Roll Call: "Between
the Lines (excerpt)." February 4, 2002
Mascara vs. Murtha?
Rep. Frank Mascara last week said he's leaning toward running against fellow Democratic Rep. John Murtha in a new House seat drawn from their existing Pennsylvania districts.
Republicans in Harrisburg created a political quandary for Mascara last month when they redrew his district, forcing him to either run against Murtha or state Rep. Timothy Murphy (R) in the Republican-leaning 18th district. A mid-January GOP poll showed Murphy leading Mascara in the new district 45 percent to 30 percent. Murtha's 12th district remains a Democratic stronghold.
Last week Mascara met up with Murtha at a local union event and joked with his colleague about their potential match up. "Did you see that? He tried to welcome me," Mascara quipped, referring to Murtha. "I said, 'No, Jack, welcome to MY district.'"
Mascara said he hasn't made a final decision about where to run and that he hopes a legal challenge to the GOP redistricting plan will make the decision unnecessary.
If Mascara does run against Murtha, Democrats hold out little hope of holding the new 18th.
Some folks had predicted a larger-than-normal turnover in the General Assembly this year, given the twin dynamics of post-census redistricting and enactment of a 50-percent increase in pension benefits for most long-term members.
No less a keen political observer than House Majority Leader John M. Perzel, R-Philadelphia, told reporters after May's pension vote that he wouldn't be surprised if as many as 30 House members left office in 2002.
But with just two weeks until candidates may begin circulating nominating petitions for this year's Senate and House elections, no early rush for the exits has materialized.
In the House, many observers now believe the percentage of incumbents seeking re-election will stay well above 90 percent, as it has in every legislative election cycle since the last rewrite of district maps in 1992.
Just six members of Perzel's 103-member House Republican caucus have indicated they will leave office so far. They are Rep. Edward Krebs of Lebanon County, Rep. Jere Schuler and Rep. John Barley of Lancaster County, Rep. Lita I. Cohen of Montgomery County, Rep. Roy Reinard of Bucks County and Rep. Dan Clark of Juniata County.
Jennifer Franklin, a spokesman for the House Republican Campaign Committee that keeps careful track of who is running, for candidate recruitment purposes, says that may be the extent of it.
House Democrats have lost seven incumbents thus far, including two -- Rep. David Mayernik and Rep. Ralph Kaiser, both of Allegheny County -- whose districts were eliminated through reapportionment. Minority Caucus Secretary Jeff Coy, D-Shippensburg, expects to lose no more than two or three more.
Other House Democrats who have announced their intention to not seek re-election are Rep. Nicholas Colafella of Beaver County, Rep. Leo J. Trich of Washington County, Rep. Fred Trello and Rep. Thomas Michlovic, both of Allegheny County, and Rep. Edward Lucyk of Schuylkill County.
The Republicans' 30-member Senate majority, meanwhile, may see just one of its 15 members up for election this year bow out: Sen. James Gerlach of Chester County, who is planning a run for Congress. A second, Sen. Edwin G. Holl of Montgomery County, has not made a decision about seeking a 10th term in office.
Senate Democrats say they will lose only Sen. Leonard Bodack of Allegheny County, who announced his retirement last week.
That's a grand total of 15 leaving so far, or about 6 percent of all legislators.
"I'm surprised," Krebs said. "It doesn't look like the massive turnover year that some people thought might happen."
That thought was well-founded in recent General Assembly history, at least on the House side.
After the last redrawing of district lines, in 1992, 29 House members opted not to seek a new term. That was also the year after a budget crisis resulting in big state tax increases.
In the four cycles since then, House retirees numbered 19, 13, 13 and 15, respectively. Senate retirements, where only half the members face election every two years, have been less tied to redistricting changes.
Analysts offer several reasons for the relative lack of movement this year.
There weren't a lot of big shifts in House and Senate lines, in many members' views. The 2001 "reapportionment did not radically change enough districts to force people into representing new areas they might find problematic," Millersville University political scientist G. Terry Madonna said.
Others cite the completion of a decades-long evolution toward a full-time Legislature in which more and more members view themselves as career legislators.
With $63,623 annual salaries, no limits on outside income, full benefits and good fringe benefits (for most) such as per diems and a company car, the job is attractive, and in most cases, incumbents do not face strong opposition.
"I guess it reflects that this is a privileged job and it's hard for people to give up," said Krebs, who is leaving after reaching a self-imposed 12-year term limit. "If nobody challenges them in an election ... would you give it up?"
Democrats -- in a form of political exile because of Republican control of the House, Senate and governor's office since 1994 -- have a special incentive to stick around this year, Coy said.
"Many Democrats are speculating that the next governor may well be a Democrat," he noted, "and serving under a Democrat would make life more interesting for everybody" in that caucus.
Some even point to Sept. 11.
"There's a different attitude about government and public service since then," contends Harrisburg political scientist Michael Young. "Being in politics has something of a different luster than it did before."
Others say the decision on when to stay or go always owes more to personal decisions than anything else.
Barley, House Appropriations Committee chairman, bowed out this month after seeing polling data showing that constituents angered by a land deal involving his family and related political maneuvering were likely to vote him out of office.
Krebs and Cohen are keeping term-limit promises made when they were first elected. Colafella leaves in part because of health reasons. Reinard is calling it quits to take over his family's insurance business run by his father, who plans to retire at the end of the year.
Personal considerations cut both ways, of course.
After 11 terms in office, Rep. Bruce Smith, R-Dillsburg and chair of the House Game and Fisheries Committee, makes his re-election plans one term at a time. For now, he says "I'm still enjoying the job and finding a lot of satisfaction in what I'm doing."
Even so, "The major decision is when my wife supports me for another term," Smith said. Pat Smith did, and Bruce Smith soon will launch his candidacy for a 12th term.
A Democratic congressman testified yesterday that a plan for remapping the state's congressional districts was designed so he will be defeated in a primary battle with another incumbent as part of a plan to put a Republican in his seat.
U.S. Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel also said the plan unfairly robs political strength from his home territory of Montgomery County. The redistricting plan, passed last month by Republicans in the state Legislature, is being challenged by Democrats.
