TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

Editorials

June 24, 2013

Time to let a commission draw legislative maps

CORBIN — It’s time to demand some sort of independent, bipartisan commission be given the job of drawing legislative maps every 10 years.

It’s time for the public – voters, taxpayers, the media – to reject the cowardly, selfish excuses of politicians in the General Assembly who oppose allowing someone to draw sensible legislative maps on behalf of voters rather than to protect incumbents.

Thursday, Gov. Steve Beshear announced he’s calling lawmakers back to Frankfort on Aug. 19 to re-draw state Senate, House and judicial districts, a job they’ve twice failed to do, at least legally. It’s a waste of time and money and whatever Gerrymandered plans the Democratic House and Republican Senate pass still won’t serve the public interest or democracy as much as they’ll serve the interests of the authors.

The authors, frankly, won’t give a damn about you, the voter. It’s gotten so bad in the House that Democratic leaders are cannibalizing their Democratic colleagues’ districts for their own self-protection at the risk of their majority.

In 2012, the Democratic controlled House passed a plan – accepted by the Republican controlled Senate – which lumped a dozen Republicans together in the same districts. One Republican district included two, non-contiguous counties, connected by a narrow strip of highway running the length of a third county. Republican Senators acted just as badly. They managed to draw a map which made it impossible for Democratic Sen. Kathy Stein of Lexington to run for re-election when her term ended, effectively disenfranchising voters of an entire Senate district.

At least it didn’t take the courts long to throw it out. So what did the House do in 2013? It drew a map which connects Ashland to Lawrence County by traveling 20 miles down the width of U.S. 23, wrecked fellow Democrat Mike Denham’s district and again lumped a bunch of Republicans together. The Senate didn’t act – it wasn’t out of altruism – so now we’ll have a special session.

The public will scream about the cost. Fewer, however, will howl about the injustice. The cost isn’t as offensive as deliberately subverting the public will by drawing as many “safe” districts as possible.

Before Greg Stumbo or Robert Stivers tell you the constitution gives the job to the legislature and the process is inherently political, understand 22 states use some form of commission to draw or recommend maps. You should also tell them they’ve clearly demonstrated they obviously aren’t up to the job or we wouldn’t be paying for a special session so they can try for a third time to do it correctly.

They’ll say the process is “inherently political” and there’s no way to remove the politics. But a commission would reduce the naked political self-interest and arrogant disregard for the idea voters should have a genuine choice about who represents them.

It shouldn’t be hard to create a relatively small commission including one of the state’s top demographers. Its first job would be to redraw districts after the 2020 U.S. Census. That way, no current legislator faces much risk. Many of them won’t be there in 2020 and any who is will have demonstrated sufficient political appeal he or she shouldn’t be afraid.

Instruct the commission to draw equal districts which are compact, contiguous, and represent geographic and community sensitivity and common sense. Allow the Kentucky Supreme Court to review it to ensure it meets federal and state constitutional guidelines.

The legislature can then vote it up or down but cannot amend it. If lawmakers vote it down, then let the Supreme Court draw their maps for them.

It’s time. It’s way past time.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort, Ky. He may be contacted by email at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort

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