The Breathtakingly Brazen PA Congressional Redistricting Plan

Republicans notched a major redistricting win on Tuesday with the unveiling yesterday of a Pennsylvania congressional map that deals a sharp blow to Democrats’ prospects in the state. The plan is not final — it must be passed by both houses of the state Legislature and then signed into law by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. But Republicans control all levers of redistricting in the state, leaving Democrats with little power to contest the map.

“This congressional redistricting plan is breathtakingly brazen in its defiance of the interests of Pennsylvania’s voters” said Common Cause/PA Executive Director, Barry Kauffman, upon the Senate State Government Committee’s vote to approve the Congressional redistricting plan (SB-1249) that will be in place for the coming decade.  Calling the plan the “ultimate in political cynicism” the bill abandons any pretense of maintaining congressional districts as communities of interest.

The plan unveiled today features a district (CD 7) that meanders bizarrely through five southeastern counties  resembling the mythological three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hades.  Another (CD 15) stretches from the Delaware River (Bethlehem and Allentown areas) to the Susquehanna River (just south of Harrisburg) following close to the I-78 and I-81 corridors; while another reaches from the Delaware even deeper into the Allegheny mountains (CD 10).  One western Pennsylvania district, resembling an emaciated hammerhead shark, reaches from the Ohio border to Johnstown.

Erie County has been split in half. Scranton and Wilkes-Barre have been separated from the rest of Northeastern PA. Easton has been separated from the rest of the Lehigh Valley.

Meanwhile, Southeastern Pennsylvania’s fractal lines wind and intertwine in such a way that it is difficult to tell who lives where, and the 7th Congressional District is barely contiguous. On the other side of the state Congressmen Mark Critz and Jason Altmire have been drawn into a district together and will have to compete in the Democratic primary.  

Common Cause/PA noted that the legislature has had the census data, on which the redistricting plan is based, since the beginning of April, but did not release its proposed plan until December 14th.  The legislature could easily have developed the new congressional district plan by the end July, put it out for 60 days of public comments and public hearings, and still passed it before the end of October.  Instead, with the date for candidates to circulate nominating petitions looming just six weeks away, the bill will move forward on the legislative fast track, with no public hearing on the plan, and no meaningful opportunity for interested citizens and community leaders to review the plan and attempt to improve it during its one week of legislative life.

Reps. Jason Altmire (D-PA), left, and Mark Critz (D-PA) must face each other in a primary.

While states likes Iowa, California and Arizona have moved forward to take redistricting out of the hands of self-interested politicians whose principal goals are to create a gerrymandered advantage for their parties and to protect incumbent lawmakers from the voters, Pennsylvania’s system remains the ultimate incumbency protection program.  Several senators even noted that Pennsylvania’s system manifests an abuse of power regardless of which party is in charge.  “If Pennsylvanians ever hope to take back control of their government” said Kauffman, “we must reform our system for drawing legislative and congressional district boundaries.  This plan is a clear-cut case of politicians picking their voters in order to prevent voters from having a meaningful opportunity to pick their elected officials.”

The Democratic party has created a website where citizens can vote on which Congressional District is the most gerrymandered and a Rorschach test where you can propose what each district most resembles. (Examples include “Zombie aardvark in an airplane seat” [District 3], “A rabbit pulling the tail of a giraffe” [District 7]” and “A seahorse riding a platypus” [District 17].)

Close-ups on Southwestern Pennsylvania and Southeastern Pennsylvania

House Democratic Caucus Whip Rep. Mike Hanna (D-Clinton/Centre) intends to offer a fair Congressional map as an amendment to the Republican maps unveiled Tuesday (SB 1249).

Details follow the jump.
 
 State Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Clinton/Centre, has introduced revised congressional maps that more closely resemble the “one-man, one-vote” principle afforded by the U.S. Constitution.

“Voting is the only way citizens can hold their government accountable. Based on what we’ve seen so far in this process, redistricting has become a game, which cripples competitive elections and ensures incumbency protection.

This is politics at its worst and a backwards movement in transparency and reform. We should make certain that every person’s vote counts, putting the interests of all the citizens first, not just the politicians. My proposal will not suppress the voices of 12.7 million Pennsylvania residents, but allow their voices to be heard through their vote.

Hanna’s legislation (H.B. 2078) crafts congressional districts for Pennsylvania that more closely align with suggestions offered by the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters and Common Cause.

My proposal creates a fair redistricting map, putting aside partisan interests and protecting the interests of the voters. This plan will minimize district splits in counties and municipalities and ensure equality of representation across 18 congressional districts. It will emphasize the compactness of districts while ensuring traditional communities of interest remain together in the same district.

Redistricting map proposed by Rep. Mike Hanna:

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