Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Redistricting may be war

Current General Assembly makeup plagued by partisanship

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Given the political acrimony in the Kentucky General Assembly, congressional and legislative redistricting could spark major battles in Frankfort.

        “There's going to be some differences to work out,” said House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green. “Will there be major fights? I hope not. The House intends to cooperate. We'll just have to wait and see.”

        Using the U.S. Census Bureau population data released Tuesday, the General Assembly is charged with redrawing statehouse districts as well as approving boundaries for the state's six seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

        After Census figures came out in 1991 it took two lawsuits, a Kentucky Supreme Court ruling, a special legislative session and action during a regular session to come up with legislative boundaries.

        This time around the battles may be even more intense — given the partisan climate in the capital.

        Republicans, for the first time, have taken over the majority of the state Senate. The Democrats continue to hold the House of Representatives.

        Based on the legislative session that ends this week, it appears unlikely that the House Democrats and Senate Republicans will be able to come up with new district lines without a fight.

        Little was done during the session and most of the major bills — mandatory garbage collection, workers compensation reform, a crackdown on telemarketing phone calls — died over partisan differences.

        “I don't know if the Democrats will try to redraw districts in such a way that they would have an advantage,” said Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville.

        “So we're just waiting to see if in dealing with the Republican Senate (Democratic) Gov. (Paul) Patton tries to continue his declaration of war that he has had

        the last couple of years.”

        For now, lawmakers can't even agree on when they will deal with redistricting.

        House Democrats say Mr. Patton probably won't call a special legislative session later this year, preferring to wait for the 2002 regular session that begins in January.

        “I think we'll draw a plan, the Senate will draw a plan and we'll go from there,” said House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan, D-Wilder. “But there's no sense in the governor calling a special session if we can't agree on a plan. That would be a waste of time.”

        Mr. Callahan said he fears the Senate will try to gerrymander Democrats out of their districts.

        “If they try that, we will fight it,” he said.

        Mr. Patton has not yet said if he will call a special session.

        But Mr. Williams believes he will.

        “That's what has always happened in the past, and I assume that is what is going to happen this time around,” he said.

        As far as congressional redistricting, U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas — a Boone County Democrat who represents the 22-county 4th District — expects some change to his district, which stretches from Ashland to near Louisville and includes all of Northern Kentucky.

        Mr. Lucas said Tuesday that Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, the point man on redistricting for the Kentucky delegation, has told him the 4th District has grown by 18,000 residents.

        “There will be some change, but I don't think it will be much,” Mr. Lucas said. There has been talk that Mr. Lucas may give up some of the heavily Republican counties in the far western area of the district, possibly Oldham or Shelby counties, in a GOP move to bolster Louisville's 3rd Congressional seat held by Republican Ann Northup.

        Mr. Lucas would then pick up additional counties in Eastern Kentucky.

        “I don't know what the outcome of all that will be, but I'm not that concerned about,” he said. “I am happy to represent Kentuckians, no matter where they live.”

        Once the congressional delegation formulates a plan, it must then be approved by the legislature, Mr. Richards said.

        It has not been decided when that will occur, he said.


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