The ghosts of redistricting past offer hints about what this round could look like

03/28/2011 07:21 AM

In the politics of redistricting, covering your bases takes on a very different meaning, said Mike Ward, a former Democratic state representative who also served as a congressman from Louisville.

Ward was part of the redistricting process in the State House of Representatives in 1992.

Ward said legislators will try and add more precincts with voters of their own party. And at the same time they’ll try to shed neighborhoods heavy in voters of the other party when the lines are re-drawn every ten years.

Another consideration for incumbents: moving potential opponents outside of their districts.

“They would say let’s move that guy or that gal over here,” Ward said, referring to when ambitious potential candidates can be identified in a certain district.

Ward offered several anecdotes from past redistricting sagas.

In the early 1990s, he and Anne Northup, then a Republican representative from Louisville, traded precincts in a mutually beneficial arrangement.

“We shared Bardstown Road,” Ward recounted from the 1992 redistricting. “I had the West side… and she had the other side… so by definition any precinct she wanted to get rid of, I was glad to take. And any district I wanted to take, she was glad to get rid of,” Ward said.

(Northup later defeated Ward in the 1996 congressional race.)

Leaders of the majority party have sometimes pitted two incumbents of the minority party against each other.

“They did that last time with Ron Crimm and Bob Heleringer,” Ward said. He was referring to the 2002 round of redistricting that forced the two Republican incumbents into the same district.

Heleringer ended up not seeking another term, and ran for lieutenant governor on an unsuccessful ticket with Steve Nunn in 2003. Heleringer hasn’t held public office again.

Ward also recounted how former Republican state Rep. Susan Stokes’s vote against the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990 led leaders to essentially draw her out of the state legislature, prompting her to run for Congress.

“She was redistricted into the 41st District — just literally her Census block. Like her house and about four streets,” Ward said. That would have pitted her against longtime Democratic Rep. Tom Riner.

“She therefore couldn’t run for re-election, knowing she would get beat in the general… so she ended up running for Congress,” Ward said.

And Ward said, at times, leadership will give not-so-subtle hints around the time that redistricting comes up to lawmakers who have not been kind to them or oppose their agendas.

“It’s implicit… It’s about as subtle as a hammer,” Ward said.


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.