Wolf reports ready for congressional district map talks

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday released the priorities for drawing Pennsylvania’s new congressional districts given to him by the panel he chose, signaling that he is ready to begin discussions with the Republicans who control the Legislative Assembly.

In theory, the principles given to Wolf will guide the Democrat in his dealings with Republican lawmakers, less than four years after a divided state Supreme Court redrawn the map to replace a GOP-drawn map that it deemed unconstitutionally gerrymandered. .

Wolf’s office did not make him available for an interview. But, in a statement, he said state and nation “were founded on the ideal that voters freely choose their own elected leaders, not the other way around.”

“The decision to accept or veto the next card will be one of my most important moments as governor and these principles will be crucial in guiding my review,” said Wolf.

This cycle of new congressional district boundaries is the first time in three decades that a Republican-controlled legislature has to share the task with a Democratic governor.

By all accounts, conversations between Wolf’s office and Republican lawmakers over a congressional map have been light. Republican leaders have not introduced any district maps into the legislation and did not accept invitations to discuss the issue on Wednesday.

Voters must choose candidates who run in new constituencies in the midterm elections next November. About 20 states have already approved new congressional maps for the 2022 election, though some face legal action.

The Wolf District Council held nine statewide “listening sessions” in October and November.

Their principles, summarized in a four-page document, include anti-gerrymandering ramparts such as ensuring that districts have compact shapes, divide as few political subdivisions as possible, and reflect the prevailing political tastes of the state, with sufficient of competitive districts to keep pace with changing voters’ feelings.

The council also recommended that Wolf “oppose” a card that is passed quickly by lawmakers, with limited debate or public consideration. In 2011, Republican lawmakers unveiled a card and gave it final approval a week later.

The principles make no mention of ensuring that incumbents have their own district in which to be re-elected. It was a priority for the Republican legislative majorities in 2001 and 2011, which they defended as preserving the will of the voters.

In the past, Wolf has been hostile to the idea of ​​tailoring districts to help incumbents get re-elected, saying in 2018 – amid the court’s decision to redraw district boundaries – that “incumbents will likely have a great interest in preserving their lack of competitiveness ”.

With an 18-member congressional delegation, Pennsylvania sends the fifth-highest number of members to Congress, tied with Illinois.

Currently, the delegation is split evenly between Republicans and Democrats. But, with two Pittsburgh-area Democrats – Conor Lamb and Mike Doyle – not seeking re-election, districts in the area are likely facing significant change, especially as a stagnant population makes them the most convenient place to eliminate a district.

Pennsylvania’s task is complicated by the need to downsize to 17 districts to replace its 18 districts, mirroring U.S. Census results that show Pennsylvania’s population has grown more slowly over the past decade than the rest of the country.

Wolf has the ability to veto anything passed by the legislature.

If Wolf and the legislature cannot agree on a map, it could be left to the state Supreme Court to redraw the districts by February 15, when candidates can begin circulating papers. petitions to access the primary ballot on May 17.

What makes Republicans nervous is that the state Supreme Court has a 5-2 Democratic majority, which gives Wolf political clout.

There is a precedent for court intervention after the 1990 census when a Republican-controlled legislature shared power with a Democratic governor, Robert P. Casey.

When lawmakers were unable to pass a plan, Democratic lawmakers took legal action and the court ultimately selected one of the maps proposed by the plaintiffs, choosing from competing plans submitted by different groups of lawmakers.

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