- Special Sections
- Public Notices
The General Assembly needs to redistrict. Why’s it so hard?
The objective is fairness and balance, ensuring that the boundaries contain roughly the same number of voters. When completed effectively, the task will balance the number of Kentuckians served by each senator and each representative based on the 2010 Census.
The effort to draw the lines is complicated by other artificial lines already on the state map. We call them county lines. By law, the legislators attempt to split as few counties as possible. The redistricting plan approved by the legislature in 2012 got tossed aside in a court challenge, in part because too many counties were divided.
That court ruling continues to influence the outcome of any redistricting objective. The mandates outlined must be followed or any challenge to the next redistricting plan likely would leave us with no resolution.
But a larger and more significant barrier to the process are personal. Individual legislators and their home addresses significantly drive the outcome.
It’s self preservation and politics at its most basic. Most legislators want to craft boundaries that benefit their own ambitions. They understand voting patterns and are careful to lobby for lines that bypass pockets of people inclined to vote against them. The lines also tend to be crafted with an eye toward potential challengers and easing them into neighboring districts.
The political party in power controls the outcome in each chamber. For the state House, that’s the Democrats. In the Senate, Republicans hold the majority. But their tactics tend to be identical: Help our party and hurt theirs.
It can lead to political pandering at is most basic. Have you been loyal to party leadership? We’ll help you out. Have you too been an independent voice or do you belong to the minority party? Tough luck.
In the end, the process misses its primary objective of fairness and balance. Pure politics overshadows equity.
And most of it gets done behind closed doors.
Here’s an example: A trio of local residents drove to Frankfort to ask Democratic leaders to respect Radcliff’s political boundaries in setting House boundaries. That’s a worthwhile objective. A city of more than 20,000 deserves that type of respect and the 2012 bill sliced the city like a jigsaw puzzle.
But all the talks occur in private offices. Even after returning, these private negotiations are discussed only in whispers and off-the-record conversations.
Missing in the process is one critical point. These districts do not belong to the political parties nor to the legislators currently in office. Each House and Senate seat belongs to the residents and voters.
If Frankfort ever gets that message, it will create an atmosphere of humility rather than sense of entitlement and power. Then, so much more can be accomplished.
Issues as important as these lines on paper should involve open hearings featuring discussion and debate. That’s a point that Sen. Dennis Parrett has repeated in suggesting a non-partisan system for an independent panel to draft a plan. State Rep. Tim Moore attempted to start a similar drive in the House.
Neither have gotten much attention from legislators reluctant to surrender power or those realists who recognize that whatever the independent panel drafts still must be approved by the General Assembly itself.
It’s hard to hope for a better outcome when the inputs never change.
Ben Sheroan is editor of The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at (270) 505-1764 or email@example.com.