Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 6, 2013

Settled at last

Legislative redistricting plan finally approved by courts

The Independent

ASHLAND — Although state Sen. Robin Webb of Grayson has been anticipating the change for months, any doubt about which counties she will be running in when she seeks re-election in 2014 were eliminated when a three-judge federal panel gave their approval to a legislative redistricting plan approved by a special session of the Kentucky General Assembly in August.

Not only did Judge William Bertelsman, Gregory Van Tatenhove and Danny Boggs approve the new district lines for 36 State Senate Districts and the 100 Kentucky House of Representatives districts, they permanently enjoined the legislature and election officials from using the previous maps drawn in 2002. That action was unnecessary because the 2013 law specifically bars any future use of the district lines drawn following the 100 U.S. Census. The new district lines are based on the 2010 Census. Nevertheless, when the redistricting maps approved by the 2013 General Assembly were declared invalid by the courts, the state used the old 2002 district lines for the 2012 legislative races.

 The new district map removes Bracken, Lewis, Mason and Roberson counties from the 18th District Webb has represented since defeating Dr. Jack Ditty in a special 2009 election to fill the vacancy created when Charlie Borders resigned to  accept an appointment to the Public Service Commission. She later defeated Ditty a second time to win a four-year term in November of 2010.

Added to Webb’s 18th District is Boyd County. We like the new district lines because it puts Boyd, Greenup and Carter — three counties with similar interests — in the same district, and that’s a much better alignment than the old district lines. In fact, it is the best alignment Boyd County has ever had in the state Senate.

Boyd County had been a part of the 27th District represented by Sen. Walter Blevins, who began his legislative career in 1982 as a member of the House of Representatives. In our view, Boyd County’s interests were far different than those in the other counties in the 27th District that included Elliott, Lawrence, Fleming and Rowan counties. While Blevins has picked up most of the 18th District counties that Webb lost, he does not have to seek re-election until 2016, as he was elected to a four-year term in 2012. He benefited greatly from the district plan rejected by the courts. In fact, he had opted not to seek re-election under than plan.

The redistricting plan expands the 100th District House seat now held by Rep. Kevin Sinnette to include most of Boyd County and put House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, one of the most influential members of the legislature, in the same district. However, Adkins plans to move in order to continue to represent the 99th District.

That will allow the  Elliott County native to continue to represent much of the same area Adkins has represented during his 26 years in the General Assembly and avoid a race between two incumbent Democrats. That’s a far better plan than the redistricting plan approved by the House that created a 100th District that included all of Ashland and Lawrence County connected by a narrow strip of land that included U.S. 23. That map was an embarrassment and never even came up for a vote in the Senate.

The 2012 redistricting plan the courts rejected placed Adkins and State Rep. Jill York, R-Grayson, in the same district and was clearly designed to eliminate one Republican seat in the House. While it changes the boundaries of her district, the new plan endorsed by the three-judge panel does not require York to run against another incumbent.

The best thing that can be said about the new legislative redistricting plan is that it is finally done. Of course, it could have been done two years ago, but legislators chose to play partisan politics instead of approving a fair plan that was based on population changes during the first decade of the 21st century. Remove politics from the equation and redistricting is not all that difficult. But one thing that is impossible for the 138 legislators who make up the Kentucky General Assembly is to remove politics from redistricting.

When legislators next take up redistricting following the 2020 Census, we will see if they learned anything from the problems and delays encountered by the current redistricting. One would hope so, but frankly we doubt it.