"It reduces a county's clout when they don't speak with one voice," Hoeffel said at a fact-finding hearing in a legal challenge of the plan.
Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini conducted the hearing on behalf of the state Supreme Court, which has jurisdiction in the case. Pellegrini is due to present his findings of fact to the high court by the end of next week.
Hoeffel's district is being shifted and merged with the Philadelphia seat held by fellow Democrat Robert A. Borski, who attended the hearing but did not testify.
"The plan is designed for Congressman Borski to win a Democratic primary, defeating me," with Borski eventually expected to lose to a Republican in the general election, Hoeffel said.
Overall, one expert witness said, the plan is designed to elect at least 13 Republicans and no more than six Democrats to the 19 congressional seats that the state will have. The split could climb as wide as 14-5, compared with 11-10 in favor of Republicans currently, said David Lublin, an assistant professor at American University in Washington who specializes in redistricting matters.
Statewide, Republicans would need to capture only about 46 percent of the popular vote to win a majority of the seats in the Pennsylvania delegation, Lublin said.
State Rep. H. William DeWeese, D-Waynesburg, the House minority leader, said Democrats had tried to offer maps during the debate over redistricting but were rebuffed by Republicans.
"We were going to give them [a] 10-9 [majority]," DeWeese said. "They are going to try to sully us into a 14-to-5 predicament."
The lawsuit filed by Democrats seeks a court order barring state officials from using the redistricting plan in this year's U.S. House elections.
The plan reduces the number of U.S. House districts in Pennsylvania from 21 to 19, reflecting comparatively sluggish population growth during the 1990s.
In addition to forcing Hoeffel and Borski into a runoff, the plan would pit Democratic Rep. Tim Holden against Republican Rep. George W. Gekas in the general election in a district that heavily favors Gekas. And Pittsburgh-area Rep. Frank Mascara would have to choose between running against fellow Democratic Rep. John Murtha in the primary or in a new, more Republican district against GOP state Sen. Tim Murphy in the fall.
Democrats are upset that state House Republican leaders spent $526,000 in tax dollars to have computer specialists at Carnegie Mellon University crunch legislative redistricting data to help the GOP strengthen its majority.
Democrats call it a misuse of public funds.
"It produces a rancid stench in the nostrils of heaven," said House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese, D-Waynesburg, who vowed to scrutinize "each penny" of the $2 million the university receives yearly from the state.
The Republicans shouldn't have spent tax money to benefit Republican candidates, and the university shouldn't have helped them do it, DeWeese said.
"It certainly reflects tenuous ethics," he said. "I find it unfathomable" that CMU officials would become "up to their eyeballs in partisan politics."
The university has opened an internal review, and will re-evaluate policies on outside consulting because the university doesn't want to appear to be political, said university spokeswoman Kyle Fisher-Morabito.
"We had a contract with the Republican caucus. That's clear," she said.
"Obviously, our job is not to be involved in partisan politics."
Redistricting is a highly political process done once a decade to redraw legislative district boundaries to reflect population shifts in the state.
On a practical level, it gives the party in power -- Republicans at the moment -- the chance to draw lines that benefit Republican candidates and damage the chances of Democratic candidates. Republicans currently hold a five-seat majority in the House.
The House Republicans were the only caucus to spend public funds on outside consultants to help prepare new district boundaries, which were considered and adopted by a panel of legislative leaders, chaired by retired state Supreme Court Justice Frank Montemuro Jr.
"This is a legitimate government function," Steve Drachler, spokesman for House Majority Leader John Perzel, R-Philadelphia, said of the contract with CMU.
"This was not campaign work. Yes, redistricting is a political process. Mr. Perzel is always seeking information to help him do his job and serve the caucus best. This was a tool, not the tool."
There is nothing illegal about House leaders spending public money for partisan political gain.
CMU was paid $526,000 over four years, from 1998 to 2001, to develop computer models so that Republicans could predict how many voters would vote in any given House election and what the likely results would be on a precinct-by-precinct basis, according to the contract with CMU, released yesterday by House Republicans.
The university used census demographic data and voting records from every voting precinct in the state to create computer tools so Republicans could create potential maps of new legislative boundaries and determine how voters likely would vote in each possible district.
The payments to CMU were made from Perzel's Special Leadership Account. They are discretionary funds totaling $11 million a year allocated to each House caucus.
Drachler said the work that was done by CMU will not be made available to media scrutiny, nor turned over to the Democrats. He said Democrats should have thought of doing it themselves.
"Mr. Perzel has no intention of sharing this information. Let them share each piece of information they obtained," Drachler said. The Democrats are "upset because they didn't think of it. It's just a smoke screen."
The leadership accounts have been criticized for years. Post-Gazette investigations last year and the year before revealed that legislative leaders have spent millions on food, travel, entertainment and for other purposes that appear to be political in nature.
House rules allow the public and the media to examine only records that give a broad outline of how the money is spent. Leaders refuse to release financial documents that detail each expenditure, but that may change in light of a House resolution last week to open more records to public scrutiny. A committee will determine which records will be covered.
In CMU's case, the checks were written over a three-year period to "Carnegie Mellon University" for "professional services," with no further explanation. What the money was actually used for was first reported last weekend in the Allentown Morning Call.
The accounts are not subject to detailed internal audits, and outside auditors hired by the Legislature are banned from investigating the legitimacy of the payments.
Pennsylvania's new congressional redistricting plan is a "partisan gerrymander" designed to increase Republican electoral strength at the expense of the rights of thousands of Democratic voters, a lawsuit filed yesterday in state court charges.
The suit, filed by a Washington law firm on behalf of two registered Democrats from Montgomery County, asks Commonwealth Court to strike down the plan and impose an alternative. It names the Republican-controlled legislature and Gov. Schweiker as defendants.
In drawing the maps, the suit says, the legislature violated most of the redistricting principles that have been established in case law: that new districts should be compact, preserve the "core" of current districts to minimize voter confusion, and avoid splitting local government boundaries.
The plan splits 25 counties and 59 municipalities as well as 41 wards, the lawsuit contends.
