A proposed redrawn map of the state’s congressional districts melds six northeast counties and part of a seventh into a single district, changing the local political landscape for members of Congress, their challengers and constituents.
Three weeks after the state Supreme Court declared the former map unconstitutional in that it unfairly favors Republicans, state GOP leaders Friday proposed a map that appears to combine all of Lackawanna, Susquehanna, Wayne, Wyoming, Monroe and Pike counties, as well as part of Luzerne County, into a new 17th Congressional District. The existing 17th District includes all of Schuylkill County and portions of Carbon, Monroe, Luzerne, Lackawanna and Northampton counties.
The boundaries of the 10th and 11th districts, which previously included all or parts of some Northeast Pennsylvania counties, also will change significantly if the proposed map is approved by Gov. Tom Wolf.
Wyoming County has been in the 11th District -where Rep. Lou Barletta is Congressman - following the 2010 census, and was previously in the 10th District.
The map appears to put most of the Hazleton area in the new 11th District, which would include most of Luzerne County, all of Schuylkill County and a small part of Carbon County plus all of Lebanon County and the southern portion of Dauphin County.
Most of Carbon County is in the new 15th District, which also includes all of Lehigh and Northampton counties.
The governor has until Thursday to tell the state Supreme Court if he supports it. The court has indicated it will “expeditiously” adopt its own map based on previous testimony if Wolf rejects the proposal.
The redrawn districts, if approved, may produce hurdles for incumbent members of Congress forced to campaign in new territory, said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College.
“They are obviously going to have to shift their attention,” Madonna said. “They are going to have to go ... and get into areas they haven’t (campaigned in) before, do more visits, make more contacts with local officials. In some cases, it’s going to make a huge difference.”
Under the proposed boundaries, the 17th District, represented by Moosic Democrat Matt Cartwright, incorporates four new counties — Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming. Those counties are currently part of either the 10th or 11th districts. President Donald Trump won those four counties in 2016.
Reached Saturday, Cartwright said he doubts the proposed map will be approved but isn’t afraid of taking on new territory.
“Wherever I pick up new territory — and I think it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that I will pick up new territory in some places — it’s going to be additional work on my part to get around and meet these new folks and figure out their concerns,” Cartwright said. “But I was never afraid of hard work.”
Beyond incumbents, there are more than 60 candidates running for Congress statewide. Under the proposed map, several challengers may no longer live in the districts they hope to represent, Madonna said.
Republican John R. Chrin, a former Wall Street banker who wants to unseat Cartwright this year, recently established residence in the 17th District, buying a home in Palmer Twp., Northampton County. The proposed map places all of Northampton County in the 15th District.
The state Supreme Court gave the General Assembly until Friday to produce a new map.
House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, both Republicans, drafted the proposal sent to Wolf.
State Rep. Mike Carroll, D-118, Avoca, took issue with two state lawmakers out of 253 drafting the plan.
“The whole foundation is flawed,” Carroll said Saturday, adding that State House and Senate Democrats and Republicans need to work together to create the new districts.
“So on process and on function, the map should be rejected by the governor,” he said.
When asked if the proposed map is more equitable for voters in Pennsylvania, Carroll said, “The current map leaves so much to be desired that any other map would be improvement.
“What frustrates me the most is the lack of willingness to abide by the legislative rules here,” he said. “Just to submit a map to the governor without a vote in House and Senate, it’s offensive.”
In January, the state Supreme Court ruled the existing 7-year-old congressional districts — reworked by lawmakers after the 2010 census — “clearly, plainly and palpably” violate the state Constitution. The court ruling came after voters from each congressional district and the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit in summer 2017 alleging the state’s 2011 congressional map is unconstitutional.
“As a league member, I am very happy with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision,” said Jean Harris, a University of Scranton political science professor who resides in Nicholson. She said her group is working with Fair Districts PA to open the state’s Constitution, which could move the redistricting process out of the hands of lawmakers and into those of a nonpartisan panel.
“It’s a good wake-up for state officials, for people in the state, to recognize that gerrymandering is a big problem,” Harris said.
The new map, whether accepted by Wolf or drawn up by the state Supreme Court, will be used for the May 15 primary.