Herald-Leader Editorial

Legislators: Draw fair map, now

July 28, 2013 

When lawmakers convene Aug. 19 to try again to create legislative districts based on the 2010 Census, a trio of federal judges will be breathing down their necks.

If, despite this scrutiny, the legislature again fails to approve a constitutional plan and kicks redistricting into the courts, Kentuckians should be outraged. Redistricting is a legislative duty critical to a working democracy.

In 2012, the legislature approved a plan that the state Supreme Court overturned. Another failure would cost taxpayers a bundle in avoidable legal fees.

Yet speculation is brewing that Republicans might prefer to let the three judges decide, especially since two of them are Republican appointees who once held jobs with Republican politicians. The Republicans who control the Senate could send redistricting to the federal court by torpedoing the special session.

During this year's regular session, Senate Republicans refused to take up redistricting, setting the stage for the lawsuits that have now put the matter before federal judges.

Even the remote prospect of losing the House through judicial fiat should motivate House Democrats to produce a plan that is above reproach.

That means making districts as equal as possible in population and resisting brazen partisan impulses, such as corralling multiple GOP incumbents into bizarrely shaped districts.

House Democrats should do all that because it's right. Knowing them, we'll add that the fairer the plan, the harder it should be for federal judges to substitute one of their own.

With all that said, and if fairness and equality are the goals, Fayette County should get a better shake than it got in the plan the House approved earlier this year, which will likely serve as a starting point this time.

The politics of redistricting can be treacherous but the math is simple.

Take Kentucky's population of 4,339,367. Divide it by 100 House seats, and you get an ideal district of 43,394 people. The state Supreme Court has said districts may vary from the ideal by no more than five percent.

Take Fayette County's population of 295,805 and divide it by the ideal, and you get 6.81 districts. Round that up to seven, especially since Fayette's population is increasing as a percent of state population.

But, instead of the seven dictated by math and demographics, the House gave Fayette six districts and dumped the remaining citizens into four districts dominated by residents of other counties, stretching northeast to Fleming and south to Rockcastle.

Contrast that with Jefferson County: Divide 741,096 people by the ideal, you get 17.08, well within range of the 17 districts it now has. The House rounded up to 18, extended two of the districts slightly into Oldham County and created a new seat in eastern Jefferson County.

Fayette's delegation, led by Democratic Caucus Chair Sannie Overly, D-Paris, should insist that any new district go to Fayette County, where it rightly belongs, even if it means clashing with powerful Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville.

No community, Fayette included, should be chopped into districts that stretch far beyond common interests or compact boundaries. When that happens some people are underrepresented and the cardinal rule of fairness — "one person, one vote" — is broken.

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