Harlan County will have three legislators under the current redistricting proposal before the Kentucky House of Representatives.
Under the proposal, state representatives Fitz Steele, D-Hazard, and Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro, will be responsible for most of the county, except for the city of Benham which would represented by Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville.
Harlan County has four representatives currently, but state Rep. Tim Couch, R-Hyden, would no longer have districts in Harlan County under the pending proposal.
While the decision on whether the proposal will actually pass is not a definite, Steele said efforts to move his district out of Harlan County to Breathitt, Leslie and Owsley weren’t successful as he “put up a fight” to keep representing Harlan County.
“I fought hard to stay in Harlan,” said Steele in a telephone interview on Friday. “Harlan is home to me now. I have made too many good friends over there to let anyone mess with it. Harlan is a proud county, with proud people, hard working people, a proud coal county. I am honored for them to hire me to be their state representative.”
Steele said he picks up five precincts in the county, including Verda, Grays Knob and the precints from Totz north to Letcher County line and the Virginia state line near Lynch except for the city of Benham, which Combs will represent if the plan passes.
“I will keep Harlan city in my district with this proposal,” he said.
Steele said he knows the issues confronting our area and was “truly concerned” about giving up any precincts in Harlan County.
The redistricting proposal has been causing quite the discussion as of late. The redistricting plan occurs every 10 years to account for population changes found by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Kentucky’s overall population grew from 4 million to 4.3 million between 2000 and 2010. The change required a major reconfiguration of legislative districts, which in the House must represent roughly 43,000 people.
“It is a proposal,” said Nelson. “I hope the Senate approves it.”
Nelson said if the Senate does not approve the proposal, there may have to be a special session called to solve the issue. The plan would have to be in place before the 2014 election.
According to earlier reports from the Associated Press, Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he’s willing to publicly pledge that House Democrats would pass the Senate plan as proposed next year if the Senate moves ahead with the House plan this year.
If approved, Nelson’s 87th District would gain seven precincts and lose five. The seven precincts the district will pick up are Bledsoe, Elcomb, Pansy, Fresh Meadows, Wallins Creek City, Wallins Creek School and Coldiron.
Nelson would lose and Steele gain precincts in the New York section of Cumberland, Green Morris, Lynch, Verda and Grays Knob.
No areas in Bell County would be affected by the proposal if it is approved by the Senate.
Nelson said the 87th District had to pick up about 2,000 people.
“I hope the folks will give me a chance to do a good job,” said Nelson, addressing the residents of the new areas acquired by the 87th district if the proposal passes.
Nelson also said he hates to lose the areas he already served should the proposal pass.
Nelson was born in Harlan County. He said he is sure he will feel at home with the new areas that could be acquired if the proposal passes.
Anthony Cloud, staff writer, for the Middlesboro Daily News contributed to this article.