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Controversial Kentucky Redistricting Effort Fuels Tensions, Prompts Assault Inside Capitol Building

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"Controversial Kentucky Redistricting Effort Fuels Tensions, Prompts Assault Inside Capitol Building"

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Stephen Trask is escorted out of the Capitol Building in Frankfort Kentucky. (Photo courtesy of Rikka Wallin)

On Tuesday, the Kentucky state senate voted to approve shifting progressive Democrat State Senator Kathy Stein’s district to the northeast of the Lexington constituency that elected her in 2008. Because of Kentucky’s residency requirements, Stein won’t even be able to run for reelection in her new district, forcing her out of the senate when her term expires at the end of the year until at least 2014. Lexington’s new senator is Dorsey Ridley, who lives 200 miles outside of the district he now represents.

Opponents of the decision called the redistricting a “travesty” and “unprecedented,” and after a heated debate on the senate floor during an open session, tempers poured out into the hallways outside.

Stephen Schwartz, a Kentucky resident who also goes by Stephen Trask, confronted Republican State Senate President David Williams in a hallway after the session. In response, eyewitnesses say, a doorman for Senator Williams grabbed Trask by the neck—twice—and police officers forcefully escorted other protestors out of the building.

“Within a split second, someone dressed in a suit lunged at Stephen and had his hands around his throat,” said April Browning, an eyewitness who was in the gallery in support of the senator who was affected by the redistricting.

Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers told police and local media he witnessed Trask first grab doorman John Barton by the neck, but that recollection was strongly disputed by Browning and two other eyewitnesses, Rikka Wallin and Karen Conley.

“It’s a total lie,” said Wallin. “That’s an outright lie,” echoed Conley, who organized the protest on Facebook. “I have never seen anything like this in my life.” Both women also reported being shoved and pushed by officers who responded to the scene

A related yet independent rally held by Occupy Lexington and the progressive group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth took place outside the capitol building earlier in the day, and some attendees also reported aggression by capitol police.

“At least a couple of folks not involved in the confrontation with Sen. Williams said they were treated roughly by the police and essentially shoved out,” said Jerry Hardt, the Communications Director for Kentuckians for the Commonwealth in an email to Think Progress. “We know of at least one other person who said she was similarly mistreated.”

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