Turzai: Redistricting Panel Will Seek Unanimous Plan

By David Gerber and Natalka Karaman

Some would call it putting in a last request.

Constituents came before the Legislative Reapportionment Commission at a public hearing today held at the Duquesne University School of Law to try to keep district seats from leaving western Pennsylvania in the wake of shifting population trends.

House Majority leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) stressed the importance of collectively agreeing on how Western Pennsylvania’s districts should be redrawn.

Turzai said he was working for a unanimous vote on the plan.

“Historically, this is what we aim for and we the panel label this as our number one priority. I am certain that if we follow constitutional mandates, unanimous consent will be the result.”

The movement of Pennsylvanians out of southwestern Pennsylvania and growth in central and eastern parts of the state makes many Allegheny county voters nervous that districts may be shifting away from their region.  Traditionally, political district boundaries are adjusted to reflect numbers of residents in certain geographic regions.

Unlike congressional redistricting, the final plan requires only a majority of support on the five-member panel – not a vote by the PA House or Senate. Recent court decisions have made the rules governing the process much stricter, including the allowable deviation from the target population of each district

People arrived from all over the area to testify about issues they feel should be taken into consideration when reorganizing Western Pennsylvania’s districts.

In addition to the general concern that western PA was losing out, Overall trends in the testimonies revealed concerns over women losing representation in the House and Senate, and minority voices being diluted within larger more homogeneous districts. Most people stated, either implicitly or explicitly, that they did not want to lose the 22nd PA House district (the Brookline neighborhood in the South Hills of Pittsburgh).

The current representative of the 22nd district, Chelsea Wagner, testified about the importance of maintaining female representation in the legislature and the importance of preserving the representation of urban communities. She emphasized the value women contribute to the process of legislation in terms of communication and facilitating compromise. She spouted various incriminating statistics regarding the under-representation of women in Pennsylvania’s legislature and in elected offices, as well as in business.

Her likely move to the office of Allegheny County Controller later this year leaves her district seat vacant, a convenient solution for those who want to move seats from western to eastern Pa. However, she indicated that she will be throwing her support behind another female to run for her seat, and asked the committee to take women’s representation into account when deciding on redistricting.

Chelsea Wagner also warned of the dangers of cutting up the close-knit community of the 19th ward. Openly defending her district, she said, “If the 22nd district must be placed elsewhere, you should make sure that the communities closely associated with each other stay together”. Wagner also acknowledged that the “greatest loss of population occurred here” but that we still need the “eight urban districts to represent the urban core”.

Ed Gainey, Chairman of the Pittsburgh Democratic Party agreed.

“Losing a seat held by Chelsea Wagner would take away from the voting power of the city of Pittsburgh.” He asked that the commission look beyond the population criteria when deciding on new districts so as not to lose the diversified voice of the 22nd district. “Do not dilute our voice,” he urged, “so that we can continue to grow as a region and as a city.”

Selena Schmidt, Executive Director of Power 32, also stressed the importance of protecting the diversity of the region, which has experienced a dramatic uptick in the areas surrounding Pittsburgh.

Schmidt explained, “the growth in the region is dependant on the success of our urban core, and the thriving urban conversation needs to be represented in our legislature.”

The commission members listening to inquiries were weighted to the western part of the state. In addition to Turzai, Senate Majority leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware), Senate Minority leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), and House Minority leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny) questioned witnesses. Former judge and commission chairman Stephen J. McEwen Jr. could not be present.

The panel members repeatedly stated that the purpose of the hearing was not to answer or ask questions – it was merely to listen to the complaints, concerns, and suggestions made by the concerned constituents of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Turzai, made it vehemently clear that he and the panel were not present to answer questions, but to only listen. Repeatedly, he stopped inquiring constituents when directly asking questions with, “You may ask your present question, but, we will not reply. I suggest that you follow your question with the answer you wish to hear from us so that we the panel can take into consideration your thoughts and suggestions on the redistricting process.”

