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Pa. court overturns legislative reapportionment plan

| Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012

State Sen. James Brewster says he is delighted with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision to overturn a legislative redistricting map that would have "stripped ordinary citizens of representation."

Wednesday's 4-3 decision cancels the December-approved map for 2012 House and Senate seats drawn by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission " marking the first time a redistricting plan has been overturned.

"In all my political career, I always seem to end up in some historical event in the book of politics," Brewster said, making light of circumstances that could have ended his Senate term. "I don't do that by design. It seems to follow me around."

If the reapportionment plan had been upheld, Brewster's 45th Senatorial District would have merged with the 46th, represented by Tim Solobay in Washington County, in 2013.

The state Supreme Court called the redistricting approach "contrary to law."

Brewster, who sat in a Monday hearing on the matter, said the court's decision is proof that government can work in a bi-partisan way.

"It's not a Democrat vs. Republican thing," Brewster said. "It's a right vs. wrong thing, and I think the Supreme Court found in favor of the right side of this.

"I believe that the public is sick and tired of everything being Republican vs. Democrat. We've got some huge issues " economy, jobs, health care and infrastructure."

While those issues apply on a large scale across the state and nation, Brewster said they have a powerful impact on the demographic of the 45th District.

While a standard Senatorial District represents 250,000 people, Brewster said his region's approximate 220,000 residents share a common bond that might get lost in the shuffle of a wider geographic district.

"When you're in a depressed area where you have a high unemployment rate, high poverty and a high number of senior citizens on fixed incomes, these people need to be represented," Brewster said. "We swore an oath to represent these people, the people of our Pennsylvania districts. This is about getting the people of the 45th District the support they need."

Brewster, who readily admits he's rarely at a loss for words, said he purposely stayed quiet during the reapportionment process because he did not want discussions on the matter to be emotional.

"I was disappointed in how the reapportionment took place," Brewster said Wednesday. "There were not many people who I talked to who thought this map was a good one."

Until a new plan is developed and the high court approves, the maps developed in the last redistricting in 2001 remain in effect. Until the court's majority opinion is issued, lawmakers won't know the scope of the court's concerns.

"There's more we don't know than we know," said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County, a commission member. "The court has remanded the plan to the commission. We don't know the reasons for the remand. We have no indication when we'll see the opinion."

"I think they need to go back to the drawing board," Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa said of the commission he serves on.

Costa, D-Forest Hills, declined to say whether he thought district lines would remain as they are through this year's election, but said that the court's decision to order the 2001 lines to remain in effect signaled that the court expects a drawn-out process.

Theoretically, if no plan were agreed upon until July, Costa said he could not imagine new elections being held at that time. He speculated that in such an instance the new lines might not be used until 2014.

"I'm pleased that a plan that was unfair to many communities and most especially some of those I represented for five years will not take effect," said former Rep. Chelsa Wagner, D-Brookline, who is now Allegheny County controller. "Tactics such as splitting single neighborhoods into three districts would disenfranchise these communities."

Brewster thanked petitioners and those who testified in Harrisburg regarding his seat. He praised Supreme Court justices for making a bold decision he says was the right thing to do.

"This is unprecedented," Brewster said. "This Supreme Court broke new ground. I don't think they wanted to hear that what has happened in the last 40 years is the way it's always been. Just because it's always been that way, doesn't mean it has to stay that way. It doesn't mean it's right."

As the Legislative Reapportionment Committee re-examines its plan to address the court's questions, Brewster urged they "be fair minded and use common sense."

"Let's regain the confidence of the people we represent," he said. "I think that message is loud and clear."

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