Editorials

Painful, secretive redistricting

Everybody says women forget the pain of childbirth or else they'd never have another baby. Lawmakers should remember what this redistricting process feels like.

They should remember because Kentucky should not go through another one like it.

Before the 2020 census rolls around, and the state is again required to redraw congressional and legislative districts to accommodate population changes, Kentucky should adopt a new approach.

That approach should be non-partisan, independent, transparent and driven by numbers and democratic principles, rather than fueled by expediency and political turf protection.

At least a dozen states have enacted such processes for drawing districts. Kentucky should join them.

Yes, it would cost the legislature some power. But just how powerful and effective is the legislature right now when it's tied up by the complications of redrawing the boundaries of districts in which lawmakers will have to compete for re-election.

How effective and powerful will it be after the dust settles on redistricting and the losers feel angry and betrayed and partisan wounds are more raw than ever? In that poisonous atmosphere, how effective will lawmakers be at working together for the good of the state?

Nothing should be more open than decisions about elections. Yet, House Republicans have had no inkling of how the Democrats who control that chamber were planning to redraw their districts, while Democrats in the Senate can only guess what the Republicans in control on that side of the Capitol are up to.

Prospective candidates for the legislature, facing a Jan. 31 filing deadline, can't make plans in this limbo. All anyone can be reasonably sure of is that the party in control will stop at almost nothing to increase its advantage.

And the public, well, the public is excluded from the process almost entirely.

No sooner had the Democratic-controlled House approved a congressional redistricting plan on Tuesday than Lexington Republican Andy Barr derided it as "incumbent-protection" for Democratic Rep. Ben Chandler, whom Barr almost defeated in 2010.

The plan also drew criticism from Senate Republicans, prompting Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo to warn that if the two chambers can't agree, there just won't be new congressional districts. Stumbo also has mentioned the possibility of delaying the legislative redistricting until next year.

While delay might have some immediate practical advantages, the reason for not delaying is more fundamental and important: the constitutional guarantee of equal representation, of one person, one vote. Districts should be roughly equal in population. They also should make sense geographically.

Lawmakers in the throes of redistricting don't want to think about a better process 10 years from now anymore than a woman giving birth is looking forward to the next baby.

But lawmakers would do Kentucky a tremendous favor by stepping away from the fray, seeing the big picture and initiating consideration of a constitutional amendment that would provide a more open, rational approach to redistricting in the future.

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