Redistricting Upheaval Creating a Headache for Pennsylvania Candidates


Stephen Bloom knew this was his opportunity.

For seven years, he had served in the Pennsylvania state House. A popular figure in his right-leaning district, Bloom helped shepherd common-sense bills through the state legislature and became well known in Pennsylvania conservative circles.

In September, after U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta announced he would be vacating his House seat, leaving the state’s 11th congressional district up for grabs, Bloom publicly launched his campaign.

“When I found out there would be an opportunity, since congressman Barletta had chosen to run for U.S. Senate, I realized after discussing with my wife and trusted folks that I really had a duty to try to take those same values to the state legislature to Washington,” Bloom said to The Western Journal.

Based in Carlisle, PA, Bloom is aiming to represent a district that stretches across a large swath of the eastern part of the state. Election analysts rate the district as solidly Republican.

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“We need conservatives in D.C. that are willing to stand up to the arm-twisting of, not only the Democrats, but even Republicans when necessary. I think it’s important to have folks like myself who have a track record of standing up against the powers at be and standing up for the hardworking taxpayers,” he continued.

“I care deeply about the taxpayers. That’s what I’ve always been fighting for — to cut the size and scope of government, to reduce taxes and unnecessary spending, to defend our constitutional liberties — especially the 2nd Amendment, and the right of unborn children to life.”

As the only elected official currently in the Republican primary, Bloom has a likely chance of securing his party’s nomination, and thus easily winning a general election.

However, the Republican lawmaker does face one major obstacle, and its an issue every candidate in Pennsylvania is facing.

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Bloom has no idea what his district will look like in a few days.

Leaders in the GOP-controlled state legislature have not been able to reach an agreement with Gov. Wolf’s office on a new map. The Democratic governor of Pennsylvania rejected a proposal by the GOP earlier this week. As Pennsylvania leaders continue to battle over a new congressional map, candidates in the state are left to wonder what districts they will even be running in.

Wolf’s office submitted its own map late Thursday night, minutes before a court-ordered midnight deadline, according to ABC News. The governor’s submission was just the latest in a string of proposals from political leaders in the state as Democrats look to add more members of their party to the Pennsylvania congressional delegation.

The state Supreme Court will have just a few short days before it considers the suggestions and draws its own boundaries. Court justices will be advised by Nathan Persily, a Stanford University law professor who is considered an expert on the subject of redistricting. Persily has been involved in drawing districts in New York, North Carolina, Maryland, Connecticut and Georgia.

Arguing that they have overstepped their authority, Republicans are likely to ask a federal court to block any redistricting by the state Supreme Court.

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The battle couldn’t have come at a less opportune time, with the 2018 midterms fast approaching and primary contests happening as soon as May.

The upheaval began in January when the state Supreme Court, made up by a majority of Democrats, determined the current map unfairly favors Republicans and ruled it unconstitutional.

The map has been in place since 2011 after Republicans swept into office in Pennsylvania during the GOP election year of 2010. Democratic critics have long argued that the map is gerrymandered, unfairly helping Republican candidates at the expense of Democratic voters.

It was a group of Pennsylvania Democratic activists who initiated the lawsuit, arguing the gerrymandered districts amounted to discrimination.

To make their case, Democrats point to the makeup of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation. Of the 18 seats available, Republicans have retained control of 13 seats in the past three election cycles. Democrats say this is not a fair reflection of the partisan alignment of the state, where Democrats are much more competitive in statewide elections and registered Democrats outnumber Republicans.

However, Republicans counter that this explanation is an oversimplification.

In Pennsylvania — much like the partisan makeup of most states in the U.S. — Republican voters are spread out across the rural parts of the map, taking up a geographically larger swath of the entire state. Democratic voters, on the other hand, concentrate in small, urban areas and cities.

This self-segregation by Democratic voters naturally puts them at a disadvantage when district maps are drawn. Given that liberal constituents congregate in small geographic areas, the redistricting process inherently will compact them in fewer congressional districts.

Bloom spoke on this in a conversation with The Western Journal.

“If you look at the way Pennsylvania voters are distributed, you see that Democrats are by and large concentrated in a few major cities, and that Republicans dominate the population in the areas outside of those cities. Pennsylvania is the state with the largest rural population of any state. The rural areas actually have a lot of people in them, and they tend to be Republican. They’re spread out across the state, not in those densely populated areas,” the state representative explained.

“Almost no matter how you break up the districts in Pennsylvania, you’re going to end up allowing for a lot of Republican-majority districts just because of the geography of where people have chosen to live and reside. The only way you can spread those Democrats concentrated in the cities out, to create more Democrat-leaning districts, would literally be to gerrymander them, to split those cities and attach different chunks of the cities to outlying suburban areas.”

Republicans aren’t the only ones pointing this out.

In a submission of their own proposed map, lawyers representing the Democratic activists who brought on the lawsuit even admitted their proposal slightly reflects a “small natural advantage that Republicans hold due to the clustering of Democratic voters,” according to the Associated Press.

Republicans have also cried foul over how fast the process has gone since the court’s decision. The state Supreme Court did not file its full opinion on the case until two days before the state legislature’s imposed deadline to submit a new map to the governor, leaving Republican leaders without guidance up until hours before the deadline.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman requested Wolf to grant an extension, allowing lawmakers sufficient time to draw a map. However, Wolff — who has not been receptive to working with Republicans during this process — denied Corman’s request.

“Unfortunately,” the Senate leader said. “The governor declined that request. The governor has chosen chaos,” according to WITF.

The courtroom battle has left the entire election process in Pennsylvania in a state of upheaval. Constituents do not know who they will be voting for, and candidates do not know where they will be campaigning. While leaders in the state legislature have tried to draw maps that keep incumbents in their home districts, other maps have completely thrown incumbency out the door, mashing Republicans and Democrats into the same districts.

In an effort to somewhat tamp down on the confusion, the court, in its order to redraw the map, ruled the 18th district can be left alone as voters in the state will go to the polls next month in a special election to replace former Rep. Tim Murphy.

However, whichever candidate wins the special election may be facing a completely different landscape later this year.

In the meantime, all Bloom and other candidates can do is hope for the best.

Jason Hopkins is The Western Journal’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.

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