Thursday, March 18, 2004

Surprisingly, redrawn district gives Democrat the advantage

Around Northern Kentucky

Pat Crowley

"Gerrymander" is a timeless political term that is formally defined as "to divide a voting area so as to give one political party a majority in as many districts as possible" and "to manipulate unfairly so as to gain advantage."

As odious as Webster's makes it sound, gerrymandering is a common practice used by political parties in power so they can stay in power.

That's why it's so surprising to look at the district Republicans in Frankfort - who control the state Senate - have drawn for one of their own, Sen. Jack Westwood of Crescent Springs.

In redrawing legislative lines after the 2000 census, Republicans could not have been much kinder to Democrat Kathy Groob, a member of Fort Mitchell city council who is challenging Westwood for Kenton County's 23rd District Senate seat.

The GOP took from Westwood the southern end of Kenton County, including the Republican-friendly communities of Taylor Mill and Independence, and put them in Sen. Damon Thayer's 17th Senate District.

It also left no incumbent for 40 percent of the voters. Incumbency is a huge advantage in any political race. Yet the new lines put 27 of its 73 precincts in a different Senate district than they were in the last election.

While it's difficult for a Democrat to run anywhere in Kenton County, Groob is running in a district where her fellow Dems have run well in the past.

Democrats make up 53 percent of the district's voters. Again, that doesn't always mean a lot in Kenton County - or for that matter, Northern Kentucky. Lots of conservative Democrats cross the aisle and vote GOP in elections.

But according to an analysis done by the Groob camp, Democrats have won the 23rd District's precincts by a total vote of 57,299 to 51,161in the last four countywide elections.

Two of those Democrats went on to win countywide: circuit clerk Mary Ann Woltenberg in 2000 and property value administrator Merrick Krey in last year's special election. Both were incumbents.

Two Democrats also lost: commonwealth attorney Don Buring in 2000 and judge-executive candidate Patrick Hughes in 2002.

Groob's campaign projects turnout this fall will be 47 percent Democrat and 43 percent Republican.

There are a lot of assumptions built in any statistical analysis of an election. Even though Groob ran strongly in the GOP bastion of Fort Mitchell in the 2002 city council elections - she took 73 percent of the vote - she has since switched parties.

No matter what numbers Groob rolls out, the party switch is bound to do some damage and be an advantage for Westwood.

E-mail Crowley interviews Campbell Circuit Judge candidate Steve Franzen next week on ICN6's "On the Record", which is broadcast daily on Insight Communications Channel 6.

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