UPDATE (2:05PM): I just talked with State Rep. Dennis Keene (D-Wilder) who may find his district boundaries include parts of Covington following the redistricting in Frankfort. He already includes Newport, Bellevue and Dayton in addition to Wilder and other towns along the Licking River within his district, offering that that experience has him prepared to represent Covington's needs in Frankfort. Keene said that he and State Rep. Arnold Simpson (D-Covington/Old Seminary Square) are as close as two legislators can be and that Simpson has served as a mentor to him.
"The River Cities is where the economic development is going to start," Keene said. "It's important and we deal with different issues (than the rest of the region). I understand those issues and I have a consistent record of solving them. I represent River Cities, so it's a natural fit. I would be honored and thrilled to represent part of Covington."
Keene continued: "The River Cities all have the same issues most of the time and if we all work together we can solve them regionally," he said.
When the Kentucky General Assembly reconvenes next Tuesday the legislators are forced to deal with the redistricting of Congressional and state house & senate districts. Preliminary discussions indicate that the district occupied by State Representative Arnold Simpson will be affected and that parts of Covington's urban core, likely most of the area north of 12th Street/MLK Boulevard, would become part of a district represented by Democrat Dennis Keene of Wilder. How the fifth largest city in Kentucky could be without its own representative has troubled all four members of the Covington City Commission.
"Urban areas don't have much of a voice as it is now so any kind of diminishing of that is going to make a difference," said Commissioner Sherry Carran. "What I've learned is that most of the legisliators represent rural or suburban areas and that few represent urban areas, so consequently urban issues always go toward the bottom, they're not a priority for the overall Senate or House."
Carran and Commissioner Shawn Masters met with Rep. Keene Thursday afternoon to discuss the issue. While Keene did not return a request for comment, Carran described the meeting as a complicated explanation of how Covington could lose the one representative whose entire district is in the city. "If I got it right, it boils down to where Covington and northern Campbell County are having to make up for the redistricting decisions that are being made just south of us," Carran said. The districts of 100 House seats to be drawn starting next week will be in effect for the next ten years.
While legislators in Frankfort will make the ultimate decision of the boundaries, the Covington City Commission intends to pass a ceremonial resolution asking that the city be spared. "We're the fifth largest city in the state and we're divided into parcels without a unified voice," said Commissioner Steve Casper. "Also, I love Arnold. That's nothing against Keene. I've grown to love Arnold."
Arnold Simpson, of Old Seminary Square, and who also did not return a request for comment, has represented Covington since 1994 and prior to that served as Covington City Manager. His father was the city's first African-American city commissioner. In essence, Simpson knows Covington and if his district is changed to include southern or western Kenton County areas, the veteran Democrat may lose his seat in the heavily Republican areas outside the city. Keene, a former Wilder city councilman before becoming a state representative in 2005, includes part of Newport in his district and so does have experience representing an urban area.
While some goals are shared between Covington and Newport, Covington is at a critical juncture for the proposed expansion of the Gateway College Urban Campus and in a year that Kentucky's budget will only offer a few gifts from the legislature, the priorities of Covington must be focused. Speculation around the redistricting issue has been that some organizations in Northern Kentucky are more interested in the expansion of the Convention Center than Gateway College and that that may be the motivation to lessen Covington's clout in Frankfort.
Commissioner Steve Frank sits on the board at Gateway College and has been a vocal advocate of the project. "Any time the people you're working with no longer represent you, it raises our anxiety level," Frank said. "We have two state representative district in which Covington has the majority voice (Simpson's district and that of Thomas Kerr, a Republican from Taylor Mill). There's a legitimate fear that Covington will not have a majority voice when we're speaking in Frankfort."
Commissioner Shawn Masters emailed to say, "My main concern is the effect it will have on Covington, and I will oppose any effort to redistrict if it negatively impacts our city." At this juncture, it remains unclear what the boundaries could look like, but more will be known next week when the legislature returns on Tuesday, the same day the Covington Commission will likely pass its resolution condemning any changes.