Democratic leaders in the Kentucky House won passage Wednesday of a legislative redistricting plan that could strengthen their majority by forcing 11 Republicans to run against each other next year.
The Democratic-controlled House voted 53-46 along party lines for the measure, which now moves to the GOP-led Senate, where it faces an uncertain future.
House Republicans made emotional pleas not to pass the legislation, saying it was born out of "purely partisan politics."
"Nobody did it to be punitive to anybody in this chamber; I can assure you of that," House Speaker Greg Stumbo said in his pitch for the measure, drawing guffaws from Republican lawmakers.
House Republican Floor Leader Jeff Hoover called the legislation "another political play" by Democrats who want to protect their 55-45 majority in the House.
"I understand that," he said. "But is it fair?"
The Senate opted to wait until next year to deal with its own redistricting plan. And it remains to be seen whether the Senate will approve the House plan with five working days remaining in the legislative session. By moving ahead with the House's version this year, the Senate would remove a political bargaining chip next year.
Stumbo said he's willing to publicly pledge that House Democrats would pass the Senate plan as proposed next year if the Senate moves ahead with the House plan this year.
Always a divisive issue, redistricting occurs every 10 years to account for population changes found by the U.S. Census Bureau. Kentucky's overall population grew from 4 million to 4.3 million between 2000 and 2010. The change requires a major reconfiguration of legislative districts in both the House and Senate.
The proposed House districts would pit Republican Reps. Steven Rudy of Paducah and Richard Heath of Mayfield against each other in far western Kentucky.
Republican Reps. Lynn Bechler of Marion and Ben Waide of Madisonville would be in the same district. And in south-central Kentucky, three GOP representatives _ Jim DeCesare of Rockfield, C.B. Embry Jr. of Morgantown and Michael Meredith of Brownsville _ would compete for a single seat if all choose to seek re-election.
In eastern Kentucky, Rep. Marie Rader of McKee would have to run against Rep. Toby Herald of Beattyville, a fellow Republican. And the one Democrat who would be affected, Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook, would take on Republican Rep. Jill York of Grayson.
And GOP Reps. Mike Harmon of Danville and Jonathan Shell of Lancaster would be in the same central Kentucky district.
The Kentucky Supreme Court struck down legislative redistricting last year, finding the proposed districts weren't balanced by population and didn't comply with the federal and state "one person, one vote" mandate of state and federal law.