By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — The state House sent to Gov. Steve Beshear a controversial legislative redistricting bill Thursday that would move the district of Democratic State Sen. Kathy Stein from Lexington to northeastern Kentucky.
House Bill 1, approved on a 58-39 vote, redraws the boundaries of all 100 House districts and 38 Senate districts. It also redistricts the state’s seven Supreme Court districts.
Beshear is expected to sign it into law, though Stein’s supporters were lobbying for a veto. The Democratic governor had nothing to say about the bill on Thursday.
The House did not agree with the Senate on a plan to redraw the boundaries of Kentucky’s six congressional districts. A conference committee made up of representatives from both chambers started meeting Thursday afternoon to negotiate a compromise on House Bill 2 but finished about 5 p.m. without any resolution. It is to resume negotiations Friday.
Legislative leaders hope they can reach an agreement before week’s end. If they don’t, lawmakers may have to change the Jan. 31 deadline for candidates to file for the legislature and Congress.
Debate about the state legislative redistricting plans in the House Thursday primarily focused on the Senate’s move to put Stein’s 13th Senate district in northeastern Kentucky. She would have to move to the new district in order to seek re-election to the Senate.
Under the bill, central Lexington would be represented by Sen. Dorsey Ridley, a Democrat from Henderson in far Western Kentucky, through 2014.
Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, said the move was “a perversion of democracy” and urged her colleagues to vote against the measure. Rep. David Watkins, D-Henderson, was the only other Democrat in the House to follow her lead.
Stein said she will not move from Lexington and is keeping her options open.
One scenario discussed Thursday could have kept Stein in the Senate, but it was quickly shot down.
Under that scenario, Ridley would file to run for the state House seat held by Watkins in Henderson County. If he won the House seat in November, Ridley would resign in November from the new 4th Senate District in Lexington, setting up a vacancy. Gov. Steve Beshear would call a special election to fill the vacancy and Stein would run.
But Ridley said Thursday that he has “no plans at all” to run this year for the state House.
Asked again if he might run for the state House this year, Ridley said, “Not just ‘no,’ but capital ‘N,’ capital ‘O.’”
Some lawmakers noted that Stein also could run for her old state House seat this year. But that would pit her against Flood, a fellow Democrat. Stein was not immediately available to comment on that possibility.
House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said to those legislators who are angry and upset about the redistricting process, “Welcome to our world.” The House redistricting plan placed nine Republican lawmakers in districts with other incumbents.
He said Republicans will make sure Kentuckians understand the redistricting process.
Rep. Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown, said a bill will be filed in the House Friday to set up a bipartisan commission to “take the politics out” of redistricting, which is required every 10 years to conform with population changes in the U.S. Census.
Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, said the legislature needs to get information on how other states handle redistricting “to take politics and the dark side out of the process.” He mentioned the possibility of an independent commission doing the work.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he would consider any call for an independent panel to do redistricting but that its work still would have to be approved by the legislature.
He said he is “not a big fan of abdicating legislative responsibility.”