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Beshear criticizes redistricting bill, signs it into law

Gleaner, The (Henderson, KY) - Friday, January 20, 2012
FRANKFORT — Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear signed the legislative redistricting bill into law on Friday, despite criticizing portions of it as "beyond partisanship. 

"It reflects a personal vindictiveness that should have no place in this process," Beshear said. 

The measure moves Democrat Dorsey Ridley out of his western Kentucky district centered around Henderson into the heart of Lexington, some 200 miles distant. 

It also shifts Democratic firebrand Sen. Kathy Stein's district out of Lexington into a largely rural territory that includes the cities of Maysville and Vanceburg, some 100 miles away from her home to represent constituents she's never met. 

With that resolved, the Senate and House lawmakers are concentrating solely on congressional redistricting. 

Negotiators remain far apart on competing proposals to redraw boundary lines around Kentucky's congressional districts, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Friday. 

The House and Senate had adjourned by late Friday morning without a resolution, and negotiators opted to postpone any further talks until Monday. 

The Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-dominated Senate have been able to settle on new lines around state legislative districts after a prolonged partisan feud that left two lawmakers serving districts 100 to 200 miles from their homes. Senate Republicans are pushing a proposal that leaves the congressional districts in roughly the same geographic areas. 

House Democrats want to reshape the largely rural 1st District in western Kentucky and 5th District in eastern Kentucky, both of which lost population over the past decade. 

"At this time, we're fairly far apart on the two proposals," Stumbo told reporters. 

House Democrats offered a compromise that was rejected by Senate Republicans. So far, Republicans haven't made a counter offer. 

"It's not that hard to make a compromise on this if one wants to compromise," Stumbo said. "A compromise isn't doing what one side wants. A compromise is when both sides get something that neither side wanted." 

Senate Majority Floor Leader Robert Stivers II, R-Manchester, blamed House Democrats for the impasse, saying they're engaged in political posturing. 

Stivers was optimistic that a deal could be struck by Monday "if the House wants to be reasonable." 

With legislative leaders in the throes of negotiations, state Rep. Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown, pushed Friday for an independent commission to handle the always divisive chore of redrawing political boundaries. 

Moore said an independent commission, similar to those used in at least nine other states, could take the partisan politics out of the process. Legislative districting proposals adopted over the past week have set up several incumbents of both parties to face each other in upcoming elections or bow out. It also has generated heated exchanges over what some lawmakers described as "shenanigans," "hijinks" and the "zenith of partisanship." 

Legislative and congressional redistricting occurs every 10 years to account for population changes reported in the U.S. Census. The latest count found that the state's overall population grew from 4 million to 4.3 million from 2000 to 2010. Populations of rural areas in eastern and western Kentucky declined sharply while urban centers grew. 

Lawmakers have worked for months to develop plans that they believe would provide equal representation at the state and federal level. 

"It creates great angst," Moore said. "It poisons the well, and boy is the well poisoned right now." 

Moore said he intends to file legislation early next week that he believes will remove the political tensions from redistricting by establishing a 12-member independent commission to determine proper boundaries, taking the decision out of the hands of lawmakers who might be motivated by politics. The legislature would appoint members to the commission. 

"This would open the process, to provide the transparency needed, to eliminate the backroom deals," Moore said. 

Beshear said in a statement that the "situation" that has played out in Kentucky in recent "reinforces my belief that before redistricting occurs again in Kentucky, some type of non-partisan, citizen-based group should be created to participate in the process." 

Senate President David Williams reacted angrily to Beshear's criticisms, saying if the governor believed the measure is egregious, he should have vetoed it. 

"As usual, though, he prefers to cast aspersions instead of taking responsibility for his own actions or inactions thereby continuing to make Frankfort more partisan than it already is," Williams said. 

Both the House and Senate had more than enough votes to override a gubernatorial veto.