In the Herald-Leader on April 23, 2013:
Gov. Steve Beshear signed a bill into law Friday that changes boundaries for legislative districts, potentially ending nearly two years of wrangling by lawmakers over how to redraw the maps.
Three federal judges overseeing the legislature’s efforts will have the final say on the constitutionality of the House and Senate districts that the two chambers signed off on Friday before Beshear signed the bill into law.
“I expect these maps will withstand legal scrutiny, so all Kentuckians can be assured of appropriate representation in the General Assembly,” Beshear said in a statement.
The House voted 79-18 Friday morning to approve the redistricting bill soon after the Senate had passed it 35-2, reflecting broad bipartisan support.
The bill Beshear signed Friday starkly contrasts with a measure passed last year that was struck down as unconstitutional by the Kentucky Supreme Court. That plan would have essentially forced some Republican representatives and Democratic senators out of the legislature. The partisan bickering that resulted from those efforts led to lawsuits that slowed Kentucky’s enactment of new boundary lines.
The Senate State and Local Government Committee made slight changes Thursday to the 13th Senate District in Lexington, held by Sen. Kathy Stein, a Democrat. The committee removed five precincts from Stein’s district, including the home precinct of Elisabeth Jensen, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for Central Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District.
Jensen acknowledged Friday that she had been asked to consider seeking Stein’s seat if Stein is appointed to a vacant seat in Fayette Circuit Court. Stein has said she would be honored to be considered for the judgeship.
Friday’s legislative action is likely to trigger a new round of court motions asking the federal judges to review the new boundaries.
Chris Wiest, a lawyer who represents several Northern Kentucky residents in the federal lawsuit, said there have been concerns that many Republican districts have higher numbers of voters than Democratic districts in the new House map.
The redrawn House boundaries put four incumbent Democrats and four incumbent Republicans in the same districts. The Senate proposal would pit no incumbents against each other.
All kinds of smoke and mirrors then.
And this past Saturday:
Yet, as with other arcane mechanisms, such as your car’s engine, neglect brings on system failure.
Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court has kept open a path to help save democracy from breakdown. Under a June 29 ruling, states are free to shift all or part of the responsibility for apportioning congressional and legislative districts from legislatures to independent commissions.
Now would be the ideal time for Kentucky to join this reform movement. The next Census is five years off — enough breathing room to concentrate on doing what’s right, rather than how to rig the 2022 elections and beyond to advantage particular politicians or parties.
Redistricting is a decennial low point for the General Assembly. The attempt in 2012 was such a brazenly self-serving fiasco that, even before it was thrown out by the courts, Gov. Steve Beshear called for creating a non-partisan, citizen-based group to guide the process in the future.
None of the ideas for reform have gained traction in a legislature unwilling to give up power. But every now and then, lawmakers do what’s best for Kentucky even at their political peril.
With a push from the public, this could be one of those moments. The reward would be competitive elections in districts that represent genuine communities of interest.
Unlike in Arizona, Kentucky can’t initiate a ballot question allowing voters to reform redistricting. Kentucky voters could have a say if the legislature put it to them in the form of a much-needed constitutional amendment. The section in need of change is 124 years old and was tailored for an agrarian state with less than half the current residents.
Equal populations are fundamental to representative districts. Ill-considered state Supreme Court rulings have made it impossible to create districts anywhere close to equal populations without slicing and dicing populous counties. This muffles and distorts the voices of the places where Kentuckians are flocking and that are creating jobs — a loss in representation that hurts the whole state.
It’s been going on all these years. But the state legislature, controlled by a thin Democratic majority, has killed it at every turn.
This is why we can’t have nice things.