Wolf offers alternatives to Republicans’ map

Commonwealth Court may have final say

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 1/18/22

HARRISBURG, PA — The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a redrawn congressional map last week which analysts say would give Republicans an edge in future elections. Part of the …

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Wolf offers alternatives to Republicans’ map

Commonwealth Court may have final say

Posted

HARRISBURG, PA — The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a redrawn congressional map last week which analysts say would give Republicans an edge in future elections. Part of the decennial redistricting process that will outline which lawmakers represent which districts of the commonwealth, the proposed map passed mostly along party lines, with support from all but two Republicans and no Democrats.

The map still might never end up seeing the light of day, however. Its final stop is on the desk of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who is not likely to allow a Republican-leaning map to get signed into law for the next 10 years.

Wolf criticized the map in December, saying it “falls short on [a] basic measure of partisan fairness, among other concerns.”

With the General Assembly and governor’s office once again at odds, it’s looking more and more likely that the judicial branch will end up mediating the dispute and choosing a map for them.

According to nonpartisan online tools that analyze district maps, such as Dave’s Redistricting and the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, the Republicans’ proposed map would create five districts that lean Democratic, seven that lean Republican, and five that are “competitive” but still give Republicans an edge.

Last Saturday, the governor put forth two alternative maps that he said do a better job than the Republican proposal.

“Throughout the congressional redistricting process, I have publicly outlined the requirements for a fair map that I would consider signing,” Wolf said. “While the House Republican map does not comply with those basic principles, I am highlighting two maps that do.”

The first map, dubbed the Governor’s Map, was developed by a six-person redistricting advisory council and, according to Wolf’s office, was “made in accordance… with the neutral criteria of compactness, contiguity, minimization of division of political subdivisions, and maintenance of population equality.”

In this map, Wayne County would be split between two districts—with the more southern half remaining in the Eighth Congressional District and the northern half getting joined with the “East Central” Ninth Congressional District that stretches all the way down to Lebanon County.

Wolf also highlighted the Pennsylvania Citizens’ Map, created based on submissions of more than 7,000 residents. Out of the 17 districts in this map, Democrats would have significant advantages in five, while Republicans would have footholds in six; five more would be more competitive but lean slightly Democratic, and one would lean just slightly toward the Republicans.

“The map I developed and the Pennsylvania Citizens’ Map show that there are multiple maps that can be created in keeping with the redistricting principles we announced months ago,” Wolf said.

Republican leaders responded quickly and scornfully, blasting the governor for ignoring and refusing to work with them throughout the redistricting process.

“By releasing his maps today, Gov. Wolf is completing the final play of his well-worn playbook of refusing to work with the Legislature on substantive issues, waiting until the clock has nearly run out, and then changing his mind and attempting to issue a unilateral ultimatum that is devoid of all sincerity of effort,” House majority leader Kerry Benninghoff and House speaker Bryan Cutler said in a joint statement. “A bad process leads to bad results and the release of the Wolf maps is the result of a self-destructed process that lacks even the most basic trappings of openness and transparency. In addition, there is no sufficient opportunity for public comment on his maps before his administration’s January 24 deadline.”

While the governor has the power to veto the PA House’s proposed map, he has no clear legal path to ensure that either of the two he promoted are enacted. If he cannot come to some kind of consensus with the legislature by January 30, the issue gets turned over to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.

In that case, the court would choose a map submitted by parties involved in the case. With a number of maps still on the table, the governor, top lawmakers and good-government groups must submit their proposed maps to the court by January 24 to be considered.

The commonwealth’s judicial system has experience intervening in the contentious, partisan process of redistricting. The PA Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that the state’s congressional map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Republicans and handed down a new, more fairly drawn one. That court decision was the reason Wayne and Pike counties got a new representative—Rep. Matt Cartwright—in the U.S. House.

For groups like Fair Districts PA, the chaotic road the incoming congressional map has traveled before getting enacted is just further proof that the process should be taken out of the hands of politicians and into the hands of citizens. The group’s chair, Carol Kuniholm, summarized her feelings in a recent statement to members over email:

“In all of this, it remains clear: Real reform is needed.”

For more about redistricting, click here

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