Keeling: Path to federal court kept redistricting on straight, narrow

path to federal court kept redistricting on straight, narrow

Herald-leader columnistAugust 25, 2013 

Larry Dale Keeling

OZ — This and that while I search for Dorothy and Toto:

I have a feeling we're not in Frankfort anymore.

Legislative redistricting that's reasonably fair and doesn't kick minority lawmakers' butts like they've never been kicked before? Unthinkable in the real Frankfort, but doable here in Oz.

Since I suggested House Republicans and Senate Democrats should be prepared to bend over, grab their ankles and await the application of shoe leather during the redistricting special session, I must admit the majority parties in both chambers proved me wrong. Hooray for them!

And hooray for the wizard of this fair land who worked his magic from behind the curtain and had them playing nice with each other!

Make it three wizards, actually, as in the three federal judges who will review the General Assembly's redistricting homework. The panel already has ruled that existing district lines are unconstitutional, and is prepared to draw new maps itself if lawmakers didn't get it right in the plan they enacted Friday.

A couple of aspects of the plan could attract the judges' attention. Both involve the permissible plus-or-minus 5-percent variance from an ideal district's population.

Generally speaking, House districts with Republican incumbents tend to be on the plus side of the ideal population while districts with Democratic incumbents tend to be on the minus side, a disparity that proved problematic in at least one federal case. In the Senate, the 4th District falls slightly outside of the permissible 5 percent variance.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Senate President Robert Stivers each claim their respective chamber's plan is legally defensible. I'll take their word for it, because the reasonably fair treatment of minorities suggests majority leaders of both chambers were trying extra hard to color between the lines this time. But believing they can defend their plans doesn't guarantee concurrence from the three-judge panel.

Rep. Jon Arnold won re-election in the 7th District by just five votes in 2012. So, whatever the outcome of an investigation of sexual harassment complaints filed against him by female legislative staffers, the allegations alone probably are enough to end his political career.

And that means Republicans most likely will flip one more Western Kentucky district Democrats have held forever and a day. A section of the state that once gave D's their most solid base is now their worst nightmare.

Should state Sen. Kathy Stein be appointed to a judgeship (and I suspect she will), she once again would be a colleague of former Senate President David Williams, with whom she clashed rather regularly before Gov. Steve Beshear appointed him to the bench in 2012. A geographically distant colleague, but a colleague nonetheless.

Haven't figured out the irony of this, but it must be there somewhere.

Dorothy! Toto! Come out, come out, wherever you are!

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

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