CLEARFIELD – The Clearfield County Commissioners are not only fighting to keep their county unified, but also to maintain political representation for its more than 81,000 citizens.
Solicitor Kim Kesner, on behalf of Clearfield County, has filed written exceptions to the preliminary reapportionment plan proposed by the 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Commission. He has outlined the objections and legal exceptions of the commissioners to the plan’s movement of the 74th House District from Clearfield County and the division of Clearfield County into three House Districts as well as the division of Lawrence Township into two House Districts.
In Kesner’s letter, the county contends that the plan “materially violates” the constitutional prohibition against dividing a county or township unless absolutely necessary. He wrote the movement of the 74th House District from Clearfield County and the parceling of precincts to the 75th, 73rd and 72nd districts is without any cognizable rationale and results in the division of the county.
“(It) is contrary to law on its face and eviscerates the concept of ‘one person – one vote,’ as to the residents of Clearfield County, while all other 6th Class Counties in the Pennsylvania Wilds region, i.e., Jefferson, Elk, McKean, Clarion, Clinton, Warren and Venango counties remain intact. The artificiality of the plan is demonstrated by the unlawful and inappropriate division of Lawrence Township,” Kesner wrote.
According to him, the plan’s removal of the 74th House District from Clearfield County and its reallocation of precincts to the 72nd, 73rd and 75th districts are proposed despite Clearfield having a minimal population decrease of 2.1 percent. In addition, it’s notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s rejection of the 2011 Final Plan because of political subdivision splits that were not absolutely necessary.
The Supreme Court had no issue with the 74th District in the first plan. And, the removal of it from Clearfield County was proposed only after the 74th District’s current 18-term representative announced he wouldn’t seek reelection. Published reports have suggested that this provided an opportunity and impetus for “carving up” Clearfield County to buttress three House incumbents, two from Cambria County, Kesner wrote.
In addition, Kesner’s letter contended that the plan violates the constitutional requirement of compact and contiguous territory, as nearly equal in population as practicable, which the Supreme Court in Holt vs. 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Commission stated would be a concern on remand. Kesner said the first plan correctly relocated, due to population shift, what is currently the 45th legislative district in Allegheny County.
He said it was noteworthy that the Supreme Court, in rejecting that plan, didn’t find fault with this portion of the plan, and there is no legitimate warrant for replacing the relocation of the 45th district with the collapse of the 74th district. He said Clearfield County’s population declined by 2.1 percent since the last census, and it is losing its house seat under the plan.
In contrast he said that Cambria County’s population decreased by 5.8 percent. He pointed out that it maintains three incumbent house members and one incumbent senate member despite population loss much larger than Clearfield County. In contrast other 6th Class Counties contiguous to Clearfield County, such as Clarion County (4.5 percent), Elk County (9 percent) and Venango County (4.5 percent) had greater population loss, but their house districts remained intact.
Kesner wrote that the wisdom of replacing the movement of the 45th district with the removal of the 74th district is also challenged by it exacerbating the inequity between rural and urban house districts. He said a pattern under the plan is the application of a lower population threshold per district in urban areas, particularly Allegheny County, to rural areas. He said the plan shows a lower population threshold of 60,000 to 62,000 people per district, allowing Allegheny County to keep the 45th district seat.
However, he said the population threshold for the 71st, 72nd, 73rd and 75th house districts is greater than 64,000. He said the two districts being expanded in Clearfield County from Cambria County, the new 72nd and 73rd districts, will have 64,504 and 64,811 citizens, respectively, while the new 45th district will only have 61,008 citizens.
“In sum, Clearfield contends that the plan unnecessarily divides Clearfield County between the 72nd, 73rd and 75th house districts in violation of Article 2, Section 16, and in effect, stratifies representation for Cambria County and emasculates Clearfield County by division as to the Pennsylvania House,” Kesner wrote.
Kesner is waiting to hear when he’ll appear before the commission to present testimony during the public hearing process. The commissioners unanimously concurred with Kesner’s presented opposition to the reapportionment plan.
“It’s important that we’re fighting this, because it wouldn’t give Clearfield County any true representation. The way it’s split it would give two representatives to Cambria County,” said Commissioner Joan Robinson-McMillen. “Our representative would be far below Johnstown and closer to Somerset.
“We have nothing in common with Cambria County. Clearfield County is one of the largest 6th Class Counties, and we’re taking it on the chin to protect some incumbents. When did it become up to the government to protect incumbents? It’s wrong and we’re going to fight this.”
Commissioner Mark B. McCracken said the reapportionment plan would have a very negative impact for all of Clearfield County. He said Clearfield County would be at a disadvantage so far as securing funding, while the district’s representative would have interest in helping the Johnstown area.
According to him, 59 percent of the 72nd district and 65 percent of the 73rd district lies in Cambria County. “I highly question the way they divided this up. We’d have virtually no chance of electing someone from Clearfield County to one of these seats in the next 10 years,” McCracken said.
Robinson-McMillen added, “This isn’t a democratic or a republican thing. This is about all 81,000 people in Clearfield County.”