GOP Scores Redistricting Win
By Keegan Gibson, Managing Editor
Republicans scored a big victory today as the Chairman of the panel charged with drawing new legislative districts voted to advance preliminary maps drawn by the Republican caucuses.
The maps would make a Democratic comeback in the Pa. House, not to mention the Pa. Senate, more difficult.
Stephen McEwen, a retired Judge of the Pa. Superior Court, voted with Majority Leaders Dominic Pileggi of the Senate and Mike Turzai of the House over the objection of the panel’s two Democrats.
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa and House Minority Leader Frank Dermody said the maps represented a sharp departure from terms previously negotiated by both parties and amounted to a partisan power grab.
Several lawmakers crowded large copies of the new maps printed on poster boards to see how their districts – and their colleagues – had turned out.
“This sucks. This f***ing sucks,” one said.
Each party came to the meeting with revised, final versions of their map proposals. The maps were not revealed until 30 minutes before today’s hearing, as the panel took a recess. All four caucus leaders accused their counterparts of last-minute maneuvering.
In his opening statement McEwen, who was elected to office as a Republican, emphasized that the panel had far exceeded his preferred deadline of October 17th (the actual limit to adopt a plan was November 14). He seemed sympathetic to Pileggi and Turzai, who said that they were not seeking partisan gain, but fairly reflecting changes in demographics. Namely, that Democratic areas in western PA had shrunk as Republican areas in eastern PA grew.
Costa and Dermody said that they did not have sufficient time to inspect the plans. Costa argued that the biggest area of growth, south central PA, was overlooked by the GOP plan.
These preliminary maps are starting point rather than the final product. The new boundaries are subject to a 30 day period of public review, at which point the panel will have 30 additional days to make corresponding changes. Sources close to the LRC predict the final maps will be completed before lawmakers leave for winter recess in mid-December.
In summary: the game is not over for Democrats, but it appears McEwen views Republican proposals as more reasonable. On some of the biggest sticking points – how many and which districts will be moved, which municipalities will be split, etc – the GOP has the advantage.
Here are some of the specifics of the PA House map:
Rep. Nick Kotik’s Allegheny County-based 45th district will move to Coatesville in central Chester County where it is likely to remain a Democratic seat. Kotik would likely face an intra-party battle from Rep. Jesse White, in whose district he now resides.
Turzai made a show of saying the plan would keep Democratic Rep. Bud George’s 74th district seat, which Democrats had agreed to sacrifice, in Clearfield County.
Democratic Rep. Chelsa Wagner’s Pittsburgh-based 22nd district seat, which she will vacate when she likely wins the office of Allegheny County Controller this fall, would migrate to Allentown where it would become a majority Hispanic district.
The 169th seat of Republican Rep. Denny O’Brien, who has a strong chance to be elected to Philadelphia City Council this fall, would move to York County.
Republican Rep. John Evans’ Erie-based 5th district will move to central Berks County. He is retiring after this term.
The Senate seat of Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny) would be moved to Monroe County, which would be represented by just on Senator.
Senator Jeff Piccola (R-Dauphin) has perhaps the most gerrymandered district of all. He would no longer represent any part of the city of Harrisburg. His district would snake through Perry County, south through western Cumberland County, across northern Adams County, and into central York County.
Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon) would inherit Harrisburg.
To Democrats’ chagrin, the map will split the township of Upper Darby (which in itself is not contiguous).