Senators question Wolf map during hearing, though no one can talk about it
This story was updated at 6:55 PM on 01/21/21 with comment from Wolf admin.
Lawmakers left a hearing on Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed Congressional map with more questions than answers Friday afternoon.
Amid stalled legislative negotiations that could leave the map to state courts, Wolf published its own map, after months of silence on specific district boundaries.
He also lent his signature to a map created by Draw the Lines PA, a citizen redistricting group that collected input from over 7,000 people to create their own vision of the political topography of the Commonwealth.
But at a state Senate government committee hearing on the proposals, no one from the Wolf administration was present to discuss the details of the map — particularly a proposed split from the heavily Democratic city of Pittsburgh. into two districts that unsettled both Republicans and black Democrats. .
Committee chairman Dave Argall, R-Schuylkill, and panel Democrat Sen. Sharif Street of Philadelphia pressed two members of Wolf’s redistricting advisory committee for details on who drew the map. But they had no answers.
“Honestly, I have no idea,” said Christopher Fowler, a geography professor at Penn State University. “We weren’t consulted, we weren’t part of it.”
Wolf spokeswoman Elizabeth Rementer added that no one from the administration was invited to attend.
In the beginning, Wolf had first only criteria proposed for a card. The change of heart, a spokesperson said, was due to Legislative Republicans’ “failure to include the governor’s public comments on a map.”
The principles espoused by Wolf, authored by Fowler and four other Pennsylvania scholars, included the creation of a compact map with minimal municipal divisions, which reflects the nearly equal partisan division of the state and is sensitive to changes in the electorate.
Street and other black Senate panel members raised concerns about Pittsburgh’s proposed split would limit the power of the city’s geographically dispersed black community. A leaked map project, Street, helped keep the city together, which he said would protect black votes at the time.
Meanwhile, some Republicans have also raised concerns about Wolf’s emphasis on proportionality in the maps.
According to Dave’s Redistricting App, an online tool for drawing and analyzing maps, Wolf’s proposal has seven skinny Democratic seats, six skinny Republicans and four contenders.
Drawing proportional maps could lead to divisions in rural Republican districts at the expense of densely populated urban Democratic voters, argued Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York.
John Kennedy, a professor at West Chester University and adviser to Wolf’s redistricting committee, disagreed.
Creating competitive and responsive districts from the Commonwealth’s nearly evenly divided electorate need not “cut other qualities such as communities of interest”, he said, referring to another criterion for fair cards.
‘It’s a Rubik’s Cube’: Pa. struggles with competing redistricting priorities
The Wolf administration released a story for their card online, which partly explains his mapping decisions. The Pittsburgh split, the Wolf administration said, was modeled after the Draw the Lines map and also only allowed Allegheny County to be split once.
Draw the Lines President David Thornburgh added during the hearing that the Steel City division matched Pittsburgh’s natural geographic divisions by the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers, and gave the city an additional representative in Congress. , potentially increasing the region’s influence.
It was “a tough call,” Thornburgh said, “but one we feel confident in.”
He pointed out that the citizen-drawn map used information gathered from across the state and argued that the thousands of submissions would insulate it from concerns about bias.
Redistricting is the once-a-decade redistricting of congressional districts to match changing populations. Pennsylvania is particularly difficult because the state is losing a seat in Congress, as other states have grown at a faster rate than the Keystone State.
No card has yet reached Wolf’s office, who must sign it to become law. The maps suggested by Wolf were not taken into account, but could theoretically be put to a last-minute vote in either chamber as early as Monday.
Instead, a plan by House Republicans advanced to the General Assembly.
Their map was based on an academic exercise by redistricting advocate and former GOP Lehigh County Commissioner Amanda Holt. It was and amended to unify a number of divided rural counties whose GOP lawmakers have raised concerns about the splits.
Pa. nears map deadline with no final lines in place
It passed the House in a near-partisan vote last week and left a Senate committee this week. But Wolf has already expressed his opposition.
“We moved forward with this bill only because court-ordered deadlines are fast approaching,” Argall said.
He hoped to reach an agreement on a compromise card next week. If Wolf does not sign a card by January 30, the state commonwealth court choose a Congress card.