Politics & Government

House redistricting plan would create new Lexington district

FRANKFORT — House Speaker Greg Stumbo unveiled proposed new boundaries for House districts Tuesday that pit incumbents against each other in six districts and create seven districts with no incumbent, including one in Fayette County.

The House State Government Committee approved House Bill 2 on a party-line vote Tuesday afternoon, with Democrats voting yes and Republicans voting no. The Democratic-led House might vote on the bill Wednesday.

All but one of the incumbents who would have to face each other are Republicans.

A new Fayette County open seat — the 88th District — was created in part of southern Fayette County.

Proposed districts that pair incumbents include:

The 2nd District, where 2nd District Rep. Richard Heath, R-Mayfield, would face 1st District Rep. Steven Rudy, R-West Paducah.

The 5th District, where 4th District Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion, would face 10th District Rep. Ben Waide, R-Madisonville.

The 17th District, where three incumbents live: 17th District Rep. C.B. Embry, R-Morgantown; 21st District Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Rockfield; and Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Brownsville.

The 89th District, where 89th District Rep. Marie Rader, R-McKee, would face 91st District Rep. Toby Herald, R-Beattyville.

The 91st District, where 54th District Rep. Mike Harmon, R-Danville, would face 36th District Rep. Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster.

The 99th District, where 99th District Rep. Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, would face 96th District Rep. Jill York, R-Grayson.

Adkins said Tuesday that it is "painful" to lose constituents but he "looks forward to taking on new areas if they choose me to represent them."

The new districts with open seats are House District 1 in the counties of Fulton, Hickman, Carlisle, Ballard and part of Graves; House District 19 in Warren County; House District 36 in Jefferson County; House District 49 in Bullitt County; House District 54 in Anderson, Spencer and part of Bullitt counties; House District 88 in Fayette County; and House District 96 in Powell, Estill and part of Madison counties.

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said redistricting is the most difficult legislative action. He maintained that the new plan is constitutional and meets all federal and state mandates. The state Supreme Court ruled last year's House redistricting plan unconstitutional.

Redistricting occurs every 10 years to reflect population changes in the U.S. Census.

This year's House plan splits 24 counties, the minimum number of counties as recognized and mandated by the courts, Stumbo said, and two additional counties — Graves and Harlan — because of their populations.

For the first time, House Democratic leadership did not include federal prisoners in their population counts "because they do not have permanent residency in the state." Stumbo said it's a growing trend in states not to count federal prisoners.

However, last year's legislature did count federal prisoners in coming up with new boundaries for the state's six Congressional districts.

House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, does not like it that House Democratic leaders used one set of population data last year and another set this year.

"My concern is that we are using adjusted manipulated data to achieve a political end," he said. "Who made that decision, and is it proper?"

State Republican Party Chairman Steve Robertson said the House plan "tinkered with population figures, making some districts out of line."

Stumbo issued a statement Tuesday night, saying, "Since the deviations from the 'one man, one vote' differ from congressional districts to state districts, we know of no authority that prohibits treating federal prisoners differently in different plans. The national trend is not to count them; 15 others states either have plans adopted or pending which do not count them.

"If it has to be a uniform application as Rep. Hoover suggests, then why can some states count them and others not? Clearly, it is in the discretion of the state legislatures as to how to address this issue."

Only five Kentucky counties had significant federal prisoner populations, Stumbo said about the new House plan. They were Boyd with 1,551, Clay with 1,619, Fayette with 2,035, Martin with 1,579 and McCreary with 1,659.

Stumbo also noted that 152 of the 3,500 or so precincts in the state were split.

The ideal House district under Stumbo's plan has 43,308 residents. The minimum, which is 5 percent lower, has 41,143. The maximum, which is 5 percent higher, is 45,473.

One of the most oddly configured new districts is House District 80. It currently includes Lincoln, Pulaski and Rockcastle counties and is represented by Republican David Meade of Stanford.

The new House District 80 stretches from southern Fayette County in the north, including neighborhoods such as Hartland, Raven Run and Walnut Hill, through western Madison County and to all of Rockcastle County.

But the House plan also moved House District 88 north, which would knock Republican Rep. Robert Benvenuti out of that district. Benvenuti, who was first elected to serve in House District 88 in 2012, lives in the 80th District under the newly drawn lines.

The new 88th District includes Greenbrier, Sheffield Place, Deer Crossing and East Lake. Potential GOP candidates in the 88th could include former Urban County Councilwoman KC Crosbie and Chris Logan, who ran against Democrat Rep. Susan Westrom in the 79th District race in 2012.

Republican Rep. Stan Lee's 45th District will move to the west, but Lee still lives in the newly drawn district, he said.

The new 45th district leans more Democratic, Lee said, but "I still think I can win."

House Republicans were not pleased with the new map.

Rep. Steve Rudy, R-West Paducah, said he was disappointed that the plan is coming so late in this year's General Assembly. Tuesday marked the 24th day of the 30-day session.

Stumbo said House Democratics had welcomed input from various House caucuses. He contended that the plan "isn't so much as politics as it is mathematical equations."

House Minority Whip John "Bam" Carney, R-Campbellsville, said House Republicans are "frustrated" and voted against the plan because "it came at the last minute."

"This may or may not be constitutional," he added. "When you pit so many Republicans together, we have to vote against it."

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said this week that he is not planning to approve any redistricting plan in this year's legislative session. The Senate will not take up redistricting until next year, he said.

But Stumbo said he is "hopeful that he will change his mind so we will not have to have a special session on redistricting."

Stumbo also said he and Democratic leaders would pledge they would pass intact the Senate redistricting plan whenever it is presented.

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