Lawmakers Rail Against Proposed Maps
Harrisburg — The panel charged with redrawing Pennsylvania’s state House and Senate maps heard an earful on Wednesday, as lawmakers and citizens alternatively nit-picked individual districts and blasted the entire map proposal.
The Legislative Reapportionment Commission took public comment on the preliminary maps that passed the panel 4-1 in April. Only Sen. Minority Leader Jay Costa (D) opposed that plan; Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R), Reps. Mike Turzai (R) and Frank Dermody (D), and Chairman Stephen McEwen all supported it.
The Pa. Supreme Court rejected the panel’s initial version of the map back in January; the proposals being discussed would not take impact until the 2014 election cycle.
Senate Pro Tem Joe Scarnati lead off the testimony. He said the compromise map adopted by the LRC on April 12 was faulty because it moves senate seat of Jane Orie, which gained population, rather than the seat of Sen. Jim Brewster, which lost population.
“Elevating consideration of retirements opens the back doorway of protecting incumbents,” he said, and possibly in violation of the constitution.
His comments were echoed by Allegheny GOP Chair Jim Roddey and state rep. John Maher.
Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton) spoke next. She decried the map because it moves her district away from her county. Half of her current constituents would have a new state senator under the new map, she said.
Crying partisanship was Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery), who said almost every adjustment to the Senate map favors Republicans. In particular, he cited Senate district 37, the seat of retiring Sen. John Pippy (R-Allegheny).
In the Republican primary last week, Raja defeated favored candidate Rep. Mark Mustio in the primary. In the aftermath, GOP caucus reportedly showed willingness to shift the lines; Raja does not live in the preliminary 37th district.
Leach argued that if the LRC accommodates Raja, they should do the same for Rob Teplitz, who won the Democratic primary in the 15th district. The preliminary plan moves him into a different district that is unwinnable for Democrats.
“Simple fairness and decency demand that Mr. Teplitz and Mr. Raja, two candidates in similar circumstances, be treated the same, and not treated differently based on nothing other than political party affiliation,” he said.
Reps. Turzai and Dermody had to leave shortly after Leach’s testimony to attend House business. Reps. Glen Grell (R-Cumberland) and Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) took their places, respectively.
A number of other lawmakers, including several Democratic reps spoke about about specific local problems with their districts or those nearby. Reps. Mark Cohen, Greg Vitali, John Maher, Tim Briggs, and Margo Davidson from SEPA spoke, as did Rep. Gerald Mullery from Luzerne County. So did other local officials, like the Mayors of Phoenixville and West Chester, the President of Reading City Council, and a spokeswoman for Beaver County.
Candidates spoke, too. Kim Villella is one of the Senate Democrats’ top recruits; she faces Sen. Elder Vogel (R-Beaver) in the fall. The preliminary map would split several Democratic municipalities out of the district.
“Communities should not be separated just to tilt the political makeup of the 47th district,” she said. “Under this map, I would not represent the businesses that my husband and I have owned for three decades.”
The district leans Democratic now, but would absorb Republican Cranberry Township (Butler Co) and lean Republican under the proposed map. Not that it would help Vogel this year; the 2012 election will be fought along the current lines regardless. A spokeswoman for Butler County elected officials (who are predominantly Republican) echoed Villella’s request.
Erin Molchany, the Democratic candidate for Chelsa Wagner’s former seat in Allegheny County, asked the LRC not to go through with its plan to move the district to Allentown. Population changes compel a Pittsburgh-area seat be moved to eastern Pa.
“With continued statewide cuts to essential services,” she said, “community groups are hindered and harmed when forced to work through multiple representatives.”
And good government advocates were similarly put off by the new map. Barry Kauffman of Common Cause, as well as citizen activist Amanda Holt (whose legal objection caused the Pa. Supreme Court to remand the original maps) said the new version still made too many municipal splits. Likewise Lora Lavin of the League of Women Voters.
Spokepersons for the organization Latino Lines, which supported the initial remap in 2011, sought to testify that the new map insufficiently reflects the growth of PA’s Hispanic population.