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Kentucky lawmakers send redistricting bills to governor

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Posted at 4:07 PM, Jan 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-08 16:07:48-05

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky lawmakers wrapped up redistricting work in a rare Saturday session, passing bills to redraw congressional and legislative maps that now will be scrutinized by Gov. Andy Beshear.

The measures overwhelmingly cleared the Republican-dominated legislature, signaling the new boundaries are poised to become law even if the Democratic governor rejects them.

While GOP lawmakers have the political muscle to override any vetoes, the looming question is whether the new boundaries will draw court challenges. The bills’ defenders expressed confidence that the once-a-decade map-making work would hold up against any lawsuit.

“These maps are constitutional,” said Republican Rep. Jason Nemes. “If I were to draw them, if you were to draw them, perhaps they’d be drawn a little differently. But they are constitutional.”

The changing boundaries stem from population changes in the past decade. Eastern and western Kentucky generally lost population, while central and northern sections gained more residents.

Democrats complained that the legislative maps unfairly split urban areas to benefit Republicans.

In reshaping Kentucky’s six congressional districts, lawmakers kept the only Democratic-held district basically intact. Democrats had fretted that the Louisville-area 3rd District might be carved up.

Instead, under the new plan the 3rd District would continue to cover most of Jefferson County, which includes Louisville — the state’s biggest Democratic stronghold. A section of eastern Jefferson County would be joined to the GOP-dominated 2nd District.

Much of the criticism Saturday continued to be aimed at extending the oddly shaped 1st Congressional District to add Franklin County, which includes Democratic-leaning Frankfort in central Kentucky. The district is predominantly based in western Kentucky.

“What it does to Franklin County is wrong, pure and simple,” said Democratic Rep. Derrick Graham of Frankfort. “Franklin County was and is and always will be a part of central Kentucky, both geographically and in spirit.”

The likely beneficiary of the redrawn boundaries would be 6th District GOP Rep. Andy Barr, the only Kentucky congressman to face a tough reelection campaign in recent years. Shifting Franklin County out of the 6th is likely to change the political calculus in what has long been a swing district.

Republican U.S. Rep. James Comer, who represents the 1st District, has said he would be fine with representing Frankfort, the state’s capital city, while acknowledging he had expressed another remapping preference to legislative leaders. Comer told The Associated Press that his first choice was to add Barren and Green counties, which he said would have “made the district whole.”

Comer and his wife have homes in Monroe and Franklin counties in Kentucky. They purchased the Franklin County home a decade ago when he was state agriculture commissioner, which meant that his work was based in Frankfort, the seat of state government.

The congressional redistricting measure, however, kept Barren and Green counties in the 2nd District. The new map would extend the 1st District’s fishhook deeper into central Kentucky to include Franklin and Washington counties and part of Anderson County. The sprawling 1st District would span from Fulton County, tucked into the southwestern corner of Kentucky, to Frankfort, about 300 miles (483 kilometers) away.

The 1st District has to grow due to population losses reflected in the latest census. Comer has won by landslide margins, and the rural district would remain reliably Republican with the changes.

Legislative criticism of the new maps wasn’t limited to Democrats.

Republican Rep. James Tipton opposed the congressional redistricting bill because it splits Anderson County, which he represents, into two congressional districts — the 1st and 6th districts.

“As I have looked at the way that the precincts have been split, quite frankly there are going to be people who are not going to know who their congressman is,” he said.

Meanwhile, lawmakers also gave final passage Saturday to a bill that would alter the process for legal challenges of redistricting measures. Under the measure, such litigation would be assigned to the circuit court in the county of the plaintiff.