State Senator and Majority Whip Brandon Smith, R-District 30, will not be representing Harlan County with this new plan but has picked up three additional counties, now representing Bell, Breathitt, Johnson, Leslie, Magoffin, and Perry.
“I have really focused on, right now, getting to meet all the elected officials over in those districts and send out letters to every official that we have in the three counties, asking them to sit down with us at their discretion and tell us about issues that are important to them,” Smith said. “It's not so much their job to bring me up to speed as it is my job to bring myself up to speed.”
Redistricting must occur in the state every 10 years as a new Census is done to account for the population shifts in the state. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported the state had substantial population shifts from 2000 to 2010, with the state's population increasing from 4 million to 4.3 million. Population shifts were largely from rural to urban areas.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Perry County's population decreased by 2.3 percent from 2000 to 2010, going from 29,390 to 28,712.
Smith said redistricting is something every senator and representative must be prepared for and get used to.
“You either like it or you hate it, every 10 years that's just what has to be done,” he said. “The focus for us it that we're ever mindful that we're state senators, so it doesn't matter where they put us, we're going to represent the state as a whole and specifically try to bring as much focus and attention to our district and how our district fits into the state.”
Representative Fitz Steele, D-District 84, has represented Perry County and parts of Harlan County for the last six years in the state House and, with the new district maps, has added seven precincts to the 13 he already represented in Harlan. He said he is also trying to get to know his new constituents as quickly as possible.
“They don't know me, they have to get to know me, and hopefully they'll accept me. They know I'll represent them, they know that from other parts of Harlan. I just have to win them over and keep working to satisfy the people,” Steele said.
Steele said along with the new voters he now represents, he also represents Kingdom Come State Park as well as Buckhorn State Park. He said this will obviously remain one of the top priorities for him as a representative.
“It means I've got a lot more ground to cover, but, I mean, I'm lucky to be able to represent the working people that I work for in Perry and Harlan counties that elected me,” Steele added.
Smith said although he is excited to represent three new counties and all of their concerns and issues, he does not think he will ever be able to really stop representing Harlan County.
“It may not be on the records of the Capitol as far as where my district is, but when you know people that well and have served them for as long as I have. I'm still going to probably always feel like I'm a part of that,” Smith said.
Smith added that he has reached out to the senator who will now be representing Harlan in order to help him understand exactly what the county is concerned with and wants from its representatives.
“I'm doing everything I can to assist him, to get him ready, as a courtesy both to him and to my district. I think that's a professional courtesy,” Smith said. “I hope that happens to me in my other counties because I think that's a good transition.”
Steele said he is ready to take the reins for his new precincts, adding that it wouldn't matter who he represented as long as he represented them well.
“To me, it's just having a chance to be able to work for these poor, good people,” he said. “I will continue to work as hard as I always have in the past six years. I will not let up and I will not stop.”