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August 27, 2013

Redistricting passes: Maps’ fate in federal judges’ hands

(Continued)

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —

A handful of senators — Robin Webb, D-Grayson, Jimmie Higdon, R-Lebanon, and Brandon Smith, R-Hazard — said they weren’t happy at losing some counties they’d previously represented, but they all supported the plan and said it is fair and reasonable.

The House map splits the minimum number of counties and pits eight incumbents — four Democrats and four Republicans — in districts with another incumbent. That raised fewer objections than what Republicans say is “packing” of Republican-majority districts at the maximum level above the ideal population size while remaining inside the 5 percent deviation ceiling.

Diane St. Onge, R-Lakeside Park, repeated northern Kentucky Republicans’ complaint that their districts are packed in order to limit the number of Republicans elected to the House, which she said under-represents those voters.

She also pointed to earlier complaints by Democrats Rita Smart of Richmond that Madison County was split five ways and Jimmie Lee of Elizabethtown that Hardin County is split six ways. Smart and Lee were the only two Democrats to vote against the plan.

But with little more debate, the bill passed the House 79-18.

Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he hoped the federal judges interpret the wide bipartisan support as proof the plan is fair to minority parties.

The U.S. Constitution requires state legislatures to re-draw legislative districts every 10 years following the U.S. Census count. Typically, majority parties draw maps to benefit their incumbents and punish the minority and plans passed in 2012 by the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate did just that.

But those plans were declared unconstitutional by Kentucky courts. This spring, the Democratic-controlled House passed a map for House districts but the Senate did not act on it or pass one of its own.

Subsequently, two federal lawsuits were filed and a Sept. 23 trial date was set by the federal panel. Last week the court declared the existing maps, drawn in 2002, unconstitutional and prohibited any more elections under that map.

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