While some of the nation's unseemly political traditions have gone the way of the duel, gerrymandering in state and national legislative mapping is alive and well. Some old fashioned district draftsmanship may be unavoidable, but when legislators get so loosey-goosey with the boundaries that the results are deemed unconstitutional, things have probably gone too far.
Despite the embarrassment of last year’s failed redistricting attempt, the legislature should dispatch with the matter now or during whatever special session they will likely need to finish the work of the current 30-day odd-year session.
After Gov. Steve Beshear’s request earlier this week that redistricting be put off yet again, it looks like we may wait another year or more before the legislature takes a vote that, in theory, won’t be spiked by the courts. His logic — that there are more pressing problems, like our disaster of a pension system and tax reform — would be acceptable if it didn’t look so much like the typical Frankfort procrastination we’ve seen on the very issues that now glut the legislature’s agenda.
Sorting out the mess left after last year’s plan unraveled won’t be simple.
Franklin Circuit Judge Philip Shepherd found last year’s gambit so onerous, even in light of our collective “to the victors go the spoils” history, he threw it out. Shepherd declared the new districts unconstitutional because some widely exceeded the 5-percent variation above or below an even population distribution, while other districts were so contorted it beggared belief.
Predictably, Democrats in the House attempted to pit Republican members against one another in newly drawn districts — like current 55th District Rep. Kim King of Mercer County and 54th District Rep. Mike Harmon of Boyle County — while Republicans in the Senate proved neither party has the market cornered on sane behavior by trying to ship the district of a formidable Democrat, Kathy Stein of Lexington, to an entirely different part of the state.
The lackluster effort didn’t surprise many of those in the 2nd Congressional District, who were jettisoned from a longtime home in the 6th District last year in an apparent effort to neutralize an increasingly Republican-leaning swath of the 6th that included Boyle, Garrard and Mercer counties. Voters who work, shop and get their news from sources inside the Lexington-centric 6th District were rightly confused all the way through Election Day about why they were suddenly voting for candidates from Bowling Green and Glasgow.
Congressman Brett Guthrie, who maintained his 2nd District seat, seems like a thoughtful and qualified public servant and has gained praise even from many who disagree with his politics. If he were candid, though, Guthrie would likely admit he doesn't relish spending the limited time he has during his trips home from the nation's capital trekking to the other side of the state from his home in Bowling Green.
It is a farce that in a largely rural state like Kentucky some residents could travel by plane to talk to their representatives in Washington, D.C., faster than they could drive to visit them in person in their own district. The most meaningful thing the far-eastern counties and towns share with their new district brethren in places like Owensboro and Elizabethtown is a sense of befuddlement.
If the architects of that plan showed us anything when they paralyzed last year’s session, doing virtually nothing other than horse trading in pursuit of their doomed redistricting map, it is that time and disproportionate resources were not necessarily assets to the process.
Some, like House Speaker Greg Stumbo, have also suggested redistricting could be used to manipulate legislators, whose political lives might be at stake based on how the new map looks. It doesn't take a hardened cynic to believe the same crew who hatched the new 2nd District might be capable of squeezing less powerful colleagues with threats of moving or reshaping their district.
Without a doubt, there are plenty of issues given short shrift during the full 2012 term that become more pressing by the day. Legislators also have until the elections of 2014 to put off redistricting until the 11th hour, after all.
Instead of tabling another issue when the table will likely be overflowing for years to come, perhaps legislators might try chewing gum and walking toward solutions at the same time. If they are waiting for the chance to give undivided attention to one issue, the prospects of that happening are dim.
Figure it out. Get it done. Move forward.