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Republicans' congressional redistricting plan seen as negotiations' starting point

Debra Erdley
| Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018, 1:57 p.m.
Sen. Mike Turzai on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018, tweeted out this new congressional district map, writing: 'Tonight we submitted a map to @GovernorTomWolf. This map includes only 15 split counties (13 less than the 2011 Plan) and includes only 17 split municipalities (49 less than the 2011 Plan).  It is compact and constitutional.'
Sen. Mike Turzai via Twitter
Sen. Mike Turzai on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018, tweeted out this new congressional district map, writing: 'Tonight we submitted a map to @GovernorTomWolf. This map includes only 15 split counties (13 less than the 2011 Plan) and includes only 17 split municipalities (49 less than the 2011 Plan). It is compact and constitutional.'

A congressional map Pennsylvania's Republican legislative leaders proposed that restructures the 12th and 18th Congressional Districts in Western Pennsylvania could become a launching point for GOP negotiations with Gov. Tom Wolf this week.

GOP legislative leaders released the map late Friday night in response to a state Supreme Court ruling three weeks ago that Pennsylvania's 2011 congressional map was unconstitutional because of partisan gerrymandering.

Voter registration breakdowns for the proposed districts weren't immediately available, but Democrats were quick to question whether the GOP-drawn map goes far enough to cure disparities.

Under the existing map — long considered one of the most egregiously gerry­mandered in the nation — Democrats, who hold an 800,000-voter-registration edge and have won all three statewide row offices, hold only five of the state's 18 congressional seats.

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, was among the first to criticize the new map.

“The map that Republicans put forward last night does practically nothing to fix the partisan gerrymandering that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found violated the state's constitution,” Holder said. “Over the past couple of weeks, citizens across Pennsylvania have spoken out for fair congressional maps, and they deserve better than an unfair status quo. Instead of politicians picking their voters, Pennsylvanians should be able to choose their elected officials.”

Ruling on a challenge brought by the League of Women Voters, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last month gave the General Assembly until Friday to deliver a new map to Gov. Tom Wolf.

The court said it has hired two consultants and will take to mapmaking should the two sides fail to agree on a new map by Thursday.

Republican legislative leaders, who had filed an unsuccessful petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the state court's ruling, waited until the last minute to unveil their proposed map.

Area ramifications

The new map keeps Westmoreland County, which is now divided among four congressional districts, intact and makes it the center of the 18th District, which is now the focus of a hotly contested March 13 special election to fill the seat vacated by the resignation of Republican Rep. Tim Murphy.

The map also moved the boundaries of the 12th Congressional District west, slicing off portions of Somerset, Cambria and Westmoreland counties now included in the district held by Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley.

Observers said the proposed map would push Conor Lamb, the Allegheny County Democrat who has been closing the gap with Republican Rick Saccone in the 18th District special election, out of the district.

Although Lamb still could represent the 18th District, it appears that his Mt. Lebanon home would be pushed into the 14th District with the city of Pittsburgh under the new map.

‘Horse trading' expected

Gerald Shuster, a professor of political rhetoric at the University of Pittsburgh, expects there will be a lot of “horse trading” in Harrisburg this week as Wolf and Republicans attempt to hammer out an agreement on the map.

“This is where compromise comes in,” Shuster said. “As an outsider, it's hard to evaluate it. But you can rest assured the governor and his staff are going to go over it with a fine-tooth comb,” he said.

Joseph DiSarro, chairman of the political science department at Washington & Jefferson College, had yet to study it.

“But it sounds like old wine in new bottles,” he said.

DiSarro said any change in the map isn't likely to create a congressional majority for Democrats.

“At most, I'd guess they might pick up one or two seats,” DiSarro said.

He agreed with state Sen. Kim Ward, R-Greensburg, that it will likely be the jumping-off point for intense negotiations between now and Thursday.

“The governor has to approve it, and I bet the governor won't approve this,” Ward said.

Nevertheless, Ward and Gina Cerilli, a Democrat who chairs the Westmoreland County commissioners, both liked the idea of the county serving as the base of a congressional district.

“I believe we were the largest county east of the Mississippi without our own congressman,” Ward said. “I'd love to see Westmoreland be the base for the district.”

Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.

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