Governor Rejects Redrawn District Maps; GOP Leaders Call It ‘Absurd’

Gov. Tom Wolf answering a question at a forum in February 2018 in Philadelphia.
Credit: PA Internet News Service

If you spent much time looking at maps submitted Feb. 9 by Pennsylvania’s Republican legislative leaders to figure out what district you’ll be in for the next election, you could have saved yourself the effort.

Gov. Tom Wolf, who had until Thursday to certify or reject the maps before passing them along to the state Supreme Court, revealed Tuesday that he would not accept them.

“The analysis by my team shows that, like the 2011 map, the map submitted to my office by Republican leaders is still a gerrymander,” Wolf, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Their map clearly seeks to benefit one political party, which is the essence of why the court found the current map to be unconstitutional.”

The entire exercise was kicked off Jan. 22 when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the state’s existing legislative maps were unconstitutional, that they were drawn in such a way that they discriminated against protected groups. “Gerrymandering,” the term used by critics to describe Pennsylvania’s maps, is the practice of deliberately setting boundaries to keep the party in power in office no matter what voters’ preferences may be. Nationwide, both Democratic and Republicans legislatures have been accused of following such a scheme.

When the court struck down the existing maps in Pennsylvania, it gave legislators until Feb. 9 to send a revised map to the governor. Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and House Speaker Mike Turzai were not able to get new maps ready in time to introduce them into their respective chamvers, let alone get them passed, so their map plans went directly to the governor without have been voted upon in the Legislature.

In their response to the governor Tuesday, Scarnati and Turzai rejected Wolf’s arguments.

“With all due respect, your pronouncements are absurd,” they said in a joint letter to the governor.

In response to a charge by the governor that Scarnati’s and Turzai’s map squeezes densely populated areas into small districts, they point out that each district must have the same number of residents, 705,688, and thus highly populated districts must be geographically smaller.

“You state that cities like Reading and Erie are improperly connected to rural areas,” their letter continues. “Where are you going to connect Erie city to but to rural areas? … The Pennsylvania counties surrounding Erie and Reading are rural.”

The letter goes on to ask Wolf to put forth a map of his own design so that the Legislature can consider and vote on it. They also extended an olive branch.

“We look forward to reviewing your ‘fair’ map and are ready and willing to meet at your earliest convenience to see if, together, we can reach consensus on a ‘fair’ map,” they wrote.

Wolf now has the option of submitting his own map to the high court. Justices indicated that they had the power to impose a new map if none was submitted that met their guidelines. Republican leaders have questioned whether the court has such powers and have suggested they might resort to legal action.

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Pennsylvania Watchdog

Pennsylvania Watchdog