Proposed congressional map puts Somerset County entirely in 9th District
State Republican lawmakers drafted a new congressional map Friday that meets guidelines set by the high court. The court called the maps unconstitutional 18 days ago.
If the maps presented by top Republicans stand, it will be the first time since the 1980s that the 12th Congressional District is not part of Somerset County.
The five Democratic members of the state Supreme Court on Jan. 22 ruled that Pennsylvania’s congressional district map, passed in 2011, violates the state constitution by giving Republicans an unfair partisan advantage in campaigns. The court gave lawmakers until Friday to send a replacement plan to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who has until Thursday to act on it.
House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, both Republicans, said in a joint statement that their map “complies fully” with directions from the state Supreme Court.
“The Republican Legislative Leaders in the House and Senate have agreed to a Congressional District Map that complies fully with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s order and opinion,” they said in the statement. “We will be submitting our map to the Governor this evening.”
Under the proposal, all of Somerset County would be represented by the 9th Congressional District, a seat currently held by retiring Republican U.S. Rep Bill Shuster.
The 9th District also includes all of Cambria, Bedford, Fulton, Huntingdon, Blair, Cambria, Indiana and parts of Fayette and Mifflin counties. The 12th Congressional District includes all of Lawrence, Beaver and parts of Allegheny and Washington counties.
Late Democratic U.S. Rep. John Murtha’s former chief of staff, John Hugya, said that the 12th used to run down to the Maryland line on the other side of Confluence. After the 2000 census, Murtha lost part of Somerset County to Shuster. In 2010 the district shifted north, cutting the county in half and merging with the 4th Congressional District.
“He was always proud to have the rural areas here,” Hugya said of his late boss, who died eight years ago Thursday. “He loved the people of Somerset County and their work ethic.”
An email left for Shuster and a telephone message left for Rothfus were not returned Friday evening.
The maps now await Wolf’s approval. He had harsh words for his Republican colleagues in a statement late Friday.
“While the Court’s order did not appear to allow for two individuals to draw a map on behalf of the entire General Assembly, Governor Wolf will review Speaker Turzai and President Scarnati’s submission in consultation with the experts retained by the administration to determine his next course of action,” the statement reads.
Justices plan to draft their own map if lawmakers do not draft one they feel is constitutional. Pennsylvania Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor, a Meyersdale native, wrote in his dissent filed Wednesday that the court should have waited for guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Such guidance is particularly appropriate given the delay, until 2017, of Petitioners’ challenge to a 2011 redistricting plan; and the appropriate litmus for judicial review of redistricting should take into account the inherently political character of the work of the General Assembly, to which the task of redistricting has been assigned by the United States Constitution,” he wrote.
He also wrote that he disapproved of the imposition of a judicially drawn map. An opinion shared by local lawmakers.
Republican state Rep. Michael Reese said Friday afternoon that it is an overreach by the justices to imply that they could draw the maps.
“It is very clear in the constitution that drawing maps lies in the Legislature,” he said. “There is no mechanism that allows the courts to draw maps. It is almost shocking, to be honest with you.”
Reese said he believes that if the court were to use its own map, there could be a lawsuit brought against that plan.
“I think it is important that this comes to a conclusion very soon,” he said. “It is in the best interest of the citizens of the commonwealth. If it doesn’t, it is going to become very expensive and very confusing.”
Reese did not have figures on how much the disagreement is costing taxpayers. But Republican state Sen. Pat Stefano said Friday afternoon it would cost $20 million statewide for a second primary, citing data from a special election. The 2017 primary cost Somerset County taxpayers $140,713.
“That is my fear,” he said, “that there is going to be more bumps in the road and it is going to delay the election and the petition process to the point that the primary will have to move. That is going to be so expensive.”
He said the ruling is also unfair to congressional candidates. The state already extended the filing deadline for congressional candidates to Feb. 27 through March 20 with the last day to withdraw or file objections March 27.
“How do they go out and build support?” he said. “They can’t, let alone work on petitions.”
Stefano said he agrees with Reese and others who have said that it would be unconstitutional for a court to redraw the maps.
“I am losing my optimism at this point,” he said. “I’ve lost all faith in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.”
According to Republican leaders, the map:
· Contains contiguous districts, which are compact.
· Includes only 15 split counties (13 less than the 2011 plan.)
· Includes only 17 split municipalities (49 less than the 2011 plan.)
· This map, for population equality purposes, splits only one precinct per municipality for a total of 17, and represents a significant reduction from the 27 precincts split in the 2002 map, and the 26 precincts split in the 2011 plan.
· In compliance with federal law with respect to population deviations, no district is overpopulated or underpopulated by more than one person.
· The map does not pair any incumbent member of Congress seeking re-election in 2018 with any other incumbent member of Congress. This consideration, however, was subordinate to the districting principles as outlined in the court’s order.