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Host: Scott LaMar

Pennsylvania's Congressional Districts

Written by Rich Copeland - Producer, WITF's Smart Talk | Feb 20, 2017 4:00 PM
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In 2011, Republicans, who held the majority in the Pennsylvania General Assembly,  re-drew the state's congressional districts to reflect the population shifts recorded in the 2010 census.  The districts were cut up and redrawn - Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post referred to them as "real funky-looking Congressional districts."  They stretch hither and yon, disjointed and often connected by tenuous strips of land.  The result? 

Thirteen Republicans and five Democrats represent Pennsylvania in the United States House of Representatives.  This is in a state where registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by one million.  Former Pennsylvania Democratic Chairman Jim Burn told the North Hills Patch "We knew that the Republicans would use their control of the process to draw a map that benefited Republicans, but we did not expect them to abuse their power to this degree, all while shutting out the public."

To add more context, states where Democrats control the legislature also have districts that many considered gerrymandered.  Maryland is an example.

The results of the 2016 election have many people questioning the validity of the current congressional districts.  As stated on their website, Fair Districts PA is a "coalition of citizens and organizations who believe that in American democracy, elections should represent the will of all the people, not just the politicians, and should provide citizens with meaningful choices in electing representatives."

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Diana Dakey / Jim Foster / Carol Kuniholm - Fair Districts PA

Smart Talk will speak with Carol Kuniholm, Director of Fair Districts PA as well as organization aides Diana Dakey and Jim Foster.  Also joining the conversation are David Thornburgh of Pennsylvania's Committee of 70 and Drew Crompton, Chief of Staff and counsel for Pennsylvania Senate Pro-Tempore Joe Scarnati.

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David Thornburgh - President and CEO, Committee of 70 / J. Andrew "Drew" Crompton - Chief of Staff and counsel for Pennsylvania Senate Pro-Tempore Joe Scarnati

EMAILS

-  Why should two parties receive eight seats on the commission?  This ensures a majority vote against the remaining three independent seats.  I am concerned that this will institute a two party system by a constitutional amendment.                                              - Timothy, Elizabethtown

- The PA Constitution (article 2, section 16) says districts shall be "compact and contiguous territory."  Contiguousness is easy to check, but what about compactness?  Has that phrase ever been tested in court?                                                          - Nathan, Harrisburg

I'm hearing only discussions on Republicans & Democrats having the decision making power in these potential changes. As in the primaries, when will Independents be given a voice? There are not just registered Republicans and Democrats in Pennsylvania, but a large number of Independents as well and it's time they are given the weight they deserve. They ARE often the bi-partisan voice needed.                                                                                                                               - Valerie, Lancaster

- To the gentleman who cannot understand the problem, first, the word gerrymandering would not exist if the premise wasn't so.  This is not a one sided party issue.  Both parties practice gerrymandering!  An example is the state district in which I live.  A narrow strip of south Middletown ship near Carlisle, PA is gerrymandered into a distrist that covers Adams and parts of York County. 

My federal district is aother long narrow strip along Rt. 8 all the way to the Scranton area.  Our local area cannot elect local persons when larger industrial areas like Scranton (Rep. Lou Barletta) has greater interests and support there and know little about where South Middleton Township exists.  The voters have little say anymore.                                                                             - Vonny

- I remember a young woman offer an alternative to the map that was drawn up.  Has anyone followed up on that woman's idea?                                                                                - Carole

- Why not agree on a set of parameters and then design software that creates our districts?                                                                                                                                       - Tim, Marietta

-  Several congressional and state senatorial districts are so contorted that share limit commonality among residents. For example, my congressional district, the 15th, goes from the New Jersey line all the way to here in the Harrisburg suburbs. The issues facing citizens of the Lehigh Valley are very different than those that face rural and farming areas between Harrisburg and Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton. Districts ought to be drawn to ensure citizens have representation by those who represent their needs and interests.                                                                                                                                                - Jim

- Gerrymandering has contributed to the extreme polarization in this state and country.  A majority of safe Republican districts, created by the Republican legislators, encourage the most extreme right wing candidates to run and win in primaries.  The result is an extreme right-wing legislature that is governing against the will of the majority of the people.  The majority then has no choice but to take to the streets in protest.  This is not "whining," it is the people trying to make their voices heard.                                                                                                              - Gary

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