By John Dyche
Republicans in the Kentucky House of Representatives have proposed a redistricting plan that is constitutional, fair, and saves money. Not surprisingly, Democratic Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo does not like it.
Redistricting is supposed to happen after the census each decade to restore the representational principle of "one person, one vote" after population shifts. Thanks largely to Stumbo, who consistently puts personal power and partisan politics before the public interest, Kentucky is still waiting.
In 2012, Stumbo and his House Democrats passed a redistricting plan unconstitutional on its face. The courts quickly struck it down. Taxpayers had to pick up the tab in the form of hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuit costs. (Disclosure: The writer was an attorney representing the successful plaintiffs.)
The Republican-controlled Kentucky Senate and Governor Steve Beshear were complicit in that costly fiasco. The Senate not only went along with the patently unconstitutional House plan, but also passed a plan for their own chamber that improperly did political damage to liberal Lexington Democrat Kathy Stein and her constituents. Disregarding his duty to uphold the Constitution, Beshear signed the entire mess into law despite its obvious defects.
The 2012 elections went forward using old districts. That means some areas, like Northern Kentucky, are underrepresented and others, like Eastern Kentucky, are overrepresented.
Earlier this year Stumbo proffered another plan. It once again reflected his paramount priority of helping Democrats and hurting Republicans regardless of the cost or harm to the public interest. It was also probably unconstitutional because it counted population differently than was done for congressional redistricting.
The Senate, by then under the leadership of Republican Robert Stivers, prudently refused to take up Stumbo's flawed measure. Two groups of citizens then filed federal suits demanding redistricting and asking that the courts do it if necessary.
Beshear put redistricting on the agenda for an expensive special legislative session that begins on Monday, August 19. Judging from the pre-session jockeying there is no guarantee that it will produce a constitutional redistricting plan.
The House Republican plan puts eight current House members together in districts. One district has two incumbent Republicans, another two incumbent Democrats, and two other districts pair one incumbent from each party. The GOP proposal creates four districts where there is no incumbent.
It splits the minimum number of counties permitted by constitutional law, divides only two precincts in the state (and none of them three ways), and thus saves taxpayers and local governments approximately $1.5 million in election costs compared to the last Democratic plan. By comparison, Stumbo's last plan split 153 precincts two ways, and four precincts three ways. It also pitted 13 House incumbents against another, including pairs of Republicans in five districts, but no incumbent Democrats were in the same district.
The virtues of the Republican plan are contrary to everything Stumbo stands for. He will instead introduce another plan designed to protect his party's House majority and thus his powerful position as Speaker. But Kentucky is steadily becoming more Republican, and that trend will eventually produce a GOP House despite Stumbo's best efforts to rig the game in favor of Democrats.
The House and the Senate traditionally defer to each other's redistricting plan and pass whatever the other chamber proposes for itself. But this time Stivers and the Senate should insist on the Republican House redistricting plan or something very much like it.
Yes, doing so might mean that House Democrats will refuse to pass the Senate GOP's recently released Senate redistricting plan. That plan is also constitutional, fair, and enjoys bipartisan backing because it does not pit any senators against each other.
So what if the Stumbo stubbornly balks? If there is a stand-off such that no redistricting bill passes it simply means that the federal court will draw the new boundaries for both chambers.
Stivers says it would be bad for the legislature to abdicate redistricting responsibility to the courts. It would be worse to let Stumbo cram an unconstitutional or unfair plan down Kentucky's throat – again.
Judges cannot possibly do any worse than the hyper-partisan Stumbo will. And the Senate's Republican majority should be secure regardless of what the new districts are.
When Republican David Williams ran the Senate the media and much of the public blamed him for almost all of Frankfort's dysfunction. But Williams is gone, having been appointed to a judgeship by Beshear, and it is apparent that Stumbo is the problem now.
His reprehensible role in the redistricting drama thus far suggests that real reform will require still more new leadership. It will be a shame if the Senate once again makes a deal with this Democratic devil that results in House redistricting that is unconstitutional, unfair, or wastes money.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is email@example.com.