Congressional Remapping In Senate This Week
HARRISBURG (AP) _ Congressional redistricting has become a thicket for Pennsylvania lawmakers, who are enmeshed in partisan and parochial battles over how to remap the state’s political boundaries.
But amid the turmoil and delay, lawmakers have agreed on one point - they don’t want the courts to do it.
The Senate is to consider a House-approved reapportionment plan this week. Majority Leader F. Joseph Loeper said he hopes the Senate will pass its own plan by mid-week and begin working out a compromise with the House in a conference committee with members from both chambers.
Loeper, R-Delaware, said leaders want to finish the plan as soon as possible to avoid turning over the job to federal courts. Pennsylvania is losing two of 23 congressional districts because its population hasn’t grown as fast as other states. Lawmakers disagree about which districts to take off the map.
The House passed a plan Wednesday that would eliminate two Democratic districts and put a Republican congressman in a district with a Democratic majority.
But the Senate has its own plans. The proposal backed by GOP senators would eliminate two districts represented by retiring Democratic Congressmen Joseph Gaydos, Allegheny County, and Gus Yatron, Berks County.
Senate Democrats, however, want to keep Yatron’s seat. Their plan would eliminate the districts represented by Republican Dick Schulze, Chester County, and Gaydos. The proposal would also place Republicans Rick Santorum, Allegheny County, and Tom Ridge, Erie County, in districts with Democratic majorities.
House Majority Leader William DeWeese, D-Greene, also said he preferred a Legislature-written plan to one imposed by the courts.
DeWeese criticized the Senate as ″derelict″ for not working on its own plan while House leadership fended off amendments that threatened a proposal supported by the state’s congressional delegation.
″They haven’t even given it a good effort,″ DeWeese told reporters after the House passed the measure.
The House failed to pass a plan in December when rank-and-file members rejected the congressional delegation’s proposal and altered it with two amendments that leadership opposed.
Reapportionment is a thorny issue for lawmakers, who have to balance party interests against wishes of constituents and local supporters. The parties have a huge stake in reapportionment because it can influence the balance of power in the congressional delegation.
The Legislature also is working under pressure from delegate candidates for next summer’s presidential conventions. Candidates can start circulating petitions on Jan. 28, and the deadline is Feb. 18.
But candidates run in congressional districts, and without an updated map, they won’t know in which district to register. William Myrtetus, the state Democratic Party’s deputy chairman, said missing the opening day for petitions won’t disturb the system.
A further delay could prompt lawmakers to push back the petition deadline to give candidates breathing room, like they did in 1982, the last time the Legislature handled reapportionment, lawmakers said.
However, if the plan goes to the courts, Myrtetus said the party might let delegate candidates run in existing congressional districts or state senate districts.
″That would force us to a situation where we maybe will have to go to an alternate plan,″ he said.
But some said it’s unlikely the Legislature would stall long enough to force the courts to take over.
G. Terry Madonna, political analyst at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, said lawmakers usually sculpt the new maps to protect incumbents. The courts don’t have the same interests, he said.
″There’s no guarantee if the court does it that the same incumbents will be protected in the same way,″ Madonna said.