Politics & Government

Proposals to redraw Ky. congressional districts would bring big changes

FRANKFORT — Two new proposals to redraw the boundaries of Kentucky's six congressional districts could mean major changes for Central Kentucky voters.

Both plans appear to benefit Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, who represents Lexington and many surrounding counties in the 6th Congressional District.

The proposals — one pushed by the Democratic-controlled House and another by unnamed members of Kentucky's congressional delegation — would move Republican-leaning Jessamine and Garrard counties out of Chandler's district, replacing them with counties that lean more Democratic.

Republican Andy Barr, a Lexington lawyer who narrowly lost to Chandler in 2010 and plans to challenge him again in 2012, said Tuesday that the emerging plans amount to "incumbent-protection gerrymandering for a weak incumbent."

"There is no support in Central Kentucky for either one of these plans," Barr said.

"Jessamine and Garrard counties are in Central Kentucky and should stay in the 6th," Barr said. "They have more in common with Lexington than they do with Owensboro in the 2nd or Pikeville in the 5th."

The Kentucky House and Senate redraw state and federal legislative district boundaries every 10 years to rebalance their populations. The Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate typically redraw their own respective districts. The point of contention is congressional districts — where the House and Senate must come to an agreement on any changes.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Tuesday morning that his chamber was considering a congressional redistricting plan that would move Owensboro, Ashland and several Central Kentucky counties into new districts, among other changes.

The proposal would shift Owensboro from the 2nd District to the 1st District and Ashland to the 5th District from the 4th.

In the 6th District, Jessamine, Garrard and Boyle counties and a portion of Lincoln County would move to the 2nd District, and Estill County would move to the 5th. Replacing those counties would be Washington and Marion counties from the 2nd District and Harrison, Robertson, Fleming, Nicholas, Bath and a portion of Scott counties from the 4th District.

Stumbo said the House plan would make the state's congressional districts more regional and get rid of some of the "fish hooks" that are found in existing districts.

"What I would do is make the districts more geographically aligned," Stumbo said.

He cautioned that the plan was preliminary and simply a starting point for conversation. The Senate Republicans have not released a proposed congressional redistricting map.

The House also released a redistricting plan Tuesday that was provided by members of the congressional delegation. Brian Wilkerson, a spokesman for Stumbo, said it was not clear whether all of Kentucky's congressmen had agreed to the proposed map.

Under that proposal, the 6th District would lose Jessamine and Garrard counties to the 5th District, its portion of Lincoln County to the 1st District and its portion of Scott County to the 4th District. It would pick up several northeastern Kentucky counties, including Carter, Rowan, Fleming, Nicholas, Bath and Menifee.

The congressional proposal would leave Owensboro in the 1st District and Ashland in the 4th District.

In a statement released late Tuesday, Chandler did not say whether he had signed off on any potential redistricting plan.

"There are a variety of potential maps from a number of sources that we have seen, but at the end of the day, this is the responsibility of the General Assembly of Kentucky," Chandler said.

Jessamine County Judge-Executive William Neal Cassity, a Democrat, said he liked Chandler and U.S. Rep. Harold Rogers, who represents the 5th District in Eastern Kentucky.

"My preference would be to stay with Chandler because he's done a good job for us, but we really don't have that much say in it," Cassity said.

Stumbo emphasized that point in a statement late Tuesday.

"Ultimately, it falls to the members of the Kentucky General Assembly to reach a final determination of the congressional boundaries," he said. "While members of Congress have different ideas as to how the maps should be drawn, the legislature will debate and resolve the various proposals."

Rogers, who also released a statement, did not say whether he had agreed to the proposal given to the House.

"I have assured legislators that I support their decisions in this process," Rogers said. "I will be happy to welcome the new constituents who are placed into the 5th Congressional District."

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, who represents the 3rd District, said through spokesman Trey Pollard that he had not signed off on any redistricting plan.

U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Bowling Green, said in an email that he "still strongly supports maintaining Owensboro in the 2nd District and would like to maintain his district as much as possible."

Republican U.S. Reps. Ed Whitfield of the 1st District and Geoff Davis of the 4th District did not respond to calls seeking comment.

Stumbo said he would like to have a special legislative session between Thanksgiving and Christmas to handle redistricting but said no agreement had been reached.

Republican state Sen. Damon Thayer of Georgetown, chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, said the state Senate's congressional redistricting plan was in its infancy.

"Our position in the Senate is that a special session is really unnecessary and not a real good use of taxpayer dollars at this time," Thayer said.

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