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Ky. Senate redistricting maps boost GOP in Congress, legislature

Ryan Van Velzer

Redistricting maps released by the Kentucky Senate would make the state’s congressional and legislative districts friendlier for Republicans.

The congressional plan dramatically changes Kentucky’s 1st Congressional district, snaking from Fulton County in the westernmost tip of the state all the way to Frankfort, 300 miles away.

The move is a boon to current Republican Congressman James Comer, a longtime Kentucky politician who technically lives in Tompkinsville in the southern part of the state but bought a house in Frankfort 10 years ago.

It also makes the 6th Congressional district, currently the only “swing” district in Kentucky, safer for Republicans by removing Democrat-heavy Frankfort. Current 6th district Congressman Andy Barr narrowly won reelection to the seat over Amy McGrath by about 3 percentage points in 2018.

The proposed map for the state Senate divides several large counties, picking off populated areas and combining them with surrounding rural districts.

Led by Bowling Green, Warren County’s population has boomedover the last 10 years and was one of the few areas of the state outside of the “Golden Triangle” – which includes Lexington, Louisville and Frankfort – to vote in favor of Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear in 2019.

The county currently contains all of Senate District 32, but under the new plan, it would be split between three surrounding rural districts.

The plan also further divides up Jefferson, Fayette and northern Kentucky counties that surged in population over the last decade.

The proposed map would leave Fayette County with only one whole Senate district, instead of the current two. Jefferson County’s already tortured-looking districts would contort into new shapes. And in northern Kentucky, the rural 20th Senate district would pick up territory in booming Boone and Kenton Counties.

Senate President Robert Stivers said the proposed map divides as few counties as possible.

“I believe it meets all the requirements that are dictated by state and federal law and is about as fair as you can be in being proportional and not being punitive at all,” Stivers said.

Unlike the proposal the House unveiled for its districts last week, the Senate plan doesn’t place any incumbent lawmakers in the same district.

But some current senators’ districts will be significantly altered. GOP Sen. Adrienne Southworth, a Republican from Lawrenceburg, would represent a district that extends from her home of Anderson County to the suburbs of Louisville, instead of the current version of the 7th district which extends to Warsaw on the Ohio River.

Southworth, who occasionally votes against her Republican colleagues, said the maps show redistricting is a “divide and conquer” process.

“I feel like we need to be coming together on what’s the best policy for the state, not what benefits me, or what benefits my district only,” Southworth said. “This is really bad-looking.”

Senate Democratic Leader Morgan McGarvey, of Louisville, said redistricting shouldn’t be left up to political leaders.

“No matter who is in charge […] the political pressures are too great on partisan people to draw maps in a way that a nonpartisan group would,” McGarvey said.

The Kentucky League of Women Voters has long advocated for opening up the redistricting process to the public and creating a nonpartisan commission to advise on map drawing.

Dee Pregliasco, with the Kentucky League of Women Voters, said lawmakers inappropriately divided counties for political reasons.

“Those divisions appear to have been designed to ensure incumbents, those currently holding office, can continue to do so. In our judgement, districts could have been drawn more constructively if voters, rather than office holders, had been the priority,” Pregliasco said.

Lawmakers still haven’t released precinct-level data that allows people to see the minute details of the districts.

Josh Douglas, an election law professor at the University of Kentucky,wrote in an op-ed on Tuesday saying the maps are hard to decipher and the process has lacked transparency.

“I study election law and I have no clue whether this map complies with the legal requirements of redistricting because the data is not readily available for me to analyze it,” Douglas said.

Republican leaders of the legislature say they want to pass the maps by Saturday—the fastest timeline possible. Both the House and Senate maps passed the first hurdle on Tuesday.

The House Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee also approved a bill delaying the filing deadline for candidates from Jan. 7 to Jan. 25—a move that’s necessary because the redistricting process was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Ryland is the state capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. Always looking to put a face to big issues,Ryland'sreporting has taken him to drought-weary towns in West Texas and relocated communities in rural China. He's covered breaking news like the 2014 shooting at Fort Hood Army Base and the aftermath of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas.
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