by David Schankula
Every ten years, Kentucky’s state legislature convenes to redraw the electoral map in ways that both offend and define democracy. It is gerrymandering season in Frankfort and a month and a half in, it seems Kentucky’s legislators aren’t nearly as good at it as they think they are.
It started in the Democrat-controlled House where Speaker Greg Stumbo led his House Democrats in a state re-mapping to pit Republican representatives against each other. Stumbo and his Democratic allies ignored constitutional mandates and split counties unnecessarily to achieve partisan gains. House Republicans cried foul while Stumbo and the Democrats crowed self-congratulatorily, as if they’d just achieved something.
The House map then went to the Republican-controlled Senate. Led by David Williams and Damon Thayer, the Senate Repubicans went nuclear on Senate Democrats. While Stumbo stupidly redrew a few lines as if no one would notice, Williams and Thayer held nothing back. They tore up Jefferson County, but that was nothing compared to how they treated Fayette County.
Here in Lexington, Williams and Thayer went Joe Stalin on the 13th District, the very heart of the Bluegrass and ground zero for the state’s Democratic Party — purging 90,000+ voters, Williams and Thayer banished Senator Kathy Stein’s district to Northeastern Kentucky, replacing her with an existing senator who, until a month ago, represents the voters of Henderson, KY some 200 miles away.
The House and the Senate have a ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’ (but of course they do!) to approve each other’s redistricting maps. So Stumbo drew one unconstitutional map and Williams/Thayer drew another, and then the two Houses they control voted along opposite party lines to approve the others’ map. Got it?
Democrats in the House voted in favor of disenfranchising Democrats in the Senate while Republicans in the Senate voted in favor of disenfranchising Republicans in the House.
Then this frankencompromise was sent to the Governor. Steve Beshear signed the two unconstitutional maps into law because, as he explained, he wanted to hurry up and pass casino gambling.
Hurry up he didn’t. Rather than send the bill back to the two Houses for a reasonable compromise, Beshear banked on plowing through. Instead, House Republicans and Democratic Senator Kathy Stein challenged the constitutionality of the redistricting map in court.
Last week, the Court placed a restraining order on the new maps. This week, Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled the redistricting maps drawn up by House Democrats and Senate Republicans and signed into law by Democratic Governor Steve Beshear were unconstitutional.
Kathy Stein was ordered to return to her seat as the duly elected representative of Fayette County.
An appeal is expected, but if it comes it is likely to come from the strangest of places. The loudest voices in favor of the maps that disenfranchised the voters of Fayette County have been Gov. Steve Beshear, of Lexington, and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, of Lexington — both fellow Democrats.
It’s unclear what will happen in the next few days and weeks — whether the case will return to court on appeal and if so, how long it will be tied up. In the meantime, the Governor’s goal of hurrying up, his justification for denying Lexington an elected Senator, is on hold.