By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
Word came Wednesday that House Democrats had largely pieced together a new legislative district map for the House — but the more people one talked to, the less accurate that seemed.
Last year the two chambers — the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate — each passed their own district maps, drawn to benefit the incumbents in the respective majority party.
But House Republicans sued and the courts eventually declared the plan unconstitutional because, among other reasons, each had at least one district with too great a population variance from the norm and the House plan split too many counties.
That left the state without a state legislative map, something which must be corrected in advance of the 2014 elections. House Democrats want to approve a plan this session while Senate Republicans want to wait until the 2014 session that convenes next January.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has proposed the House pass its plan and ask the Senate to approve it. He says the House will agree to pass the Senate plan whenever it is passed in that chamber.
Eastern Kentucky House Democrats have an additional problem – that area of the state lost population, which means those districts must expand to pick up voters. But Democrats don’t want to combine portions of existing districts to balance populations by district because they want to protect Democratic incumbents.
The “mountain caucus” met Tuesday evening and reportedly reviewed as many as nine potential maps. On Wednesday, Stumbo said they’d settled on one which would place Republican Jill York of Grayson in the same district with Majority Leader Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook. (Last year’s map did the same before the courts threw it out.)
Stumbo said it would also place freshman Republican Toby Herald of Beattyville in the same district with Democrat John Will Stacy of West Liberty.
Stumbo said that map had been delivered to Caucus Chair Sannie Overly so the eastern Kentucky districts could be merged to fit with districts in central Kentucky.
“As far as I know, the only piece left is central Kentucky,” Stumbo said. He said the western Kentucky and Louisville regions were largely set.
Adkins loses a couple of precincts in Boyd County, Stumbo said, but he retains most of his current Boyd County precincts. He said the plan splits the minimum number of counties (26) that passes court muster.
He also said the district of Rep. Kevin Sinnette, D-Ashland, remained largely intact under the new map. Apparently one of the rejected maps would have merged part of Sinnette’s district in Ashland with Carter County.
But Adkins later said he isn’t sure the mountain districts are finally set.
Adkins said he wished to meet with Stumbo and there might remain “some massaging” of the eastern Kentucky districts.
“We’re still looking, I think,” Adkins said. “I’m sitting back down with the Speaker to have some final conversations to say is this the final plan. Until we do that, I’d like to reserve my comments.”
Adkins said he will likely lose precincts and voters in Boyd County he has represented for 26 years, and that, Adkins said, is hard to do.
“Everyone says redistricting is political – and it is,” Adkins said. “But it’s personal, too.”
Republican Minority Leader Jeff Hoover of Jamestown said Republicans still haven’t seen a map, although he’d heard rumors York and Adkins would be placed in the same district and that Herald and Stacy might also be placed in one district.
Stumbo wants the House to pass a plan which meets the courts’ guidelines in case there’s another court challenge. He said if the legislature has approved a House plan which complies with those guidelines, the court is less likely to draw a House map of its own if there is another challenge.
But Hoover said he can’t see the Republican Senate passing the House plan just on the assurance by Stumbo that the House will pass the ultimate Senate plan. While that has been the “gentleman’s agreement” in the past, that agreement was contingent upon passing each plan at the same time.
Because no statewide map has been made public, it’s difficult to judge what might occur in other parts of the state. But Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, and Rep. C.B. Embry, R-Morgantown, said they won’t be surprised if Democrats try to pair them up again.
That’s what happened last year with the plan ultimately rejected by the courts. But neither Repub-lican had been shown a map which indicated where they’ll be placed.
Rep. Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow, said he believes his district in Barren County will likely be unchanged in any substantial way.
Hoover said because of population growth in Republican areas like northern Kentucky and central Kentucky, he believes it will be next to impossible to draw a statewide map without at least one likely Republican pick-up district.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.