By contrast, the redistricting plan imposed 10 years ago by the state Supreme Court split only 19 counties and 8 municipalities.
Exhibit A, the suit says, is Montgomery County, which is parceled out among six separate congressional districts in sometimes odd-looking ways. The plan would merge the 13th District of U.S. Rep. Joseph Hoeffel (D., Pa.) with the Third District of U.S. Rep. Bob Borski in Northeast Philadelphia.
At one point, a piece of the Eighth District in Bucks County dips down into Montgomery; it is only about 300 feet wide, the lawsuit says.
Statewide, the plan eliminates four Democrats by merging their districts with others, and creates two Republican-leaning districts in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh suburbs. Based on voting trends, the GOP mapmakers believe the plan will yield 13 Republicans and six Democrats in the new congressional delegation, even though a majority of the state's registered voters are Democrats.
One of the new districts, the Sixth, covering parts of Chester, Berks and Montgomery Counties, "looms like a dragon descending on Philadelphia from the west, splitting up towns and communities," the suit says.
Because of slow population growth, Pennsylvania must drop from 21 members of the U.S. House to 19 members in the once-a-decade process of reapportionment.
"Politics is allowed in redistricting, but the question is how much is too much?" said Tom Perelli, a lawyer for the Democrats. "We argue they went too far. The plan takes partisan politics and exalts it over every other principle and value."
The Democrats have also filed a suit in federal district court, but that claim will not be heard until the state case is concluded, Perelli said.
"We are confident that this redistricting plan will withstand court scrutiny," said Erik Arneson, chief of staff for the Senate Republican majority. The plan passed the state House on Jan. 3 with significant bipartisan support, drawing 42 Democratic votes, Arneson noted.
The lawsuit does not charge the GOP with diluting the strength of minority voters. Rather, it argues that the overall plan disenfranchises Democrats in a state that has rough parity between the two parties.
The plan "installs the Republican Party as the dominant party in Pennsylvania - based solely on bias and unfairness, not on votes," the suit says.
Democrats sued Gov. Mark Schweiker and other officials Thursday to stop the state from using a congressional redistricting plan the GOP says could increase its majority in the delegation.
The Democrats' challenge argues the map is "a massive political gerrymander" that ignores basic principles of fairness and violates the U.S. Constitution.
The redistricting plan "not only fails to equalize the population of each congressional district, but also ignores all traditional redistricting criteria, including the preservation of local government boundaries, solely for the sake of partisan advantage," the lawsuit claims.
Schweiker, a Republican, signed the plan Monday and the first use of the redrawn districts would be in the May 21 primary. The Republican-controlled General Assembly drew the map to reduce the state's U.S. House delegation from 21 to 19, reflecting sluggish population growth in the 2000 Census.
Currently, Republicans hold 11 seats and Democrats hold 10. Of the 19 new districts, at least 13 are expected to elect Republicans, GOP officials have said.
Spokesmen for Schweiker and the Republican majority in the General Assembly did not return calls for comment Thursday.
The lawsuit was coordinated by Impact 2000, a Washington-based group associated with the Democratic Party that monitors redistricting efforts. Two Democratic voters are listed as plaintiffs.
Republican Gov. Mark Schweiker has signed into law a bill that establishes new congressional districts throughout the state for the next decade and sets the stage for lawsuits by discontented Democrats.
Schweiker signed the bill Monday without fanfare or comment.
The new district boundaries were drawn by GOP leaders in the state House and Senate and passed by both chambers last week.
Democrats howled and promised to challenge the redistricting plan in court. Such lawsuits in the past, however, have been unsuccessful.
The Republicans drew the lines to maximize their potential for capturing more congressional seats in the state's delegation. They said that the new map likely would increase their current one-seat majority to 13-6, or possibly even to 14-5, depending on the outcome of November's general elections.
The Legislature is charged by law to redraw congressional district boundaries every 10 years to reflect population shifts identified in the U.S. Census. Pennsylvania lost two congressional seats because the state's population did not grow as quickly as that of other states.
Following the approval of a Congressional redistricting plan in Pennsylvania late last week, national Republicans are touting the results as a major stride in their effort to gain eight to 10 seats nationally from redistricting, while Democrats maintain the GOP gains in the state have been part of their calculations all along.
"The Pennsylvania plan goes a long way to solidifying our net gain of eight to 10 seats nationally," said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Carl Forti.
While Democrats concede that Republicans pressed their advantage in the state, they also believe a number of Democratic opportunities were created by the risky GOP plan.
"We always anticipated a Republican gerrymander in Pennsylvania," said IMPAC 2000 spokesman Greg Speed. "It does nothing to change the fact that we have been successful throughout the process and [redistricting] will ultimately result in a wash."
Under the plan, national Republicans believe they will have a 13-to-6 edge in the delegation after the 2002 elections. The delegation is currently split between 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats.
The state must trim its Congressional delegation by two seats as a result of the 2000 census.
Pennsylvania political analyst Jon Delano describes the new map as "a brilliant and legal manslaughter of Pennsylvania's majority party."
The approved plan forces three sets of incumbents to run against one another. Reps. Bob Borski (D) and Joseph Hoeffel (D) are placed in a Philadelphia-area district, Rep. George Gekas (R) would face Rep. Tim Holden (D) in a strongly Republican seat and Pittsburgh area Reps. Mike Doyle (D) and William Coyne (D) also have been thrown together.
In the fall Coyne announced he would retire rather than face an expected primary challenge from Doyle.
The plan also creates a new Republican-tilting open seat south and west of Philadelphia and places four-term Rep. Frank Mascara (D) in a swing seat in western Pennsylvania.
Despite Hoeffel's efforts to preserve the core of his Montgomery County district through direct-mail appeals and radio ads, the map forces him to run against 10-term Rep. Borski.
"It is a really ugly redistricting map that butchers my home county of Montgomery," Hoeffel said. The new map splits the county into six districts and "dilutes the power of this county."
Legal appeals at the state and federal levels are already under way, he said. "There are lots of egregious examples in the plan of Republican overreaching and gerrymandering."
"This was clearly an overreach by Republicans in Harrisburg that can be overturned," added Speed. "We expect it to be challenged."
