Centre County sees more representation after bucking population trend
Cambria, Clearfield avoid rumored district eliminations
By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — Unlike the vast majority of counties west of the Susquehanna River, Centre County gained population in the past decade and will be picking up parts of two new representatives’ districts.
The new state House and state Senate legislative districts were unveiled Monday and will go into effect next year.
“Centre County is a growing county, and we needed to pick up some extra legislators to make up for that,” said state Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre, a former county commissioner. “As far as I’m concerned, they did the best they could for my district.”
Conklin and state Reps. Mike Hanna, D-Clinton, and Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, will continue to share the county, but they will be joined by portions of districts belonging to state Reps. Mike Fleck, R-Huntingdon, and Bud George, D-Clearfield.
Centre County is united under a single state Senate seat, that of Jake Corman, R-Centre. The district of state Sen. John Wozniak, D-Cambria, has been shifted on the new map slightly north and west to steer clear of portions of Centre, which he currently represents.
While most of the attention will be focused on the loss of four legislative seats from the state’s western edges, or the addition of seats in Pennsylvania’s northeastern and southeastern corners, the Interstate 99 corridor in the state’s center will see a reshuffling of a few seats, but no dramatic losses despite population declines.
Blair County lost 1.6 percent of its population in the past 10 years, and Cambria County lost more than 9 percent, but neither lost representation in the General Assembly.
Wozniak’s Johnstown-based district that encompasses part of five counties and has lost 8 percent of its population was rumored to be on the short list of Democratic seats that Republicans would target to be moved.
But Wozniak will remain in place, though his district will stretch from Clinton County in the north to the Maryland border, thanks to the addition of the entirety of Bedford County.
The same rumors circulated about George’s House seat being on the chopping block, prompting the 18-term representative to launch a pre-emptive strike last week with a news release slamming the redistricting commission for potentially axing his district.
In the end, he picked up some new constituents in Centre to make up for the loss of about 2 percent of the population in Clearfield County.
Blair County’s representation will stay almost the same, with the only change occurring in the two townships represented by Fleck, which will transfer to state Rep. Jerry Stern, R-Blair.
The state Legislative Reapportionment Commission consists of House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny; House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny; Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware; 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.
The Senate, district held by state Sen. Jim Brewster, D-Allegheny, will be cut and moved to Monroe County, which was divided between six senators for the past 10 years. The new district will include all of Monroe County and the northern part of Northampton County.
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.