FRANKFORT (AP) — Democratic leaders in the House are pushing a legislative redistricting plan that could strengthen their majority by forcing 11 Republicans to run against each other next year.
Within the new plan, Bell County continues to have one legislative district under the proposed plan.
There are a few changes in the works for Harlan County. Under the current plan, Harlan has four legislative districts. If the new plan passes, Harlan will only have two or three districts.
The House State Government Committee on Tuesday approved the plan, which passed along party lines. All Republicans voted no.
It remains to be seen whether the Republican-controlled Senate will approve the House plan with six working days remaining in the legislative session.
The Senate has opted to wait until next year to deal with its own redistricting plan, and moving ahead with the Democrat-led House’s version this year would remove a political bargaining chip. Each chamber traditionally approves the other’s plan without changes.
Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he’s willing to publicly pledge that House Democrats would pass the Senate plan as proposed next year if the Senate moves ahead with the House plan this year.
Always a divisive issue, redistricting occurs every 10 years to account for population changes found by the U.S. Census Bureau. Kentucky’s overall population grew from 4 million to 4.3 million between 2000 and 2010. The change required a major reconfiguration of legislative districts, which in the House must represent roughly 43,000 people.
The proposed map would negatively affect incumbent Republicans across the state and strengthen the Democrat’s majority that now stands at 55-45.
In western Kentucky, the plan would pit Rep. Steven Rudy of Paducah against Rep. Richard Heath of Mayfield. Rep. Lynn Bechler of Marion would face off against Rep. Ben Waide of Madisonville. And in one case, three GOP representatives — Jim DeCesare of Rockfield, C.B. Embry Jr. of Morgantown and Michael Meredith of Brownsville — would compete for a single seat if all choose to seek re-election.
In eastern Kentucky, Rep. Marie Rader of McKee would run against Rep. Toby Herald of Beattyville. And the one Democrat who would be affected, Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook, would take on Rep. Jill York of Grayson.
The plan for central Kentucky places Rep. Mike Harmon of Danville in the same district as Rep. Jonathan Shell of Lancaster.
Rader said she’s not surprised by the proposal given that eastern Kentucky’s population loss requires some redrawing of the districts. She also noted the fact that the majority party in each chamber draws the map. She hasn’t decided if she’ll run against Herald, a fellow Republican and freshman House member.
“I’ll try to work with my colleague and see what the best place is for him and for me and we’ll go from there,” Rader said.
The House’s plan creates seven new districts that have no incumbent lawmakers living in them.
Stumbo insisted that this year’s plan wasn’t political — but an attempt to follow the directions of Kentucky’s Supreme Court.
The court struck down the redistricting plan the House passed last year, finding the proposed districts were unbalanced by population and didn’t comply with the federal and state “one person, one vote” mandate that requires each district to have equal voting power by population. Specifically, Stumbo said the ruling prevented the House from splitting up more than two additional counties with smaller populations.