Kentucky: Republicans Break Their Crack(ing) Addiction
While their map still faces lawsuits for partisan gerrymandering, Republicans may have an easier time in court for keeping Louisville's KY-3 in tact.
Republicans had complete control over Kentucky’s redistricting process.
Gerrymandering lawsuits have risen over the decision to remove Frankfort from KY-6 and stretch KY-1 an extra 50 miles north to capture it.
Despite Republican moves to make districts safer for their party, they opted out of a plan to crack Louisville and kept the state’s lone Democratic seat. (Rep. John Yarmuth’s retirement makes KY-3 an open seat that will most likely be filled by a new Democratic representative.)
Who’s In Control
Kentucky’s congressional districts are drawn by the legislature and approved by the governor. Since Republicans hold control in all three branches of state government, they held complete control over the redistricting process.
Kentucky’s previous congressional district map held a single competitive seat that leaned toward Republicans: KY-6. While the state’s old sixth district voted for Trump by a 9-point margin, the current incumbent Rep. Andy Barr (R) barely won the district in 2018 by a slim 3-point margin. Much of the map’s changes betray an intent to shore up this district as a safer win for Republicans moving forward. The state capital of Frankfort has been removed from KY-6, shifting the district into a double-digit 2020 win for Trump. But where does Frankfort go instead?
Rather than wrapping the city into neighboring KY-4, Republicans made the strange decision to create a northbound tentacle in KY-1 that extends an extra 50 miles north from the district’s previous northernmost point. This new arm reaches across portions of the state’s old second congressional district, so Republicans opted to simply move KY-2 further west to allow KY-1 to stretch from Frankfort to the state’s southern border. The result: Frankfort’s coalition of Democratic voters are overwhelmed by Republican voters in Eastern Kentucky over 150 miles away.
The confusing geometry of the state’s new districts has prompted gerrymandering lawsuits from Democrats; their concerns are illustrated by a quick drive down Interstate 64. The interstate connects the state’s two largest cities, Louisville and Lexington, by a 90 minute drive that manages to cross five of the state’s six new congressional districts. Locally, this region is known as Kentucky’s Golden Triangle, due to the region’s population growth and its status as the state’s economic engine. Rather than giving the area representation in Congress, Republicans opted to slice the region up into pieces that were then lumped into rural-anchored districts. Most would agree that Frankfort in central Kentucky, shouldn’t be included in the same district as the infamous Kentucky Bend, the state’s westernmost point.
Republicans are hoping their decision to keep the state’s largest city untouched can help them fight back against gerrymandering allegations. Several Kentucky Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, fought against a far-right plan to “crack” Louisville and draw Democrats out of a district (as their fellow Republicans did in Tennessee.) Despite the fact that KY-3 remains in tact, current Rep. John Yarmuth has announced his retirement, creating a heated primary battle for the heavily Democratic seat.
In KY-3’s Democratic primary, state Rep. Attica Scott is running as a progressive alternative to Yarmuth’s endorsed candidate: state Sen. Morgan McGarvey. The primary battle is likely to receive national attention due to the way the race mirrors divisions within the national Democratic party.