Pa. House tweaks congressional map before Christmas, hopes for fresh tidings from Wolf

It unifies three split counties represented by GOP committee members, splits Dauphin County three ways

By: - December 15, 2021 5:42 pm

State Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, shows off metrics from the chamber’s new congressional map to reporters, Dec. 15, 2021. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

A Pennsylvania House panel has advanced a modified version of a citizen-drawn congressional map submitted to lawmakers just a day before legislators’ Christmas recess.

The map was approved in a 14-11 vote on Wednesday by the House State Government Committee, with all but one Republican voting in favor, and all Democrats opposing it.

The map unifies Blair, Lebanon, and Potter counties after their state representatives raised concerns about the splits in a public hearing last week. Monroe, Union and Snyder counties are instead split to make up for the population shifts.

It also slightly changes how Chester, Berks, Cumberland, Butler and Washington counties are split to make up for other population changes.

The updated Pa. House congressional map

The committee’s chairperson, Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, said the map’s 17 districts had equal populations, and that some of the changes shored up majority-minority districts in and around Philadelphia. Pennsylvania will shrink from 18 to 17 districts in the decennial remapping.

The Department of State has said it needs a finished map by Jan. 24, 2022, to allow candidates enough time to file for the May 2022 primary. 

A finished map must pass the GOP-controlled General Assembly and be signed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf by then. If lawmakers and the executive branch  do not agree, the primary could be delayed, or the map could be drawn by the state Supreme Court.

The original House proposal was drawn by Amanda Holt, a redistricting advocate, and former Republican Lehigh County commissioner. She told lawmakers her goals were to make sure all 17 districts had equal populations while minimizing the splits.

Pa. House Republicans pick citizen map submission as draft congressional plan

Her maps had divided two counties — Blair and Lebanon — where three GOP lawmakers on the House State Government Committee sit. These lawmakers publicly expressed their concerns, and the committee skipped a vote on the map Monday, instead advancing two empty, shell bills.

Now, after a day of changes, the committee came back and approved the modified map that removed the offending splits. But Grove said the committee’s changes were not in response to those lawmakers’ concerns.

 “Through the reworking of the compactness of it, it just happened — those splits we’re taking care of,” Grove said. 

Listening to GOP lawmakers, Pa. House committee doesn’t vote on citizen-drawn map

He added that citizen comments informed the bigger changes, such as a new three-way split of Dauphin County, home to  Harrisburg.

Holt’s original map divided the central Pennsylvania county messily into two districts. But Grove’s edits instead opted for cleaner lines, though they divided the Democratic-leaning county even wider.

The northern part of the county joins a central Pennsylvania district with Altoona and Huntingdon counties. The southern part of the county joins Lebanon and Lancaster counties in a district. And the capital city of Harrisburg was added to a district made up of York and Adams counties.

The split even angered some Republicans representing the county. GOP Dauphin County Commissioner Mike Pries said the split “highlights gerrymandering right to the doorstep of Pennsylvania’s state capital.”

Still, one Dauphin County Republican, state Rep. Andrew Lewis, backed the map. He said afterwards he wanted to keep the process moving, and thought Grove’s new map at least made the divisions cleaner and more compact.

Carol Kuniholm, executive director of the reform-minded Fair Districts PA, told the Capital-Star that despite the promises of transparency early in the process, advocates still weren’t being heard.

While the chamber has made a “dog-and-pony show” of asking for public input, she felt like the process itself still echoed 2011, when Republican lawmakers rammed through a map of their own design over 12 days in December.

Lawmakers “can introduce one [map] in the House, introduce a map in the Senate, show us those maps, and at the last minute, pull a map out of their hat and say ‘A-ha! Here it is,’” Kuniholm told the Capital-Star.

Redistricting, explained: What it is, how it works, and how Pa. politicians get to draw their own maps

Still, she hoped that lawmakers could find a way to draw a map themselves. An open legislative process, she said, would provide for more public participation than maps drawn behind the closed doors of the courtroom or a lawmaker’s office.

For his part, Grove said that he and Wolf would have “a very similar process” for choosing maps, and was hopeful the General Assembly and the governor could come to a compromise.

“I’m having Christmas at my house in Dover. He has Christmas in Mount Wolf. Like, we’re five miles apart,” Grove said. “I’m not suggesting we meet on Christmas Day with our maps as presents together. But it’s a perfect opportunity for us to kind of sit down and work through this.”

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.