By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
State House Republicans Thursday made public a House redistricting plan which they say is “legal, constitutional and fair for all.”
The U.S. Constitution requires state legislatures to redraw legislative districts every 10 years following the U.S. Census count, but the General Assembly has failed to pass a plan which survived court challenges after the 2010 Census. Plans passed by each chamber in 2012 were declared unconstitutional.
Gov. Steve Beshear has called a special session beginning Aug. 19 to pass a redistricting plan while two separate groups have filed federal lawsuits over the lack of a new legislative map. During a June hearing in those cases, federal Judge William O. Bertelsman said the court hopes the General Assembly acts, but the court is willing to draw the maps if lawmakers don’t.
House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said the plan his caucus released Thursday would pit the same number of Republicans and Democrats against incumbents, splits the minimum number of counties allowed under previous court rulings and splits only two precincts statewide.
The plan previously passed by Democratic House majority pitted 11 Republicans and only one Democrat against incumbents and placed three Republicans into one district. It also drew vacant districts that appeared to favor a couple of likely Democratic candidates.
Hoover’s plan would pair Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, and C.B. Embry, R-Morgantown; Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, and Bart Rowland, R-Tompkinsville; Toby Herald, R-Beattyville; and Marie Rader, R-McKee; and House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, and Kevin Sinnette, D-Ashland, in the same districts.
Adkins would also lose his native Elliott County under the plan; although Adkins lists Sandy Hook as home he has a residence in Catlettsburg in Boyd County, which would be included in Sinnette’s 100th District under the Republican plan.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said later Thursday he had not seen the Republican plan and Democrats continue working on their own proposal which he said will comply with court guidelines.
Hoover said each district meets the court guideline of no more population variation than plus or minus five percent from the ideal population size and maintains existing “majority-minority districts” which have a majority of African American voters.
“We believe our plan is a fair plan for Kentucky and constituents,” Hoover said, adding the public is weary of “backroom politics and thousands of taxpayer dollars” wasted on partisan plans which are found to be unconstitutional.
The plan creates four new districts, two of which have a majority of Republican registered voters and two of which have a majority of Democratic registered voters.
Standing with Hoover were about 25 House Republicans and half a dozen county clerks. Oldham County Clerk Julie Barr is president of the County Clerks Association. She called the Republican plan “legitimate” and said it will save counties significant money because it only splits two precincts. Those are in Campbell and Hopkins counties.
The Democratic plan passed in 2013 — which was never acted on by the Republican-controlled Senate — split more than 150 precincts.
“Adding voting machines, printing ballots and hiring new poll workers, the cost begins to get up close to ($10,000),” she said.
Stumbo disputed the claim the Republican plan would save counties money because clerks are supposed to re-draw precinct lines after new re-districting plans are enacted. He said clerks are free to draw precinct lines to allow more than one precinct to vote at a single site and precinct lines are supposed to be redrawn anyway to reflect population shifts and annexations.
“I don’t know how the plan could be any more fair,” Hoover said. But he acknowledged the Democratic majority will ultimately have the power to pass whatever plan its members agree on.
Democrats currently enjoy a 55-45 edge over Republicans in the House but Republicans have hopes of gaining a majority in 2014. How the districts are drawn — ensuring safe seats for some and placing others against other incumbents — could determine which party controls the chamber.
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.