By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
While attorneys argued before a judge about the constitutionality of the state legislative redistricting plan, the General Assembly has extended the filing deadline for congressional races — because lawmakers can’t agree on a map for congressional districts.
Leaders of the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-controlled House have been unable to agree on a new map of congressional districts. House Democrats, led by Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, want to shift some key counties to make the 1st District in western Kentucky more compact and to create a “mountain district” — and a more Democratic district — in the east. Republicans, led by State Government Committee Chair Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, and Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, say the map should be drawn to resemble current districts adjusted only for population shifts.
Stumbo said Monday he’d been in conversations with Senate Majority Leader Sen. Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, about some sort of compromise which might end the impasse.
“I had a good talk with Sen. Stivers this afternoon, and I think he’s working on a map,” said Stumbo. “I haven’t seen the map but I think there’s enough indication that we may be able to formulate a plan in the next couple of days.”
But the filing deadline for congress was set for Tuesday; so Friday the Senate passed a one-week extension, to Feb. 7, and Monday afternoon the House passed the Senate’s bill to extend the deadline. But Stumbo said if the two sides are unable to reach agreement in the next week, then it’s likely no plan will be passed and “let the courts get started on it.”
Meanwhile, Franklin Circuit Court Monday morning was the scene of a hearing sought by House Republicans who claim the re-districting plan drawn by House Democrats is unconstitutional. They are asking for an injunction to halt the plan and delay the filing deadline. (The plan contains both House and Senate districts, each drawn by the majority party in the respective chamber, and then by agreement passed by the other without changes.) The House plan combines several Republican incumbents in the same districts, splits more than the minimum number of counties and creates what Republicans say are politically motivated, gerrymandered districts.
Democrats in the Senate are also unhappy, especially Sen. Kathy Stein of Lexington. Her district was renumbered and moved. As a result the district she lives in won’t be on this year’s ballot but she cannot run in her old 13th District, which is on this year’s ballot, because it’s been moved east and she does not live in that district.
Judge Phillip Shepherd allowed Stein to join the suit as a plaintiff Monday and attorneys for all sides argued their cases. Shepherd did not rule, but said after he reviews the pleadings and previous court rulings on re-districting; he will issue a ruling by the end of the day Tuesday.
Rep. Joe Fischer, R-Ft. Thomas, one of the plaintiffs said Monday afternoon he was encouraged by the morning’s hearing, saying Shepherd appeared “very much interested in our arguments.”
“I think we made a strong and compelling argument that the citizens of this state would be harmed by going forward under this re-districting scheme,” Fischer said.
Stumbo said Shepherd gave no indication he would sustain the request for an injunction which Stumbo said “is the correct ruling on the law.”
Stumbo said he didn’t want to predict how Shepherd will rule but said he believes the case is likely to go forward but without an injunction.
“That’s what’s been done in the past in these kinds of cases,” Stumbo said. He said the case is likely to be in the courts for a couple of years.
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.