Kentucky Lawmakers Prefer Judges Not Do Redistricting

May 29, 2013

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- House Republicans who would take a shellacking under a redistricting plan proposed by Democrats insist they still want to avoid having federal judges redraw legislative boundaries in Kentucky.

The House's Democratic majority has a proposal ready that could force 11 House Republicans to run against each other next year. And Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear has said he plans to call lawmakers back to Frankfort for a special legislative session later this year to deal with the issue.

State Rep. Ben Waide of Madisonville, one of the Republicans who would be forced to run against a GOP colleague to keep his seat under the House redistricting proposal, said the Legislature shouldn't relinquish its duty to redraw political boundaries and leave it to the court system, as the American Civil Liberties Union has called for.

"We might get a different plan, but there's no way of knowing if we'd get a better plan," Waide said. "I don't think it's the right way to go."

Always a divisive issue, redistricting is undertaken every 10 years to account for population changes recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau. Kentucky had major population shifts between 2000 and 2010, requiring reconfiguration of legislative districts in both the House and Senate.

The Kentucky Supreme Court struck down lawmakers' initial redistricting plan last year, finding that the proposed districts weren't balanced by population and didn't comply with the federal and state "one person, one vote" mandate.

The House approved a subsequent plan earlier this year, but the Republican-led Senate opted to wait until next year's legislative session to deal with the issue. Senate leaders said they wanted to pass both House and Senate redistricting at the same time, so neither got final passage.

Because the issue hasn't been resolved, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month that calls for a three-judge panel to redraw legislative boundaries, claiming inaction by lawmakers has left them without adequate representation in the state Legislature. And in a separate case, a group of northern Kentucky residents filed a federal lawsuit in an attempt to force the Legislature to act. They claim rapid growth in northern Kentucky has left them without adequate representation in Frankfort.

House Republican Leader Jeff Hoover suggested last week that Kentucky residents "may be better off" if federal judges redraw legislative boundaries in a way that places people above politics - something he said the Democratic majority in the House has been unwilling to do.

"The facts are House Democrats have a long history of adopting unconstitutional redistricting maps for the purpose of maintaining their power hold on Frankfort," Hoover said in a statement to The Associated Press. "The time for real change in Frankfort has never been more obvious."

Brian Wilkerson, spokesman for Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo, suggested last week that the Senate's Republican majority, which refused to take up redistricting in a legislative session earlier this year, might be hoping federal judges will take on the matter.

"The Senate may well plan to force an additional round of litigation, and then say to the federal courts, `Look how dysfunctional the state is, just draw the maps,'" Wilkerson said in a statement.

Senate Republican Leader Robert Stivers declined to comment on Wilkerson's statement.

Republican state Rep. David Floyd of Bardstown said redistricting is the Legislature's constitutional responsibility and it one that should be closely guarded.

"To turn it over to federal judges would be a travesty," Floyd said.