CLEARFIELD – The Legislative Reapportionment Commission has scheduled a public meeting for 2 p.m. Friday to vote on the final state House and Senate district boundaries for this decade, according to Clearfield County Commissioner Mark B. McCracken.
McCracken said he’s heard the commission intends to vote on a “modified map.” However, he’s currently uncertain as to “how major or how minor” these modifications are. Afterward, he said the affected groups must decide if they want to challenge the map.
Last month, Solicitor Kim Kesner and McCracken appeared before the commission and opposed its proposed redistricting plan, which will divide Clearfield County into thirds and cost its 81,000 citizens their localized political representation in Harrisburg.
Kesner, on behalf of Clearfield County and the board of commissioners, unanimously opposed eliminating the 74th House District and fracturing the county as to the House of Representatives. Both the Democratic and Republican county committees confirmed the opposition.
“The planned split of Clearfield County is universal and nonpartisan,” Kesner stated in his testimony.
In Holt vs. 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Commission, he stated the Supreme Court rejected the previous plan because of undue, unnecessary splits. However, he stated these commands “seem completely ignored in this case, and it is impossible . . . to discern what legitimate cognizable basis there is for splitting Clearfield County in thirds.”
“(It’s) contrary to the prohibition that ‘unless absolutely necessary no county shall be divided,’” Kesner testified.
According to him, eliminating the 74th House District and re-splitting the county was neither part of the 2011 Final Plan nor an issue in the Holt case. Press reports cited in his written remarks have stated that the elimination of the 74thHouse District replaces the relocation of the 45th House District in Allegheny County.
Kesner stated that true or not, the relocation of the 45th House District would be legitimate and legal, but the relocation of the 74th House District is not. He pointed out this was proposed only after a current, 18-term state representative announced he wouldn’t be seeking reelection. He stated published reports suggest that this provided an opportunity and impetus to buttress three House incumbents.
State Sen. Joe Scarnati, R-25 of Brockway, appeared before the commission May 2 and suggested that basing redistricting on “retirements and protection of incumbents is possibly unconstitutional.” Kesner believed his equivocation was because he’s a non-lawyer, and as counsel for Clearfield County, Kesner stated he didn’t have any “professional difficulty” testifying that the split is contrary to law.
According to Kesner, the Holt court rejected the commission’s first effort because of undue splits. The efforts since have required compromise but Judge Stephen J. McEwen Jr. as a jurist knows that the Supreme Court will not be moved to approve a “best political bargain” that remains contrary to law. He noted Amanda Holt’s testimony that the malady of undue splits remains not just with regard to the 74th House District, but generally.
“Her words resonate to us in Clearfield County that our constitutional rights not be sacrificed on the altar of incumbency,” Kesner stated, adding that this plan discriminates against rural Pennsylvania. He stated the three districts being expanded in Clearfield County will have populations of more than 64,000 and with the 73rd House District at almost 65,000. In comparison, he stated that the 45th House District in Allegheny County will have barely 61,000.
Kesner stated the analysis included with his written remarks shows a significant deviation between average populations of rural House Districts and the urban House Districts principally when compared to Allegheny County. He stated that using a much greater population threshold for rural Pennsylvania exacerbates the hardships faced by rural voters, discourages voting and dilutes the ultimate objective of all of this being “one person, one vote.”
Kesner told the commission that he can delineate as passionately as anyone who will appear before them the adverse impacts of the planned splits, but he recognizes the Holt court’s statement that for constitutional purposes some of the considerations are “amorphous” and “evasive.” However, what he stated wasn’t amorphous or evasive, are county boundaries, which the framer’s set as the lynchpin for analysis.
“There is a ground swell now of serious, competent Americans who believe that constitutional provisions are being ignored for political expediency and constitutional rights denuded. I don’t agree with that as a general proposition but I would be hard pressed to explain to any resident of Clearfield County how the fracturing of our county into thirds comports with Article II, Section 16,” Kesner stated.
“Perhaps, you can. If not, your actions will buttress adverse public perceptions on the integrity of this process. But, as a lawyer, not a political scientist, my contention is that unless reconsidered, the commission faces another court declaration that the plan is contrary to law.”
McCracken requested the commission return the 74th House District to Clearfield County. From 2000 to 2010, he stated that Allegheny County’s population declined by more than 58,000. In comparison, Clearfield County only lost slightly more than 1,700 citizens in the same period. Based on the census data alone, he contended the commission made the appropriate decision in its initial plan to relocate the 45th House District from Allegheny to Chester County.
However, he objected to the relocation of the 74th House District to Chester County. Further, he objected to splitting significant portions of Clearfield County between the 72nd and 74rd House Districts, which are based out of Cambria County. Of great concern, he stated was the drawing of the 72nd House District and bringing state representation from the Johnstown suburbs to areas of Clearfield Borough and Lawrence Township, which are 90 miles away.
McCracken also voiced serious objections to the unnecessary split of Lawrence Township, the county’s third largest municipality population-wise, between the 75th and 72nd House Districts. He also found it alarming that 59 percent of the 72nd district and 65 percent of the 73rd district lies in Cambria County, which turns his county’s voice in the state House of Representatives over to Cambria County.
Applying population data from the 2010 U.S. census, he testified that Cambria County lost more than 8,900 citizens versus the approximately 1,700 lost in Clearfield County. He stressed that his most important objective was for the 74thHouse District to be returned to Clearfield County, and he presented an alternative redistricting map that fairly splits the remaining four House Districts among Clearfield, Elk and Cambria counties.
During his May 9 solicitor’s report, Kesner expressed concerns that despite the recent public attention given to the redistricting plan, it still remains a “non-issue” in the eyes of citizens in Clearfield County. He feared that one day they’ll wake up without localized state representation and be forced to travel as far as Johnstown. He said if the split occurs, it will create an injustice to Clearfield County.
Then, Commissioner Chairperson John A. Sobel noted that state Rep. Frank Burns, D-72 of Cambria and Somerset counties, also opposed the commission’s redistricting plan. More specifically, he said Burns opposed removing the 74th House District from Clearfield County. “There isn’t just objection coming from Clearfield County,” Sobel said.
Like Clearfield’s representation at the hearing, Burns believed the proposed redistricting plan will be detrimental to rural Pennsylvania. He didn’t find the maps created fair and effective representation for the citizens of Clearfield, Cambria and Somerset counties, according to a press release issued by his office.
In fact, Burns pointed out the proposed 72nd House District spans 90 miles, and it will be like having a district stretching from Harrisburg to Baltimore. However, he stated that Johnstown and Clearfield aren’t connected by a major interstate, which makes this redistricting plan more cumbersome on the citizens of that region. He stated that House Districts shouldn’t be mapped so large that it impairs the citizens’ access to their state representative who must also be familiar with the needs of their citizens and the region for which they represent.
“He sees the very same negative impact for the citizens he’s serving in Johnstown. He expressed to the commission that he thinks this is more than he can cover. If assigned, he’s trying to figure out how he can be effective, but he pointed out that no other state representative is being handed a district like this,” McCracken said.
Kesner said the commission must find a more logical strategy than its current proposed redistricting of Clearfield and Cambria counties. He said they want the 74th House District returned to Clearfield County, because anything short of that will “impact everyone in Clearfield County in a very negative way.”
Click here for the GantDaily.com report from the May 1 Clearfield County Commissioners workshop meeting. Anyone interested in watching the May 2 and May 7 Legislative Reapportionment Commission public hearings may do so by clicking here.