Politics & Government

Kentucky House approves plan to redraw congressional districts

FRANKFORT — The state House split mostly along party lines Tuesday in approving a bill to redraw the boundaries of Kentucky's six congressional districts.

Republicans in the Democratic-controlled House protested that House Bill 2 was designed to protect Democratic U.S. Reps. Ben Chandler and John Yarmuth.

The bill now goes to the Republican-led Senate, where it is expected to undergo major changes.

"Absolutely, the Senate will change the House version to make the new map more like the current map," said Senate State Government Committee chairman Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown.

If the Senate changes the House plan "in a positive manner, we certainly will take a look at it," said House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. "If the Senate chooses to change it in a political manner, I doubt it would meet very much success over here. We would just have to do without a plan."

Stumbo said the House plan was not based on politics, but Republicans disagreed.

The House approved the bill 54-42. Republicans and two Democrats — Jody Richards of Bowling Green and Rick Nelson of Middlesboro — voted against it.

Richards said he voted against the measure because his constituents did not want to see Daviess County move from the 2nd Congressional District, now represented by Republican Brett Guthrie of Bowling Green, to the 1st District, represented by Republican Ed Whitfield of Hopkinsville.

The House congressional plan splits the home county of Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers of Somerset into two districts. It keeps the eastern half of Pulaski County in the 5th District but moves the western part into the 2nd District.

It also moves Boyle and Garrard counties and part of Jessamine from Central Kentucky's 6th Congression al District, now represented by Chandler, of Versailles, to south-central Kentucky's 2nd District.

During debate on the bill, Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, told House members that making the congression al districts more geographically compact could save federal money by making it easier for federal officials to travel the districts.

"I would urge all of those who call themselves fiscal conservatives to vote for this plan," Riggs said.

But several Republicans said the plan also divides key areas of the state into two congressional districts. Currently, those areas are represented by one person.

"My constituents are very displeased," said Rep. Mike Harmon, R-Danville.

House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said, "I would be embarrassed to vote for a plan that divides the home county of a sitting congressman."

Only one of Kentucky's six congressmen issued a comment about the redistricting plan. Chandler said he was "following the process with interest" and "will be pleased to welcome any and all Kentuckians" to his district.

Andy Barr, who narrowly lost to Chandler in 2010 and is running against him this year, accused Chandler of "promoting an incumbent-protection scheme that removes tens of thousands of Central Kentucky voters from the 6th Congressional District."

Whitfield's office said he would be announcing his re-election efforts soon in every county of the existing 1st District and in the counties contained in the House plan.

Meanwhile, Stumbo said the House State Government Committee was expected to take up legislation Wednesday to redraw the maps for the 100 state House districts. The state Senate has not presented its congressional plan or its plan to redraw the 38 Senate districts.

The state legislature is required to redraw political district boundaries every 10 years to reflect population changes in the U.S. Census.