Kentucky Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo wants the 2013 General Assembly to quickly move forward in adopting a redistricting plan for the 100 districts in the Kentucky House of Representatives and 38 districts in the Kentucky Senate. However, Gov. Steve Beshear has asked legislators to delay redistricting until later this year so the highly politicized issue does not interfere with enacting such critical issues as reforming the state’s pension program for government retirees and reforming the state’s tax code.
Either way, legislators already are a year behind in approving a legislative redistricting plan that is fair and reasonable and is based more on actual population changes in the last decade and less on partisan politics.
Redistricting should not even be an issue in the 2013 General Assembly, and it would not be if legislators in 2012 had not approved new lines for House and Senate districts that were so blatantly unfair and politically motivated that the Kentucky Supreme Court quickly declared the redistricting plans unconstitutional and ordered the boundaries returned to where they had been during the first decade of the 21st century for the 2012 election.
The House redistricting plan drawn by Democrats was bad enough with the Democrats majority seizing every opportunity to put incumbent Republicans in the same district making it impossible for them all to be re-elected.
But as bad as the House redistricting plan was, the Senate plan was worse. Among other things, State Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, district was moved hundreds of miles to western Kentucky, making it impossible for the senator who probably is the most liberal member of that body to seek re-election. Meanwhile, Sen. Walter “Doc” Blevins’ 27th district was redrawn so it extended from Morehead to near the Tennessee state line and placed Blevins in the same district as Republican Robert Stivers, now the president of the Senate. After looking at the new district lines, Blevins opted to not seek re-election, and he only changed his mind when the court restored the districts to their old boundaries.
(The one thing we liked about the Senate redistricting plan is it placed Boyd, Carter and Greenup counties in the same district. We hope the next plan will do the same but without the blatant politics of the plan declared unconstitutional.)
Whether legislators approve a redistricting plan early in the 2013 General Assembly or do so in a special session later in the year is of far less importance to us than how they draw the new districts.
This likely is the last chance for legislators to redistrict. If they play the same political games as they did in 2012, and the Supreme Court is again forced to declare the new redisticting plan unconstitutional, the courts are likely to draw their own boundaries. And who can blame the courts? In our book, two failed attempts at approving a reasonable redistricting plan is one too many.