- 17th District
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Sen. Leach Responds to Article Alleging Congressional District Maps Reflect PA Voters
On November 14, 2012
Dear Mr. Comisac:
I read with interest your article in today’s Capitolwire (pasted below). Since I was criticized and called a series of names in the article, I have taken the liberty of writing, and publishing this reply.
Before I get into addressing the specific points raised in your article, I would note as a threshold matter that in your missive, you called me several variations of “hypocritical”. You did so without ever calling me seeking a comment or soliciting any insight into what my press release was saying. I think this is a sad, but not surprising testament to the state of journalism today.
On the merits, your article is so misguided, and often bizarre, that it is difficult to know where to begin. I won’t burden you or other readers with a full rebuttal of each point. However, I do think your article begs for at least a few clarifications.
You say that I am hypocritical because I am “enjoying the benefits” of “out of balance” districts employing the 2001 lines.
Lets put aside the fact that you can’t really “enjoy” something hypocritically. You have misstated the history which you use to support your charge. The 2001 districts may have been out of balance in population. But they were not out of balance in the sense of having been drawn to benefit Democrats in a partisan way. In fact, the 2001 lines were another Republican Gerrymander as they controlled the process back then as well.
I can promise you that I did not draw the 2001 lines. If I had, that would have been hypocritical, and given how Republican they were, odd.
My caucus did not go to court to complain about districts with population imbalances. We went to court to complain about lines that ripped communities of interest apart, moved incumbent districts across the state, and reduced the competitiveness of many senatorial districts, all in service of making sure more Republicans were elected.
Thus the only way that I could accurately be called “hypocritical” is if I had, in some forum, demanded strange and awkward districts, drawn to guarantee Democratic political victories. I never did that. Thus, your charge of hypocrisy is simply wrong, and seemingly made without much thought.
Going beyond your name-calling of me, you proceed to completely misrepresent my argument on why the congressional gerrymander has led to an unrepresentative congressional delegation.
I said that Democratic congressional candidates received about 75,000 more votes than Republican candidates in Pennsylvania this year, yet the state congressional delegation is 13-5 Republican. I said that result is unreflective of the will of the people. That isn’t my opinion. It’s math.
You apologize for this result by saying essentially that Democrats are concentrated in cities so therefore…well…it sort of falls apart for me at that point. After re-reading your article several times, I still can’t figure out why Democratic concentration requires a 13-5 Republican delegation.
I would say that whatever argument you think you were making would only make sense if the partisan concentration of the population made a 13-5 Republican split unavoidable. But its not unavoidable.
Everybody knows that the Republican Congressional delegation met, divided up the Republican areas amongst themselves, and dumped as many Democratic areas into the few congressional seats intended to be Democratic. You just ignore this and pretend that it didn’t happen. Why would someone who claims to be a journalist do this? Perhaps Fox News is coming to Harrisburg at last.
I would also note that if you read the end of your own article, you will notice it completely undermines everything that comes before it, and totally validates my argument. You write:
“Could the state be 11-7 or 10-8 instead of 13-5? Sure…”
Well Mr. Comisac, without putting too fine a point on it, that’s the friggin’ point!! A 10-8 split in the delegation would be a much fairer and more accurate reflection of the will of the voters (math, again), 52% of whom voted for a Democratic congressperson, than 13-5!
You acknowledge that, and also tacitly acknowledge that the only reason this didn’t happen was aggressive partisan gerrymandering. So reading your article in toto, it becomes clear that we only disagree on two points. 1) the desirability of partisan gerrymandering, and 2) which one of us knows what the word “hypocrite” means.
POINT OF ORDER: PA’s congressional districts reflect voter distribution in state.
A Capitolwire Column
By Chris Comisac
Deputy Bureau Chief
HARRISBURG (Nov. 13) – State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, issued a press release on Tuesday complaining that too few Democrats were elected to the U.S. Congress last week, and it’s all due to unfair and – gasp – partisan redistricting.
“The current Congressional delegation in Pennsylvania does not reflect the will of the people. The results from the latest congressional election proves that partisanship trumps fairness and balance in redistricting and a new process is needed to ensure proper representation,” said Leach in the release. “Voters should be electing their representatives. Instead, politicians are handpicking their voters. That’s not democracy.”
This is the same Sen. Leach whose Senate Democrats enjoyed the benefits of out-of-balance districts in the just-held 2012 elections. Elections, that, you recall, were held on 2001 lines. In fact the Senate Democrats would have likely not won the Dauphin County Senate seat carried by Rob Teplitz and would have likely lost the district of Sen. John Wozniak, D-Cambria, had new maps been in place.
