By RONNIE ELLIS
CNHI News Service
FRANKFORT — House Democrats on Tuesday finally revealed their plan to redraw legislative districts, and they say it conforms to constitutional guidelines.
Predictably, the minority Republicans aren’t happy. And there may be some unhappy Democrats, too.
Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said Democrats used one set of census data to draw congressional maps last year, but then switched to another set of data to draw the state House districts.
“They are absolutely fudging the numbers,” Hoover said. “It’s a power grab by them, so they could benefit the Majority Floor Leader (Rocky Adkins) and a few other folks to the detriment of a lot of other members.”
Hoover was talking about Adkins’ 99th District, which covers all of Elliott and Carter counties and much of Boyd County. Adkins lists his home as Sandy Hook where he grew up in Elliott County and where he lived until about nine years ago when he moved to Catlettsburg in Boyd County — and in the 99th District.
But in drawing the statewide map, Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Democratic House leaders counted state prisoners but not federal prisoners in Boyd, Clay, Fayette, Martin and McCreary counties. Those are the numbers Hoover referred to which were counted in congressional districts drawn last year.
Stumbo said many states follow the same system, counting state prisoners but not those incarcerated here from other states. Hoover said that’s fine, but he said those states use the same method of counting prisoners for both state and congressional legislative districts.
Hoover wouldn’t say Republicans will take the plan to court — as they successfully did last year when plans drawn by the House and Senate were declared unconstitutional, but he said they will review the plan to see if there may be grounds to challenge it.
Rep. Joseph Fischer, R-Ft. Thomas, who filed suit last year, said, “There are some problems” with the new plan but wouldn’t elaborate.
Stumbo said the plan conforms to the guidelines established by last year’s court ruling: it divides the minimum number of counties (24) and no district varies from the ideal population of 43,308 by more than 5 percent.
Adkins said he’s lived in Catlettsburg, “just off the interstate” (I-64) for about nine years, but has retained a post office box in Sandy Hook for convenience and to maintain a tie to his home community.
“I keep a post office box in Sandy Hook and I’ve always kept that since I moved,” Adkins said. “I’m always up there. It’s convenience to be honest with you.”
The Democrats’ map has been some time in the making. Apparently, part of the delay was Adkins’ desire to keep all of Elliott County in his district, while including his Catlettsburg home because Stumbo earlier described a map which Adkins lost at least part of Elliott County.
But that change affected others.
Rep. Kevin Sinnette, D-Ashland, saw his district reconfigured to include his residence in the city and then travel down a narrow path along U.S. 23 along the eastern Boyd County border and take in all of Lawrence County.
Asked if he were happy, Sinnette said, “I didn’t put up a fight.” When he was asked how wide the corridor is linking Ashland with Lawrence County, Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, answered for him: “Four lanes,” referring to U.S. 23.
Adkins also picked up Carter County, home of Rep. Jill York, R-Grayson. That happened in last year’s plan too and this time Democrats removed all of Republican Lewis County from the district. (Last year, they tried to split it three ways.)
York said she isn’t surprised, but she also isn’t giving up her seat without a fight.
“I’m here to represent my people, and my people are in Carter County,” York said. “If running against Rocky is what I have to do to do that, then I will run against Rocky.”
She said moving Lewis County “is a tragedy.”
Democrat Mike Denham of Maysville, may feel the same way. Republican Lewis County, the home of U.S. Congressman Thomas Massie, is now in his district.
“No comment,” was all Denham would say when asked his reaction. He lost Fleming County to the Democratic Caucus Chair, Sannie Overly of Paris.
To the south, first term Republican Toby Herald of Beattyville finds himself in the same district with Rep. Marie Rader, R-McKee.
Rader said she will have to talk with Herald but said somehow it will work out.
The plan puts 14 incumbents together – all but Adkins are Republicans – into six districts: in the 2nd along the Mississippi River, Steve Rudy and Richard Heath; in the 5th, also in western Kentucky, Lynn Bechler and Ben Waide; in the 17th, centered around Warren County, Jim DeCesare, C.B. Embry and Michael Meredith; in the 89th, Rader and Herald; in the 91st, Harmon and Jonathan Shell; and in the 99th, Adkins and York.
There are seven new districts which currently have no representative: 1, Fulton, Hickman, Carlisle, Ballard and part of Graves; 19, in Warren County; 36, in Jefferson; 49, in Bullitt; 54, in Anderson, Shelby and part of Bullitt; 88, in Fayette; and 96 in Powell, Estill and part of Madison.
The 88th in Fayette County apparently includes the residence of K.C. Crosbie, who ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer in 2011 and might be a potential state House candidate in 2014 when Republicans will try to gain the House majority.
Stumbo said the new 1st District includes the residence of Kelly Whitaker who lost a race last fall to Heath.
The full House is expected to vote on the plan Wednesday. Hoover said Republicans will offer several floor amendments.
Because the Republican-controlled Senate has said it wants to wait until the 2014 session to take up its own redistricting plan, it’s not known if the Senate will agree to pass the House plan.
Stumbo said Democrats want to have a plan in place which meets constitutional guidelines should the final maps be challenged in court. Courts have traditionally been reluctant to interfere in legislative redistricting so long as the maps meet constitutional guidelines of one-man, one-vote and the federal Voting Rights Act.
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.