all of Carter and Elliott counties and a small portion of Boyd County. House Democrats obviously think they have created a “safe” district for Adkins.

Stumbo and the House majority also played partisan politics at the expense of  Lewis County, this region’s most solidly Republican county. Once part of York’s district of Carter and Lewis counties, Lewis County now has been divided into the 98th, 71st and 70th districts. While some may contend that gives Lewis County three representatives instead of just one, we suspect Lewis County residents think their voice in the General Assembly has been weakened by the redistricting plan.

Did population changes alone demand the changes? Not really. The 98th District, now held by Tanya Pullin, could have been extended into Carter County instead of Lewis, enabling Lewis to only be divided into two districts. But that would have forced York to run against Pullin instead of Adkins.

The House redistricting plan now goes before the Senate, where it likely will be approved without change. There is a long-standing tradition in Frankfort that the Senate does not tinker with the House redistricting and the House does not change the Senate redistricting plan approved by that body. Senate President David Williams said that tradition will be followed in 2012.   

While redistricting has dominated action in the House of Representatives, the majority Senate Republicans have yet to reveal their redistricting plan. When they do, expect it to be every bit as motivated by partisan politics as the House plan is — only this time Republican incumbents will be favored over Democrats.  Just like York was targeted  in the House, State Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, can expect to be targeted for elimination by the redrawing of district lines. It is no secret that Webb and David Williams are political adversaries, and the Senate president and defeated gubernatorial candidate would like nothing better than to target Webb for defeat when her term expire in two years.

State Sen. Walter “Doc” Blevins, D-Sandy Hook, also can expect to be target for elimination by the Senate plan, but that has happened every 10 years since Blevins was first elected to the Senate.  It hasn’t worked yet. Will is now? Blevins is up for re-election this year.

Is this the best way to redistrict? Of course not. Redistricting should be based simply on numbers and on creating districts where residents share the same interests. Politics should have little to do with it.  But redistricting always has been the most political issue a legislative body takes up each decade. That’s not going to change in 2012.

However, the voters ultimately decide the impact of any redistricting plan. When the 1990 census demanded the redrawing of district lines in this region, House Democrats were certain that they were creating a “safe” district for Democrats, when they moved Bellefonte from the 100th District and added Catlettsburg and much of the rest of Boyd County. After all, former State Rep.  Charles Holbrook, a Republican, had always depended on the votes he received in Bellefonte to retain his seat.

However, since the creation of the redrawn 100th District, Republicans have held the seat for far longer than Democrats. Before the election of incumbent Democrat  Kevin Sinnette, Republicans John Vincent and the late Don Farley had held the seat for many years.

Registered Democrats may outnumber Republicans in the 100th, but they have repeatedly shown that they don’t base their votes simply  on a candidate’s party affiliation. If nothing else York may give Adkins the strongest opposition he has had in years, and competitive races are always a positive.

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