Friday, November 07, 2014

Hey Democrats, how's that gerrymandering working out for you?

In Kentucky, Democrats always take care of their own.

It's been that way since time immemorial, whether evidenced by patronage hiring in state government or the awarding of fat contracts to supporters, and especially in drawing up legislative districts.

There have been two great instances of gerrymandering by Democrats in the General Assembly in the past 25 years. The first occurred when Kentucky lost a congressional district after the 1990 census. The most recent effort was an attempt to prop up Ben Chandler in his congressional seat and to reverse years of an increasing Republican presence in the state House of Representatives.

Chandler is the grandson of legendary Kentucky political figure A.B. "Happy" Chandler -- Ben's real name is Albert Benjamin Chandler III -- and was elected to Congress in 2004 in a special election to succeed Ernie Fletcher, against whom he ran and lost for governor in 2003.

Chandler should have been able to bank on the goodwill of his family name and stay in Congress as long as he wanted to, but he became vulnerable in 2009 when he voted for the controversial "cap-and-trade" energy bill that was widely viewed as being harmful to Kentucky's coal industry. He even got a special dispensation from Nancy Pelosi and the rest of his party's overlords to vote against Obamacare the following year to preserve his political viability, but that wasn't enough. Chandler basically went into hiding for the next two years, refusing to conduct public meetings or interact with constituents so he could explain himself -- including subsequent votes against repeal of Obamacare once Republicans took control of the House in 2010.

Sensing Chandler's vulnerability after a close loss to Andy Barr in 2010, his benefactors in the state House of Representatives redrew the Sixth District's boundaries in 2012 to bring more Democrat voters into the district. A number of conservative areas were moved to other neighboring districts, while Wolfe County -- which for years was part of the old Seventh District bastion of Carl D. Perkins -- was moved into the Bluegrass district.

It didn't help. Chandler lost his 2012 re-election rematch to Barr, despite the influx of friendly voters, and then Barr trounced his Democrat opponent earlier this week.

As for the state House, Republicans have slowly but surely chipping at the Democrats' majority. It's gone from nearly a 75-25 minority to almost a 50-50 tie. House districts were in limbo for the 2012 elections following a legal challenge to the legislative districts, but firm boundaries were set last year for this year's election. In that context, the Republicans' ability to hold steady at 46 members in this week's House races is almost as good as one could expect, the "Flip The House" hopes notwithstanding.

Democrats can't be too happy that they didn't take back the Sixth District congressional seat and didn't regain any lost ground in the state House, despite their best efforts. So, to paraphrase Sarah Palin, "How's that gerrymandering thing working out for ya?"

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