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Republican redistricting plans pass Kentucky legislature, head to Beshear

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Ryan Van Velzer
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WFPL

Republicans will have an even easier time getting elected in Kentucky under new political maps for the legislature and Congress passed by lawmakers on Saturday.

The redistricting plans now head to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who can sign or veto them. But GOP lawmakers can easily override the governor’s veto with a majority vote in each legislative chamber.

Democrats panned the maps for slicing the state into politically convenient districts for the GOP. Republicans argued that changes were necessary because of population shifts and that the maps meet legal requirements laid out in the state Constitution.

Republican Rep. Jerry Miller of Louisville was the chief map drawer for the House.

“We could’ve drawn this district or that district differently, but I assure you these maps fully meet our obligations to the law and the citizens of Kentucky,” Miller said.

This is the first time Republicans have been fully in charge of the redistricting process in Kentucky, after securing both chambers of the legislature for the first time in state history in 2016.

After the redistricting plans passed on Saturday, University of Kentucky election law professor Josh Douglas tweeted that the maps are “almost certainly unlawful” for improperly dividing up minority voters.

“These numbers confirm there are ZERO Black-majority districts in the proposed KY House map. You can’t add different minority groups to satisfy the Voting Rights Act,” Douglas wrote.

When they were still in the minority in the House, Republicans successfully challenged the Democratic redistricting plans in 2012, arguing they had too many population disparities between districts and divided too many counties.

On Saturday, Democrats made similar arguments, saying the Republican-drawn maps unnecessarily split populous counties in order to ensure Republican victories at the ballot box.

Democratic Leader Joni Jenkins of Louisville said Republicans are “diluting the voices of urban centers when we know populations are headed toward urban centers.”

Though overall Kentucky’s population increased by 3.8% over the last decade, there were rapid shifts in population from rural eastern and western parts of the state.

Areas around Louisville, Lexington, northern Kentucky and Bowling Green experienced the largest population increases, according to the U.S.Census. Under the new maps, those areas were split among even more legislative districts than they previously were, taking slivers of urban centers and combining them with surrounding districts in urban areas.

Rep. Patti Minter is a Democrat from Bowling Green.

“There was no reason to split precincts in downtown Bowling Green unless you’re trying to dilute communities of interest,” Minter said.

Republican House Speaker David Osborne of Prospect said Democrats had an opportunity to weigh in on redistricting earlier in the process, but never proposed complete maps.

“You were given a homework assignment. You turn it in late, you turn it in incomplete and you’re mad because we aced the test,” Osborne said.

The plans also move the Democratic-leaning area around Frankfort out of the 6th Congressional district in central Kentucky, bolstering the likelihood that the seat will remain Republican for years to come.

Republican map drawers did that by extending Kentucky’s 1st Congressional district from the westernmost tip of the state over 300 miles to Franklin County. That gives current U.S. Rep. James Comer the option to live in his southern Kentucky home in Tompkinsville or one he’s owned for the past ten years in Frankfort.

Democratic Rep. Derrick Graham of Frankfort said his home county shouldn’t be looped in with the western Kentucky congressional district.

“Franklin County shares a lot of bonds with western Kentucky, but we should not share a congressman. The heart of that district is more than 200 miles away,” Graham said.

Ryland is the state capitol reporter for the Kentucky Public Radio Network, a group of public radio stations including WKU Public Radio. A native of Lexington, Ryland has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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