In Kentucky, redistricting changes little

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Associated Press

Posted on March 31, 2014 at 3:02 PM

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Despite a contentious lawsuit and dramatic regional population shifts, Kentucky's 2013 congressional and legislative redistricting processes have resulted in political stasis.

Kentucky's congressional districts maintained a 5-1 Republican to Democratic split. The Republican-controlled Senate, whose original redistricting maps were overturned by the Kentucky Supreme Court, was still able to reinforce Republican strongholds. The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives likewise strengthened party centers.

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonburg, floated the first congressional maps in 2011 which were met with stiff opposition by the Republican-controlled state Senate for their strongly Democratic leanings. The proposed maps unseated Republicans in the 2nd District, and dealt damage to Republican strongholds in the 1st and 5th Districts. Republicans then controlled four congressional districts of Kentucky's six. Unlike Stumbo's proposed map, the state Senate's proposed congressional map made marginal changes to district lines. Congressional maps were approved only a day after a lawsuit was filed requesting the Kentucky Supreme Court to redraw the districts.

Steve Voss, a political scientist at the University of Kentucky, said though the process of partisan entrenchment can often contribute to federal gridlock, Kentucky's regional concerns more often override partisan divides.

"Prior to Andy Barr beating Ben Chandler (in 2012), people joked that that the 6th District was the Ben Chandler Protection District because clearly he'd picked up places where the Democratic leanings were notable, but the coup that Barr pulled, using the coal issue meant that he was able to beat Chandler much better than expected among this Democratic constituency. And that's one reason why, going into our U.S. Senate election now the coal issue is seen as such a tough one for Grimes and a promising one for McConnell."

With state elections still months away, local party gains and losses remain unclear. Ultimately, the state's legislative redistricting plan created fewer races where incumbents faced each other than in previous years. Currently, only two Democrat and two Republican incumbents are set to run against each other. Counting both the primary and general election, there are currently seven uncontested seats in the state Senate and 38 in the House.

The state legislative maps which passed into law in the same session were contested in the Kentucky Supreme Court and overturned. Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, called the General Assembly into an extraordinary session in the summer of 2013 where new maps were drawn and approved, guided by the majority party in each chamber.

"What we saw in Kentucky at first was very much what you see in general in states with a divided government where both Democrats and Republicans control at least one of the institutions responsible for redistricting," said Voss, "But they kind of overshot their mark in the Senate. The Republicans didn't really get to keep their first plan. In terms of who won the politics, the democrats won because they got to keep their House plan but the Republicans didn't get to keep their Senate plan."

Democrats in both the state Senate have described a fairer process under Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester. His predecessor, David Williams, who presided over previous redistricting plans in his tenure, was chided by both parties for his heavy-handed approach to advancing Republican influence across districts.

"Long before the special session was ever called, Jay Hartz, myself and R.J. Palmer, the leader of the Democratic party in the Senate, had been sitting down discussing ways we could draw the map. And that was probably in January of 2013," said Stivers. "The unwritten rule is that the House will do theirs, and the Senate will do theirs, and we'll get together and negotiate over the congressional districts."

Voss said early Republican compromises tend to pay off for the party.

"If there's likely to be a dispute, you have to ask who is going to be in charge in the courts," Voss said. "And Kentucky's courts, at least when it comes to an issue like that, seem to lean toward Democrats."

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