By RONNIE ELLIS / CNHI News Service
FRANKFORT — The state legislature couldn’t agree on a plan to re-draw Kentucky’s six congressional districts. So the state’s congressional delegation stepped in and Friday the General Assembly finally passed a plan, although not without some angry dissent from a couple of central Kentucky Republican state senators.
During discussion of the bill Friday in the House, Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Damron said the map is “not a map we did,” but one agreed to by the state’s four Republican and two Democratic congressmen.
It was clear some Republicans in the state Senate wanted no part of it, including State Government Committee Chairman Damon Thayer of Georgetown. He said he “vehemently opposed” the bill which he called “horrific” and said, “I had nothing to do with this map.” He said it was the first time in his seven years as chairman of the committee when a bill has passed out of the committee without the chairman’s support.
Thayer offered his own proposal in committee which failed. Sen. Tom Jensen, R-London, a close ally of 5th District Republican Congressman Hal Rogers, said Thayer’s proposed map could not pass both chambers.
“The reality is we can’t pass it through the legislature,” Jensen said. “This one I think we can pass.” It passed the committee 8-3 with Thayer and fellow Republicans Alice Forgy Kerr of Lexington and Jimmy Higdon of Lebanon voting against it.
Kerr wanted to name the bill the “The Ben Chandler Lifetime Employment Act,” and indeed Chandler seems a big winner. The newly drawn 6th District shifts a bit northward on its southern border and then eastward picking up traditionally Democratic counties. It contains Madison and Estill counties in the south.
But it moves some counties — like Garrard, Boyle, Mercer and part of Jessamine — out of the 6th and into the 2nd. That riled Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, and Rep. Lonnie Napier, R-Lancaster. Napier said the plan treats the residents of Garrard County “like second-class varmints.”
Chandler narrowly won a 2010 race against Republican challenger Andy Barr who has filed to run again this year. On Friday afternoon, Barr issued a statement blaming Chandler for the changes in the 6th District, calling it a “backroom deal.” He said Chandler turned his back on counties that were moved out of the district.
“I look forward to taking that message to the many new voters of the Sixth District, and offering a better, more hopeful alternative,” the statement concluded.
But Jensen, Damron, and House Speaker Greg Stumbo said the new map was agreed to by all six U.S. Congressman. Stumbo said it was not changed after the congressmen sent back their suggested boundaries.
Jensen said during the Senate floor debate that lawmakers made a “terrible mistake” when they passed state legislative maps which ended up in court and subsequently were ruled unconstitutional. (The ruling is being appealed.)
“This is a plan we can pass,” Jensen told his colleagues. “It’s this way or the court’s way.”
He said the plan meets the federal mandate that districts be equal in population and 90 percent of voters continue to live in the district represented by their same congressman as under the previous map.
But Thayer and Kerr said the new map destroys the “geographic cohesiveness” and cultural compactness of the Bluegrass Region. Higdon objected to moving counties in his state Senate district to the 2nd. They complained the deal was concocted in secret and senators had no time to review it or comment on it before the vote.
That prompted sarcastic responses from Democratic Senators asking why they didn’t share those concerns at the time a Republican majority state senate map was passed. That map was voted on the same day it was reported out of committee too.
Over in the House, Republican Floor Leader Jeff Hoover of Jamestown, who is also close to Rogers, said he would vote for the measure but he objected to a provision which extends a new congressional filing deadline to five business days following the governor’s signature. The original congressional filing deadline expired Tuesday even though the General Assembly had not then passed a new map.
He said it’s likely that someone like Barr could challenge the new deadline and map in court and said it sets a “terrible precedent.”
But in the end, the measure passed both chambers: 29-7 in the Senate and 58-26 in the House. A couple of Democrats such as Rep. Kevin Sinnette, D-Ashland, whose counties were split voted against it.
Some other notable features of the new map: Daviess County remains in the 1st, which continues to extend along the Tennessee border south of the 2nd and then east and north to pick up some traditional Republican counties. Part of Boyd County and Carter County move to the 5th — the northern part of Boyd stays in the 4th. Lincoln County returns to the 5th from the 6th and all of Pulaski and Wayne counties are in the 5th.
Gov. Steve Beshear announced late Friday afternoon he was signing the measure “to provide certainty to this process so candidates can file for office.”
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.