Wolf rejects GOP redistricting plan; court may impose new map, Monday

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

As expected, Gov. Tom Wolf rejected the new Congressional map proposed by the two Republican caucus leaders, which could lead to the state Supreme Court imposing a district map of its own Monday, leading to possible federal litigation.

The previous Gerrymandering of Congressional districts hit hardest in the Philadelphia suburbs, including Chester County, where both District 7 and District 6 were seen as deeply manipulated to maintain the seats for Republicans. It appears the new map — which would have removed the 16th District entirely from Chester County — was not much fairer.

Under the state Supreme Court order, the legislature had until Feb. 9 to submit a proposed map to Gov. Wolf. Wolf had until Feb. 15 to approve the map, or the Court would use its own expert — Nathaniel Persily —  to draw a new map and impose it on Monday.

Wolf said he rejected the map because multiple mathematical analysis’s — including one commissioned by the governor by Professor Moon Duchin — suggested that the map created by House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati was just as Gerrymandered as the current map and would again lead to Republicans winning 13 of 18 Congressional seats, despite getting less that 50% of the vote. Another issue, likely well-funded challengers to incumbent GOP Congressman, including Ryan Costello (R-6) in Chester County were redistricted out of their current districts.

“Partisan gerrymandering weakens citizen power, promotes gridlock and stifles meaningful reform,” Gov. Wolf said. ” As non-partisan analysts have already said, their map maintains a similar partisan advantage by employing many of the same unconstitutional tactics present in their 2011 map.

“The analysis by my team shows that, like the 2011 map, the map submitted to my office by Republican leaders is still a gerrymander. Their map clearly seeks to benefit one political party, which is the essence of why the court found the current map to be unconstitutional.”

Republicans — specifically Turzai and Scarnati — replied to the governor suggesting his arguments were “absurd” and that he should produce a map, so that real negotiations can begin.

“Your letter sets forth a nonsensical approach to governance,” the two wrote in a letter to the Governor, Tuesday. “Quit being coy. You have had an expert engaged for over a month. You did a listening tour. It’s time that you produced a map for the public to review in a transparent fashion. Produce your map and we will put it up for a vote. We will assess how logical it is, how compact it is, and whether it unduly splits counties, municipalities and communities of interest.”

As other groups and media outlets have done, the governor’s expert, Duchin, ran various computer simulations of maps — and determined that Turzai and Scarnati’s map showed clear intent to, again, Gerrymander the districts.

“There is no more than a 0.1% chance that a plan drafted to comply with the Court’s factors would have been as favorable to Republicans as is the proposed Joint Submission Plan,” Duchin said in a statement. “When measured by tracking its partisan bias, the proposed Joint Submission Plan failed emphatically. Only the 2011 plan that is currently in effect started from a more severe partisan skew and stood out more in this test.”

Republicans are expected to seek a stay in Federal Court. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito declined to hear a previous request for a stay, but the question of whether the state courts have the right the to create new districts for federal offices is a question. That question, some legal experts have suggested, was further muddled by Turzai and Scarnati — rather then the entire Legislature — developing and approving the new map.

Tuesday, the duo suggested that they would seek legal remedy if the court attempted to impose a new map.

“…we do not concede that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has the power to invalidate a congressional map (or draw new ones) that has been in place for the past three election cycles, that was upheld by a three-judge federal panel in the Agre case on January 10, 2018, and that was passed by a bipartisan vote of 136-61 in the House.”

Common Cause of Pennsylvania, a long time critic of the state’s redistricting system and a plaintiff in the case, said the situation just highlights the need for an independent redistricting commission.

“State leaders so far have missed a grand opportunity to work cooperatively to ensure every Pennsylvanian has fair representation. We continue to hope that a bipartisan consensus will emerge to give residents what they want — the end to gerrymandered districts and legislative boundaries that are more reflective of our diverse state,” said Micah Sims, Executive Director of Common Cause Pennsylvania. “At the end of the day, no matter who draws the maps — whether it’s the legislature, the governor or the courts — Pennsylvanians deserve legislative districts that are fair to all voters, that are produced with complete transparency with respect to the data they used to draw boundaries, and that maintain racial equity for communities of color throughout the commonwealth.”

It remains possible that all parties involved may find a last-minute negotiated deal — or agree to delay the May 15 primary. Already, the start of nominating petitions for Congressional seats has been pushed back to Feb. 27.

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