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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

We Don't Always Agree With Louisville Courier Journal, But We Join Their Editorial Decrying "Rank Partisanship" In Legislative Redistricting Efforts.

Editorial | Rank partisanship

Maybe the outrageous exhibition of partisanship that has played out in Kentucky’s most recent redistricting dance is not to be blamed on nursed grudges, rank protectionism or the growing rancor between political parties. Maybe it’s just part of our American heritage.

After all, Common Cause points out that “Patrick Henry drew his political foe James Madison out of a district to make it harder for him to be elected to Congress.” If the founders couldn’t rise above cut-throat politics in drawing districts, how can anyone expect more of House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Senate President David Williams, many generations removed from the giants of the nation’s history?

Well, Kentuckians should expect more. Make that demand more.

Every 10 years, after the latest U.S. Census data are released, electoral districts are reconsidered and redrawn if necessary to reflect population changes; that’s true for state House and Senate seats and judicial districts, as well as federal congressional districts which are supposed to accurately reflect racial and ethnic diversity and population shifts.

The fly in that otherwise reasonably sounding ointment is that in most states — including Kentucky — elected state officials themselves are responsible for doing the redrawing. And most citizens ought to recognize the conflict of interest in that setup faster than they can say “immortal incumbency” or “political payback.”

Last week’s exercise in the decennial task produced counties split into different districts, which defies the state’s constitutional outlines for redrawing, in the plan put forth by the Democratic-controlled House. The Republican-dominated Senate did a musical chairs number of its own, and by moving her district’s lines it left Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, a regular critic of Mr. Williams, without a seat — effectively tossing her out of office and ensuring she can’t run again for a few years. Gov. Steve Beshear signed the state plans so candidates would know which districts they were running for, but potential lawsuits that could be lodged against both plans might gum that up, too.

A small number of states use bipartisan or independent commissions to redraw districts, in order to take the bitter politics out of the process. Kentucky needs to adopt this approach, and a bill to propose doing that should pick up widespread support. Not just among legislators, but among citizens, too.

The worst part of this political gamesmanship is its arrogance. These offices don’t belong to the lawmakers moving their pieces around the electoral map. They belong to the people.

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