2012 General Assembly

Larry Dale Keeling: Redistricting qualifies for White Trash Hall of Fame

Fertile field of Kentucky politics calls

Herald-leader columnistJanuary 15, 2012 

FRANKFORT — After seven months spent clipping coupons and playing solitaire, interrupted by brief flurries of semi-productive labors around the house and yard, an ol' kurmudgeon's mind either turns to mush or longs to take up his acid-tipped pen again. I opted for the latter — albeit on a part-time basis only.

But before I return to the most fertile field imaginable for a smart (ahem) newspaper columnist, "Politics — the damnedest in Kentucky," a few words must be devoted to retirement.

It is, as a member of my extended family who preceded me out to pasture recently put it so well, "the best job I ever had." However, semi-retirement offers many of retirement's perks, plus the bonus of being more beneficial to the bank account. So, my "Goodbye, farewell and amen" of this past May must be put on hold for now.

Some folks, including members of the profession, assume retirement for a journalist automatically leads to "The Book." After all, journalists write the first draft of history. Who better to share their wit and wisdom with the public in a form not limited by the space/time available in a newspaper or broadcast?

In my youth, I briefly flirted with the idea. What I learned from the experience was this: Writing a book takes a lot more time and effort than I wanted to devote to it as a young man. And it certainly takes a lot more time and effort than I want to devote to it as an old fogy.

One of my colleagues says I already have a ready-made book because, for the past quarter-century or so, I have been compiling a list of people whose deeds, in my humble opinion, make them deserving of enshrinement in a White Trash Hall of Fame. But publishing a book about my personal nominees to the White Trash Hall of Fame would make me feel so, well, white trashy.

Speaking of white trashy behavior, let's talk about legislative redistricting.

Redistricting brings out the worst in lawmakers because it is the most personal and the most partisan thing they do. Political futures live and die as a result of redistricting decisions. Members of minority parties have something done to them that at least ought to be preceded by dinner and drinks. Members of majority parties vote to do something to their colleagues and friends in the minority they would not dream of doing to colleagues and friends in their private lives.

Such is the nature of the process when lawmakers are charged with redistricting themselves. It was ever thus. It will ever be thus. What House Democrats did to their Republican colleagues in a contentious session Thursday, Senate Republicans will do to their Democratic colleagues in an equally contentious session one day this week.

But even taking that as a given, the districts emerging from the process ought to at least bear the appearance of sanity. Alas, a few of the districts approved by the House fail this test miserably.

Fayette County's new 96th District wobbles around the southern part of the county like a drunken sailor. Segments of some Southern and Eastern Kentucky districts — most notably the 80th, 89th and 94th — are connected so tenuously lawmakers will have to learn to pass through the eye of a needle to get from one part of a district to another without leaving it.

All four represent gerrymandering at its egregious worst and might be reason enough to raise some judicial eyebrows if Republicans follow through on their threat to challenge this plan in court.

House Democrats did a bit better job on congressional redistricting — particularly in regard to the 1st District, which now looks like a lone bedroom slipper in search of a mate. But while making the 1st District considerably more compact and sensible, House Democrats took what is now a compact 6th District and produced something you might see in a Rorschach inkblot test.

House Democrats' desire to create a friendlier district for U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler is understandable. Senate Republicans will try to do the same for their party's members of Congress, and the final product on congressional redistricting will be negotiated behind the closed doors of a conference committee. But both parties and both chambers need to keep in mind that, in redistricting as in many other aspects of politics, appearances count.

In death, Gatewood Galbraith had a unifying effect on the state Senate. A resolution passed Wednesday adjourning the chamber "in loving memory and honor" of the frequent player on Kentucky's political stage was co-sponsored by Republican Senate President David Williams and liberal Democratic Sen. Kathy Stein, two of the more unlikely political allies in the General Assembly.

Reach Larry Dale Keeling at lkeeling@herald-leader.com

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