HARRISBURG — The five-member commission redrawing the boundaries of Pennsylvania state’s legislative districts has voted to approve new maps for the next decade, focusing on the rapid growth of the Latin American population that could change the face of the predominantly white House and Senate.
The Legislative Redistribution Commission voted 4-1 in its meeting at the state Capitol, with Chairman Mark Nordenberg, the Republican leader of the Senate and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate voting for it.
The vote came after nearly a year of meetings, hearings and closed-door discussions to conduct the constitutionally required map drawing once a decade to account for demographic changes identified by the US Census.
In comments ahead of the vote, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, called it “truly a product for the public and by the public.” House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, called it “a fair and constitutionally sound card.”
Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, called the map “flawed” but said she was confident it was constitutional.
Nordenberg, a Democrat and former chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh appointed by the state Supreme Court, cited testimony from an academic analyst who called a fair, if slightly Republican, card.
He also cited a letter from Latino members of the Legislative Assembly who applauded the map and said it has nine districts “in which Latinos should be able to elect a candidate of their choice.”
In addition to a growing Latino population, the significant change is the growth in the increasingly liberal southern and eastern parts of Pennsylvania and the stagnating population in the predominantly white northern and southern parts of Pennsylvania. West represented by Republicans.
The lone dissenter, House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Center, called him an unconstitutional gerrymander designed to help Democrats. It won’t improve minority representation and will lead to more gridlock and less competitive districts, Benninghoff said.
A legal challenge looked likely, with less than two weeks before candidates could start circulating petitions in the new districts to run in the May 17 primary ballot.
The House and Senate maps approved and first released to the public on Friday made adjustments to the preliminary maps approved by the panel in December after a 30-day period for public comment and hearings.
Benninghoff also objected to the House’s preliminary map.
He offered an alternative that he said would increase the competitiveness of the suburban Philadelphia districts of Bucks County, keep more districts in the heavily Republican Juniata Valley in central Pennsylvania, and reverse the plans. division of Allentown, Reading, Lancaster and Harrisburg.
Republicans have had the upper hand in at least the past two redistricting cycles.
They have also held durable and substantial majorities in both legislative houses for almost all of the past three decades, even as Democrats hold statewide registration and have won more statewide elections in during this period.
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