GOP can thank Pa. Democrats for majority in House

| Monday, March 31, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

HARRISBURG — Republicans who used gerrymandering and geography to hold onto a majority in the House in 2012 despite widespread losses got help from an unlikely source: Pennsylvania Democrats.

A year earlier, state House Democrats helped pass the Republican-drawn map of the Pennsylvania's congressional districts. And before that, they had another chance to stop it.

With a divided Republican majority on the Senate State Government Committee, approval of the map was in question until a Democrat, Sen. Christina Tartaglione of Philadelphia, voted for it. Her Congressman, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, had supported it, Tartaglione said.

“I guess it was OK for his district,” Tartaglione said.

Many Democrats say that map is how Republicans ended up in control 13 of Pennsylvania's 18 House seats, despite Democrats owning a 4-to-3 registration edge in Pennsylvania.

The bill, which passed in December 2011, was the second time in 10 years that Republicans got to draw the state's map of congressional districts to reflect decade-long demographic shifts, thanks to their control of Pennsylvania's Legislature and governor's office.

That outsized, eight-seat edge in a state that has voted for the Democrat in six straight presidential elections is a major contributor to the GOP's 33-seat majority in the House, control that shows no signs of changing in this year's congressional elections.

The Pennsylvania map — designed by Republicans to increase their congressional delegation from 12 to 13 in the 2012 election — was called “the worst gerrymander in modern Pennsylvania history” by Franklin & Marshall College political scientist G. Terry Madonna.

It shifted counties and some of the state's larger cities into new congressional districts, many of which were contorted in an effort to spread the state's most conservative voters as generously as possible and lump its heavy concentrations of Democrats into as few districts as possible.

Republicans did win a 13th seat in a hard-fought and expensive race in a substantially changed 12th District stretching more than 100 miles from Johnstown to Pennsylvania's western border with Ohio.

This year may provide the biggest test of the map: six-term Rep. Jim Gerlach is retiring, providing an open seat for Democrats to target in the increasingly liberal Philadelphia suburbs.

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