HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A Republican-controlled state House committee planed to vote on a proposed map of Pennsylvania’s new congressional districts that its chair introduced into legislation Wednesday, as a rival map was being prepared in the Senate where lawmakers promise an open process with debate and public comment.
House State Government Committee Chairman Seth Grove, R-York, said Wednesday the map he introduced into legislation was among 19 submitted to his committee.
Democrats, however, immediately criticized the process, saying the map was sprung on them and is being sent to a vote before the public can comment on it. And they swiftly criticized the map as heavily favoring Republicans.
Pennsylvania last year voted on a court-drawn map of districts, after the state Supreme Court threw out a map drawn and approved by Republicans in 2011 that became a national poster child for gerrymandering.
In next year’s election, Pennsylvania is losing a congressional seat, dropping from 18 to 17, to reflect population changes over the past decade reported by the U.S. Census that shows it growing most slowly than the rest of the nation.
Grove said he did not expect lawmakers to adopt the map wholesale, but said introducing it is rather about putting a “citizen’s map” forward.
The map meets constitutional standards for equal population, limits splits of municipalities and offers districts that are compact and contiguous, Grove said.
It was drawn by Amanda Holt, a piano teacher and graphic artist who served on the Lehigh County board of commissioners as a Republican. In 2012, her alternative legislative redistricting plan helped persuade the state Supreme Court to order revisions to Commission to revise its proposal for new districts after the 2010 Census.
Rep. Scott Conklin, the Democratic chair on the House State Government Committee, said testifiers in committee hearings have roundly said they want to be able to comment in public hearings on a map before it goes to a vote. Grove did not discuss his choice with Democrats before making it, Conklin said.
“There is nothing transparent about this process,” Conklin said.
The House committee vote would be the first step in a process that requires approval by majorities in both houses of the General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf before it can take effect.
The Republican and Democratic chairs of the Senate State Government Committee plan to introduce their own map in the coming days, with committee and floor votes expected in January after a public comment period.
However, the map will not necessarily have support from Senate or House leaders or Wolf when it is introduced, said State Government Committee Chairman David Argall, R-Schuylkill.
“We’ve got a lot of boxes to check,” Argall said.
In any case, Argall said he expects a lot of different ideas in the House and Senate, public comment and public hearings in the coming weeks.
Any final product could be the subject of a court challenge.
If Wolf and the Republican-controlled Legislature deadlock on drawing a map, the state Supreme Court may again end up performing the task.
Time is tight, with candidates and their supporters scheduled to begin circulating nominating petitions on Feb. 15 to get on the ballot. The primary is currently scheduled for May 17.
Holt’s map keeps major features of the existing districts intact, such as maintaining a Bucks County-based seat, a Lehigh Valley-based seat and three Pittsburgh-area and two Philadelphia-based seats.
It keeps Scranton and Wilkes-Barre together, barely, in a northeastern Pennsylvania district now represented by Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright.
But it also shifts the heavily Democratic city of Harrisburg into a new, sprawling central Pennsylvania district that reaches all the way west to include Altoona, in Blair County. It moves it out of a district with York now represented by Republican Rep. Scott Perry.
Meanwhile, it squeezes four districts that cover a large swath of rural northern and central Pennsylvania down to three.
Two incumbents, Pittsburgh-area Democrats Conor Lamb and Mike Doyle, are not seeking reelection in 2022.