FRANKFORT — After weeks of stop-and-start deliberations, the state legislature and Gov. Steve Beshear approved a congressional redistricting plan Friday that has angered some area leaders by moving several local counties into new districts.
The plan takes Boyle, Garrard and Mercer counties out of the 6th Congressional District, represented by Ben Chandler, and moves them to the 2nd District, which stretches west to include Bowling Green, home of current representative Brett Guthrie.
Lincoln County, which had been split between the 6th and 1st Districts, moves into the 5th District represented by Hal Rogers of Somerset.
Lawmakers approved the plan a day after an attorney went to court to ask a judge to take over the issue. The House voted 58-26 for the plan, two hours after the Senate passed it 29-7. The heavily debated measure, which also reopens the congressional filing deadline for five days, was signed into law by Gov. Beshear.
The newly drawn districts were a big disappointment for some in counties like Garrard and Jessamine, which were switched back and forth in previous proposals before the final plan left Garrard and part of Jessamine in the 2nd District.
“It’s disappointing, and a lot of folks in Garrard County are basically disgusted with the whole process,” Wilson said. “Brett Guthrie is a good man and he does a fine job in Congress, but we just have so little in common with that part of the state.”
Boyle Judge-Executive Harold McKinney said he preferred staying in the 6th District with Chandler as a representative but said counties will have to make the best of the new reality.
“I actually like it better than one of the original plans because the districts are more compact,” McKinney said.
Unlike his counterparts, Lincoln Judge-Executive Jim Adams was thrilled with the outcome of a redistricting process that places his county in Hal Rogers’ 5th District. Adams said he was surprised after hearing about less favorable scenarios similar to the ones faced by Boyle, Garrard and Mercer.
“It really works out well for us,” Adams said. “The last I heard, there was still a chance of us being split, but we are whole as a county now as far as our representation.”
State Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, called the proposal the “Ben Chandler Lifetime Employment Act.”
“We’re making this a completely Democratic district,” Kerr said.
Chandler’s Republican opponent in the last election, Andy Barr, who has again filed to run for the 6th District seat, continued to attack the changes to the congressional map as a means of protecting Chandler. Barr won Boyle, Garrard and Mercer and narrowly lost to Chandler in the 2010 general election.
“Today, Ben Chandler has turned his back on tens of thousands of his own constituents by cutting a backroom deal to get rid of them,” Barr said in a statement. “This brazen and desperate attempt to avoid accountability for supporting Barack Obama’s job-killing agenda is exactly why the American people are so disillusioned with politics and career politicians.”
The plan also could help incumbent Republican congressmen, including Rogers. He would keep some key counties that he wanted in the 5th District that he has represented for more than 30 years.
Adams said Chandler had been good to Lincoln County, but he is looking forward to being represented by Rogers, who sits on the powerful House Committee on Appropriations and is known for bringing big projects to his district.
The plan also would keep Owensboro in the 2nd District and Ashland in the 4th District. The House had pressed to shift those cities into the 1st District and 5th District, respectively.
Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, charged that the proposal “packs” the congressional districts in favor of the incumbents — four Republicans and two Democrats — in a way that essentially ensures their re-election.
“This is redistricting gone wild,” he said. “We just gave them a free seat in Congress.”
Lexington attorney Scott White had filed a lawsuit Thursday asking a judge to draw new boundaries around Kentucky’s six congressional districts, because lawmakers had not done so. White said Friday he expects to drop the lawsuit now that lawmakers, spurred by the threat of court intervention, have done their jobs.
White had attached a population summary as an exhibit to the lawsuit, showing that the populations of the congressional districts are unequal. The ideal population for each district is 723,228. The largely rural 5th District has 50,000 fewer residents than it should. Central Kentucky’s more urban 6th District has 35,000 more people than ideal.
The House and Senate had worked for weeks on congressional redistricting but had reached an impasse that was broken on Thursday.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said the conclusion was one “that not everybody is completely happy with” but could garner the votes to get through the General Assembly.
Meanwhile, a court battle still is raging over new district lines for the state Legislature.
The Legislative Research Commission on Friday officially filed an intent to appeal a judge’s ruling that found newly drawn legislative districts to be unconstitutional.
Franklin County Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ordered the secretary of state on Tuesday not to recognize newly redrawn legislative districts. That move forced several lawmakers who are up for re-election this year to file candidacy papers in districts that had been in place for the past decade.
Unhappy with the outcome of the redistricting battle, House Republicans filed suit in January challenging the constitutionality of the new boundaries. A Senate Democrat displaced in the redistricting process joined the lawsuit, which contends that the new districts could have been better balanced by population and redrawn in such a way that fewer counties would have been split among districts.
The new legislative districts produced some oddly shaped boundaries. The 89th House District stretches from the Tennessee border in McCreary County, zigzags narrowly through Laurel County, then encompasses all of Jackson County for a geographic setup that one lawmaker said would require an airplane for travel. One Senate district stretches from Barbourville to Morehead.
Shepherd’s ruling restored old district boundaries and extended the deadline to Friday for legislative candidates to file to run in this year’s elections.
Liberty resident Todd Hoskins filed Friday morning to run for the state Senate seat in the 15th District, which comprises Casey, Russell, Adair and Pulaski counties.
Hoskins, a Republican, had no opposition in a bid for the seat now held by Vernie McGaha, R-Russell Springs. McGaha announced earlier this year that he is retiring from the Senate.
Hoskins recently had filed to run in the 80th Kentucky House District under the new redistricting plan signed into law by Gov. Beshear on Jan. 20.
Bradley Bud Montgomery of Berea filed Friday to run for the 36th District House seat, and Jerry Lee Shelton of Crab Orchard has filed to run for the 80th District House seat.
This article was written by Advocate-Messenger Staff Writer David Brock and Associated Press Writer Roger Alford.