It’s a bit hypocritical for him to attack the congressional districts since his own caucus went to court to prevent the implementation of a new senatorial district map that was drawn to ensure as little as possible deviation of population between districts.
Say what you will about the partisanship involved in drawing the lines of those state Supreme Court-rejected maps, but the districts met the Pennsylvania Constitution’s requirement that districts have equality of population.
Without the new maps in place, House and Senate districts in the 2012 election had wide population variances, which play havoc with the “one man, one vote” principle that requires roughly equal-size districts. You didn’t hear Leach or other Senate Democrats complaining about that last week, did you?
And in addition to the hypocrisy, Leach’s missive about congressional districts does little to support his claims.
He states that winning Democratic congressional candidates won by an average of more than 185,000 votes, whereas winning Republican candidates won by an average of 55,000 votes.
His argument appears, on the surface, to be valid: the five congressional districts in which Democratic candidates won in 2012 did have a lot of Democrats voting in them, which indicates that redistricting efforts overloaded those districts with as many expected Democratic voters as possible to create other seats the GOP could win and hold.
However, four of those five districts incorporate Philadelphia – three of them – and Pittsburgh. Only one exists outside those two areas: the 17th District, which includes all of Schuylkill County and parts of Carbon, Monroe, Luzerne, and Lackawanna counties. Democratic strongholds such as Wilkes-Barre, the Pittston area, Scranton and Easton are all located in that district.
Based on unofficial election returns, 12 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties gave a majority of their votes to President Barack Obama. The other 55 counties went for Republican Mitt Romney. Chester County is tight, but unofficial returns show Romney ahead – by about 1,000 votes – in that county.
Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware, Allegheny, Erie, Luzerne, Lackawanna, Monroe, Northampton and Lehigh counties all went for Obama last week.
Philadelphia County, alone, produced over 557,000 votes for Obama, with Romney winning slightly less than 92,000 votes. In the three districts that incorporate most of Philadelphia (and a little outside the county) – the 1st, 2nd, and 13th districts – the Democratic candidates, all incumbents, won 225,985 to 39,736; 301,869 to 31,648; and 204,686 to 92,308 over their GOP challengers.
So, with three of the five Democrat-held congressional districts located in the single largest bastion of Democratic votes in the state, there’s little wonder why each of those districts yielding lopsided victories that were, on average, by nearly 190,000 votes: there simply are more Democrats living in the densely populated City of Philadelphia, and Democratic candidates win by huge margins.
The 14th District, which includes parts of Westmoreland and Allegheny counties, including the entire city of Pittsburgh – also a bastion of Democratic votes – saw the incumbent Democrat, Mike Doyle, win by over 174,000 votes. Obama won all of Allegheny County by about 89,000 votes, but Democrats racked up big totals in Pittsburgh, with Doyle pulling in nearly 117,000 of his votes – which represented, on average in each Pittsburgh voting district, more than 80 percent of the vote – in the city.
The remaining district – the 17th District – definitely looks like it was drawn to plug as many Democrats into it as possible. The Democratic candidate in the district won with over 60 percent of the vote and a margin of about 55,000 votes. Obama lost two of the counties covered by the 17th District – Schuylkill and Carbon – and won the other three – Monroe, Luzerne, and Lackawanna counties – with 56.4 percent, 51.7 percent and 63.1 percent of the vote, respectively.
So while the district looks like it was specially created to help surrounding GOP-held districts, it had exactly the same margin of victory – 55,000 – as the average margin of victory cited by Leach in GOP-held districts.
Leach also claims that because Democratic Party candidates earned 75,870 more votes for Congress than Republicans, it’s somehow clear that the new congressional map ignores the will of the people.
Well, when Democrats in Philadelphia County produce a 465,000-or-so-vote advantage, and overall Democratic congressional candidates had only 75,870 more votes than GOP candidates, that means the rest of the state’s voters – outside of Philadelphia County – delivered a more than 389,000-vote margin of victory for GOP candidates statewide.
Could the state be 11-7 or 10-8 instead of 13-5? Sure, but if you think the 5th, 10th or 11th congressional districts look strange now, just imagine how the districts would look with a Montgomery-centric district, a Luzerne-Lackawanna district or Philadelphia County carved up into five or six slices to add Democratic voters to other districts on the map.
And, honestly, if that’s the type of map you’d like to see, then make sure you and all your friends do everything they can to elect Democrats to the state General Assembly prior to 2020. That way Democrats can do to the map in the future what the GOP has done now to get a current 13-5 split.
But, if you do feel that way, take a good look at the county-by-county map (courtesy of Politico.com) of the 2012 presidential election results in Pennsylvania; with all that red, it isn’t clear how Pennsylvania’s new congressional district map fails to reflect the voting patterns of Pennsylvania or the will of all the state’s people.