As for his potential race against Borski, Hoeffel is taciturn: "I am definitely planning to seek re-election. "[Borski] and I are working shoulder to shoulder on this legal challenge," he added.
Borski did not return calls seeking comment.
Regardless of whether Borski or Hoeffel emerges victorious from the primary, Republicans believe they have a strong shot at winning the seat in November's general election.
Already, wealthy ophthalmologist Melissa Brown, who dropped out of the Republican primary in 2000, is preparing for a bid.
Democrats counter that Al Gore won the new district by 13 points and either of their candidates will be favored in the general election.
In a surprise move, the approved plan pushed Holden into a district with Gekas, who gained prominence as an impeachment manager in the proceedings against former President Bill Clinton.
Holden had been expected to run against fellow Democratic Rep. Paul Kanjorski, but he will now face an uphill climb in the new district, of which Gekas has represented large portions for the past 20 years.
Holden admitted that it is a "heavy Republican district," but noted that "I am used to running in heavy Republican districts."
The 6th district, which he has held since 1992, was carried by both Bob Dole and George W. Bush in their presidential races.
Holden emphasized that he has not decided whether to run for re-election. "I am in the process of evaluating this [district] and putting feelers out."
At the same time, Holden did put to rest persistent rumors that he would leave Congress to run for the state Senate. "There is no Senate seat open in my home county," he said.
Gekas will spend the next week meeting with leaders in Schuylkill and Berks counties to ensure their support should he run in the new district. He has never represented either county in his House tenure.
Pending the support of those leaders, Gekas said Friday that he expects to run - even if he has to challenge his "good friend" Holden." If [Holden] runs and I run, I think it will be an amicable contest," he added.
The new district retains the Gek as strongholds of Dauphin, which contains the capital, Harrisburg, and Lebanon counties where he has consistently won re-election with upward of 70 percent of the vote.
In western Pennsylvania, GOP redistricters spared longtime Rep. Frank Murtha (D), but put Mascara on the chopping block by placing him in a swing district where they expect state Sen. Tim Murphy (R) to run.
Murphy said Friday he would make a decision on the race "in the next couple of weeks," but he is considered a lock to be the Republican nominee.
Murphy has represented 250,000 residents currently located in the new 18th district, and he notes that the new district voted for Republicans President Bush, Sens. Rick Santorum and Arlen Specter, and Gov.Tom Ridge.
Mascara did not return calls for comment, but according to published reports has not ruled out a run againstMurphy or Murtha.
Mascara's home is across the street from the boundaries for Murtha's new district, and much of his old territory is under Murtha's umbrella in the plan.
For his part, Murphy seemed unconcerned about a potential challenge from the incumbent Mascara."If he decides to run against me fine," said Murphy. "There will be a distinction in terms of what I have delivered on and what I stand for."
In the new eastern Pennsylvania open seat that takes in portions of Chester, Berks and Montgomery counties, state Sen. Jim Gerlach (R) is expected to have a clear shot at the Republican nomination.
Gerlach said Friday he is giving the race "serious consideration" and has received "a lot of exciting and positive feedback" about a potential candidacy.
Democrats believe that Gerlach is not a sure thing in the new district, pointing out that Gore won the district by a half-point in 2000. Elsewhere in the state, second-term
Rep. Don Sherwood (R) was shored up significantly when redistricters took the Democratic bastion of Scranton out of his seat and placed it in Kanjorski's 11th district.
Democrats and Republicans disagree about the potential competitiveness of the districts held by Reps. Pat Toomey (R) and Melissa Hart (R), with Democrats still arguing they are vulnerable.
The Republican-controlled Pennsylvania legislature has approved a congressional redistricting plan that would likely force the defeat or retirement of four Democratic incumbents, while adding two GOP seats.
"This is a very good plan," said a delighted Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "Any time you can maximize gains and still improve your incumbents' districts, it's a good plan."
The Pennsylvania delegation must lose two seats because of slow population growth. It is expected to go from an 11-10 Republican majority to a 13-6 GOP majority.
One Democrat, Rep. William Coyne, announced his retirement after it became clear that he would face a primary fight with Rep. Mike Doyle in a Pittsburgh area seat.
The plan puts Democratic Reps. Robert A. Borski of Philadelphia and Joseph M. Hoeffel of Montgomery County in a district favoring Borski. Rep. Tim Holden (D) has a much more Republican district, and there are indications he may not seek reelection.
The legislature protected one Democrat, John P. Murtha, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee and a major source of federal dollars for the state. In doing so, the Democratic base of the adjoining district represented by Frank R. Mascara was severely weakened. Mascara's options are to seek reelection in a district favoring a GOP challenger, run against Murtha in a district favoring Murtha or retire.
Many state Republicans credit Rep. Melissa Hart (R-Pa.) as a crucial player in the development of the new plan. Hart represents a Democratic-leaning district, but she told legislators she did not want to lose many of her Democratic constituents, arguing that they could well turn into reliable Republican voters. This freed legislators to use nearby Republican areas to strengthen the party in other districts.
NRCC Chairman Thomas M. Davis III (Va.) and Karl Rove, senior adviser to President Bush, pressed Pennsylvania legislators to approve a plan with the most Republican gains as part of the effort to retain GOP control of the House.
Lawmakers on Thursday approved a plan to redraw the state's congressional districts into a map that favors Republicans and reflects sluggish population growth.
The Republican-controlled Senate approved the measure in a 28-22 mostly party-line vote, and the House later passed the plan 132-59. A spokesman said Republican Gov. Mark Schweiker would sign the bill.
The plan reduces the state's congressional delegation from 21 to 19, based on its population in the 2000 census. Legislative leaders developed the map from different plans worked out earlier by the House and Senate.
Republican leaders say the proposal stretches the party's current one-seat advantage to seven seats, and possibly nine.
Democrats called the plan "political arrogance" that allowed the national GOP to make up for political weakness in other states. They said the plan failed to reflect that registered Democrats in the state outnumber Republicans by hundreds of thousands.
"What we are presented with here is a bill in which the lone beneficiaries are elected Republicans and those who aspire to such status," said state Sen. Christine M. Tartaglione.
