The proposed redistricting of Covington's representation in the Kentucky House of Representatives is opposed by the man who has held the city's seat since 1994. Representative Arnold Simpson, a Democrat from the Old Seminary Square neighborhood, says the leadership of his own party in Frankfort will ultimately have the final say on whether three or more precincts from Covington are moved from Simpson's 65th District to the 67th District represented by Wilder Democrat Dennis Keene, who also works as Economic Development Advisor at Southbank Partners. Any proposed maps being considered by the state legislature when it reconvenes on Tuesday have yet to be released publicly demonstrating a severe lack of governmental transparency from Kentucky's popularly elected leaders in Frankfort.
"My great fear is this," Simpson explained in an exclusive interview with The River City News. "When I was young, Covington was a prominent geographic area in Kenton County, the third largest city in the state and the key to Northern Kentucky. Our voice rung superior. We were Northern Kentucky. Through the last fifty years that has diminished. It's always been my hope to incorporate as much of Covington as possible in the 65th (House District) that we would always have a voice."
Simpson's district is most of the urban core of Covington as well as Ludlow, Bromley and a few precincts in Park Hills. Should Keene be awarded part of Covington, the likely precincts to be represented by the Campbell County Democrat would be Licking Riverside and the Eastside, including the old Lincoln Grant High School that Simpson attended as well as Simpson's church. "It's precincts that I have a fifty year history with," Simpson, who previously served Covington as City Manager, said.
Population Changes & Covington's Wish List May Be Factors
The Covington City Commission's proposed resolution in opposition any changes to the 65th may also be motivated by Kentucky's lean budget and the limited opportunities for funding of major projects. On Covington's wish list is funding for Gateway College's Urban Campus, a potential game-changer in the revitalization efforts for the city's Downtown. Also, the Northern Kentucky Convention Center is hoping for funding of an important expansion.
"I'm not going to pretend that it's a great likelihood to fund these projects at this point," Simpson said. "I've always asked the commission that if you have to have one, which would it be? The majority has told me that Gateway is because young minds are the key to our future." Simpson noted that he recognizes that the Convention Center is a very important project as well.
The convention center expansion is indicative of the growth in Northern Kentucky since the last census was taken (redistricting occurs every ten years after the US Census is conducted). While Western and Eastern Kentucky have lost population, Northern Kentucky has gained. The State House has 100 members, each of whom should represent roughly 43,000 people, give or take five-percent. But while NKY has grown as a region, Covington has lost population, though the number of people living in Northern Kentucky's largest city is almost exactly the amount of people needed to fill a house district. Only one state representative's district is home to fewer people than Arnold Simpson's, forcing a change to the 65th. Covington is represented in the state house by Simpson and by Republican Covington-based attorney Tom Kerr who lives in Taylor Mill.
Redistricting May Disenfranchise Voters & Potential Candidates
Another strong concern of Simpson's after part of Covington is ceded to a representative not only from another city but also a different county, is what effect it may have long-term on the up-and-coming talent pool of aspiring leaders from our community. "Three of five members of the Covington City Commission live in the precincts that would be changed," Simpson said. "We have a pool of talent that understands the community and interacts with the community." If anyone from the Eastside neighborhood, for example, should ever aspire to represent Covington in Frankfort, the campaign would have to cover Campbell County's Ohio River Cities, as well as those smaller towns along the Licking River, a vastly different place than the more urban, more diverse Covington.
Though Simpson seems certain the redistricting is a done deal, decided by the five members of the Democratic leadership team in Frankfort, he concedes that any member of the Northern Kentucky legislative caucus has the goals of the entire region at heart. But for the City of Covington specifically, it is safe to say that the long-serving representative is more than a little concerned. "If (this redistricting) were a medical procedure, it would be malpractice," he said. "It's like Humpty Dumpty. We won't be able to put it back together again for ten years."
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News
Photo: Rep. Arnold Simpson