Will urban voices be heard with new legislative districts?

New state legislative districts passed in a rush by the Kentucky General Assembly will dilute the clout of Kentucky’s fifth largest city, officials say.

The new districts were passed in a rare weekend session only days after they were released to the public on Dec. 30. Both houses of the Legislature are now controlled by members of the Republican Party, and the new districts were overwhelmingly passed. The bill creating the new districts is now awaiting action by Gov. Andrew Beshear, a Democrat.

The biggest change in this region is splitting the city of Covington’s 65th House District into pieces and creating new districts for its residents that include suburban and rural areas.

Covington’s Board of Commissioners passed a resolution objecting to the new districts. “A logical consequence of these new boundaries could be a state government in which the Commonwealth’s fifth-largest city and its residents have no seat at the table when important decisions are made,” it reads.

In releasing the maps, House Speaker David Osborne said, "I think you will see a map that is much more reflective of Kentucky."

He said the maps take into account population changes since the last census and increase the number of majority-minority districts, meaning those where the majority of voters are members of racial or ethnic minorities.

But Covington Mayor Joe Meyer said urban issues that Covington residents and officials face demand a unified voice in the state legislature. They include economic development, affordable housing, poverty, social services, code enforcement, race and equity.

“Covington’s perspective on so many issues is different from that of the rest of Northern Kentucky,” Meyer said. “This isn’t a theoretical discussion, it’s a real practical discussion. To cut our community out of the forum where we can advance our ideas and values is a disservice to all of us.”

The League of Women Voters of Kentucky also objected to the new state House districts. League President Fran Wagner drew attention to the reshaping of the boundaries in Kenton County, saying the maps as released did not come with enough data or information about street boundaries to allow for an adequate review.

“A holiday weekend is not enough time to analyze districts of this complexity,” she said.

She called for more time to review and gather feedback from residents in Covington, as well as in the western Kentucky town of Hopkinsville, which was also divided up. “A real understanding of district changes that affect Covington and Hopkinsville will require thought from people who live in those areas, but the current calendar does not allow residents to share full thoughts with legislators or with the League,” she said.

Despite, the objections, the Legislature approved the maps for state House and Senate districts as well as U.S. congressional districts. With Republicans holding veto-proof majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly, the most likely redress now is in the courts.

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David Holthaus is the managing editor of NKY Thrives, an award-winning journalist, and a Cincinnati native. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading or watching classic movies.