Pa’s new Congessional boundaries already generating controversy

    Men who draw crooked lines on maps are almost finished crafting new Congressional districts for Pennsylvania, and if rumor and history are any guide, this will be bad news for Democrats.

    Congressional maps are re-drawn after every census, and in Pennsylvania, they’re embodied in a bill passed by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed by the Republican governor.

    When this process was completed ten years ago, the result was a map so flagrantly gerrymandered that a federal appeals court struck it down, and it went to the U.S. Supreme Court, the first political gerrymandering case to reach the high court in decades.

    In a 5-4 vote, the Supremes let the GOP map for Pennsylvania stand.

    Now legislative leaders are finishing their work on a new map, and Western- Pennsylvania Republican State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who chairs the relevant committee, plans to unveil the proposed new districts as soon as tomorrow.

    But the plan is apparently to move the bill through the legislature within a week, without any public hearings or time for meaningful public review of the new proposed boundaries.

    At least that’s the fear of Common Cause Pennsylvania executive director Barry Kauffman, who wrote Metcalfe a letter urging him to let the public weigh in on the map.

    “The General Assembly has had nearly nine months to develop a congressional redistricting plan, and has not provided a plan for citizens to review during that time,” Kauffman wrote. “Pennsylvania’s citizens should have been given 30 to 90 days to analyze and comment on such a plan.

    Since the legislature is nearing the end of its session, Kauffman said Metcalfe should at least hold the redistricting bill in committee for ten days after making the proposed map public.

    Capitolwire.com’s Pete DeCoursey wrote in a piece today that Metcalfe had promised in March there would be public hearings on the proposed Congressional map. Now it appears hearings Metcalfe held in the spring inviting general public comment (without a proposed map to comment on) will have to do.

    From DeCoursey’s piece:

    “To be fair, Metcalfe did make one comment that is absolutely accurate and fair, when he said this process ‘will be one of the most transparent congressional reapportionments.’

    He is right. This congressional reapportionment is just as transparent as the last five or ten: about as transparent as a three-foot-thick, 200-foot-high brick wall.

    Having hearings months ago and listening to people on the general issues is not transparency: it is an attempt to fool voters that they are anything but demographics to be manipulated in this process.”

    I haven’t reached Metcalfe for comment yet, but I did speak to Steve Miskin, spokesman for the State House Republican Caucus.

    He said the process for presenting and approving the map is more compressed than some would like, but there’s a need to act quickly since candidates will have to start circulating nominating petitions to run in the new districts in January.

    Miskin said the hearings in the spring were “unprecedented,” and that the maps would be carefully drawn.

    One of the interesting footnotes to the last Congressional redistricting in the state is that while the Republicans did make some immediate gains, some of the districts they created were more competitive for Democrats than they’d thought.

    In 2006, Democrats captured 11 of the state’s 19 Congressional seats.

    I’ll explore this whole subject more in a radio piece tonight on Newsworks Tonight.

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