Politics & Government

House approves redistricting plan with oddly shaped boundaries

FRANKFORT — After two hours of contentious debate, the Kentucky House approved a bill Thursday to reconfigure its 100 districts with some oddly shaped boundaries.

House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, noted the situation of Rep. Myron Dossett, R-Pembroke, in Christian County. Under the new map created by Democratic leaders, Hoover said, Dossett finds his home still in the 9th House District but his mailbox "just across the road" is in the 15th District represented by Democrat Brent Yonts of Greenville.

Dossett is one of nine House incumbents — eight Republicans and one Democrat — put in districts with other incumbent representatives by House Bill 1.

Most Republicans objected to the new map and mentioned the possibility of a legal challenge, but the House approved it 63-34. There are 59 Democrats and 41 Republicans in the House.

The bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration. Though Republicans control the chamber 22-15 with one independent, the Senate is expected to approve the legislation. Each chamber has an agreement to accept the other's redistricting plan.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, vigorously defended the redrawing of the House district boundaries, saying it was based on changes in population and not politics. He said oddly drawn districts are unavoidable at times.

"That happens in any plan sometime," Stumbo said, noting that even a plan offered by Republican Rep. Joe Fischer, R-Fort Thomas, put Republican Reps. Lonnie Napier of Lancaster and Mike Harmon of Danville in the same district.

Fischer's plan, offered in the form of an amendment, was defeated 58-36.

Stumbo attacked Fischer's amendment, saying it violated federal voting rights because it did not keep the 77th House District in Fayette County as a "minority" district.

Fischer said that was an oversight in his legislation that would be corrected, but Stumbo said Fischer should have informed the chamber of the move while presenting it.

That prompted some Republicans to defend Fischer and say they resented any implication of racism in his plan.

Republican incumbents placed in the same districts were Dossett and Ben Waide of Madisonville in the 9th; C.B. Embry Jr. of Morgantown, Jim DeCesare of Rockfield and Michael Meredith of Brownsville in the 17th; and Mike Harmon of Danville and Kim King of Harrodsburg in the 54th.

House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, and Rep. Jill York, R-Grayson, would be in the 99th House District.

Napier bemoaned his losing a portion of Madison County, which he has represented for 28 years, and Hoover criticized placing House Minority Whip Danny Ford, R-Mount Vernon, in a district that stretches from Casey County to the northern edge of Madison County.

Napier said Rep. Marie Rader of McKee would see her 89th District stretch from Jackson County to the Tennessee border in McCreary County.

Democrats made such configurations, Hoover contended, because they're afraid of losing control of the House, which they've had since 1926.

He said the new map would make it harder for Republicans to work with Democrats on issues such as moving the University of Pikeville into the state university system and expanding gambling.

Stumbo said he hoped Hoover would reconsider his remarks but that he understood that redistricting was "emotionally charged."

Western Kentucky University political science professor Scott Lasley said the debate and action on redistricting "highlight how highly important this is to legislators."

"It's really impossible to get politics out of redistricting," Lasley said. "Some states have tried to get independent commissions to do redistricting, but basically it's a case of 'to the victors go the spoils.'"

The Senate will present its plan next week to redraw boundaries for the 38 state Senate districts.

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