Now that the 2020 Census is complete, Kentucky will embark upon another round of redistricting, the process in which lawmakers draw new boundaries for the legislature and the state’s six congressional districts.
The process is often criticized as “gerrymandering” because politicians tend to draw districts that favor the majority party.
Critics from both parties have long proposed ways to reform the process, but haven’t had much success getting lawmakers to change the process.
Back in 2014, Democrats controlled the Kentucky House of Representatives, as they had every year since the 1920s.
Republican Rep. Tim Moore was running for reelection, but found himself running in a new district. That’s because the Democratic-led House had just drawn a new map that changed the district where his home was located.
“Miraculously, none of the majority members found themselves running against one another, but many minority members found themselves running against one another, or essentially districted out,” Moore said in a recent interview.
The legislature had just passed a new set of redistricting maps after the initial ones had been struck down in court in 2012 for having too many population disparities between districts and dividing too many counties.
But the Democratic-led House and Republican-led Senate were still able to draw districts that attempted to preserve their majorities, a process often dubbed “gerrymandering,” Moore said.
Still, Moore, who was in the minority, was able to win reelection three more times.
“My values and my recognition of those needs, desires and wants matched up with my previous district and matched up with my new district, so it worked out,” Moore said.
Moore resigned last year, but when he was in the statehouse, he became a proponent of redistricting reform. He proposed a bill that would have created a 12-member independent commission that would have advised the legislature on redistricting.
“No party, no individual should have ultimate say and sway,” Moore said. “Especially on something regarding districting. That’s where they try to gain an advantage, and we should just not tolerate that.”
And now that mantle of redistricting reform has largely been taken up by Democratic legislators, who lost their majority in the House back in 2016.
This will be the first time in state history that Republicans have had control of both the House and Senate during the redistricting process..
Democratic Rep. Joe Graviss prefiled a bill for the upcoming legislative session that would create an independent redistricting commission. He predicts that Republicans will try to punish Democratic lawmakers during the redistricting process.
“The public is about to get the wrath of that payback,” Graviss said.
But Graviss won’t be in the statehouse next year. He didn’t seek reelection to his House seat so he could run for the state Senate, but lost.
And he said Republicans aren’t interested in taking up the bill because they were in the minority for so many years, and they’re looking to preserve their newfound majorities.
“The Democrats did the exact same thing, and that was another comment that the Republicans made. The Democrats owned the pen for decades, now it’s our turn,” Graviss said.
Republicans reached a new high-water mark in the legislature during this year’s elections, securing 75 out of 100 seats in the House and 30 out of 38 seats in the Senate.
But Dee Pregliasco with the Kentucky League of Women Voters said that reforming the redistricting process shouldn’t be a partisan issue.
“What our goal is that the voters choose their representatives instead of the representatives choosing the voters,” Pregliasco said.
The League has been pushing for a redistricting reform bill in recent years and helped Graviss author his measure.
That bill would create a fifteen-member panel to advise the legislature on new maps, with members appointed by the majority and minority parties of the House and Senate, and secretary of state.
Pregliasco said the process would be less secretive than the current map-drawing done behind closed doors.
“For us, that old adage is sort of, you know, if people know what’s happening, and they know about it and they’ve had a say and they’re involved, then they can accept it. It’s good government,” Pregliasco said.
The redistricting process might not be able to begin in earnest until next year’s legislative session because the coronavirus pandemic has delayed the Census Bureau’s release of population data to legislatures.
Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear does have the power to veto any maps, but he could be easily overridden by a majority of votes in both the House and Senate.