House plan hurts Dauphin County

While I am not submitting comment on behalf of my township or board of commissioners, I have been a commissioner for 10 years in Susquehanna Township. I am also a retired employee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, having served for 35 years, beginning 40 years ago. That afforded me a close perspective on four legislative reapportionments, beginning in 1981. I want to register my strongest objections to the House reapportionment plan recently approved by the Reapportionment Commission. On the day she helped push this plan through the commission, the Democrat Leader of the House indicated it was designed to correct past reapportionments which hurt her party. But this plan is not simply an ‘eye-for-an-eye” type of political justice, it’s much worse than that. I believe the House portion of this proposed plan to be destructive of democracy and unconstitutional. In fact, this reappointment plan is the most disruptive in the history of Pennsylvania legislative reappointments. Never before, in a Pennsylvania Reapportionment, has a plan forced this many incumbents to run against each other. In fact, this plan deviates from past practice which was to only run incumbents against each other in areas of declining population. This effectively disenfranchises hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania voters who supported these incumbent representatives in past elections. But make no mistake, this plan disenfranchises Republican voters far more than Democrat voters. In Dauphin County, those who voted two years ago for Rep. Andrew Lewis in the 105th District and those who voted for Rep. Joe Kerwin in the 125th District find their districts combined. In the current 104th district, the plan presents a serious disservice to voters like me -- and 20,734 others -- who voted for state Rep. Sue Helm. Since Democrats could not defeat her in the last eight elections, they are instead attempting to win by stacking the deck against her by creating a district designed to defeat her. This would be a significant loss for my township as Rep. Helm has been very responsive to the public officials who serve Susquehanna Township. She has helped us to obtain millions of dollars of state grants for infrastructure long before infrastructure became a Washington buzzword. And this partisan reapportionment plan creates OTHER problems in Dauphin County. This plan is the first to split Lower Paxton Township. In fact, a member of the Lower Paxton Board of Supervisors told me that that board expected to vote for a resolution objecting to the split. This plan is also the first to split the City of Harrisburg since the 1970s when the city was too large to fit in a single district. Splitting a municipality without a legitimate reason is unconstitutional. Political gerrymandering is the only reason for these splits! Plus the Harrisburg split divides a minority community reducing the likelihood that a member of that minority could be elected. This appears to be illegal. I am very familiar with the city district. Thirty-six years ago, when I lived in the City of Harrisburg, I ran for the 103rd District, which included all of Harrisburg and portions of Swatara Township and Steelton Borough. I later supported two African-American candidates who ran for the same seat a total of three times. In one of the cases, an African-American woman very nearly defeated a white male incumbent. While an African American has yet to represent Harrisburg in the state House, that district – the current 103rd – includes a population of more than 46 percent blacks, compared to 38 percent whites. The PROPOSED reapportionment plan would split Harrisburg into two districts, one which would cross the Susquehanna River into the West Shore. The NEW districts would have black populations of only 22 percent and 31 percent – again, compared to 46 percent in the current city district. This process of breaking up the black vote -- “cracking” -- would result in dilution of a minority population. That’s specifically prohibited by the Voting Rights Act under the US Supreme Court case Thornburg v. Gingles decided in 1986. In addition to this concern about racial discrimination, there also are mathematical problems with this House Reapportionment plan. This plan unfairly increases the number of Democrat districts by UNDER-stocking them, and decreases the number of Republican districts by OVER-stocking them. Specifically, this plan produces Democrat-leaning districts with a collective population SHORTFALL of more than 50-thousand, and Republican-leaning districts with a collective population OVERAGE of more than 50-thousand. This appears to violate the 1964 one-man-one-vote decision of the US Supreme Court, Reynolds v. Sims. I urge the Reapportionment Commission to revise this plan and ensure that a constitutional plan is adopted. Thank you.