Editorials

Time to overhaul redistricting

This year's bloody redistricting has become a unifying force, after all. Republicans and Democrats alike are expressing outrage and revulsion at the arrogantly political decisions and the secretive way they were reached.

They're saying there has to be a better way, and they are right.

Everyone from Rep. Bill Farmer, R-Lexington, to Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear is calling for changes before the 2020 census requires another round of redistricting.

As he held his nose and signed the legislative redistricting plan last week, Beshear said recent events had reinforced his "belief that before redistricting occurs again in Kentucky, some type of non-partisan, citizen-based group should be created to participate in the process."

On Monday, Farmer and Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, filed a bill that would do that. House Bill 304 would create a seven-member Committee on Redistricting appointed by members of the Supreme Court to draw legislative and congressional boundaries after the 2020 census.

We don't know if Farmer and Wayne have hit upon the best plan but they're pushing in the right direction and, for that. Kentuckians should thank them.

Those who assume the legislature would never abandon its "to the victor goes the spoils" approach to redistricting underestimate the state's and the legislature's capacity for reform.

Also, legislators have to know this process has given them a black eye. And the hard feelings among lawmakers will obstruct progress on more pressing challenges.

With apparent disregard for a state Supreme Court ruling, the Democrats who lead the House sliced and diced counties and drew ridiculously shaped districts to disadvantage the GOP. House Republicans have vowed to sue.

Meanwhile, Republicans in the Senate disenfranchised more than 100,000 Lexington residents by moving Sen. Kathy Stein's district to northeastern Kentucky, prompting the Urban County Council to ask its lawyers about the possibility of a lawsuit.

With the filing deadline for the May primary less than a week away, the legislature has yet to redraw Kentucky's congressional map to realign the six U.S. House districts with population changes. There may be no new congressional districts unless a court draws them.

As bad as all that is, the downside of partisan redistricting goes even deeper.

Around the country, the creation of "safe" congressional districts has deepened the polarization that has rendered Congress dysfunctional.

A representative who knows his district's demographics make it impossible for the opposite party to unseat him has no incentive to reach across the aisle and seek consensus or compromise, and every reason to dig in and become more extreme to fend off challenges from within his own party.

We see a similar dynamic at work in Kentucky's legislature with its Democratic House and Republican Senate. If each chamber continues to redistrict based purely on partisan advantage, the legislature will become even more polarized and lose the ability to lead and govern. Kentucky is the real loser if that is allowed to happen.

There are some good minds in the legislature and some better redistricting models in other states from which Kentucky can learn. There's time to study this and get it right, though it may never feel more urgent than now.

Lawmakers in power today could do their successors — and the state — a favor by voluntarily giving up their power to gerrymander.

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