The Kentucky Senate's top leader pushed back Monday against the governor's insistence on seeing redistricting plans before deciding whether to call a special session, saying lawmakers wield the policymaking power to redraw legislative and congressional boundaries.
Republican Senate President Robert Stivers again pressed Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear to reconvene lawmakers this year to tackle the once-a-decade redistricting chore. Stivers signaled that lawmakers could be ready to take up the issue in about a week if given the chance.
“I don’t plan to go to the governor on anything,” Stivers told reporters. “He knows we’re ready. He should call us into special session. But he has made it a caveat that he’s not calling us into special session unless he approves the plans.”
The decision on whether to reconvene lawmakers for a special session is up to the governor. Beshear has said repeatedly that he’d like to see a plan from leaders of the GOP-dominated legislature and to have an agreement before deciding.
“It is not his role to set policy.” Stivers said Monday in response to the governor's requests. “It is ours. And where the districts are, is our prerogative.”
Stivers spoke during a gathering of GOP Senate leaders in Bowling Green ahead of an annual retreat by Republican senators. They are to gather to discuss issues pending in the next regular legislative session.
The governor's spokeswoman, Crystal Staley, said Monday that Beshear's “door is open” but he has had “zero requests” from Senate leaders for a meeting on redistricting.
Staley said in a statement that “no governor could call a special session without being formally asked, without a meeting with legislative leadership, without seeing a single piece of paper.” She said Democratic lawmakers also need to be consulted.
Stivers said it would be ideal to finish redistricting this year, “knowing what we’ve got in front of us” in the 2022 session starting in early January. Lawmakers will be tasked next year with crafting a new state budget while dealing with a stack of topics, including pandemic-related issues.
If lawmakers have to wait until the 2022 session to take up redistricting, the issue would be placed on an immediate fast track, Stivers said. Redistricting bills would likely be introduced on the session's first day, he said, predicting the measures would be sent to the governor within a week.
That would force lawmakers to extend the filing deadline for candidates wanting to compete in next year's elections. That filing deadline now is Jan. 7. How much the filing deadline is pushed back would depend on how quickly the governor acts on the redistricting bills, Stivers said.
“He should be able to look at it quite easily and either veto or not veto within 24 hours,” Stivers said.
The Senate president predicted that the Republican-dominated legislature would override gubernatorial vetoes of redistricting bills.
The GOP-led House also has been working on redistricting.
Among the unknowns as the redistricting work continues are whether incumbents will be lumped into the same legislative districts and how the boundaries will be drawn for the 3rd Congressional District — a Louisville-area district represented by Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth. The state’s five other districts have GOP congressmen. Yarmuth is not seeking reelection in 2022.
Their supermajority status in the General Assembly puts Republicans in full control of the redistricting process. But their lopsided majorities also could create complications, due to population losses in many rural counties represented by GOP lawmakers.
Senate Republicans have discussed redistricting, Stivers said, without offering details about what the new congressional and legislative maps would look like.
“Maybe two months ago, we sat down with our whole caucus and explained how population shifts were going to mean that all districts -- congressional districts, House districts, Senate districts -- would have to change geographically because of the way the populations had shifted,” he said.