House GOP feeling redistricting's bite - legislative issues ignored, stalled

Larry Dale Keeling
Lexington Herald-Leader
March 10, 2013

FRANKFORT This and that as the warm, fuzzy aura in the state Capitol dissipates and everyone realizes a kinder, gentler General Assembly session can still end in the same sort of train wreck we witnessed annually back in the day when exchanges of pleasantries in the hallways were sometimes XXX-rated.

After writing those words, it occurred to me the era of XXX-rated pleasantries may not have ended yet. When House Republicans got a look at their Democratic counterparts' redistricting plan the other day, I feel confident one or two or maybe even 12 of them at least muttered a few words worthy of bleeping.

Being a member of the minority party in any legislative body bites. In state legislatures, it never bites more painfully than when the majority party controls redistricting.

House Republicans found out just how painful when the chamber's Democratic majority approved a plan putting 12 incumbent Republicans in districts with other incumbents (11 of them other Republicans) and creating seven districts without incumbents.

Senate Republicans have said they don't want to do redistricting during this session. And with just four days remaining, it would be surprising if they change their minds. But House Republicans now know what awaits them when redistricting does get done, whether in a special session later this year or in the 2014 regular session.

It isn't nice. It isn't fair. It isn't pretty. But it's the way the redistricting game goes. And lest anyone feel too much sympathy for House Republicans, just remember Senate Democrats will be sharing their pain whenever the Republican majority in that chamber rolls out its redistricting plan.

Obviously, the House Democrats' plan is an attempt to reverse recent Republican gains in the chamber and increase their current 55-45 advantage by winning some of those seven open seats in 2014.

But the location of the districts suggests they'll be lucky to pick up more than a couple of them, if any. The two new urban districts are in parts of Fayette and Jefferson counties where Republicans should be competitive or even favored.

And the five districts scattered around the rest of the state are in areas that increasingly have trended Republican in recent elections.

Since the legislative redistricting plan enacted last year was declared unconstitutional, you would think House leaders would avoid doing anything that could cause their new plan to be challenged in court. But their decision not to count federal prisoners in calculating the population of districts at least raises that possibility, however remotely.

I guess some habits are too hard to break, and pushing the envelope to gain any political advantage you can is one of them.

After considerable thought, I've decided Bob Dylan's You Ain't Goin' Nowhere is the perfect theme song for the 2013 General Assembly.

Pension reform, one of the co-biggies on the agenda coming into the session, looks like it ain't goin' nowhere. If House Speaker Greg Stumbo has his way, proposed hemp legislation ain't goin' nowhere. A bill that would make it easier for members of the military (and other Kentuckians) who are overseas to vote is struggling to go somewhere, but it ain't got there yet. Likewise a bill that would require more reporting and transparency for special taxing districts.

Tax reform, the other co-biggie coming in, never showed up to even try to go anywhere.

Ain't it a shame?

And if Kentucky lawmakers ain't ashamed, they should be.