Pa. Senate rules no conflict of interest for congressional hopefuls voting on new district shapes

Republican Senator John Eichelberger, of Blair County  (Keith Srakocic/AP Photo, file)

Republican Senator John Eichelberger, of Blair County (Keith Srakocic/AP Photo, file)

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s order for the state legislature to draw a new congressional map has raised conflict of interest questions for at least six state lawmakers running for U.S. Congress.

The State Senate decided Wednesday that members of the chamber who are candidates are allowed to vote on legislation related to the first step of the map-making process.

So far, State Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair) is the only member of the Senate committed to running.

“The president of the Senate said that I’m one of a class of thousands of people that may be interested in running for Congress. There is no conflict for me to vote and I must vote on that matter,” said Eichelberger, who’s vying for an open seat in the 9th Congressional District.

State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) had declared himself a candidate for the 7th Congressional District before allegations of inappropriate contact pushed him to step back from his campaign.

In the Pa. House of Representatives, Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana) is also running for the 9th district. GOP House spokesperson Steve Miskin said Reed will recuse himself from the map drawing process, but said the leader plans to vote on the legislation.

Despite lawmakers’ attempts to uphold an ethical line, critics say the scenario speaks to an underlying issue with Pennsylvania’s redistricting process.

“It’s part of the broader problem of letting political institutions like legislatures and the partisan controlled legislatures decide what those district lines are,” said Chris Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College.

Proponents of the current system argue that maps should be drawn by elected officials who are held accountable at the ballot box.

The Senate’s decision Wednesday was limited to a preliminary action — a vote to strip away the current district boundaries. Eichelberger said he’ll ask for another ruling before the next step.

Several state representatives are also running for congressional office.

  • Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Allegheny) will be in the special election on March 13th for the vacant seat in the 18th district.
  • Rep. Ryan Mackenzie (R-Berks) is running for the 15th Congressional District, where incumbent Republican Congressman Charlie Dent is retiring.
  • Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) is vying for the seat in the 7th Congressional District that Republican Pat Meehan is leaving.
  • Rep. Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland) is running to fill the 11th district seat that Republican Congressman Lou Barletta is vacating to challenge Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Casey.

Amidst the current confusion spurred by Pa. Supreme Court’s ruling, even more elected state officials could soon join the fray. The decision Wednesday by U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (D- Philadelphia) to retire has left the 1st Congressional District wide open to competition, with reports that State Rep. Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia) will run.    

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