A County Without Voice
All power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their peace, safety, happiness and the protection of property. For the advancement of these ends, they have at all times an inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may deem proper.
– Kentucky Constitution, Bill of Rights, Section 4.
In the state of Kentucky there are two legislative bodies laid out by its constitution: Senate and House of Representatives. The Senate is split into thirty-eight districts, with each district being represented by one senator. The House of Representatives (HoR) is split into 100 districts with each being represented by one representative. In both bodies, the districts are to be as evenly divided as possible.
Now that the civics lesson has been dealt with let us begin with the real issue at hand, the House of Representatives. Harlan County has been dealt a poor hand. As of writing this, Harlan is split down the middle between Bell and Perry County to form HoR Districts 87 and 84, respectively. Meanwhile all of Bell and Perry remain in their respective districts. I will say that Harlan is not the only county split up this way, however I am not entitled to speak for those counties. I was born and raised in Harlan and it sickens me to know our voice is not being heard in our government. I am sure some among you may be thinking this is no big deal, we vote in these districts so how could we not have a voice? Maybe some of you have went the extra mile and think we get two votes this way, is that not better than one? It is not better because it is better to vote and have one who represents the county entirely than two who represent other counties and Harlan only when it benefits them. I will say again, we have been dealt a poor hand, we have no voice.
Both District 87 and 84 contain all of Bell and Perry County respectively, while only portions of Harlan are split among them even though all three counties have populations that range roughly from twenty to thirty thousand people. During the 2016 HoR election, district 87 had 14,029 voters: 9,579 for Bell and only 4,449 from Harlan. During that same election, district 84 had 16,290 voters: 10,528 for Perry and just 5,762 from Harlan. Statistically, if someone in Harlan were to run for either district, they would have a harder time than someone from Bell or Perry. They could get votes from either county, but ask yourself this; why would someone from Bell or Perry vote for someone in Harlan. Wouldn’t they feel a local would better represent them? Is this not the exact point I am addressing? Why should the people of Harlan not have someone local to represent them as well?
How can someone from Bell or Perry represent the needs of all of Harlan properly? It is simple, they can’t. The image above shows just how split our county is when it comes to these districts, what makes Harlan any less compared to Bell or Perry? You can see that their counties aren’t split up, they are completely intact. I am calling the people of Harlan County to stand up and not take this misrepresentation any longer. The only way to remedy this grievance is for Harlan to be granted its own representative in Kentucky’s HoR. We draw closer to the next election and in my opinion, there would be no better time to change the status quo.
The only way to remedy this grievance is for Harlan to be granted its own representative in Kentucky’s HoR. Kentucky’s constitution does clarify that there would be 38 senators and 100 representatives in the General Assembly, but as mentioned above, Section 4 of Kentucky’s Bill of Rights states that all power lies with the people who reserve the right to alter and reform the government. If the people of Harlan wish to be properly represented who is to deny us that right? This would involve amending two sections of the state constitution: Section 33, which establishes guidelines for creating districts; Section 35, which sets the number of representatives and senators for the state. If one does not amend Section 35 then one district would have to be removed to allow Harlan to become its own, which would be unfair to the residents of said district. Section 33 lays out the rules for creating new districts, if we are to ignore those rules then the rest of our constitution would be void. Amending the Constitution is the only logical solution I see, however if there were a more effective solution then that would be the path we should take.
Amending the constitution for one county may not be fair to the rest of the state. My second proposal would be an entire reform of how we organize our legislature. Currently we have two houses: The Senate and House of Representatives. Both house’s districts are organized based on population, which is unfair to lower population areas of the state. To remedy this, we could organize our Assembly like that of Congress. The Congress of The United States is organized into two houses; one based on population (HoR) and the other allows two per state(Senate). In our case, it would be flipped; I propose our HoR be organized by having one representative per county and organizing the senate by population based districts as we currently do. This would increase the size of HoR to 120 members and leave the senate unchanged.
A separate note on the senate that I would like to add is, why have one? U.S senator George Norris, in 1931, argued this case to Nebraskans saying “The constitutions of our various states are built upon the idea that there is but one class. If this be true, there is no sense or reason in having the same thing done twice, especially if it is to be done by two bodies of men elected in the same way and having the same jurisdiction.” If we were to have one representative per county and abolish the senate we would have a comparable size legislature that is fair to less populous counties like Harlan.
The main goal remains that Harlan County gains fair representation in Kentucky’s General Assembly. The cart that which this goal travels on is less important though all paths should be examined. I personally can not see how individuals from different, even if neighboring, counties can fully represent the wants and needs of Harlan. You may disagree with me, but from recent discussion I have had with other residents who share the same thoughts and discontent on the matter.
As my argument ends, I ask once more, for you the good people of Harlan to take what I have brought you into consideration. For those of you who agree with me, make your voice known! What always has been, is not always what should be; all things must change at some point. This is the first step in pulling Harlan from the wreck that it has become, but there shall be no progress for Harlan while we are without voice.
Constitution_part1. Accessed December 11, 2017. http://www.lrc.state.ky.us/legresou/constitu/list1.htm.
"Kentucky 84th District State House Results: Chris Fugate Wins." The New York Times. Accessed December 11, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/elections/results/kentucky-state-house-district- 84.
"Kentucky 87th District State House Results: Rick Nelson Wins." The New York Times. Accessed December 11, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/elections/results/kentucky-state-house-district- 87.
2013 Redistricting Maps. Accessed December 11, 2017. http://www.lrc.ky.gov/gis/Red13_maps.htm.
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