Legislators to draw district lines
District boundaries are set to be drawn this week as legislators meet in special session to hash out legislative redistricting.
The General Assembly returns to Frankfort today. The House of Representatives convened at 11 a.m. CDT while the Senate was to begin at 3 p.m. CDT.
New redistricting plans for the House and Senate were passed following the 2010 census, but in February 2012, the Kentucky Supreme Court struck down those plans, saying that they weren’t balanced by population. The court ordered lawmakers to run in old legislative districts and that the lines be redrawn.
On Friday, House Democratic leadership unveiled a redistricting plan that would potentially pit Democratic incumbents against each other in two districts and pit Republican incumbents against each other in two districts.
Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, and Rep. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown, would be in the same district under the proposed House Democratic plan.
Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said he expects support for the plan from Democrats as well as a large number of Republicans.
“I think this is the best plan that I have seen proposed,” Richards said.
Because of Warren County’s large population, it was natural for the county to be divided to help make districts with other counties, as is the case with the district into which DeCesare and Embry would be placed, he said.
“I’ve tried to protect Warren County as best I could,” Richards said.
Senate Republicans unveiled a plan for Senate redistricting Thursday that would avoid putting incumbents in the same district.
Rep. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, said the Senate Republican plan protects incumbents in both parties.
“It is definitely a constitutional, defensible map,” he said.
Wilson said he expects the plan to pass in a minimum of five days with a lot of support.
“I think it will pass overwhelmingly,” he said.
Embry said he wasn’t surprised that he would be in the same district as fellow Republican DeCesare in the House Democratic redistricting plan.
Past plans from House Democratic leadership would have put DeCesare and Embry into a district that would also include Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Brownsville.
Embry said he is considering his options if the most recent proposal is approved.
Those options include a run against DeCesare for a House seat, a run for a Senate seat or leaving the legislature, he said.
He won’t make a final decision until redistricting plans are finalized, which could happen as soon as Friday.
“I have 16 months left to go no matter what happens,” Embry said.
At the end of his current term, Embry will have been in the legislature for 12 years, he said.
“I’ve had a good run,” Embry said.
Meredith said he’s excited about the possibility of representing a portion of Warren County where he was born and where his mother and grandmother once lived, under the proposed House Democratic plan.
“It’s a definite improvement,” he said of the plan.
Meredith said he expects the special session to be concluded quickly, with plans potentially getting final approval Friday.
“We all hate special sessions,” he said.
Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, said House District 22, which he represents, would remain mostly unchanged in the House Democratic plan.
“To be a rural district, it’s pretty compact, and the people have similar interests,” he said.
House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, presented a redistricting plan for the House earlier this month that would pair two Democratic incumbents in a district together and two Republican incumbents in districts together. It would also create two districts where incumbents from opposite parties would potentially face each other.
During his presentation, Hoover also indicated that he might introduce legislation during the special session to set up a redistricting commission to help with the redistricting process in the future.
Richards said he doesn’t support the idea of setting up a bipartisan commission to help draw district lines in the future.
That proposal wouldn’t work any better than the current process, he said.
“It’s still not as bipartisan and as nonpoliticial as you might think it would be,” Richards said.
DeCesare said he supports putting redistricting in the hands of a third party in the future.
“That way we’re not going through what we’re going through right now,” he said.
The priority of that body wouldn’t be to protect the majority party in power, DeCesare said.
However, he said it’s doubtful if such legislation would be passed during the special session, but Hoover’s statement will at least start a discussion.
“It’s not a pressing matter right now,” DeCesare said.
Stone said that, in general, the idea of a redistricting commission is worth looking at. However, he said that no matter what form the process takes, it’s hard to take the politics out of redistricting.
If the process is going to be political, it might as well be done by the legislature, Stone said.
“Sometimes it’s kind of messy, but I think in the end it works OK,” he said.
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Story By Katie Brandenburg
The Daily News, Bowling Green
Kentucky Press Association News Service