Census shows Kentucky’s population grew to 4.5M; state to maintain House seats

Published 9:46 pm Monday, April 26, 2021

Kentucky will maintain its six seats in the U.S. House with the new political dynamic of Republicans now being fully in charge of the upcoming round of mapping district boundaries.

Any suspense about Kentucky’s share of congressional representation evaporated Monday with the initial release of figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. It put Kentucky’s population at 4.5 million, up from the approximately 4.3 million people counted in the 2010 Census.

Republicans hold five of the state’s congressional districts, reflecting the GOP’s political dominance. The lone Democratic-held seat is the 3rd District, which spans almost all of metro Louisville.

With Kentucky retaining its six districts, attention will turn to how the GOP-dominated legislature eventually will configure the districts across a sprawling state with 120 counties.

During the last round of reapportionment a decade ago, control of the legislature was split between the Democratic-run House and GOP-led Senate. Republicans claimed the House in the 2016 election and now wield supermajorities in both chambers, giving them the ultimate power to set district boundaries.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has veto power over the new plans, but Republicans have the numbers to easily override his objections, as they did during this year’s session on a host of issues, including bills that eroded his executive and appointment powers. Several of those fights went straight to court, a prospect that looms for new district lines as well.

One of the key looming questions is what Republican lawmakers do with the 3rd District. The seat is held by Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, who wields considerable influence as chairman of the House Budget Committee as long as Democrats maintain their House majority. Yarmuth, in his eighth term, ousted a Republican incumbent to first win the seat, and the district is now one of the few Democratic strongholds left in Kentucky.

“I know some Republicans want to keep all the Democrats in the 3rd and cede the ground forever, while others are thinking about the possibilities of disbursing the county to give the GOP a chance to win the 3rd,” said Scott Jennings, a Kentuckian and former adviser to President George W. Bush. “It could be too cute by half to try to divide it up, though.”

Four Kentucky districts are seen as safe Republican seats — now held by U.S. Reps. James Comer, Brett Guthrie, Hal Rogers and Thomas Massie. Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr has fended off tough Democratic challenges in the 6th District. That district, which includes Lexington, the state’s second-largest city, had swung between Republicans and Democrats for decades.

“Ultimately, my guess is that legislative leaders come up with a way to maintain the status quo and give Kentucky six districts that will likely result in a 5-1 GOP-Democratic split,” Jennings said Monday. “I’d expect Kentucky’s 6th District to get a little redder around the edges, as Rep. Barr’s district is the only one that is truly purple.”