New map of Pennsylvania legislative districts approved

February 5, 2022 GMT
FILE - Chairman Mark Nordenberg speaks during a meeting of the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021. The five-member commission redrawing the boundaries of Pennsylvania's state legislative districts voted Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, to approve new maps for the next decade, with a focus on the state's fast-growing Latino population that could change the face of the predominantly white House and Senate. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
FILE - Chairman Mark Nordenberg speaks during a meeting of the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021. The five-member commission redrawing the boundaries of Pennsylvania's state legislative districts voted Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, to approve new maps for the next decade, with a focus on the state's fast-growing Latino population that could change the face of the predominantly white House and Senate. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
FILE - Chairman Mark Nordenberg speaks during a meeting of the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021. The five-member commission redrawing the boundaries of Pennsylvania's state legislative districts voted Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, to approve new maps for the next decade, with a focus on the state's fast-growing Latino population that could change the face of the predominantly white House and Senate. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
FILE - Chairman Mark Nordenberg speaks during a meeting of the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021. The five-member commission redrawing the boundaries of Pennsylvania's state legislative districts voted Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, to approve new maps for the next decade, with a focus on the state's fast-growing Latino population that could change the face of the predominantly white House and Senate. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
FILE - Chairman Mark Nordenberg speaks during a meeting of the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021. The five-member commission redrawing the boundaries of Pennsylvania's state legislative districts voted Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, to approve new maps for the next decade, with a focus on the state's fast-growing Latino population that could change the face of the predominantly white House and Senate. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The five-member commission redrawing the boundaries of Pennsylvania’s state legislative districts voted Friday to approve new maps for the next decade, with a focus on the state’s fast-growing Latino population that could change the face of the predominantly white House and Senate.

The Legislative Reapportionment Commission voted 4-1 during a meeting in the Capitol, with chair Mark Nordenberg, the Senate Republican leader and the House and Senate Democratic leaders voting for it. A lawsuit challenging it, however, is likely.

The vote came after nearly a year of meetings, hearings and closed-door discussions to carry out the constitutionally required, once-a-decade map-drawing to account for demographic shifts identified by the census.

In comments before the vote, House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, called the House map a “fair, constitutionally sound map.”

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Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, called the new Senate map “truly a product for the public and by the public.” Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, called it “imperfect,” but said she was confident that it is constitutional.

Nordenberg, a Democrat and a former University of Pittsburgh chancellor appointed by the state Supreme Court, quoted testimony from a political science professor from George Washington University who called it a fair, if slightly Republican-leaning, map.

Nordenberg also quoted from a letter by three Latino members of the Legislature that applauded the map and said it has nine districts “in which Latino communities should be able to elect their candidates of choice.”

Those nine “minority opportunity” districts — seven in the House, two in the Senate — have heavy concentrations of racial minorities, and at least some have no incumbent.

In addition to a growing Latino population, driving significant change is growth in Pennsylvania’s southern and eastern areas that are increasingly liberal, and stagnant population in predominantly white northern and western areas represented by Republicans.

The lone dissenter, House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, slammed it as an unconstitutional gerrymander designed to help Democrats. It will not improve minority representation and will lead to more gridlock and less competitive districts, Benninghoff said.

Benninghoff said after the meeting that House Republicans are preparing a legal challenge to the state Supreme Court, with less than two weeks to go before candidates can start circulating petitions in the new districts to get on the May 17 primary ballot.

The House and Senate maps, approved and public for the first time Friday, adjusted preliminary maps approved by the panel in December after a 30-day period for public comment and hearings.

Republicans have had the upper hand in at least the past two cycles of redistricting.

They also have held durable and substantial majorities in both legislative chambers for nearly all of the last three decades, even though Democrats hold a registration statewide.

Republicans currently hold a 113-90 House majority and a 29-21 Senate majority on maps in force since 2014’s elections.

Since then, Republicans have held majorities in both chambers — including some of the biggest majorities in a half-century — while Democrats won more statewide races, 19 to 11.

The Senate map wiped out what Democrats saw as the most extreme gerrymanders created by Republicans in the existing map that helped defeat Democratic incumbents in Johnstown and Harrisburg.

Meanwhile, in the House, four pairs of Republican incumbents were each drawn into a district, a consequence of shrinking populations there, Nordenberg said.

To create nine districts where minorities have significant populations, House mapmakers split the cities of Allentown, Reading and Harrisburg, redrew a Hazleton-area district and carved new districts into Lancaster, Philadelphia and Montgomery County.

In the Senate, mapmakers redrew a Senate district in Philadelphia currently held by Democrat Christine Tartaglione and moved the Wilkes-Barre-based district into part of Allentown and its suburbs.

That protected Allentown Republican Pat Browne by putting him into a Republican-leaning district, but put Democrat-turned-independent John Yudichak in a district with Republican Lisa Baker. It also united Scranton and Wilkes-Barre in one district.

Pennsylvania is just one of four states — Connecticut, Louisiana and Rhode Island are the others — that would have lost population over the past decade if it weren’t for Hispanic population gains, according to census figures.

Out of 1.5 million Hispanic or multiracial Hispanic residents in Pennsylvania, or almost 12%, just four Latinos serve in the 253-seat Legislature. That’s under 2%. Proportional representation would be more like 29 seats.

Benninghoff had proposed an alternative that was rejected by the commission.

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Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/timelywriter and Mark Scolforo at https://www.twitter.com/houseofbuddy.