(See Comments section for updated information.)
Wednesday, January 25 the Horsham Republican Committee held its monthly organizational meeting. It was one of the more interesting sessions we’ve had in quite a while for the issues discussed, developments in the local political geography, and for the chance to meet Joe Rooney, who is seeking GOP endorsement to challenge Congressional Representative Allyson Schwartz (D) in Pennsylvania’s 13th Congressional District.
One geographical development is the division of Horsham – almost precisely in half – between the 13th and 7th Congressional Districts. Horsham will now be represented by two Congressional Representatives – Schwartz (D-13) and Patrick Meehan (R-7), which is not necessarily a bad thing for the Township when you consider that Horsham is largely ignored by Ms. Schwartz, whose power base is Northeast Philadelphia and the Democratic edges of eastern Montgomery County.
Another interesting, less positive development was the sudden rejection by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court (PSC) of a negotiated plan to redraw State House and Senate districts in response to the 2010 census. The move appeared both unexpected and unprecedented. The redistricting plan had just been adopted December 11 by a bipartisan Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC). There was however opposition from minority Democrats who feel that Republicans had unnecessarily carved up townships and communities in an attempt to preserve political advantages.
Of course this is the common refrain made by the minority whenever the majority party flexes its political power in the reapportionment process that follows every 10-year census. It matters not whether it’s Democrats or Republicans doing the carving; the other side is rarely happy with the results.
The problem is that this is the time of year when supporters of incumbents and challengers alike troll voting districts for nominating signatures required in order to be listed on primary ballots. To add a bit of extra urgency to the matter, the primary is only 3 months away (April 24). It’s a bit difficult to mine nominating signatures when you can’t be totally certain where district lines will end up being drawn. Signatures of voters not registered in a candidate’s district-of-interest are worthless.
The move by the PSC caught many by surprise since:
a) the Court usually endorses the product of similar bipartisan LRCs,
b) PSC Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille – Philadelphia’s former Republican District Attorney – joined the Court’s minority Democrats to quash the redistricting plan, and
c) no formal majority ruling as to why the plan was found “unconstitutional” was handed down. That the written opinion is yet to come is a bit dysfunctional given the primary election time constraints; the minority judicial opinion was provided, though just a few sentences long.
Redistricting is not an easy exercise, even if one were able to put aside partisan political objectives. As explained by Todd Stevens (PA 151st Legislative District Representative) last night, there is generally a 4000-person wiggle factor when trying to match state legislative districting to 10-year census figures. For national Congressional Districts the process is more difficult since district size must match EXACTLY the prescribed representative-to-constituent ratio determined by a rather convoluted formula I can not profess to understand. (If you would like to see an example of “gerrymander“, simply check out the new lines of the redistricted PA 13th Congressional District, whose northwestern edge meanders for miles and miles – and almost house to house – from Montgomeryville-Lansdale to King of Prussia-Conshohocken!)
In any case the issue of Pennsylvania state legislative redistricting must be resolved quickly to offer any chance that upcoming primary and general elections will adhere to 2010 census-driven representation requirements.
The good news for Horsham is that it will retain a single State Representative in Mr. Stevens, who is a township native and resident. By comparison, Upper Dublin in the last two iterations of reapportionment has been carved up between four state representative districts.
Another interesting discussion on the environmental and economic ramifications of natural gas fracking in the Marcellus Shale was also led by State Rep Stevens. After listening to the sometimes edgy discussion, I concluded I do not know nearly enough about the subject to discuss it intelligently. You can count on this being the subject of a future post, once I get around to some meaningful research.
The highlight of the night however was meeting Joe Rooney, who is the lone candidate seeking the GOP nomination to challenge Allyson Schwartz in the PA 13th. But since this post is already quite long enough and a bit mind-numbing, I will leave my impressions of Mr. Rooney for another post. Keep an eye out here for that sometime next week.
In the meantime, check out Mr. Rooney’s website (linked above) and consider donating what you can should you agree with his politics. His biggest obstacle to giving Allyson Schwartz a suitable challenge this November is financial.
The deogmraphic changes influencing redistricting should be good for Dems.The challenge will be that the courts have decided to allow the legislators to freely gerrymander districts and the Legislature has declined to set any standards for redistricting or depoliticize the process.The interesting wild card for next spring is that this will be the first time since the passage of the Voting Rights Act that there is a Democratic administration in the Justice Department during redistricting.
UPDATE: According to today’s Philly Inquirer, state Republican leaders are seeking a restraining order in Federal Court to prevent the State Election Commission from returning to 2001 legislative districts.
The Republicans were joined by Latino groups in Pennsylvania who saw the new districting plan increase the number of districts where Hispanics hold majorities from 1 to 4. They claim the attempt to stop the redistricting plan as a violation of the one person-one vote law.
The three-judge panel from the Third Circuit of U.S> Court of Appeals could decide that use of the 2001 district layout would be appropriate until such time as a “more acceptable” plan can be developed.
UPDATE: The Philadelphia Inquirer ran an article today explaining the chaos caused by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s nixing of the redistricting plan for State House and Senate seats.
THE PLAN: All districts will remain as drawn previous to the 2010 Census for the upcoming November election (and April primary), and will be revised only after legal challenges are settled.
CONFIRMED: This will not affect PA Congressional redistricting which was done seperately and has not been challenged.