The redrawn map puts two pairs of Democratic incumbents in the same district, meaning they must run against each other in the May 21 primary to retain a seat in Congress. At least one other Democrat was set up to run against a strong Republican incumbent in the November general election.
"This is as fair as we can be at this point in time," said Rep. John M. Perzel, the Republican leader in the state House.
The GOP-controlled Legislature will vote today on a redistricting plan designed to maximize Republican strength in the state's congressional delegation, in part by tailoring a new district in Pittsburgh's suburbs for state Sen. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair.
The compromise, in contrast to an earlier GOP proposal, would allow Reps. Frank Mascara, D-Charleroi, and John Murtha, D-Johnstown, to avoid a primary showdown. Over the howls of Democrats, it was voted out of a committee of legislative leaders yesterday and sent to the full House and Senate for a final vote today.
Republicans predicted that they had enough votes in both chambers to ensure passage of a plan they said would likely give Republicans a 13-6 majority in the state's congressional delegation. The two Democrats on the committee voted against the measure yesterday, but were overruled 4-2 by the Republican majority.
"They told the people of Pennsylvania to go to hell," grumbled state Sen. Robert Mellow, D-Lackawanna, the top Democrat in the Senate. "It's not a plan for the people. It's a political plan."
While passage of the GOP plan seems all but certain, that may not be the last word. Democrats have predicted challenges to the plan in state and federal courts.
The latest map combines much of the Pittsburgh-based district held by retiring Congressman Bill Coyne, D-Oakland, and part of the adjoining district held by U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Swissvale. Another district is to be eliminated from the Philadelphia area.
Since Pennsylvania's population growth lagged other states over the last 10 years, the state is losing two seats, shrinking its congressional delegation from 21 to 19 members.
The state Senate passed a redistricting plan before Christmas, but the state House passed a different version. House Majority Leader John Perzel, R-Philadelphia, claimed he couldn't garner enough votes from House Republicans to pass the Senate Republicans' plan. The compromise is designed to draw enough rank-and-file votes in the House to guarantee passage.
If the new lines are approved, the biggest change will be in the west, where a new district would be carved out for state Sen. Murphy. He could face off against incumbent Frank Mascara, D-Charleroi, in a district that would stretch from the Ohio border, through the western suburbs of Pittsburgh, circle south of the city and meander into and through Westmoreland County.
Mascara, however, would also have the option of running in May's Democratic primary against Murtha, the congressional veteran whose 12th District is being stretched south and west to overlap areas now represented by Mascara. One of the key changes in the compromise plan compared with an earlier proposal is the shifting of the 12th district border so that it will end just across the street from Mascara's Charleroi home.
"When he has to move his car across the street for street cleaning, he'll be parking in a different congressional district," said Lou Lignelli, an aide to Mascara.
According to an analysis by Mascara's staff, approximately 49 percent of the new 12th District would be communities now represented by Murtha, with 42 percent from Mascara's current district.
In the new 18th District, Mascara would hold a voter registration edge of 75,000 Democrats, but the Republicans who drew the lines point out that the district's voting performance has been far more Republican than its registration
U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart's new district would encompass all of Lawrence and Beaver counties, the southern portion of Butler county, Pittsburgh's North Hills and a small chunk of Westmoreland County.
Doyle's district would be anchored in Pittsburgh but would include most of the Allegheny County portion of the Mon Valley and a few of the city's western suburbs.
The new map slices out a new congressional seat in the east, tailored for a win by state Sen. Jim Gerlach, R-Chester.
The latest plan offers several compromises to entice votes from House members, especially Democrats.
"It truly is a consensus map," said Mike Long, chief campaign strategist for Senate President Pro Tem Robert Jubelirer, R-Altoona.
"It's a very fair plan, and I think it will stand up to any scrutiny," added Steve Drachler, spokesman for Perzel.
The compromise includes some changes designed to placate Democratic and Republican supporters of the influential Murtha. The elimination of a proposal to divide the city of Scranton among three districts was also made to draw a few more Democratic votes.
"I think the writing is on the wall, as nauseating as it is," said Mike Manzo, chief of staff for House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese, D-Waynesburg. "The fight ain't over yet, though."
The Republicans who control the state House and Senate are seeking to solidify their current 11-10 majority in the state's congressional delegation.
They said that the current map likely would increase their majority on the new 19-seat delegation to 13-6, and possibly even to 14-5, depending on the outcome of this November's general elections.
Democrats, powerless to stop the Republican coup, claimed the plan placed the GOP's political interests above those of the state.
Attempting to stir opposition to the new map, Sens. Jack Wagner, D-Beechview, and Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, predicted that it would erode the state's influence in Congress by ending the careers of several representatives with years of seniority. That, the Democrats charged, could translate as a loss to the state of thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in federal projects. Wagner predicted the new map would have the effect of jeopardizing federal dollars for major initiatives including the Mon-Fayette Expressway and a proposed high speed maglev train.
Wagner pointed out that Mascara and Rep. Bob Borski, D-Philadelphia, both of whom are threatened by the new map, have built up seniority on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
"The transportation issue is crucial, and this plan simply ignores the interests of Pennsylvanians in favor of Republicans in Washington trying to control the Congress," said Costa.
"This will harm Pennsylvania; this will harm the people of Pennsylvania," said Wagner. "It will hurt us for the next 10 years."
An aggressive plan to maximize GOP strength in the state's congressional delegation is back on track and scheduled for a vote in the state Legislature in the first week of the new year.
The plan would divide much of Allegheny County among three districts. Despite the county's Democratic registration advantage, the Republicans who control the drafting process believe that two of them will end up in their column after next year's elections, contributing to an overall GOP target of a 13-6 advantage among Pennsylvania's House members.
The current split is 11-10 in favor of the GOP. Pennsylvania lost two congressional seats in the reapportionment after the 2000 Census.
The new proposal includes some major elements of a map approved by the state Senate earlier this month. But it embodies several significant changes designed to draw more support in the state House, where redistricting hit an impasse when a rival map, offered by House GOP leaders, was approved.
