State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Wolf administration rejects GOP congressional map proposal

Written by Katie Meyer | Feb 13, 2018 1:59 PM
governor_wolf_jan18_3.jpg

In this Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 photo, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at his office in Harrisburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

 

(Harrisburg) -- Governor Tom Wolf has rejected a Republican-drawn congressional map designed to replace one the state Supreme Court declared unconstitutionally gerrymandered late last month.

Wolf said the new map proposal still favors Republicans too heavily--though House and Senate Republican leaders maintain it follows the court's order exactly.

The rejection comes just two days before Wolf's deadline to submit a map to the court, after which justices say they will choose one--either by picking a version they deem fair, or drawing their own.

Wolf hired Tufts University Professor Moon Duchin to analyze the GOP map.

In a statement, she said her statistical and mathematical analysis showed the proposal is "an extreme outlier," when compared to other plans within the court's constraints, "exhibiting a decidedly partisan skew that cannot be explained by Pennsylvania's political geography or the application of traditional districting principles."

That partisan tilt in favor of Republicans, she said, has only a 0.1 percent chance of coming about by chance.

Wolf spokesman JJ Abbott said that is grounds for throwing the map out.

"The opinion makes clear that the standard by which [the current map] was deemed unconstitutional was that it gave distinct advantages for a particular political party," he said. "We believe the map that was submitted to the governor contains similar, if not the same advantages in a partisan direction, and using the same tactics as the current map."

But Republicans said they interpreted the court's decision very differently.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said Wolf's argument the GOP has a partisan advantage isn't relevant--it's just a side-effect of Democrats largely being confined to cities.

"There's not any standard in what the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said or anywhere in the federal government or any court ever that says competitiveness is a standard," he said.

Republicans have won 13 of Pennsylvania's 18 congressional seats in the three elections since the maps were redrawn, despite Democrats having more registered voters statewide.

When they first proposed the map to Wolf, Republican authors were adamant they hadn't even taken partisanship into consideration.

"If you ask me the R and D split of that map, I have no idea what it was," top Senate Republican lawyer Drew Crompton said at the time.

That map was submitted without a vote from the legislature--a cut corner leaders said was necessitated by the fact the Supreme Court only issued its full ruling three days before the map was due to the governor.

They insist they met all the court's specifications, though--namely, that the congressional districts be "composed of compact and contiguous territory; as nearly equal in population as practicable; and which do not divide any county, city, incorporated town, borough, township, or ward, except where necessary to ensure equality of population."

In a letter to House and Senate Republican leaders, Wolf laid out several of the specific concerns he had with the map. Besides the fact that the full legislature didn't vote on it, he said the map employs "packing," "cracking," and "splitting." Respectively, those mapping methods involve squeezing densely-populated areas into small districts, connecting cities to rural areas--here, Wolf cited Republican treatment of Reading and Erie--and dividing "key areas," like cities and counties.

Wolf also criticized the GOP map keeping a little less than 70 percent of Pennsylvanians in the same districts--a practice Republicans defended as reducing the "confusion factor" inherent in drawing new maps.

Republicans largely scoffed at those suggestions; Corman called for Wolf to offer his own map instead of making critiques--and accused the governor of shutting the General Assembly out of the process so the Democratic-majority Supreme Court can draw the maps.

"He just laid out sort of these ridiculous reasons that it's not meeting his standards," Corman said. "To me, the only standard I can see is it's not electing enough Democrats. Which, I can't really help."

Corman said the Republicans are currently looking at their options.

Ideally, he said, they would like more time to go through a legitimate legislative process with hearings and votes, though there's currently no plan to appeal to the court for an extension.

House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati took a similar tone in a joint letter to Wolf, which called his rejection of their map "nonsensical" and told him to "quit being coy" and release his own map.

"We look forward to reviewing your 'fair' map and are ready and willing to meet at your earliest convenience to see if, together, we can reach consensus on a 'fair' map that can garner majorities in the House and Senate and that you will sign," they said.

However, Abbott indicated the ball is still in the legislature's court--which could mean a standoff.

"I mean we gave them specific feedback as to our concerns related to their map...they are constructive," he said. "I think it's up to them whether they want to bring people back and try to vote on a map that would meets what the governor believes is fair."

Wolf could also submit his own map to the court, but hasn't confirmed whether he intends to.

He technically only has until Thursday, February 15. The justices say they will choose a final map on Monday, February 19.

GOP leaders said if the justices end up drawing their own map, they plan to sue in federal court. 

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