Dems Decry GOP Gerrymandering

By Keegan Gibson, Managing Editor

The current iteration of Pa-12, the one carved for Rep. Jack Murtha in 2001, is routinely cited as one of the most egregious examples of partisan gerrymandering in the nation. Republicans have outdone themselves with Rep. Pat Meehan’s new 7th district, which looks like it was drawn up by Jackson Pollock.

It’s ingenious or audacious, depending on where you sit. Republicans have successfully drafted a new congressional map that will likely secure their 12 incumbents, and potentially puts a 13th seat in play of 19 total.

Democrats are crying foul, with a special emphasis on the southeastern Pa. shenanigans that independent observers are calling “gerrymandering.”

“We knew that the Republicans would use their control of the process to draw a map that benefited Republicans, but we did not expect them to abuse their power to this degree, all while shutting out the public,” said Pennsylvania Democratic Chairman Jim Burn. “The Republicans are splitting up communities to benefit politicians at the expense of the people they were elected to represent.  With the State Senate planning to vote on the map tomorrow, there will be no time for the people of these communities to voice their disapproval of the map.”

Drawing special ire is that reshaped 7th district, which plucks Republican voters almost house by house across five southeastern Pa. counties. The 6th district, represented by Rep. Jim Gerlach, isn’t much better.

Reports the PA Independent:

After viewing the new map, state Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, who lives in the district, described it as an “unmitigated, absolute disgrace.”

“I am simply shocked,” Vitali said. “Can someone explain to me what happened to the 7th district?”

[Senate State Government Committee Chairman Charles] McIllhinney [R-Bucks] said the map came out of input from “all interested parties and each individual area.”

“The 7th was the most unique one on the map,” he said. “It was a more complicated area.”

Meehan issued a standard statement saying he was sorry to lose some of his current constituents, but looking forward to meeting new ones.

“I look forward to getting to know the new parts of the district and its wonderful communities and families,” he said. “I will work hard to listen to their concerns in these difficult times, and as I have within my current district, I will continue fighting to create and retain jobs in Pennsylvania, grow our economy and bring our fiscal house in order to protect the next generation from a crushing debt.”

Is it questionable? Sure. Challengeable in court? Probably not. Check out PoliticsPA’s look at the next steps for congressional redistricting for explanation about the open-ended rules for partisan gerrymandering. Suffice it to say almost anything goes under current legal parameters with regards to partisan breakdown of districts.

In the days and hours before the plan was unveiled, it was reported that Meehan’s district – and the degree to which Republicans could shore it up – was a final sticking point for the plan. Evidently, they decided to go big.

Good government advocates have consistently complained that the redistricting process is too secretive and faulted the lawmakers last week for not putting out maps sooner.

Candidates running for office 2012 start circulating their nominating petitions for on January 24 and Barry Kauffman, director of the nonpartisan political watchdog group Common Cause, predicted it would take a minimum of five voting days to get a bill passed through both houses. And that’s “that’s if everything ran just like clockwork,” Kauffman said.

Western Pa. appears fairly clean, but other examples of quirky map-tinkering in eastern Pa. include:
Easton has been separated from the rest of the Lehigh Valley.
Harrisburg has been split from the rest of Dauphin County.
Wilkes-Barre has been carved out of Luzerne County.
The Luzerne-based 11th district now stretches down to Cumberland County.
Rep. Pitts’ 16th district snakes up to absorb the city of Reading.
Almost every part of Berks, Chester and Montgomery County.

The current pa-12 (left) and the proposed pa-7 (right, dark green).

December 14th, 2011 | Posted in Congress, Front Page Stories, Harrisburg, Redistricting Watch, Top Stories | No Comments