Area lawmakers continue to direct harsh words at a legislative redistricting plan that, if the current map holds, will pit three southcentral Kentucky Republican incumbents against each other in the upcoming May primary.
Under the Democratic-controlled state House’s redistricting plan, state Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, would be placed with state Rep. C.B. Embry, R-Morgantown, and state Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Brownsville, in the 17th District.
The redistricting plan has few fans among state Republicans, and DeCesare expressed his displeasure Thursday on the House floor.
“Let’s call this bill what it is,” DeCesare said. “It’s culling the herd. You’re wanting to cut our numbers.”
DeCesare continued for about three minutes, with anger apparent in his voice.
“This is a big-time election year, and I think you’re scared,” DeCesare said. “I think you feel like you’re in danger of maybe losing your majorityship in this body. And that’s fine, that’s the way our process works.”
The House passed the plan last week 63-34, largely along party lines. However, the proposal’s outlook in the state Senate appears bleak, according to news reports.
“Nothing done in this bill is an attempt at malice,” House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, told reporters last week, according to The Associated Press. “Nothing is done in this bill to be blatantly unfair to any person. Nothing in this bill is done to do anything other than we are charged to do.”
Meredith, who is in his first term as a representative, said he was angry when he first saw the House map.
“We all consider each other to be friends,” Meredith told the Daily News. “We work together on a lot of issues, we have for the last year and a half and many before that. It’s just really disappointing. It does make you angry the process comes out like this, when it could have been handled so much better.”
The map could also make history, according to Meredith, who believes it’s the first time three incumbents from the same party have been placed in the same district. Meanwhile, there are at least two, and possibly three, districts that do not have representation under the House proposal.
The proposed 21st District in northeastern Warren County and 53rd District in Hart and Green counties do not have a representative. Meredith also said it appears the proposed 19th District in Grayson and Hardin counties does not have a representative, although he hasn’t yet been able to confirm that.
“You put three of us together and create three open seats,” Meredith said. “That seems like a slap in the face to all three of us, quite frankly, that they went to that much work to put three sitting members together.”
Meredith said he has yet to sit down with DeCesare and Embry to have an in-depth conversation about the plan and its potential effects. He said there have been several brief conversations in passing, but nothing more.
“I don’t know that anyone has made a decision,” Meredith said, referring to the three legislators’ plans. “We’re all going to be friends throughout the whole thing and not say anything hurtful toward anyone, and when it’s all said and done support who the nominee is.”
DeCesare echoed those thoughts.
“We’re still going to be friends because we like each other,” DeCesare said. “We care for each other, we’re brothers.”
Meredith, who currently represents the 19th District, intends to run in this year’s election, but he’s not sure if he can legally file because of the unsettled status of the redistricting process. Embry filed in November to run in the 17th District, and DeCesare filed to run in the 21st District, which would become an open seat under the current plan.
“I’d be filing in a district I don’t currently live in,” Meredith said. “My filing wouldn’t be correct.”
Embry could not be reached for comment Monday.
DeCesare believes the proposal is the result of Democrats not believing they can defeat him in the fall.
“So what do they do? They carve up my county, and they carve up my district,” DeCesare said.
No Democrats have yet filed to run for state representative in the districts currently represented by DeCesare, Embry and Meredith.
Meanwhile, surrounding districts currently held by Democrats were largely undisturbed. The 20th District of Bowling Green’s Jody Richards remains similar, as does the 16th District of Martha Jane King of Lewisburg and the 22nd District of Scottsville’s Wilson Stone.
Under the House plan, Warren County would be represented by as many as six representatives, which some lawmakers think would be detrimental to the county.
“When there’s less of you, it’s easier to build a consensus,” said state Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green.
Meredith agrees: “With six people in the game, it’s a lot harder to get everyone on the same page, obviously,” he said.
On the other hand, Richards said he believes there would be benefits to six-person representation.
“Having six has its advantages,” Richards said. “All six people will generally be for the welfare of Warren County. There will be strength in numbers, and from that standpoint, I don’t think it’s a negative.”
This is the fourth time Richards has experienced the redistricting process since he became a representative in 1976.
“There were better ways to do it,” Richards said. “Ways that would not have affected as many legislators and not had been as disruptive.”
Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon pointed out that representatives for Warren County could live far from the portions of Warren County they represent. For example, in the proposed 16th District, which reaches into southwest Warren County along the Logan County line, the representative conceivably could come from far western Todd County.
The proposal also creates problems for officials in Warren County and could potentially cost the taxpayer. According to the House-approved map, precincts would be split – meaning that rather than a precinct offering a single ballot, multiple ballots would be sent to polling places on Election Day.
Buchanon said split precincts would mean confusion on election days, prompting a need for greater education and communication with voters. The scenario also could cost the county for the additional printing of ballots.
“It will complicate things for the average resident in those particular precincts that have been split up along census lines,” Buchanon said. “It is difficult to see how you can take the position it is going to get us better representation. And it’s going to be confusing to the citizens.”