State House Majority Leader John Perzel, R-Philadelphia, said that the map preferred by the Senate GOP leadership and championed by Sen. Rick Santorum did not have the votes to be approved in the House. Negotiators hope that revisions made privately in recent days will change that equation.
"Mr. Perzel is feeling quite optimistic that they are close to an agreement that can be voted on Jan. 3," said Stephen Drachler, Perzel's press secretary.
Drachler said "there have been conversations with interested parties," including U.S. Reps. John Murtha, D-Johnstown, and Robert Brady, D-Philadelphia. "We're working on a plan, but we have not put the final details in place yet."
Some significant changes from earlier proposals are designed to make Murtha more comfortable with his new district, and therefore attract support from members on both sides of the aisle who support the influential congressional veteran. Murtha had made no secret of his displeasure with the previous configuration approved in the Senate.
The changes designed to accommodate Murtha come largely at the expense of his Democratic colleague, U.S. Rep. Frank Mascara of Charleroi. Much of the two Democrats' current districts would be combined, with the new seat tilted more strongly in Murtha's favor than in earlier proposals.
Senior Republicans emphasized that the map still could change before it is presented to rank-and-file legislators for a vote.
"This is still a moving target," said Stephen C. MacNett, general counsel to the Senate's GOP majority. "There is still work being done, but the overall contours are likely to stand."
The plan has a new district anchored by the city of Pittsburgh, which includes parts of the current 18th District, represented by Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Swissvale, and the 14th District seat held by Rep. Bill Coyne, D-Oakland, who is retiring.
The district is considered favorable to Doyle because it includes a broad swath of territory that he currently represents in the East Hills and Mon Valley.
U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart, R-Bradford Woods, would add Republican-leaning communities to her current district in the North Hills. That change will help her re-election chances for the seat she won in 2000. But her new 4th District is also noteworthy for the traditionally Democratic communities it retains in Beaver and Lawrence counties.
Some Republicans, including Perzel, have expressed concern over whether GOP control of the district could survive an extended economic downturn.
Hart willingly passed on making her district a stronger GOP bastion by including Republican-leaning suburbs in Allegheny County stretching from Pittsburgh International Airport through the South Hills. Instead, many Republican leaders, including Santorum, hope to see that district, the new 18th, go to state Sen. Tim Murphy, R-Mt. Lebanon. Murphy yesterday reiterated his interest in a bid for Congress.
That district has a Democratic registration edge but has been fertile ground for Republican candidates over the last five years. Much of its territory, however, is now represented by Mascara, who could potentially be the Democratic candidate.
While there were conflicting reports yesterday on precise details of the proposal, it appeared that Mascara's Charleroi residence would place him in the same congressional district as Murtha.
He could either run against Murtha in May's primary or move into the new 18th District. A figure close to Mascara said, "One way or another, he's going to run. He's committed to running; we're just going to take a look at all our options."
Across the state, another drafting change designed to attract Democratic votes in the state House was a decision to combine part of the district held by U.S. Rep. Tim Holden, D-Schuykill, with the current district of U.S. Rep. George Gekas, R-Dauphin. The shape of the new district would make Gekas a heavy favorite for re-election.
The change from previous maps is a reprieve for Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Luzerne, who under the earlier proposals would have likely faced Holden in next year's primary.
Hoping to compensate for unimpressive gains from redistricting so far this cycle, national Republicans are playing a major role in the current quarrel over Pennsylvania's Congressional lines in hopes of delivering a much-needed triumph.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Davis and Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum have been heavily involved in the ongoing redistricting process, which could result in a gain of as many as six seats for Republicans.
Underlining the high-stakes nature of the Pennsylvania process, even the White House weighed in, with political adviser Karl Rove placing a call to state House Speaker John Perzel (R) last week urging him to support the more ambitious state Senate plan.
Furthermore, an aide to Santorum approached Rep.Bob Borski (D) in an attempt to get him to switch parties before the redrawing of the state's lines, according to several sources.
Borski dismissed the proposal immediately according to a Democratic source familiar with the situation.
Pennsylvania Senate leaders last week arrived at a dramatic remap that would squeeze eight Democratic Members into four seats, while the state House advanced a plan that would pit six House Democrats against one another.
"I have talked to the Speaker, the state House Majority Leader and the governor," said Davis. "We have talked to everyone there."
Davis said he and Santorum "spent a lot of time with the delegation" working on the lines and "trying to anticipate the chess moves that were going to be made on each side."
He also sent a letter to members of the Pennsylvania House Republican caucus urging them to support the Senate plan.
"With many other states under Democrat control working to eliminate Congressional Republican opportunities and representation, your help in Pennsylvania is especially urgent and critical," Davis wrote.
He went on to stress that Republican support for the Senate plan is "critical not only to Pennsylvania but toAmerica."
"Without your support, our efforts to ensure that the president has the support he needs in times of crisis and beyond may be in jeopardy."
Unfortunately, notes Steven Drachler, spokesman for Pennsylvania Majority Leader John Perzel (R), the NRCC letter did not arrive until last Wednesday, by which time it became clear the votes were not there to pass the plan in the House.
Santorum, who represented western Pennsylvania inCongress from 1990 to 1994, also lobbied hard for the House to support the Senate proposal.
"John has been talking toRick for weeks and weeks," said Drachler.
Perzel also fielded a phone call fromRove urging support for the Senate plan.
Drachler said Perzel was "very complimented" by Rove's call, but that in the end he did not have the votes to pass the Senate plan.
But Pennsylvania political analyst Larry Ceisler downplayed the importance of Rove's call to Santorum.
"A good Republican committeeman in northeast Philadelphia means more to Perzel than Karl Rove," Ceisler said.
The state Senate plan would likely alter the delegation's makeup from its current 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats to a 13-to-6 Republican majority.
The state House quickly adopted a less ambitious plan that state Republicans hope will result in a 12 Republican-to-7 Democrat split in the delegation, while shoring up several potentially vulnerable GOP Members.
A conference committee will be convened early next year. If no agreement can be reached, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, controlled by Republicans, would take over.
Pennsylvania had to trim its delegation by two seats following the 2000 census.
