RE­JECTED: Wolf says no to Repub­li­can re­dis­trict­ing plan; high court next

The Times-Tribune - - Front Page - BY MARC LEVY AND MARK SCOLFORO

ANAL­Y­SIS: Lit­tle would have changed in vot­ing trends un­der GOP’s pro­posal Gov­er­nor makes move 6 days be­fore dead­line

HAR­RIS­BURG — Demo­cratic Gov. Tom Wolf will not sub­mit a new Repub­li­can-drawn map of Penn­syl­va­nia’s con­gres­sional dis­tricts to the state’s high court, say­ing Tues­day that it uses the same un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally par­ti­san tac­tics as the 6-year-old bound­aries struck down in a ger­ry­man­der­ing case.

Wolf ’s move came six days be­fore the dead­line set by the Demo­crat­ic­ma­jor­ity state Supreme Court to im­pose new bound­aries for Penn­syl­va­nia’s 18 con­gres­sional dis­tricts, rou­tinely la­beled as among the na­tion’s most ger­ry­man­dered.

Wolf ’s of­fice, which has not pub­licly re­leased the gov­er­nor’s own pro­posal, said it re­mained pos­si­ble that Wolf would sub­mit one to the

‘I con­cluded that the pro­posed (Repub­li­can) plan’s bias in fa­vor of Repub­li­cans is ex­tremely un­likely to have come about by chance.’ Moon Duchin, Tufts Univer­sity

court. He also left open the pos­si­bil­ity of work­ing with the Leg­is­la­ture to sub­mit a con­sen­sus map by Mon­day’s dead­line.

Repub­li­can law­mak­ers threat­ened a fed­eral law­suit and ac­cused Wolf of lack­ing con­struc­tive ideas when he re­jected their pro­posal. Some of his crit­i­cisms were “ab­surd,” they said, and they chal­lenged him to pro­duce a fair map that can be put up for a vote.

Re­draw­ing the map of Penn­syl­va­nia dis­tricts could boost Democrats na­tion­ally in their quest to take con­trol of the U.S. House. Barely three months be­fore May’s pri­mary elec­tion, dis­trict bound­aries re­main up in the air.

The gov­er­nor said his of­fice’s anal­y­sis of the plan put for­ward Fri­day night by lead­ers of the GOP-con­trolled Leg­is­la­ture con­cluded that it was clearly de­signed to help Repub­li­can can­di­dates.

“There is ba­si­cally no chance it wasn’t drawn in a way to ben­e­fit Repub­li­cans,” said Wolf ’s press sec­re­tary, J.J. Ab­bott.

Ab­bott also coun­tered that Wolf had given help­ful crit­i­cism of the map, point­ing to un­nec­es­sary splits in sub­ur­ban Philadel­phia’s heav­ily pop­u­lated Mont­gomery County and the Wilkes-Barre area and pack­ing densely pop­u­lated ar­eas into small dis­tricts.

Moon Duchin, a Tufts Univer­sity math­e­ma­ti­cian and who stud­ies re­dis­trict­ing, re­viewed the map for Wolf and called it “ex­tremely, and un­nec­es­sar­ily, par­ti­san” in a one-page sum­mary re­leased Tues­day.

An anal­y­sis con­ducted through PlanS­core.org — cre­ated by po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists, le­gal scholars and dig­i­tal map­mak­ers — con­cluded that the GOP’s re­drawn map “is still se­ri­ously skewed in fa­vor of Repub­li­can can­di­dates and vot­ers.”

But Repub­li­cans in­sisted that draw­ing more com­pet­i­tive dis­tricts is not a con­sti­tu­tional direc­tive and is pro­hib­i­tively dif­fi­cult be­cause Demo­cratic vot­ers live much more tightly packed to­gether.

Repub­li­cans said their pro­posal ad­hered to the court’s line-draw­ing bench­marks, elim­i­nat­ing dozens of mu­nic­i­pal and county divi­sions and cre­at­ing more com­pact dis­tricts. It also kept nearly 70 per­cent of res­i­dents — and every con­gress­man — in their old dis­tricts, although it shifted key Demo­cratic chal­lengers into new dis­tricts and Wolf crit­i­cized it as keep­ing “nearly 70 per­cent of res­i­dents in dis­tricts the court found un­con­sti­tu­tional.”

The state Se­nate’s Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity leader, Jake Cor­man, said that re­ject­ing the GOP’s pro­posal al­lows the gov­er­nor and “his friends on the Supreme Court” to get what they wanted, which is to draw their own new map.

Cor­man also warned that the state Supreme Court will cre­ate a con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis if it im­poses new dis­trict bound­aries. The U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion re­serves bound­ary­draw­ing power for state law­mak­ers, Cor­man said, but there is no time un­der the court’s dead­lines for the Leg­is­la­ture to draw and pass a new map.

“The gov­er­nor should have ac­cepted it. The only rea­son he didn’t is be­cause he doesn’t think it elects enough Democrats,” Cor­man said. “As he’s plainly said, there’s too many Repub­li­can seats.”

The map be­ing re­placed was drawn by Repub­li­cans who con­trolled the Leg­is­la­ture and gov­er­nor’s of­fice af­ter the 2010 cen­sus. They broke decades of prece­dent, pro­duc­ing con­torted dis­tricts that split cities or shifted them into new dis­tricts to help main­tain a big Repub­li­can ad­van­tage in Penn­syl­va­nia’s con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion.

They suc­ceeded, se­cur­ing 13 of 18 seats in three straight elec­tions in an of­ten-closely di­vided state where reg­is­tered Demo­cratic vot­ers out­num­ber Repub­li­cans and Democrats hold a large ma­jor­ity of statewide of­fices.

Only Texas, Cal­i­for­nia and Florida send more Repub­li­cans to the U.S. House.

The court struck down the dis­trict bound­aries Jan. 22, sid­ing with reg­is­tered Demo­cratic vot­ers who sued last June. The bound­aries “clearly, plainly and pal­pa­bly” vi­o­lated the state con­sti­tu­tion, the jus­tices wrote in a 5-2 de­ci­sion that broke along par­ti­san lines.

The court said Repub­li­cans put par­ti­san in­ter­ests above other line-draw­ing cri­te­ria, giv­ing GOP can­di­dates an un­fair edge. Repub­li­cans counter that the court had no power to in­val­i­date the con­gres­sional bound­aries.

The U.S. Supreme Court ear­lier re­jected a Repub­li­can appeal to halt the state court’s or­der.


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