By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, on Monday filed a response to a federal suit asking courts to require the General Assembly to redraw state legislative maps and at the same time called for a special session to end the controversy.
In April several northern Kentucky officials and residents filed suit in federal court asking the court to order lawmakers to redraw the districts or if they don’t allow the court to draw them. A second suit, by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, filed suit earlier this month over failure of the General Assembly to redraw the maps following the 2010 U.S. Census.
Both in the answers to the northern Kentucky suit and in a press release Monday, Stumbo said he is prepared to “resolve this once and for all” if the Senate will offer a valid plan. If it does so, Stumbo said, “I will join in asking for an immediate special session.”
Only the governor can call a special session, but Gov. Steve Beshear has said he wants a special session to resolve the dispute prior to next January’s convening of the 2013 General Assembly.
“I hope to deal with redistricting sometime before the next regular session in January so that it will not become a distraction when we’re preparing the budget for the Commonwealth for the next two years,” Beshear said Monday afternoon. “I will continue to discuss this possibility with legislative leaders.”
States must re-draw legislative maps every 10 years, following the 10-year Census to provide districts which are equal in size and thus meet the court’s requirements of “one man, one vote.”
In 2012, both the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate passed redistricting plans but both were ruled unconstitutional because they split too many counties and included at least one district which varied from court guidelines of no more than a plus or minus 5 percent deviation from the ideal size.
The House passed its own House map in 2013, but the Senate declined to act, failing to approve the House map or offer one of its own. Typically, the two chambers draw their own individual map — drawn by the majority party to protect its own incumbents or punish minority members — and then agrees to pass the opposite chamber’s map.
Monday, Stumbo tried to place blame squarely on the Senate.
“The House plan has been public for months, and it is time to wrap this up,” Stumbo said in his press release. “All the Senate has to do is offer a valid plan and I will join in asking for an immediate special session to resolve this once and for all.”
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, issued a statement through his office indicating he, too, filed a response to the northern Kentucky suit Monday — but he didn’t provide any specifics.
“Today in Covington, I filed my initial response to a lawsuit in federal court regarding the redistricting of Kentucky house and senate districts,” Stivers said in the statement. “The Senate intends to move forward with a fair and measured process to avoid the risk and expense of further litigation in other courts, both state and federal. I look forward to the resolution of the constitutional law issues necessary to conclude redistricting.”
Stumbo included in the court filing not only the House plan passed earlier this year but one his staff drew up for the Senate, a map which he said pits no incumbents against each other in newly drawn districts — a typical way for the majority party to decrease minority representation.
But the House plan does just that and Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, was quick to point that out.
“I find it surprising but not shocking the Speaker of the House, in comments to the press, stated he and his staff drew up a plan based on their flawed population data that pits no incumbents against each other in the Senate, but somehow cannot draw districts in the house without pitting multiple House Republican incumbents against each other,” Hoover said in a statement.
The House map does not count federal prisoners in drawing its districts — “the flawed population data,” in Hoover’s statement. But while the House didn’t count those prisoners in its map, a mutually agreed upon Congressional map passed by both chambers in 2012 included those prisoners. That has raised questions by Republicans in the House and others who say the state can’t use separate population figures for the state and Congressional maps.
Stumbo said his inclusion of the Senate map wasn’t an attempt to usurp the Senate’s prerogative in drawing its own map.
“We just want to show that it can be done, not that our map is the only one,” Stumbo said. “But the simple fact is further delay only makes it more likely that judges will step in to do a job that is now long overdue. That’s what I want to avoid.”
Hoover said it might be best for the courts to draw the maps given “rank partisan politics the House Democrat leadership used for redistricting in 2012 which was ruled unconstitutional.” He didn’t mention that the Senate map drawn by Republican leadership also was declared unconstitutional.
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 <http://www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort>