Monday February 12, 2018
The greater Reading area needs one representative, and this map fails to provide it.
The latest turn in the ongoing drama over Pennsylvania's map of congressional districts offers some encouraging signs but ultimately falls short of solving the problem, especially as it pertains to local concerns.
Republican legislative leaders in Harrisburg had been showing little interest in taking steps toward following a January state Supreme Court order requiring lawmakers to redraw maps created in 2011. The justices ordered new maps passed by the Legislature by last Friday and approved by the governor by Thursday.
Much of Republicans' attention in the immediate weeks after the ruling was focused on trying to get it overturned. After the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene just days before the deadline, House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati developed new maps on their own without involvement from the rest of the Legislature. They released the results of their work on Friday.
It's good that Republicans are starting to engage in a process they had seemed determined to resist since the court ruling was announced. The maps certainly represent an improvement over the grossly distorted districts that have been in place since 2012. The districts are more compact than in their previous rendition. The map keeps 52 of the state's 67 counties whole within one district, up from 39, and it reattaches several smaller cities to their home counties. Unfortunately Reading isn't one of them, and that's a deal breaker for us.
We're glad Berks County is divided into two districts instead of four and that most of the county is in the 6th District, which is historically where Berks belongs. But Reading is still in the 16th District along with a portion of southwestern Berks and the entirety of Lancaster County. Leaving most of Berks intact but putting the heart of the county on the fringes of another area's district is not the way to give our region proper representation. It looks to us as it did before, a way to put Reading's mostly Democratic votes in a district where they can do the least amount of damage to Republican candidates. Our concern has nothing to do with which party gets to represent Berks County. It's about making sure Berks County's interests are represented. We could live with a district map that leaves some outlying portion of Berks in a neighboring district. But dividing Reading from many of its suburbs is unacceptable.
Furthermore, we're disappointed that Turzai and Scarnati chose to wait until the last minute and leave out the rest of the Legislature in formulating a plan.
As much as it pains us to see redistricting subject to a political process and the inevitable horse trading that goes with it, that's the only way a deal acceptable to both parties is going to come about. If Gov. Tom Wolf rejects the Republicans' proposal, as appears likely, there would be only a few days before the court deadline to come up with an alternative.
We would prefer to see an agreement among the parties in Harrisburg rather than a set of maps imposed by the court, but a legislative solution is going to be difficult to achieve in the time frame available. And with primaries only about three months away, there's little time for deadline extensions. Nevertheless, we'd like to see the two parties finally get to work developing maps that better reflect the state's political makeup and enable areas with shared interests, including greater Reading, to be represented as they should.