FRANKFORT — The Democrat-led House of Representatives passed a redistricting bill Wednesday in a move that some local legislators believe is politically motivated.
Under the redistricting, the areas represented by state Rep. Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster, and Rep. Mike Harmon, R-Boyle, would become one seat.
The redistricting plan “is a real disappointment, honestly,” Harmon said. “Jonathan is a wonderful individual. We have needed fresh, conservative blood up here. Neither one of us would want to run against each other.”
Shell currently represents part of Madison County, the area in which his wife, Brooke, was born and raised. Under the redistricting plan, Shell would no longer represent any Madison constituents.
“Please don’t misunderstand me; I think Boyle is a great county with fine people,” Jonathan Shell said. “But Brooke and I have a very strong bond with the people of Madison County.”
Shell and Harmon both pointed out that the redistricting literally pits Republicans against each other, but does not create a situation where Democrats could be compelled to compete within their own party.
“Unfortunately, Frankfort can be a very frustrating place,” Shell said. “But there are still plenty of good men and women up here who want to try to do the right thing for Kentuckians, one day at a time.”
The Democratic-controlled House voted 53-46 along party lines for the measure, which now moves to the GOP-led Senate, where it faces an uncertain future. If the Senate passes the bill, 12 Republicans statewide would potentially face each other in the 2014 election.
House Republicans made emotional pleas not to pass the legislation, saying it was born out of “purely partisan politics.”
“Nobody did it to be punitive to anybody in this chamber; I can assure you of that,” House Speaker Greg Stumbo said in his pitch for the measure, drawing guffaws from Republican lawmakers.
House Republican Floor Leader Jeff Hoover called the legislation “another political play” by Democrats who want to protect their 55-45 majority in the House. “I understand that,” he said. “But is it fair?”
The Senate opted to wait until next year to deal with its own redistricting plan. And it remains to be seen whether the Senate will approve the House plan with five working days remaining in the legislative session. By moving ahead with the House’s version this year, the Senate would remove a political bargaining chip next year.
Stumbo said he’s willing to publicly pledge that House Democrats would pass the Senate plan as proposed next year if the Senate moves ahead with the House plan this year.
Always a divisive issue, redistricting occurs every 10 years to account for population changes found by the U.S. Census Bureau. Kentucky’s overall population grew from 4 million to 4.3 million between 2000 and 2010. The change requires a major reconfiguration of legislative districts in both the House and Senate.
The proposed House districts would pit Republican Reps. Steven Rudy of Paducah and Richard Heath of Mayfield against each other in far western Kentucky.
Republican Reps. Lynn Bechler of Marion and Ben Waide of Madisonville would be in the same district. And in south-central Kentucky, three GOP representatives — Jim DeCesare of Rockfield, C.B. Embry Jr. of Morgantown and Michael Meredith of Brownsville — would compete for a single seat if all choose to seek re-election.
In eastern Kentucky, Rep. Marie Rader of McKee would have to run against Rep. Toby Herald of Beattyville, a fellow Republican. And the one Democrat who would be affected, Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook, would take on Republican Rep. Jill York of Grayson.
The Associated Press also contributed to this story.