By Nita Johnson
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
With statewide redistricting in the wings, House Republicans submitted their proposal early, a move which would split Laurel County into five separate districts.
Currently the county is divided into four districts and is represented in the House by Tommy Turner in the 85th district, Marie Rader in the 89th, Jim Stewart in the 86th, and Regina Bunch in the 82nd.
The new Republican proposal, however, will edge part of Laurel County into the 90th district, taking the largest part of the London precincts in addition to Bush, Lake, Blackwater, and Johnson precincts into Representative Tim Couch's 90th district.
Representatives with the Kentucky House Republicans said the reason for the split of the Laurel precincts is due to a loss of population in the Leslie and Harlan county areas, thus requiring some shifting of the population into other representative districts.
The largest Laurel district is the 85th, represented by Tommy Turner, includes a large portion of eastern Pulaski County and the western part of Laurel County. Although the Republican Caucus representatives said much of the Pulaski territory bordering the Laurel County line is a "large geographic area with little population," the Pulaski County residents included in the 85th district still outnumber the Laurel residents by nearly 10,000 people.
Laurel County residents are the smallest number in each of the five proposed districts. In the 90th district, only 12,438 residents are represented with Leslie and Harlan counties. The 89th district which is represented by Marie Rader will only have 5,547 residents represented against residents in Jackson, Lee, Breathitt and Owsley counties.
The 86th district, which includes Knox County, has 13,452 Laurel residents represented, while the Whitley County area and the southern Laurel County precincts of the 82nd District, represented by Regina Bunch, has only 9,747 Laurel residents.
But the split is a necessary measure, according to officials with the Kentucky House Republican Caucus’ office in Frankfort.
House Republican Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, Republican from Jamestown, and several county clerks, released the redistricting plan last Thursday.
“We believe our redistricting plan is a fair plan for Kentucky and our constituents, who have grown tired of the back room politics and the thousands of taxpayer dollars spent on blatantly partisan and unconstitutional plans offered in the past two years,” Hoover said during a press conference at the Kentucky State Capitol when the plan was revealed. The Republican plan has several attributes that Hoover outlined:
• Splits the minimum number of counties (24) as required by the Kentucky Supreme Court.
• Splits only two precincts in the entire state, and does not split any districts three ways. This saves taxpayers and county governments approximately $1.5 million as compared to the most recent map proposed by House Democrats.
• Places eight current House members together: one district with two Republicans, one district with two Democrats, and two districts with incumbents from both parties.
This plan differs from the House redistricting plan that was pushed by the House majority earlier this year in that the previous plan split 153 precincts two ways and four precincts three ways, as well as placing 13 house incumbents against each other. With that plan, five districts put Republicans vying against one another, another put a Republican and Democrat pitted against each other, but none that put incumbent Democrats against one another.
The new Republican Caucus’ plan also increases the number of African-Americans in Districts 42, 43, and 44 under House Bill 1 of the 2013 session.
While it is still some time before the proposed redistricting is finalized and approved, the Democratic Caucus has already been looking into its possibilities. Greg Stumbo, speaker of the House, has reportedly said the Democrats will submit their proposal very soon.
Members of the Republican Caucus said their proposal is more fair than any Democratic splits, since their goal was to not split any precincts across the state. The cost of splitting precincts can run as much as $10,000 each, a representative said.
“We believe so strongly that our redistricting plan is the best and most fair to be offered in the last three years that we are offering copies to every House Democrat who wants it,” Hoover added.
Oldham County Clerk Julie Barr, president of the Kentucky County Clerks Association, also supports the plan.
“The previous redistricting plans would have resulted in unnecessary expenditures of approximately $1.5 million for our county clerks, many of whom are strapped for cash,” said House Republican Whip John “Bam” Carney, a Republican from Campbellsville. “It would also have led to confusion and further apathy for the millions of registered voters in the Commonwealth.