My 28 years in the Kentucky legislature taught me a lesson about the devil: He’s lurking in places we least expect in the halls of the Capitol.
But of all the opportunities to do his dirty work, the two best are the decennial redistricting process and the biennial leadership races.
The leadership races … when each party caucus votes in secret ballots to select who will lead for each two-year period … are filled with intrigue, horse trading for chairs of committees and promises of rewards in the state budgets or friends helping friends. People boldly lie, cheat, manipulate in ways that would make Machiavelli blush.
But equally deceptive and cunning is the required task of redrawing the legislative district lines after each federal census. I have endured three redistricting processes as a member of the House, and I can attest to witnessing the ugly underside of the legislature’s belly. The devil was in full control of each reapportionment.
Leaders of the dominant party use the redrawing as a way to favor their allies, punish their opponents (both in their own party and in the minority party) and cement their individual power bases. Justice, objectivity, basic decency be damned. It is a merciless, callous process done behind closed doors, often in the dark of the night … Satan’s playground.
Through the years, redistricting plans have been so egregious and gerrymandered, the courts have on occasion tossed them out, demanding the legislators start over.
But even in starting over, the process never changes. A few tweaks are made to satisfy the courts, but damage is done in softer, but still damaging, ways.
My distinguished former colleague in the House, Bob Heleringer, recently penned an opinion piece nearly gloating that the GOP now had a chance, after decades, to avenge Democrats who cruelly drew district lines that pitted sitting Republican legislators against one another and twisted district boundaries to squeeze out more Democratic votes in Republican districts.
He is correct for decades Democrats treated Republicans less than human in their conniving manipulation of maps. But Rep. Heleringer seems to let his dark side get the best of him when he knocked the nonpartisan League of Women Voters for promoting an objective, fair way to reapportion. Instead of praising their dedication to good government, he seemed to salivate like a wounded Mafia boss at the prospect that finally his GOP was going to get revenge.
If he and his fellow Republicans seek to be statesmen and stateswomen as the party in full control of our legislature, they should exorcise Satan from the redistricting process. No revenge, no horse trading, no political manipulation behind closed doors.