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An unconventional mix of leaders frown on new map

February 27, 2018

State Republican legislators and some Black political leaders have found themselves in a peculiar yet same space. Though their reasons are different, both sets are not in favor of the state’s new congressional map.

State lawmakers are still battling over the new congressional districts that were drawn by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Eight Republican congressmen have requested the map to be thrown out immediately, but federal court judges have declined.

President Donald Trump has urged state GOP lawmakers to appeal the newly drawn map that replaced the previous congressional map, which was found unconstitutional.

Republican Speaker of the House Mike Turzai and Senate Pro Tem President Joe Scarnati filed an emergency application, contending the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overstepped its boundaries when it drew the new map. State Republicans had several failed attempts in drawing a map that was not gerrymandered.

Democrats, such as state Sen. Vincent Hughes,, are happy the map has fought against gerrymandering concerns, but believes the new boundaries are not beneficial to Black voters in Philadelphia.

The state’s NAACP branch and Common Cause of Pennsylvania have also threatened to challenge the new map, drawings what Hughes bluntly said is a loss for Philadelphia.

Hughes (D-7) released a statement on the new map last week and described its focus of addressing gerrymandering as “necessary.”

But his concern for Black voters, citing U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans’ district where the voting-age population was reduced from 57 percent to 56 percent and U.S. Rep. Bob Brady’s district that saw an 8 percent voter-age reduction — from 32 to 24 percent.

Hughes believes the court could have addressed the issue without reducing the number of Black voters.

“In some, the elimination of the political gerrymandering that was achieved across Pennsylvania could have been achieved without the educe of the Black population in Pennsylvania,” Hughes said.

“The idea is at least in the spirit of voting rights act, there should not be any diluting of African American votes in African American population. This map does that,” he added.

The NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference has consistently held the opinion that the congressional map in Pennsylvania since 2011 constituted voter suppression, according to Joan Duvall-Flynn, the state’s NAACP president.

However, the Feb. 7 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that the 2011 congressional redistricting plan violated the Free and Equal Elections Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution, and the subsequent court map designed to create contiguous, compact and of equal population, with municipalities and counties split only when necessary to balance population, lends credence to that concern, she said.

“It is of imminent importance in our democracy that the power of the vote is not diluted,” Duvall-Flynn said. “Hence, resultant to the rendering by the court of this new map, NAACP Pennsylvania has submitted it to the legal office of the National Association for review and to be vetted through the requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in its current iteration.”

Micah Sims, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, along with the state NAACP, even considered filing suit in federal court to challenge the new map because it could violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which banned obstacles to voting by minorities.

Political strategist Jay McCalla views Hughes’s statement as “fearful” and Black politicians will now have to start crafting a different message.

“They love a 90 percent Black district, it’s easy to get elected,” said the former deputy managing director and chief of staff to the City Council president. “It’s easy to get a job and get your job. In my opinion this is about careerism. Black people, no matter what district they are in, they still get to vote. Their [elected officials] concern is their electability — their career options.”

McCalla said local Black politicians developing a message for a “broader audience” makes them better politicians.

“The argument against this is an argument for safe seats that keeps Black politicians employed. All it provides is safe security,” he added.

Hughes says McCalla’s argument is one that has been “uttered for decades.”

The senator doesn’t see the map as helpful for the Black voters in those districts.

“To dilute the Black vote, this is not an issue of how candidates make an appeal. This is an issue about protecting their representation for a community that has been denied fair representation since the birth of their country,” Hughes said.

“This is not about the horse, it is about the track the horse is running on. The district and their configuration are the track and this is about the makeup of the political environment,” Hughes said. “He’s talking about the horse. I’m talking about African-American votes. Something that has been problematic since the birth of this country and that could have been achieved without dilution of Black votes.”

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