Despite their lack of success in passing the Senate plan, Davis pledged that "We are going to weigh in" when the bill goes to conference committee. He added that national Republicans "would like to have" the Senate plan to bolster their national predictions on redistricting gains.
"Davis will continue to work and be in contact with the leaders of the Pennsylvania legislature" to make the point that "the NRCC is interested in seeing the maximum gain," said NRCC Communications Director Steve Schmidt.
Neutral observers doubt the effect that Davis or even Santorum can have on the process now.
"Nobody has ever heard of Tom Davis in Harrisburg," said Pennsylvania political analyst Jon Delano. "He can't snap a finger and make things happen."
"Perzel likes Santorum, respects Rove and probably doesn't even know the chairman of the NRCC," added Ceisler.
As for Santorum's interest in the process, Ceisler said he is involved because the Senator "has national ambitions and he believes he will be picking up chits with national Republicans and also strengthening his hand at home."
Perhaps the only way that national Republicans could seriously make a difference in the process, according to Delano, is if President Bush himself waded into the fray.
"If [Bush] were to pick up the phone that might have the calculated effect," noted Delano. "I don't think you can do it through emissaries."
Perzel's prime concern, according toDrachler, is that the Senate plan could endanger GOP prospects in the state several cycles down the line.
"He is removing personalities and looking at it from the long-term prospective of how it benefits the party in the long term," Drachler explained.
For example, the Senate plan in freshman Rep. Melissa Hart's (R) 4th district would remain largely intact, retaining Democratic-leaning areas in Beaver and Lawrence counties.
While Republicans believe that Hart will easily be able to hold the seat even under the Senate-approved map, there are concerns about whether they will be able to hold on to it if and when it becomes open.
"The long-term goal is that whenMelissa Hart moves on [that] this district is winnable," said Delano. Hart, however, favors the Senate plan, despite the fact that the House proposal would shore her district up considerably.
Hart spokesman Brendan Brenner said the Congresswoman "has spoken to her colleagues over the last couple of months," but has no plans to lobby for the Senate plan before the conference committee meets. Hart served nine years in the state Senate before being elected to Congress.
"Everyone knows what her hope is for the districts, and it is now in the Legislature's hands," Brenner said.
Democrats believe that the pressure exerted on the state Legislature by the White House, the NRCC and Santorum bespeaks their desperation to live up to their predicted gains in redistricting.
"They have to go for broke in these states," said one Democratic strategist.
"Rove and Davis are facing a political reality where they robbed from Peter of the House to pay Paul of the Senate, creating a huge glut of open seats," said the strategist, referring to Members like Rep. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Rep. John Thune (R-SD), who are leaving the House to run for Senate.
"Now they're forced to come back and squeeze the last vestiges of juice out of an already spent lemon," said the strategist.
"No matter what the outcome of the Pennsylvania redistricting process," responded Schmidt, "it is going to result in substantial gains for Republicans."
The state Senate Republicans' plan to redistrict Pennsylvania's congressional districts is a downright shame. Forcing two effective lawmakers into a fratricidal Democratic primary is just another indication of the lack of respect that the Republican Party has for the people of Pennsylvania ("GOP Puts Murtha, Mascara in Same District," Dec. 11).
By forcing U.S. Reps. Frank Mascara, D-Charleroi, and John Murtha, D-Johnstown, into the same district -- if the state Senate plan prevails over the state House plan ("GOP Split Over Redistricting," Dec. 13), the Republicans would unceremoniously cast off one of these men, both of whom have advocated projects for the good of their home districts. They both have shown unsurpassed respect for the working class of Pennsylvania by opposing GOP-authored "fast-track" trade legislation. It would be a crime to take one of these men away.
In addition, by gerrymandering districts into Republican cradles, it seems that the will of the voters is disregarded. Voters in Rep. Murtha's and Rep. Mascara's districts have overwhelmingly supported both men throughout the years. Why force them to choose now?
In Arizona, federal redistricting is put into the hands of an equally bipartisan panel, which can thoughtfully suggest changes to the congressional map. It boggles the mind why Pennsylvania cannot adopt the same system.
Instead of using the 2002 map as a springboard to so-called Republican "rising stars" such as state Sen. Tim Murphy and to protect fragile seats held by hard-line ideologues like U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart, R-Bradford Woods, why can't Pennsylvania do what is right for its own citizens?
It is simply amusing to see the Republican Party at work, especially after George W. Bush pledged a new era of "bipartisanship" in federal government. The time has come for the GOP to practice what it preaches.
James S. Lokay
The Pennsylvania state House and Senate are divided over their plans to redraw the Congressional lines in the state in one of the last major skirmishes in the battle over redistricting.
The state Senate approved a plan early Tuesday morning that could potentially transform the delegation from one of 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats to a 13 Republican-to-six Democrat split. The state will lose two of its 21 Congressional seats before next year's elections.
The Senate plan would pit Democratic Reps. Joseph Hoeffel and Bob Borski, John Murtha and Frank Mascara, Paul Kanjorski and Tim Holden, and WilliamCoyne and Mike Doyle in primary contests against one another. Coyne has announced he will retire at the end of his term.
The plan also creates two new Republican-leaning open seats ‹ one in the Philadelphia suburbs and the other in the Pittsburgh suburbs.
Sen. Rick Santorum (R) and NationalRepublican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Davis (Va.) voiced their support for the Senate plan.
"The map that passed the Senate was a good map and one that I would be very supportive of," Santorum said.
"We prefer the Senate plan," Davis said yesterday.
The proposal currently favored by the House is a more conservative one that would preserve the districts of Mascara and Murtha and would not create a new district in the Pittsburgh area.
State House Majority Leader John Perzel yesterday won House approval of his congressional redistricting plan, setting up a showdown with Senate Republicans, who have passed a different one.
"I wish we weren't where we are at, at this point," Perzel, R-Philadelphia, said before leaving for Las Vegas on what he called a business trip. "But what am I going to do? I didn't have the votes [to pass the Senate's version]. I just didn't."
Senate Republicans said their version is better and that they won't budge on the major point of contention: creating a new seat south of Pittsburgh, tailored for a congressional run by state Sen. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair.
