Herald-Leader Editorial

Fayette dissed in redistricting; process needs to be transparent

August 21, 2013 

With a few exceptions, lawmakers of both parties are expressing satisfaction with the redistricting plans that House and Senate leaders have offered.

The plans contain no glaringly partisan gerrymandering. And all but one of the 138 districts fall within the prescribed population range.

(Oddly, Senate Republicans are proposing that District 4 in Western Kentucky, held by Democrat Dorsie Ridley of Henderson, have slightly fewer people than the maximum 5 percent deviation allowed, fueling speculation that Senate Republicans might secretly want their plan to be thrown out and a new one handed down by three federal judges who are presiding over redistricting lawsuits. Stay tuned.)

Meanwhile, what should Kentuckians think about the new districts?

That's an entirely different question and almost impossible to answer because, as always, the redistricting maps were pulled from a black box and will be rushed through the legislature with almost no chance for the public to digest the lines and numbers or comment on them.

One thing is clear: Fayette County is not getting the additional House district to which it is entitled while Jefferson County will go from 17 to 18 districts.

The Boston Gazette coined the term "gerrymander" in 1812 to criticize a redistricting plan that helped Gov. Elbridge Gerry's party by creating a district shaped like a salamander, hence gerrymander.

Chalk up the dissing of Fayette County to "larrymander" — as in Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, of Louisville, whose power within the Democratic caucus is clearly reflected in his hometown's favorable treatment.

Both Fayette and Jefferson counties gained population from 2000 to 2010, but Jefferson County declined as a percent of Kentucky's total population, while Fayette's population increased as a percent of the state total — a trend that should dictate a new seat for Fayette County.

We understand that redistricting is like dominoes; one move can set off a chain reaction. Maybe there's a valid reason for what looks like Fayette County's unfair treatment — a reason that would be understood if we had an open process for redistricting.

The General Assembly will always have ultimate responsibility for creating constitutional districts, but the legislature could improve its image by delegating some of its redistricting authority to an independent panel whose deliberations would be open to public participation.

Also, before the next Census, let's revisit the faulty state Supreme Court decision that has resulted in some larger counties being sliced and diced into small parts of far-flung districts.

Our horse-and-buggy state constitution says no counties shall be split, which is mathematically impossible. An earlier state Supreme Court mandated that this provision requires splitting the minimum possible number of counties, which is not what the constitution says and also produces conflicts with what should be the overriding principle of legislative apportionment: "one person, one vote."

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