By Steve Esack and Laura Olson
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf this morning rejected a congressional map that was offered as a replacement to a 2011 map declared illegal by the state Supreme Court for giving unfair advantage to Republicans at the polls.
Wolf's decision in the gerrymandering case that has caught national attention came four days after he received the map from the Legislature's top two Republican lawmakers: House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson.
The lawmakers had claimed their new map "complies fully with" the Supreme Court's Jan. 22 order that district boundaries should be as "compact and contiguous" as possible and should hold a near equal number of residents and split as few election wards, municipalities and counties as possible.
Their map splits 15 counties as opposed to 23 in the 2011 map, and 17 municipalities instead of 66.
But in rejecting the map, Wolf countered that his map making experts found the lawmakers' proposed lines were just as gerrymandered as the old one. For example, Princeton University professor Sam Wang determined that the map purposely splits densely populated urban areas like Reading, Scranton, Harrisburg to dilute Democratic votes in a process known as "packing and cracking."
"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 letter to the lawmakers, Wolf also claimed the proposed map keeps 70 percent of residents in districts the court found unconstitutional. The governor also faulted Turzai and Scarnati for presenting him a map without first seeking approval from the entire Legislature. He asked them to try again.
But GOP leaders did not have a lot of time to react to the court order. Five Democratic justices issued the majority order on Jan. 22 with no backup opinion explaining how the map was unconstitutional and how the Legislature should remedy it. That backup opinion did not arrive until late Wednesday and by then the House and Senate had adjourned. Turzai and and Scarnati gave Wolf their map changes early Friday evening to comply with the court's mandate.
Anticipating Wolf's reaction, Turzai held a news conference in the Capitol Monday in which he pre-emptively rejected claims ther map was purposely geared toward protecting the GOP. Per the court directive on compactness and contiguous boundaries, Turzai said the new GOP-drawn map splits the fewest municipal and county splits since 1971.
(c)2018 The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)