At a similar hearing held in Allentown last week, speakers stated concerns regarding the minority vote. There, the primary concern was solidifying Latino voting blocs and giving Monroe County more homogenous representation.

4 Responses

  1. This article omits the testimonies of Anita Shire of the League of Women Voters, Christopher Lee, and Mr. Kohnke…. all of whom addressed the gerrymandering of all of PA with very innovative requests and solutions.

  2. Hard nosed Howard? HARDLY
    Are the words that come to mind, when considering Howard for Allegheny County Controller

  3. Don’t feel too bad ladies, Ms. Wagner is an equal opportunity demeaner. As a state rep, she twice attempted — as prime sponsor — to pass legislation (HB 1163) that would demote parents to the rank of by-standers in the matter of who should tell their children about sex and at what age their children should learn about it.

    Under current law, public school districts have the discretion to decide whether to include sex ed in the local curriculum and if so in what grade it should begin and the degree of detail that should be taught. Parents have a voice in local school issues.

    Ms. Wagner’s bill would have stripped local school directors of that authority. Her bill would have mandated that all sex education be comprehensive — covering intercourse, contraception, pregnancy, alcohol and drugs as inducements, and disease — and that it begin — hold on to your bonnet, Grandma — in the first grade! Why at that tender age? Ms. Wagner says the purpose of her bill is to prepare children TO DECIDE FOR THEMSELVES about when, where, how, and with whom to start having sex.

    In a letter to fellow members of the House of Representatives, Ms. Wagner demeans all of Pennsylvania’s parents by suggesting that they’re just not up to the job of deciding these highly sensitive personal matters for themselves: step aside you imbeciles, the government will run this part of your family life.

    Why is Ms. Wagner hell bent to mandate first-grade sex ed? Because, her bill explains, unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease are a drain on the government. And in Ms. Wagner’s utopian vision of a perfect world, the interests of the government trump all other concerns. Her bill makes no mention of morality, virtue, or any transcendent system of values such as right and wrong, good and bad.

    In fact, her bill would make it unlawful for a teacher to give any indication that it’s wrong for children to have sex, otherwise teachers might hurt the feelings of students who have already begun having sex.

    Public schools in Allegheny County can’t manage to graduate more than 75 percent of all students, and only about half of the black students escape from their academic gulags via graduation. Many of those who do graduate lag badly in reading, writing and math. Yet somehow Ms. Wagner thinks public schools should be entrusted with the additional duty of teaching comprehensive sex ed beginning in the primary grades. Is this dreamy-eyed, radical liberalism or what?

    The idea of first-grade sex ed will make even die-hard Democrat Party loyalists queasy. So it would be tempting to elect her as controller just to get her away from the levers and switches of power in Harrisburg. But hold your horses. She’s not interested in being controller just to count the money. As Ms. Wagner has said in public repeatedly, “The county controller should be more than a bean-counter. The controller should be an advocate.” Now we know the kind of policies she would advocate.

    No, better that Chelsa Wagner should become a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood. Let’s have a good old-fashioned accounting professional as county controller. Better yet, let’s have an accounting professional who, unlike Ms. Wagner, has never been part of the political machine that is driving Allegheny County’s finances toward a cliff. And best of all, let’s have a county controller who’s also known as a penny pincher. They don’t call him Bob “Hard-Nosed” Howard for nothing.

  4. If Chelsea Wagner really cared about women in politics why did she not support the only woman running for Congress in Pennsylvania in 2010? She probably doesn’t even know who she was. (Melissa Haluszczak)

    Where was Wagner, when Melissa ran and she was running right here in Pittsburgh?
    Ms. Wagner never even gave her the time of day. She never met or offered her support.

    Now that it is Ms. Wagner that will be out of a job; losing to a more qualified candidate for Controller, she is all about asking women to degrade themselves and vote ONLY based upon gender.
    I have been a long time and early supporter of women’s rights, but Wagner’s comments demean women.

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