PA redistricting sends counties into jumble

Commissioners, candidates, constituents weigh in

AP PHOTO On the left is the GOP-drawn 2011 Pennsylvania congressional map and on the right is the newly-drawn state Supreme Court congressional map, which puts Clinton County in the new 12th Congressional District.

LOCK HAVEN — When Clinton County residents woke up on Monday morning, they were in a different congressional district.

Once a part of Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District, Clinton County residents now occupy the new 12th Congressional District, which includes most of the northeastern counties, some central counties, parts of Montour and Northumberland counties and State College in Centre County.

That means U.S. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Howard, who represented the former 5th District, now the 15th District, no longer represents Clinton County.

This development follows the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision to redraw the state’s congressional districts after they struck down the 2011 Republican-drawn map in January, calling it a partisan gerrymander that violates the state constitution.

The court gave the Republican-controlled legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf a short timeframe to agree on a congressional map through legislation.

Wolf, Republican lawmakers and House and Senate Democrats all submitted congressional map proposals for consideration to the court, but could not reach consensus on one before the deadline.

Republicans filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court to block the redistricting map late Wednesday night.

Republican and other state lawmakers are also planning a second federal challenge to the map soon.

State College and parts of Centre County also got the boot from the 5th Congressional District, and most of the new 12th District covers the former heavily-Republican 10th District, which is represented by Rep. Tom Marino, R-Williamsport.

Wade Jodun, a Democrat from Mill Hall seeking the congressional seat in the former 5th District, may now have to run against Marino in the new 12th District instead of Thompson.

Jodun, who is four months into his congressional campaign, said he has the potential to run in the 12th District if the state Supreme Court map holds.

“We could secure the necessary signatures” to run in the 12th, he said. However, he said, with 11 weeks until the primary, launching a new campaign would be difficult.

“It just seemed more prudent to us, rather than to rush to judgment, to sit and wait” for the outcome of the Republican challenges to the map.

He said although the new map presents a challenge to his campaign, “if this means better representation for the people of Pennsylvania…that’s a good thing and we’ll take that.”

Attempts to reach Thompson for comment were unsuccessful.

At their voting meeting Thursday, Clinton County commissioners voiced their disdain at the new congressional map.

“This board of commissioners did not support what is happening now,” announced Commissioner Pete Smeltz.

He said the resolution commissioners adopted April 13, 2017 outlined provisions for an independent citizens commission to redraw congressional districts based on the 2020 census data.

But the recent state Supreme Court redraw is not what commissioners envisioned at all. Smeltz said he believes it is not the court’s job to redraw congressional districts–it is the legislature’s job.

“To do that to us…right before a primary is wrong,” he said. “It’s messing things up at a bad time.”

Commissioner Jeff Snyder agreed with Smeltz, saying “you can’t trust these jerks,” referring to the state legislature.

“We stand for equal, fair elections,” he said. “And yet the state does something stupid.”

Commissioner Paul Conklin said he was concerned about how the Republican challenges to the map might affect the upcoming May 15 primary.

New Clinton County Director of Elections and Voter Registration Kristin Petruzzi confirmed that the first day to file congressional race petitions for the primary is Feb. 27.

Former county acting Director of Elections and Voter Registration Leah Mothersbaugh explained that if the Republicans’ challenges are successful and the congressional lines change again, petitions might not qualify in the districts they were filed and the state could possibly push back the primary. She also said the congressional race could be held separately after the primary. However, the primary concern, she said, is that all the changes could cost the county more money.

Petruzzi said Clinton County was lucky not to be a split precinct, meaning half the county resides in one district and half resides in another. Centre County, said Mothersbaugh, may have some issues with that since about half the county resides in the new 12th District and half resides in the 15th District.

Rose Reeder, president of Fair Districts PA in Clinton County, said that the new map is a step in the right direction.

But she acknowledged that “it leaves everyone in kind of a stressful situation…it’s hard for people to accept.”

“People have to know that (the new map) is not the goal of Fair Districts,” she said. “This is a stop-gap measure” toward getting politics out of redistricting.

She said that Fair Districts PA continues to put pressure on the the state House and Senate to discuss and vote on HB722 and SB22, which would establish an independent citizens commission to draw congressional district boundaries following the 2020 census.

“We have not backed down,” she said.