Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was in Philadelphia on Thursday to endorse a group of suburban Democrats running for the Pennsylvania Senate.
The reason: He wants his party to have a louder voice in Harrisburg when lawmakers draw the next map determining state legislative districts.
“We need to elect Democrats here in Pennsylvania so that they can work with a great governor and tackle that problem of gerrymandering,” said Holder, who chairs the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.
The candidates — state Rep. Tina Davis; former state Rep. Steve Santarsiero; Swarthmore Mayor Tim Kearney; Maria Collet; Linda Fields; and Katie Muth — are vying for seats representing parts of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Berks counties.
Democrats currently hold 16 of the state’s 50 Senate seats and 40 percent of the seats in the state House of Representatives.
While all of them will be free to weigh in on what the state’s next legislative maps should look like, the overwhelming majority will not make decisions about the final product.
Instead, a five-member committee of lawmakers — at least two Democrats and two Republicans — will shape the districts for state senators and state representatives.
The group is tasked with selecting a fifth member to serve as commission chair. If they can’t reach an agreement, as has been the case in recent history, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court can step in and appoint someone to the seat.
“[The committee] will present their final product to the public. The state legislature itself does not vote on the final legislative product,” said Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Policy at Franklin and Marshall College.
And the governor doesn’t sign off on it. Barring a court challenge, Madonna said, the map the group creates would dictate redistricting.
Earlier this year, the Pa. Supreme Court ruled the state’s congressional district map an unconstitutional gerrymander. After giving the legislative and executive branches a chance to reach consensus on a revision, the court appointed a special master to design a new version. That iteration will be used for the first time in a general election this November, and is a significant reason Democrats are expected to make gains in the the state’s congressional delegation this year.