Government
5:46 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

Panel Okays Remapping of Legislative Districts

Democrats in the Pennsylvania Senate might file a court challenge to the redistricting plan approved on Monday by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission. The four legislative caucus leaders, Senators Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware County) and Jay Costa (D-Allegheny County), Representatives Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny County) and Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny County), plus retired State Superior Court Judge Stephen McEwen, comprise the committee.

Based on 2010 Census data, the commission redrew the 50 districts in the Pennsylvania Senate and the 203 districts in the House and approved the new maps 4-1, with Costa casting the lone "no" vote. This came after the panel, by a 3-2 vote, rejected Costa's effort to amend the plan for Senate districts.

Due to population shifts, one Senate district needed to be moved to Monroe County from the southwestern part of the state. Costa objected to the Republican proposal to shift a Mon Valley-based Senate seat, currently held by Democrat Jim Brewster, to Monroe County, which is heavily Republican. Instead, Costa suggested moving the 47th district in Beaver and Lawrence Counties, which is held by Senator Elder Vogel, Jr.

"In our (Democratic) map, the 47th district is redrawn in a compact Monroe County-based district that is competitively drawn for our colleagues in the Republican Party," Costa said. "The 47th district was selected because the current holder of that seat has the least seniority of all Republican members and has had comparative population loss than those of the 45th district."

But the panel turned down Costa, with Dermody voting with his Democratic colleague. Pileggi said that the revised Senate map already incorporated 105 suggestions from Costa.

Dermody then voted along with the two Republican legislative leaders and Judge McEwen in favor of the overall plan, which also redraws the lines of the 203 House districts. "I believe we've got a plan that is competitive statewide," Dermody said.

The new House map has six seats moving to the eastern part of the state, but House Majority leader Turzai insists that Democratic seats are being moved into Democratic areas in the east.

"The changes were not based on any political maneuvering," Turzai said. "They were based on population results and population results only."

He said that 26 of the 28 Democratic-held districts in southwestern Pennsylvania lost population, while six of 16 Republican-held districts in the region gained population. Among the lost seats is that of Representative Chelsa Wagner (D-Allegheny County), who opted not to run for reelection, and instead was elected in November as the new county controller. In addition, two Democratic Representatives, Nick Kotik of Robinson Township and Jesse White from Cecil Township, will have to face each other in the April primary if they both wish to remain in the House.

According to Turzai, there are 13 fewer municipalities split among multiple districts than ten years ago, and the redistricting process this time "was more transparent and open than ever before."

Challenges to the final redistricting maps must be filed within 30 days with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

View the proposed district maps for the House and Senate [PDF]