Redistricting has some life in GA

Daily News
February 1, 2013

Despite a call from the governor to avoid the topic during a short legislative session, the Kentucky House of Representatives seems poised to take up redistricting when members return to Frankfort on Tuesday.

Representatives from western Kentucky met Tuesday to discuss redistricting, said Rep. Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow. He hopes to see some action on redistricting next week.

Last February, the Kentucky Supreme Court ordered that lawmakers run in old legislative districts and that the lines be redrawn, according to The Associated Press.

Bell doesn't expect much change in his district as the population of Barren County is near 43,000, which is about the population a single House district should be, considering the state population is about 4.3 million and there are 100 districts. Bell also represents a sliver of Warren County.

Redistricting should have been done more than two years ago and should be completed quickly, he said.

"I think it's something that should take priority," Bell said.

Although House Speaker Greg Stumbo sent a letter to representatives asking that they take up the topic, no decisions have been made so far, said Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, has said there isn't a rush to address redistricting because elections won't take place until 2014, according to the AP.

DeCesare probably will not be involved in drawing his district lines, with most of the redistricting work done in the speaker's office, he said.

"In a perfect world I would be a part of the process," he said.

His district is overpopulated by about 10,000 people, which means change is inevitable, DeCesare said.

That's about the same amount by which the 20th House District, represented by Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, is overpopulated, Richards said.

During the meeting, western Kentucky representatives discussed broad parameters governing redistricting, including that they not split counties that are less than the size of a district, he said. An exception is usually made in one county in the east and one county in the west in order to make the numbers work.

Warren County has grown a lot in the last decade and some surrounding counties don't meet the population of a district, Richards said. It's possible that Warren could be divided into more parts to make up districts with counties such as Logan and Todd or Butler and Edmonson.

"I've always tried to keep that to a minimum," he said.

Warren County's population is 113,792, according to the U.S. Census Bureau website. There are currently four house districts that include portions of the county.

"I think that there's a certain sense of urgency to getting redistricting done this session," Richards said.

Waiting until 2014 to approve new district lines will make things difficult on county clerks who have to prepare for elections that year, he said.

It also makes it challenging for potential candidates if they don't know until 2014 what legislative district they are in, said Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville.

A plan could be presented as early as next week, and Stone said he expects it to take into account comments from the courts and withstand any potential legal challenges.

"I'm expecting a plan that learns a lot from what the court had to say about the previous plan," he said.

Kentucky is like a majority of states in how it draws district lines, said Scott Lasley, an associate political science professor at Western Kentucky University.

"In most states, it's a political process dominated by the state legislature," Lasley said.

However, 21 states have a redistricting commission that draws up a plan, advises the legislature on drawing up a plan or acts as a backup if the legislature fails to draw up a plan for legislative districts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures website.

Iowa is one of the states at the forefront of using nonpartisan commissions to set district lines, Lasley said.

Kentucky does have safeguards against extreme gerrymandering, which is when voting areas are divided to give one political party a majority in as many districts as possible or to weaken the strength of a voting group, Lasley said.

The state has rules to prevent the splitting of counties in districts when possible, though that rule is subject to individual interpretation, he said.

Kentucky is also operating with a split legislature, which can help cut back on gerrymandering, he said. The state House and the executive branch is currently controlled by Democrats, while the Senate is controlled by Republicans.

Many other states are operating with a unified government, where one party controls both houses, Lasley said.

"That's when you see more extreme gerrymandering," he said.

A split government leads to a redistricting process which focuses mainly on protecting incumbents, Lasley said.