Democrats see partisanship in GOP Pennsylvania district map

FILE - In this June 30, 2015, file photo, front from left to right, Pennsylvania state Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre, state House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, state Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson, and state Speaker of the House Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, lead a news conference after Republican leaders engineered passage of state budget, liquor privatization and pension bills, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. Republican leaders of the Pennsylvania Legislature say they've agreed to a proposed new map of congressional districts to replace one thrown out last month. The top-ranking House and Senate leaders say their map "complies fully" with directions from the state Supreme Court. They're providing it to the Democratic governor, who has until Thursday to say if he supports it. (AP Photo/Chris Knight, File)

Chris Knight

HARRISBURG — A map produced by Republican legislative leaders Friday made the state’s congressional district boundaries less obviously gerrymandered but the partisan lean of the plan remains, a researcher from the University of Florida said Monday.

Brian Amos, who is doing his Ph.D. research on redistricting, compared the voting patterns from the congressional districts used in the 2016 election — and ruled illegal by the state Supreme Court — with those in the districts proposed by the GOP plan.

The result: “It was pretty much the same,” Amos said.

Under the 2016 districts, President Donald Trump won in 12 of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts. Under the proposed plan, Trump would still win in 12 districts, Amos said.

After the plan was released Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement that his office would review the proposal in consultation with experts. Wolf has until Thursday to decide whether to accept the plan or reject it and leave it to the Supreme Court to decide how to redraw the congressional map.

Amos said he doesn’t see how any independent experts would conclude that this proposed map is acceptable.

“I would find that hard to believe,” he said.

The proposed plan would eliminate the notorious Goofy-kicking-Donald District appearance of the 7th Congressional District in southeastern Pennsylvania. Clinton won in the 7th District, but under the GOP’s new proposal, it would become a more Democratic-leaning district, he said. The incumbent in the 7th Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan, a Republican, has announced he is not seeking re-election.

Meehan is one of five incumbents not seeking re-election.

Democrats have jumped on the analysis by Amos and other experts to blast the plan.

“The map that Republicans put forward does practically nothing to fix the partisan gerrymandering that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found violated the state’s constitution,” former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement released over the weekend. Holder is now leading the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, an effort to counteract Republican efforts to use the redistricting process to increase their majorities in Congress.

Pennsylvania is one of 12 states that the NDRC has targeted in 2018 with the group saying it hopes to help both Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf win re-election and Democratic lawmakers to win election in the General Assembly. The Republican Party has dominating majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature, which normally controls the process of redrawing the congressional boundaries.

The maps were designed to address the guidance provided by the Supreme Court regarding making the districts more compact and contiguous, Drew Crompton, chief of staff to Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, told reporters Friday night.

The Supreme Court had also criticized the number of counties and municipalities split between multiple congressional districts. The GOP proposal cuts the number of counties divided from 28 to 15 and the number of municipalities split by congressional districts from 68 to 17.

John Finnerty is the statehouse reporter for CNHI, the parent company of The Daily Item. Email comments to Follow Finnerty on Twitter @cnhipa.

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