House easlily passes new district map as many of the 'no' votes complain about split counties

08/21/2013 11:41 AM

This time with wide bipartisan margin, the Kentucky state House on Tuesday approved its new district map for the 2014 election by a vote of 83-17.

“The plan that we are voting on today is certainly a significant step over the last 18 months,” said Republican Leader Jeff Hoover of Jamestown, during the more than an hour-and-a-half worth of debate.

But a half dozen House members went on to outline their concerns with the map, mostly about how it carves up certain counties and in some cases cities into too many districts. For instance, the city of Georgetown in Scott County was divided through its downtown among three districts.

“Spaghetti must be on the menu this week because that’s what Georgetown looks like,” said Rep. Ryan Quarles, who represents all of Scott County in the current map.

Of the 17 ‘no’ votes, two were Democrats — Reps. Jimmie Lee of Elizbethtown, and Rita Smart of Richmond. Also voting against it were Republican Reps. Regina Bunch, C.B. Embry, Joe Fischer, Kim King, Stan Lee, Brian Linder, Donna Mayfield, Ben Waide, Tim Moore, Ryan Quarles, Sal Santoro, Diane St. Onge, Jill York and Addia Wuchner.

The map, which House Democrats unveiled Friday, places four pairs of incumbents into the same districts.

Two pairs are Republicans. Reps. Myron Dossett and Ben Waide in a district that straddles Christian and Hopkins counties, and Reps. Jim DeCesare and C.B. Embry in a district that covers Butler County and part of Warren County.

And two pairs pit Democrats against each other in Eastern Kentucky. Rep. Rocky Adkins, the House Democratic Floor Leader who lives in Catlettsburg would be in the same Boyd County district, the 100th, as Rep. Kevin Sinnette of Ashland. And Morgan County, where Rep. John Will Stacy lives, would be put into the 97th District, represented by Rep. Hubie Collins of Johnson County.

“I guarantee you there’s not another plan in this nation that” affects a majority floor leader, Stumbo said when presenting the bill. “I’m sorry that four Democrats and four Republicans had to be pitted against each other.”

But Hoover said “we all know” those four Democrats won’t run against each other.

The new map creates four open seats, including the 99th District that covers Lewis, Rowan and Elliott counties. One of the four Democrats pitted against each other could move to that district, especially considering Adkins’ current district includes Elliott County and Stacy’s current district includes Rowan. Adkins has said he is considering that, Stacy said he will stay in Morgan County. The other open districts include one in eastern Jefferson County, which favors Republicans, and two potential swing districts: the 49th District in eastern Bullitt County and the 53rd that covers Anderson, Spencer and a piece of Bullitt.

Other lawmakers — such as Republican Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Brownsville — say the map was greatly improved from the controversial version the House tried to pass in March and from the 2012 session that the courts ultimately threw out.

The one from March had pitted 11 Republicans against other incumbents compared to one Democrat (Adkins vs. Rep. Jill York) and 9 Republicans against other incumbents in the 2012 version.

Meredith previously was placed in the same district as Embry and DeCesare. But in the map approved by the chamber Wednesday, Meredith’s district will keep his home county of Edmonson and pick up north Warren County, where he grew up.

The approach this time will help lawmakers come together to tackle much bigger issues, such as the budget and tax reform, in 2014, Meredith said.

The new map splits 24 counties, the mathematically fewest — 22 counties that have more than the ideal population for a House District of about 43,000 plus two additional counties. In this case, those two are Trigg County and Harlan County. Both of those are split among districts under the current map in place since 2002.

But many members from both parties expressed their frustration with that part of the map-making.

“I’m troubled by this process that’s brought us to this point,” said Rep. Rita Smart, D-Richmond. “My county is being punished by this redistricting process.” Smart complained that Madison County is growing but will be carved up into five districts in which only one — Smart, herself — will likely be from the county.

Two lawmakers from Hardin County — Democratic Rep. Jimmie Lee and Republican Rep. Tim Moore — made a similar case about that county, which will be sliced into six districts.

“It needs to be changed — the way that we redistrict in the commonwealth,” Lee said.

Republican Rep. Diane St. Onge, R-Lakeside Park, said she had planned to vote for the map but won’t because her proposed amendment was ignored. It would have changed a few precinct lines between the 63rd District that she represents and the adjacent 69th District.

The debate brought out some regional chest-thumping. Republican Rep. Stan Lee of Lexington said he opposed the plan because Fayette County should have gotten a new district. Right after he spoke, Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge, told the House that the top six districts in population all were Northern Kentucky districts represented by Republicans.

Hoover accused the majority of politically packing Republican districts.

Of the 100 districts, 76 have a majority of registered Democrats compared to just 24 majority Republican districts. He said 80 percent of those majority GOP districts have more than the ideal population of a House district compared to just 42 percent over that threshold for Democrats. Democrats hold a 55-45 majority in the chamber.

“We have to split the minimum number of counties possible. And when you do that, there are some districts that must be maximized and some that would be minimized,” Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said.

Hoover offered the map the GOP drew as an amendment. The Republican alternative plan failed 42-52.

The bill includes an emergency clause. He sought to “dispel concerns” that the emergency provision.

“The only thing it does is mean that the bill becomes effective on the governor’s signature instead of 90 days later,” Stumbo said. Even if a seat opens up before the 2014 general election, that special election would be to finish out the term of the old configuration of the district, Stumbo said.

House members added two minor amendments:

- One altered a few census blocks in Jessamine County so that the district line matches the line between the 2nd and 6th Congressional District that runs through that county. – The other clarifies precinct lines around Fort Campbell in lines between the 5th, 8th and 9th Districts that cover parts of Christian County.

(Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly listed Rep. David Meade as voting against the bill. He voted for it. And it left out Rep. Ben Waide of Madisonville, who did vote against it.)

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