A conference committee of top lawmakers from both chambers will meet to try to hash out a compromise, but Perzel said that likely will take a few weeks.
Congressional districts are redrawn every 10 years to reflect population shifts nationwide.
The job falls to the state Legislature, which is currently controlled by Republicans.
Unexpectedly, the Republicans are sniping at one another.
The dispute has drawn attention at the highest sentinels. President Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, called Perzel to urge him to go along with the plan Senate Republicans passed Monday night.
"He's a nice guy," Perzel said. "But he couldn't tell me where to get the votes" to get that plan through the House.
The Senate plan would force four incumbent Democratic congressmen into primary battles in two redrawn districts in the eastern part of the state. New congressional seats would be tailored to favor Murphy and state Sen. Jim Gerlach, R-Chester.
The Senate plan figures that Republicans, after next year's elections, will hold a 13-6 majority in the state congressional delegation. Currently, the GOP margin is 11-10. Pennsylvania is losing two seats.
Perzel's plan passed the House 142-56, as Democrats crossed party lines in droves to support it.
The plan does not set up a new congressional district for Murphy. It also does not put veteran Democrats John Murtha of Johnstown and Frank Mascara of Charleroi in the same district to make room for Murphy's new territory, as the Senate plan does.
Perzel's plan envisions a 12-7 Republican majority in the state's congressional delegation.
He said all 12 seats would be firmly in Republican hands for the next decade. He said the Senate plan is riskier for his party because it sets up districts that would be so diluted with Democratic voters that Republican candidates might lose.
For House Democrats, Perzel's plan, while likely eliminating three Democratic seats from Congress, was the lesser of two evils.
"This is roll-up-your-sleeves hardball politics," said House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese, D-Waynesburg. "The Perzel plan is a significant step in the right direction. At least it is not the unpalatable obscenity" promoted by Senate Republicans, he said.
Top Senate Republicans were exasperated that Perzel didn't bring the Senate plan up for a vote in the House.
"We think our plan is best for the United States," said Senate Majority Leader David "Chip" Brightbill, R-Lebanon. "Ours is 13-6 [rather than 12-7]."
Senate President Pro Tem Robert Jubelirer said Perzel is "a strong leader" who could muster the votes to pass the Senate plan if he tried. He said the plan would help preserve a GOP majority in the U.S. House.
Senate Republicans will not accept the Perzel plan as it stands, Jubelirer and Brightbill said.
The Republican leader of the state House yesterday advanced his own plan for redrawing the state's congressional districts, forcing a surprise showdown with his GOP counterparts in the Senate.
House Majority Leader John Perzel, R-Philadelphia, unveiled a reconfiguration for southwestern Pennsylvania that would spare Democratic U.S. Reps. John Murtha and Frank Mascara from having to oppose each other in next spring's primary.
Unlike the Senate-passed redistricting plan, which bet on U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart's ability to win Democratic votes, Perzel's plan creates a solid Republican district for the freshman Hart and does not create a district that might be favorable to congressional hopeful state Sen. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair.
On Monday night, Senate Republicans ignored Democratic complaints and approved a plan that would tailor a congressional district for Murphy stretching roughly 70 miles from the Ohio line to Ligonier.
Under that plan, the seat captured in 2000 by Hart, R-Bradford Woods, would get more GOP-leaning communities in Allegheny County's North Hills. But in what some Republicans saw as a risky strategy, the district would retain traditionally Democratic areas in Beaver and Lawrence counties.
The plan had the backing of Hart and Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and the added benefit of pitting veteran Democrats Murtha of Johnstown and Mascara of Charleroi against each other by putting them in the same district.
Senate staff members thought the plan was a done deal that would be approved by the House yesterday.
Perzel squashed that notion by unveiling his own plan, which could be voted on by the House today.
It creates a veritable fortress of Republican voters for Hart, stretching her district from the east suburbs of Pittsburgh, through the North Hills, circling through the city's western suburbs and dipping deep into the heavily Republican South Hills.
It leaves Murtha and Mascara with separate districts.
Perzel's plan is less kind to another incumbent Democrat, U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle of Swissvale. Both Republican plans combine Doyle's district with the city of Pittsburgh, but the Perzel plan strips Doyle of a collection of Mon Valley communities that he now represents, leaving him more vulnerable to a primary challenge than under the Senate plan.
The Perzel plan preserves new boundaries proposed by Senate Republicans in every other part of the state, forcing four other incumbent Democrats into primary battles for two seats in the east. Both plans carve a new Republican-oriented district in the Philadelphia suburbs tailored for state Sen. Jim Gerlach, R-Chester.
The Senate plan could shift the political balance in the state's congressional delegation from a current 11-10 split in favor of Republicans to 13-6 for the Republicans. Two seats are being lost because of population changes reflected in the 2000 Census.
Seats to be removed under both Republican plans are currently held by William Coyne, D-Oakland, who is retiring, and Robert Borski, D-Philadelphia.
Perzel's plan is less politically ambitious for the GOP and would, in theory, create a 12-7 Republican edge in the state's congressional delegation.
All 12 of those seats would be firmly in Republican hands for the next decade with large voter registration advantages and scant chance of Democratic upsets, he believes.
"Mr. Perzel and many members of the [House Republican] caucus feel this is a more solid, achievable Republican plan," said Perzel's spokesman, Steve Drachler.
After Perzel laid out his plan to House Republicans in a closed-door caucus meeting yesterday, the phone lines between Washington and Harrisburg buzzed as politicians and political operatives lobbied furiously for the Republican plan of their choice.
The clock is ticking for Republicans to come to an agreement. If it doesn't happen this week, it may not come until after Jan. 1. The Legislature goes on Christmas vacation next week.
If no agreement is reached by early next year, necessary to give potential candidates enough time to prepare for the May primary, the state Supreme Court would be forced to decide.
House Democrats yesterday railed against both Republican plans, but knew there was nothing they could do because they are the minority party in both the state House and the Senate.
"This is a result of one-party domination,"
said House Minority Leader H. Willliam DeWeese, D-Waynesburg. "The
Republican overlords are brimming with hubris. There's nothing fair about