By Jeff Noble / Staff writer
If the courts find the State Legislature’s redistricting plan constitutional, State Representative Marie Rader will find her 89th House District changing dramatically — with a razor-thin strip through the middle of Laurel County, connecting both Jackson and McCreary Counties.
In fact, if you go to the state Legislative Research Commission’s website at www.lrc.ky.gov and look for her page, the map under her picture shows it best.
Rader will represent all of Jackson County (her home county), and she’ll represent all of McCreary County. But once you get to Laurel County, the area the Republican from McKee will represent tapers down to a thin sliver through Laurel County, almost like a highway on a road map, before you drive up north to Jackson County, or southwest to McCreary County.
Many people across Kentucky call the new districts “confusing.”
And that includes House members like Rader, as well as State Representative Tommy Turner, who’s new 85th House District includes part of western Laurel County and part of Pulaski County.
“I can drive quicker to Frankfort than to go through my new district,” Rader said in a telephone interview from Frankfort on Wednesday.
“I’m used to a lot of land area for a district, and I’ve been through redistricting before, back in the early 90s. Back then, my district was not only made up of Jackson County, but Owsley and Breathitt counties. And it was fairly easy to cover those areas, because the counties connected as one big land mass. Now the district I presently represent is made up of all of Jackson and Owsley counties and part of Laurel County. But with this new 89th District, my concern is, how will I be able to serve those constituents effectively with all the travel time involved?” Rader said.
Before Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd issued a temporary restraining order earlier this week, extending state legislative filing deadlines until next Tuesday, Feb. 7, while considering if the General Assembly’s redistricting plans are constitutional, Rader had filed for re-election. Her opponent in the May primary was to be Gregory Burdine, of Pine Knot.
Now Rader plays a waiting game, as do other House members across the Commonwealth, including Turner, a Republican from Somerset.
Before redistricting, Turner’s old 85th House District was made up of some of Laurel County and all of Pulaski County. The new map show’s Turner’s territory pared down to the western part of Laurel County and the eastern half of Pulaski County. He’s unopposed, but is equally confused.
“Depending on what happens, we just don’t know. It’s in litigation. All this is still very much in the air. It’s a disappointment, because it could have been so much easier to do, and with less partisanship, so it would benefit everyone,” Turner said Wednesday in a phone interview from Frankfort.
Before the restraining order, the filing deadline for state House and Senate candidates was this past Tuesday at 4 p.m. Now the period is extended to next Tuesday. And while local races in Whitley, Knox and Laurel counties aren’t affected, the deadline extension affects not only candidates for the State Senate and House, but also those running for the 5th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. During their session, the state legislature has tussled and wrangled with how to split up Kentucky’s six U.S. House districts.
As of last Tuesday, incumbent Republican Hal Rogers, of Somerset, would have faced Democrat Kenneth S. Stepp, of Manchester, in November’s election. Neither Rogers nor Stepp had opposition in their parties’ primaries this spring.
“Based on what I know, February 7th is the new deadline for those races in the Kentucky General Assembly. All my local people have filed here in Knox County, so they must have been pretty happy with the results. But in those State Senate and State House races, this extension may open up for someone to run. They may look at who’s running and say to themselves, ‘Hey, they’re unopposed. I think I’ll run,’” said Knox County Court Clerk Mike Corey.
The one race Corey’s keeping an eye on is the 25th Senate District seat, now held by incumbent Republican Robert Stivers, of Manchester. Before the extension on filing, Stivers had no GOP opposition in the May primary, but would have had Democrat Ralph Hoskins, of Manchester, as his opponent in the November election.
Stivers’ district did consist of Knox, Clay, Lee, Magoffin, Morgan, Owsley and Wolfe counties. After redistricting, the new 25th Senate District is made up of Knox, Clay, Jackson, Owsley, Lee, Wolfe, Menifee and Rowan counties.
“As of today, Stivers and Hoskins were still the only ones who filed. And as of Tuesday, (incumbent Republican) Jim Stewart, of Flat Lick, is the only one who’s filed for his House seat in the 86th District, made up of Knox and a part of Laurel County,” Corey said.
According to the state Legislative Research Commission in Frankfort, the General Assembly has already passed the bill on redistricting, with Governor Steve Beshear signing it. The LRC noted, “The new bill was to become law when the lawsuit was announced.”
But while area House members are watching what happens next, one State Senator is content with the plan.
“I can see where House members would have problems with redistricting. But my new district will be one big area now, and overall, it’s closer to home,” said State Senator Tom Jensen, of London, who’s old 21st District was made up of Laurel, Jackson, Estill, Powell and Menifee counties.
Under the new plan, Jensen’s Senate district would be made up of Laurel, Whitley and McCreary counties.
“This is so much better for me, having a district where all those counties come together, and with I-75 connecting two of them, traveling to meetings, events and seeing constituents will be much easier. I had some people from Jackson County come up to me in Frankfort today, urging me not to leave their county out of my Senate district. And I feel bad for those people I used to represent. But we do have to redistrict every 10 years due to how Kentucky’s population shifts,” Jensen noted.
During a telephone interview from Frankfort, Jensen pointed out a major reason for the changing of territories in the State Senate and State House, population — as well as another factor, transportation.
“Years ago, our forefathers settled in areas along rivers, like Louisville, Owensboro, Paducah, Covington and Ashland. Now people settle in areas along major highways. Because of I-65, Bowling Green is now the state’s third largest city. And because of I-75, both Whitley and Laurel counties are growth counties with rising populations. In my old district, every county east of Laurel County lost population. Roads are the new rivers,” Jensen said.
If the new redistricting plan goes through, the district of Whitley County’s current State Senator — Senate President David Williams, of Burkesville — would be moving west.
The 16th Senate District would lose Whitley and McCreary counties (which would be put in Jensen’s 21st District), and would be made up of Pulaski, Wayne, Clinton, Russell and Cumberland counties.
A lot can happen in the next few days at the State Capitol. But while the legislature waits to see what happens, most of the Tri-County’s members say they want the redistricting confusion to stop so they can get back to governing.
“We want it done and completed. But we also want to defend what our territory is, and what’s right, no matter what our politics are,” said Rader.
By Jeff Noble / Staff writer
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