New Senate seat headed to Monroe County as Brewster is ousted by plan
But not all good news, as county is further divided at state House level
By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — Residents of Monroe County finally are getting their own state Senate seat after 10 years of being divided among the districts of six different state senators — none of whom were based in Monroe.
New state legislative maps unveiled Monday show that the state Legislative Redistricting Commission listened to these residents who have been clamoring for changes to be made.
The new district will include all of Monroe County’s 176,000 residents and the northern half of Northampton County, which lies on Monroe’s southern border. The new district does not contain an incumbent, because it is being moved from the western half of the state, where the seat is held by state Sen. Jim Brewster, D-Allegheny.
“This Senate proposal is based on fundamental, (indisputable) population data,” said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, who pointed out that Monroe County is the state’s fastest growing county with at least 100,000 residents.
But it is not all good news for the fast-growing northeastern Pennsylvania county, where the population increased by 27 percent in the past 10 years.
The new state House map divides the county among the following five state representatives, one more than the current alignment: state Reps. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe; Rosemary Brown, R-Pike; Mike Carroll, D-Luzerne; Mike Peifer, D-Pike; and Ken Smith, D-Luzerne, who will be the newcomer.
In the new plan, Smith’s district is stretched across the border from Luzerne County.
Carroll praised the creation of the new Senate district, but called the addition of a fifth House district to the county “an abomination.”
“It’s a step forward and a colossal step back,” Carroll said. “This is a House version of what the Senate did 10 years ago.”
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allgheny, said the changes were made, because Monroe County’s population growth required additional representatives, but placing a new seat in the county was not a priority for the commission, so an additional split was necessary.
In addition to Turzai and Pileggi, the state Legislative Reapportionment Commission consists of House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny; Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny; and former state Superior Court Justice Stephen McEwen, who was appointed by the state Supreme Court to be chairman of the commission.
McEwen is a Delaware County Republican.
The redistricting commission has the final say on the state Senate and House maps, with no approval required by the General Assembly or Gov. Tom Corbett. The state Supreme Court can hear challenges to the final maps.
The state legislative redistricting process is distinct from the congressional redistricting process, which also is ongoing in Harrisburg. The General Assembly and the governor must approve the new congressional districts, but no legislation has been introduced.
Statewide, four House districts and one Senate district will move, to reflect shifts in the population during the past decade as shown in the 2010 census.
Of the 28 counties that lost population since 2000, 22 are in the western half of the state. Republicans said they used the population numbers as a guide for the new districts.
“There is no question that one of the Senate districts based in Allegheny County must be moved to address the population shifts,” Pileggi said.
Three new House districts will be created in southeastern Pennsylvania — one each in Berks, Lehigh and Chester counties. All three will be moved from their current locations in western Pennsylvania, where they are held by state Reps. John Evans, R-Erie; Chelsa Wagner, D-Allegheny; and Jesse White, D-Washington.
Evans is retiring, Wagner is running for local office and White will be paired up against state Rep. Nick Kotik, R-Allegheny, in the same district after his district was cut out from under him.
One state House district is moving in the opposite direction, as retiring state Rep. Dennis O’Brien, R-Philadelphia, will have his district moved to southern York County, where the population has grown by 13 percent.
The maps were approved by a vote of 3-2, with McEwen making the tie-breaking vote.
Democrats contended they were not given sufficient time to review the Republican-drawn maps before voting on them, and said the GOP plan is different from what had been negotiated during the past few weeks and during the weekend. The Democratic plan moved one Senate district to Monroe County, but eliminated a GOP district to do so.
“To us, this is not a fair plan, and it is not reasonable for all citizens and our members. The Republican map is not sincere,” Costa said.
Republicans said the maps were legal and constitutional, though leaders were given only about 30 minutes before the vote to review the plans with rank-and-file lawmakers.
Democratic members of the commission offered an alternative plan, which was defeated by a 3-2 vote, with McEwen again casting the tie-breaking vote. Afterward, the judge declined to comment on how long he had been given to review either plan before voting.
The ideal population for each state House district is 62,570 residents, but the new districts vary as much as 3 percent from that number. The ideal size for state Senate districts is 245,620 with the same 3 percent variation allowed, as determined by previous court rulings.
After Monday’s vote, a 30-day public comment period will last until Nov. 30 before the new plans can be adopted officially. There is one public hearing scheduled for noon Nov. 18 at the state Capitol in Harrisburg.
Large scale changes are unlikely following the public comment period, political observers noted.