On a day when most of the state was making New Year’s plans, the House Republicans held a hastily-called press conference to share their redistricting maps. Sort of.
House Speaker David Osborne and legislators who worked on the maps put copies of the maps on the wall, then discussed the work they had done and the features of the new maps. Here are the main points about the maps as shared by their press release:
- The main considerations for the Repubs was to make the districts more compact, while not splitting precincts.
- The districts as drawn meet the legal requirements of both the federal Voting Rights Act and the Kentucky constitution.
- The significant population shifts across the state meant significant changes to districts, in order to keep each district’s population within the allowed variance from the mean across all districts.
- The committee took input from both the NAACP and the League of Women voters. (The committee looked at the LWV maps, but rejected them because the committee said those maps did not meet legal muster. HOW their maps didn’t meet legal muster was never answered.)
- The new maps put four pairs of incumbents in the same district, two pairs of Dems and two pairs of Repubs. Incumbents impacted include Rep. Norma Kirk McCormick, Rep. Bobby McCool, Rep. Lynn Bechler, Rep. Jim Gooch, Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, Rep. Josie Raymond, Rep. Makenzie Cantrell, and Rep. Lisa Willner.
- The new maps increase the number of single county districts to four.
- There are now four majority minority districts (HD 40, HD 42, HD 43, and HD 44) and two districts with increased minority influence (HD 30 and HD 77).
- Republican lawmakers plan to approve the plan during the first week of session.
- In addition to filing redistricting measures, lawmakers anticipate filing legislation that would extend the deadline to file for public office until Tuesday, January 25.
It should be noted that the new maps were not shared with any of the Democratic leadership before the Republican press conference.
It should also be noted that even though the Republicans claimed they were “sharing” the new maps, all they shared were drawings of the districts, without identifying the precincts in each district. Without that information, it is impossible for potential candidates to know for certain which district they are actually in. Also, without the list of precincts in each district, it is not possible to analyze the partisan impact of these new maps, or the impact of the districts on minority representation in the legislature. Osborne did not share a timeline for the precinct information being released.
The Democrats respond with a statement ...
About an hour after the Republican presser ended, the House Democratic leadership released a statement via a press release:
“What we saw today from Republican House leaders is an attempt at fake transparency. If they were sincere, they would have not released their redistricting plan on a state holiday and without the detailed information the public needs.
“Citizens and candidates alike won’t have that information online until late Tuesday, less than two days before the entire House votes. That gives them precious little time to absorb the many changes and then offer input, something that goes against the very hallmark of the legislative process.
“We will be reviewing this map further with our caucus members and discussing whether the Republican map meets all legal and constitutional guidelines. We also are preparing an alternative that we believe will better serve the commonwealth.
“It is vital to remember that whatever is ultimately decided will be in place for a decade. The last thing we should be doing as a legislature is rushing something so important and so long-lasting. Kentuckians deserve more time so we can get this right.”
... and a Q and A session
The Dem House leadership also held a press availability at the Capitol, at which they answered questions from reporters. Here are some of those questions and answers, with a short statement at the beginning.
I think what we have witnessed here today is an attempt at fake transparency. I think it is by design that these maps were dropped today, on a state holiday, when there is no non-partisan staff here to interpret them. We were only given PDFS. We are not able to determine things like the VRA districts. If there is anyone in the state of Kentucky who thinks they might want to be a candidate, it will be very difficult based on the information given today to determine what district you would be in and what district you are not in. It looks like we will get that kind of information not before next Tuesday.
I would like to address something that was said about our drawing of Jefferson County. The speaker’s staff reached out to me about two months ago, and asked if we would make an attempt at drawing Jefferson County. This was not unusual; in the redistricting that took place in 2010, the Democrats who were in the majority asked the minority to draw the maps within the old 5th District. So, it did not seem unusual for that to happen. We drew the Jefferson County maps up to the point where majority members serve, and we thought it was inappropriate for the Democratic minority to draw the districts for them.
We will be looking at the maps; we will be conferring with our caucus on our steps forward.
What do you think of the four Democratic women having to run against each other in Louisville?
I think that we proved in the map that we drew that you could have legally redistricted, kept the VRA (Voting Rights Act) districts, and not put ANY incumbents together.
Was there anything you saw on the maps that would rise to a legal challenge, or what things would you be looking for?
Well, as I said, we can’t tell by these PDF maps. You simply cannot tell on these vague maps. We need precinct-level information which it looks like we are not going to get. And, it is no way to tell at this point if they have packed the minority districts in Jefferson County, and possibly cracked the minority district in Fayette. We need precinct-level information to determine that.
We are going to look at the constitutionality of these maps. We will be looking at these maps very, very closely. It may be possible that we will offer something as an alternative in amendment or bill form.
This looks to be on a fast track. Is there any way that you all can slow it down?
Well, it still has to pass. They have 75 people; I don’t know that all 75 of their members are happy today. There are options out there, and we’ll be exploring all those options. But, you know, we can count; there’s 75 Republicans and 25 Democrats.
Do you have any concerns about the congressional map, because that hasn’t even been released to the public.
Certainly. You know, all along throughout this process we have talked about the fact that redistricting needs to be done out in the open; it needs to be timely so communities can pick their representatives, and the representatives don’t pick their voters. So, I do have concerns. I think it’s very interesting that Speaker Osborne said he had not had any conversations about the congressional map with President Stivers. That seems a little odd to me.
Would you like to see the redistricting process go to an independent commission, like some other states do?
Would you care to elaborate on that? (Chuckles)
Well, I think it is interesting – I did a little research, because I thought I had co-sponsored a bill to do that, and I haven’t gone back through all the sessions to find it – but, I think in 2012, Speaker Osborne was a co-sponsor of such a bill.
Do you think there is any way for this to get to an independent commission? You’re taking power away from people who have it.
I think that would be really, really difficult. Like the Speaker said, this is the first time Republicans have had an opportunity to draw maps. I understand that, I’m a realist, I understand that. But I would hope that we have gotten to the point in this state, in a red state, that we could do this in a way that the community has some input, that it’s not done behind closed doors, that it’s not released on a state holiday where people are making New Year’s Eve plans. And if you’re going to drop something like this, at least drop it in its entirety so people can actually get the information they need.
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