By RONNIE ELLIS / CNHI News Service
FRANKFORT — State House Democrats on Friday released their latest proposal to re-draw House legislative districts, and it pits two sets of Democratic incumbents, including Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins and Kevin Sinnette, and two sets of Republican incumbents against each other in new districts.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is the 100th District in Boyd County, which puts Adkins and Sinnette together. Sinnette lives in Ashland while Adkins has a residence in Catlettsburg, the Boyd County seat, but calls Sandy Hook in Elliott County home.
The previous House map, offered in the 2013 General Assembly, drew the 100th in a way to split Boyd County, running from Ashland down U.S. 23 to pick up Lawrence County and leaving Adkins’ district with Elliott County and Sandy Hook and enough of Boyd County to include Catlettsburg.
But the new map — which, upon initial inspection, seems to have quieted Republican claims of unfairness and gerrymandering — also creates four new, open seats and one of them, the 99th, includes Elliott, Rowan and Lewis counties. Adkins conceivably could move into that new district — which includes Sandy Hook — in time for the 2014 elections, leaving Sinnette as the sole incumbent in the 100th.
Also lumped together in the new 97th District are Democrats John Will Stacy of West Liberty in Morgan County and Hubert Collins of Wittensville in Johnson County.
Republicans Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green and C.B. Embry of Morgantown were placed into the 17th District, which includes Butler and part of Warren County. Republicans Myron Dossett of Pembroke in Christian County and Ben Waide of Madisonville were also lumped together in the 9th District, which includes parts of Christian and Hopkins counties.
The map splits the minimum number of counties — the 22 which are larger than the ideal population size for House districts plus two more — and creates open seats in Jefferson, Bullitt and Anderson counties in addition to the 99th in northeastern Kentucky.
It splits Republican Pulaski County four ways and Republican Laurel County five ways.
The earlier 2013 House map, which was passed by the Democratic-controlled House but never taken up in the Republican-controlled Senate, placed 11 incumbents together, all but one of them Republicans. That caused Republicans to cry foul.
But Democratic Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Friday the latest map is fair and will withstand judicial scrutiny.
“We have a plan that is both fair politically and that meets every single legal requirement,” Stumbo said. “We gave all House members the opportunity to take part in this process, and this map reflects their considerable input.”
Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, reserved final judgment on the new plan until his members can review it over the weekend, but his initial reaction seemed relatively positive.
“I’m pleased that Speaker Stumbo is, at least on its face, moving toward a fairer plan for redistricting,” Hoover said. “While we haven’t reviewed the details of his plan, which will we do before the start of the special session on Monday, at least on its face we believe this proposal is moving toward a better approach on redistricting.”
Senate Republicans released their own map for that chamber on Thursday and it pitted no incumbents against another and was met with general approval by the Democratic minority.
It’s easier to draw districts without combining incumbents in the Senate because the 38 districts are individually much larger than the 100 House seats. Hoover and House Republicans released a map they preferred last week and it, too, pared eight incumbents, four from each party, just as the latest Democratic House plan does.
The General Assembly convenes Monday in special session to pass new legislative districts. The plan is to pass maps for both chambers and judicial districts in five days.
The U.S. Constitution requires state legislatures to re-draw legislative districts every 10 years following the U.S. Census. Typically, majority parties draw maps to benefit their incumbents and punish the minority and plans passed in 2012 by the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate did just that.
But those plans gerrymandered districts to do so and were declared unconstitutional. This spring, the Democratic-controlled House passed a map for House districts but the Senate did not act on it or pass one of its own.
Gov. Steve Beshear has called a special session beginning Monday to pass a redistricting plan while two separate groups have filed federal lawsuits over the lack of a new legislative map.
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.