Local legislators decry political excesses of redistricting

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State senator vows to fight median plan for U.S. 31W

By Ben Sheroan

During impromptu remarks at a breakfast gathering Thursday, two local legislators pledged to ensure northern Hardin County gets a fair shake when the General Assembly redraws its boundaries.

The state is required to redistrict after every census, but previous efforts in 2012 and earlier this year have failed or been rejected by the courts. Districts are required to have a population balance to ensure voters around the state carry the same relative value.

“We need to make sure that Radcliff, Vine Grove and the north end of the county is treated fairly in any redistricting we do,” state Sen. Dennis Parrett said.

Previous plans for dividing the state into 100 House districts have diced Radcliff in three or four parts.

“That’s pure politics and it needs to go away,” Parrett said.

While the legislature is required to avoid splitting counties whenever possible, the same standard does not apply to city boundaries. As one of the state’s 20 most populated communities in Kentucky, its treatment seems unfair to Radcliff leaders.

With more than 105,000 residents, Hardin County has enough population to justify two entire legislative districts. However, neighboring clusters of counties don’t meet the required minimum and previous redistricting maps have treated Hardin County as “a donor county,” Parrett told the Chamber Breakfast Club gathering at Colvin Community Center.

Parrett, a Democrat, and state Rep. Tim Moore, a Republican, have introduced bills aimed at removing political influences in drawing legislative boundaries. Although their bills differ in detail, both are aimed at having future redistricting plans developed by independent panels rather than legislative leadership.

Neither bill has received traction in the General Assembly.

Moore, who represents the 26th District which has been dramatically reshaped in previous proposals, said his political fate is not the issue. The legislature, particularly each chamber’s majority party, places undue attention on protecting incumbents when developing its plan.

“The 26th District belongs to the people who live there. It’s not my district,” Moore said. “The mentality that the districts belong to the currently serving legislator is what got us into this present situation.”

Three years removed from the 2010 Census, the legislature is expected to be called into special session to take up redistricting later this year. Recent lawsuits challenging upcoming elections have created pressure for Gov. Steve Beshear to return legislators to Frankfort to resolve the matter.

Also during Thursday’s meeting, Parrett pledged to support Radcliff Mayor J.J. Duvall in his efforts to convince the Transportation Cabinet to revise plans for U.S. 31W in Hardin County’s heavily traveled business districts.

The cabinet is moving forward with a $5 million plan to build a series of U-turns throughout the median from the U.S. 31W Bypass in Elizabethtown to the Wilson Road overpass in Radcliff.

Aimed at reducing wrecks, Duvall believes the move will stiffle business development, create new bottlenecks and increase emergency response time because fire trucks cannot navigate the turns.

Instead, he suggests the state create deceleration lanes through the medians. That approach, used on the north end of U.S. 31W in Radcliff, is more familiar to motorists and effectively reduces collisions without prohibiting commercial traffic, he has said.

“We’re going to fight it,” Parrett said to applause. “We do not need these barriers. It’s not just bad for business. I think it’s dangerous.”

Moore did not address the barrier issue during his remarks. Later in an interview, he said the U-turn concept was developed after consultation with community members and public meetings. He said alternatives or any reconsideration should be reviewed in a similar manner.

Ben Sheroan can be reached at (270) 505-1764 or bsheroan@thenewsenterprise.com.