Redistricting map would extend 1st District to Frankfort

Kentucky lawmakers will soon be heading back to Frankfort as Tuesday marks the start of the new...
Kentucky lawmakers will soon be heading back to Frankfort as Tuesday marks the start of the new General Assembly.(WKYT)
Published: Jan. 5, 2022 at 9:29 PM EST
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FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky’s top Republican lawmakers want to extend an oddly shaped congressional district to add Democratic-leaning Frankfort to the solidly red 1st District in an apparent effort to shore up another district that for decades has swung between both parties.

The likely beneficiary would be 6th District GOP Rep. Andy Barr, the only incumbent Kentucky congressman to face a tough reelection campaign in recent years. The other affected congressmen, Republican James Comer, said Wednesday that he would be fine with representing Frankfort, the state’s capital city, while acknowledging he had expressed another remapping preference to legislative leaders.

“My first choice was to add Barren and Green counties,” Comer said in a phone interview, referring to more rural and reliably Republican territory. “That would have made the district whole. ... But I’ll represent whatever the Kentucky General Assembly comes up with. I’m happy to represent Frankfort.”

However, the congressional redistricting plan moving through the state’s GOP-dominated legislature would keep Barren and Green counties in the 2nd District.

Instead, it would extend the 1st District’s fishhook deeper into central Kentucky to include Franklin and Washington counties and part of Anderson County. The sprawling district’s center of gravity would remain in western Kentucky, though it already reaches into central Kentucky, including a portion of Washington County, about an hour from Frankfort. The rural 1st District has to grow due to population losses reflected in the latest census. Comer has won by landslide margins, and the 1st District would remain reliably Republican with the changes.

The legislature could wrap up work this week on redistricting bills for the state’s six congressional districts, 38 Senate districts and 100 House seats. The bills would go to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear. Republicans have the numbers to override any vetoes.

The plan could still be subject to legal challenges, though Republicans stopped short of divvying up the state’s lone Democratic-held congressional district, where U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville is retiring. A move to parse that city’s voters into several districts might have increased Republicans’ chances of engineering a clean sweep of the state’s six congressional seats, but it would have left the plan more vulnerable to legal challenges.

Under the new plan, Yarmuth’s 3rd District would be largely unchanged and would continue to cover most of Jefferson County, which includes Louisville — the state’s biggest Democratic stronghold. A section of eastern Jefferson County would be joined to the 2nd District, represented by Republican Rep. Brett Guthrie.

Yarmuth, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, announced last fall that he won’t seek reelection. But with the district still largely intact, Democrats are favored to retain the seat.

The congressional remapping plan easily cleared a Senate committee Wednesday, one day after being introduced on the opening day of the 2022 session. It drew opposition from a Republican senator who criticized putting her constituents in Franklin and Anderson counties into the same district as people living hundreds of miles away.

“This is the kind of thing that I believe we’re here to make sure doesn’t happen,” Sen. Adrienne Southworth said. “The fact that my constituents are now going to be represented as the same constituents from Fulton County makes zero sense to me.”

Fulton County, tucked into the southwestern corner of Kentucky, is about 300 miles (483 kilometers) from Frankfort.

Comer and his wife have homes in Monroe and Franklin counties in Kentucky. They purchased the Franklin County home a decade ago when he was state agriculture commissioner, which meant that his work was based in Frankfort, the seat of state government.

Shifting Franklin County, which includes Frankfort, out of the 6th District is likely to change the political calculus in what was a swing district for decades.

“It makes it a safe district for Andy Barr, if it wasn’t already,” said political commentator Al Cross. “That is the most Democratic county outside Fayette, and there’s no other Democratic bastion.”

Barr has mostly breezed to reelection since ousting a Democratic incumbent a decade ago, though he narrowly defeated Democrat Amy McGrath in 2018. A campaign visit to the district by then-President Donald Trump helped Barr stave off the hard-charging McGrath. The district’s population center is in Fayette County — which includes Lexington, the state’s second-largest city — but rural sections of the district have turned overwhelmingly Republican. Barr carried Franklin County in 2020 but lost the county to McGrath in 2018.

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