Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

August 25, 2013

Costly process

Redistricting comes year late

The Independent

ASHLAND — Now that the Kentucky General Assembly has approved new boundaries for the 38 district in the Kentucky Senate and the 100 districts in the Kentucky House of Representatives, one can only hope our elected representatives in Frankfort have learned the right lessons from this ugly process and will not repeat their mistakes when they are next called upon to redistrict following the 2020 U.S. Census.

While we’re happy our legislators have given their nod to  redistricting plans with broad bipartisan support, we find little cause to congratulate the 138 members of the General Assembly for their efforts. That’s because the legislative redistricting could have — and should have — been done a year ago. And after failing to approve redistricting plans that would withstand a court challenge in 2012, they could have approved plans during the 30-day legislative session this year.

But instead of approving redistricting plans that were fair and as least disruptive as possible, the Democrats who control the House of Representatives and the Republicans who control the Senate chose to play blatant partisan politics. Redistricting provides what is basically a mathematic challenge to carve the state into 38 Senate districts and 100 House districts of approximately equal population while splitting as few counties as possible into more than two districts.

That’s not so easy in a state with a whopping 120 counties, but it could be done on a computer without partisan politics playing a role in it. Will that ever happen in Kentucky? Dream on!

The 2012 redistricting plans were declared invalid  in time for the 2012 General Assembly to adopt new plans. Instead, legislators chose to do nothing and keep Kentucky voters in districts of unequal size during the 2012 legislative races.

The Republicans leaders announced at the start of the 2013 General Assembly in January they would not take up redistricting during the brief session. That House did approve new boundaries for its 100 districts, but all one had to do was look at its new boundaries in the 100th District that includes Ashland to realize the absurdity of that plan. It put Ashland and all of Lawrence County into the same district that was connected by a narrow strip of land between U.S. 23 and the Big Sandy River that ran for more than 25 miles.

Faced with the real possibility that federal judges would redraw the district lines if the General Assembly again failed in approve fair plans, legislators got serious about redistricting.

While we think the new plans are fair, voters should ask legislators what took them so long and ask them why legislators chose to $300,000 of dollars on a special legislative session at a time when the state was struggling to adequately fund education and other essential state services. The cost of the special legislative session would have been much better spent on new textbooks for students or on any of many other programs inadequately funded in Kentucky.

The approval of the new plans probably will be the last time redistricting will be discussed in the General Assembly until 2022. However, when it comes up again then, voters should demand legislators do it right the first time instead of wasting time and money by playing politics.