Pennsylvania Governor Rejects GOP Proposal For New Congressional Map

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, joined by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, and gun violence activist speak out against gun violence and call for gun law reform, at a October 3, 2017 vigil for the victims of the mass shooting in Las Vegas. The vigil is held outside City Hall, in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) rejected top Republicans’ proposal for a new congressional map in his state Tuesday, saying the plan continued to be an unacceptable partisan gerrymander.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the state’s current congressional map in January, saying it so unfairly gave the GOP an advantage in the state that it violated Pennsylvania’s constitution. The court gave Republicans and the governor until Feb. 15 to agree on a map, but said it would draw a map on its own if they could not reach an agreement.

“The analysis by my team shows that, like the 2011 map, the map submitted to my office by Republican leaders is still a gerrymander,” Wolf said in a statement. “Their map clearly seeks to benefit one political party, which is the essence of why the court found the current map to be unconstitutional.”

In a Feb. 7 opinion, the court offered Republicans some guidance on how they needed to make the congressional map more fair. At a minimum, the court said, the map needed to be compact and contiguous, maintain roughly equal populations in each district and not unnecessarily split communities. Lawmakers could not value partisanship over those criteria, the court said.

House Speaker Michael Turzai (R) and Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati (R) offered a proposal to Wolf on Friday that they said complied with the court’s guidelines. Several analyses immediately pointed out that their proposal, which was not voted on by the legislature, maintained a severe Republican advantage.

Moon Duchin, a Tufts University mathematician Wolf hired to evaluate the plan, said she analyzed the map using the court’s criteria and found “there is no more than a 0.1 percent chance that a plan drafted to comply with the court’s factors would have been as favorable to Republicans as is the proposed Joint Submission Plan.”

In her analysis, the only plan that stood out with more of a partisan skew was the congressional map currently in place.

Republicans controlled the redistricting process in 2011 and drew a congressional map that gave the GOP a considerable advantage. The party has consistently won 13 of the state’s 18 congressional seats, despite winning around 50 percent of the vote. Democrats also outpace Republicans statewide in voter registration.

Republicans have fought the state Supreme Court’s order in every way they can, and have hinted that they may pursue further legal action. In a Friday filing, lawyers for Turzai and Scarnati said if the state Supreme Court drew the map, it would be infringing on the process the state constitution outlines for how a bill may become law.

In a letter to the state Supreme Court Tuesday, Wolf’s lawyers said Scarnati and Turzai also had not complied with the court’s order because the entire legislature had not voted on it. In a separate letter to the two top Republicans, Wolf said he was open to considering a new proposal, approved by the legislature, ahead of the Thursday deadline.

Turzai and Scarnati responded to Wolf with their own harshly-worded letter Tuesday afternoon and said his “pronouncements are absurd.” The two top Republicans defended their map and charged the governor with coming up with a new one that was better.

“Your letter sets forth a nonsensical approach to governance. Quit being coy,” they wrote. “Produce your map and we will put it up for a vote. We will assess how logical it is, how compact it is, and whether it unduly splits counties, municipalities and communities of interest.”