Commonwealth Journal

Columns

January 24, 2012

A House in disarray

Somerset — During the 2010 elections there was something going on that many people have not paid attention to but that is all about to end. There is a constitutional requirement that a census be conducted every ten years for purposes of defining proper representation in our government. While all the talking heads and media outlets focused on the statewide and national elections there were thousands of local elections being held that would determine control of the various state houses. It is those state houses and, specifically, the party in power that determines where the boundary lines are to be drawn to ensure that each person has a more or less equally powerful vote. Simple isn't it. Well, not so much.

Witness the news that Katie Stein (D-Lexington) will no longer be known by that designation since she has been gerrymandered into representing several counties in rural Northeastern Kentucky. That is right. She will no longer represent the people who elected her and when that district's Senator is up for reelection she will either have to move to that district or run somewhere else, presumably where she is now employed. She is not the only one. Senator Dorsey Ridley (D-Henderson) who represents his 4th district in Western Kentucky now will represent the new 4th district in, I am not making this up, Lexington which is 200 miles distant. Notice that both of these Senators are of the Democratic Party and are moved away from districts in which their seat would be safe but now, if Ms. Stein wishes to represent Lexington as she does now, she will be in opposition to the new Democratic Senator, Mr. Ridley. That, hopefully for some, will result in a net loss of seats for the Democratic Party in the General Assembly.

This is what happens when the Senate President is David Williams (R-Burkesville) and the losing candidate to the present Governor. Mr. Williams will be out of a job as a result of that but we can only be alarmed at the prospect of his reelection if he chooses to run.

This is not a one sided condemnation since the Democratic Party has been just as blatant and inequitable in redistricting. Maybe more so since the Democratic Party has held power in Kentucky for a longer period. This is a nasty business and anyone with eyes to see can witness it. Partisan politics has long been the standard but in recent times we have seen it rise to new heights and take on a more uncomely significance. In this age of instant communication nothing goes unnoticed. And, in the past perhaps political parties were more necessarily avenues of participation in the political process since party platforms and issues were passed on the the locals through the party machinery. Now those issues are instantly transmitted and perhaps we need to change some rules to accommodate the new reality. The example that we see in Frankfort and in Washington DC is not for the meek to witness. It is just plain ugly. Many states create a commission to oversee redistricting, with members appointed by the governor and the leaders of both legislative chambers. In Kentucky, however, the legislature handles redistricting directly, and Senate and House leaders have broad latitude to determine how the process will work. Maybe we should rethink that but politicians are notoriously reluctant to give up any part of their power base. Even here in Pulaski County we will have new district boundaries and, since two of our representatives are retiring, a new Senator and a new Representative.

The spectacle that we see made of our political process is nothing short of shameful and everyone knows it but for some reason nobody seems able or willing to go out on a limb and try to do something about it. I wonder sometimes if being reelected is reason enough to prostitute one's ethics but I suppose the answer is plain to see. The 24 hour news cycle delivers ten second quotes to everyone's living room and automobile and all news outlets are vying for the scoop. It is insanely easy to whip the public into a fever and leave comity and reason far behind. It also leaves competent governance behind. Witness the recent ridiculous approach to attempting to rein in our budget deficits and debt. Rather than try to act as a deliberative body our Congress admitted defeat in advance and established a committee made up of people just like them to come up with a solution and hold our elected representative's feet to the fire in order to get it passed. In an effort in which everyone said failure was not an option they proved them wrong.

I don't like to write columns that just condemn without offering any solutions. There are solutions and I have offered them before but the only way we will make them reality is for the people to speak in terms other than partisan ones and demand that power be returned to the people. Of course, there is another scenario in which change could occur and that is with the dissolution of the republic as we now know it. We do not want to go there.

In a system in which power is purchased through Political Action Committees, campaign contributions and other thinly veiled opportunistic advantages the notion of power belonging to the people is a quaint one. But, there is a solution.

That's my take on representation and power and the abuses of exercising them. If you want to see what solutions I have write me and request them. I have had them published before but perhaps you did not see them.

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