The Cranberry area is set to have new legislative representation—and not just because of former Sen. Jane Orie’s resignation from office last month following her conviction on corruption charges.
A revised legislative map approved Friday moves the 40th District—formerly represented by Orie—to the other side of the state, but reunites Cranberry with the majority of Butler County. Locally, officials have given the plan their tentative support.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but it still misses the mark as far as I’m concerned,” said Cranberry supervisor Dick Hadley.
In a 4-1 vote, the legislative reapportionment committee—which is tasked with redrawing legislative boundaries based on population shifts from the 2010 census—gave final approval to the revised GOP-sponsored plan, which joins Cranberry and Adams townships, along with Seven Fields, Mars, Evans City and Connoquenessing borough, to the 21st Senatorial District led by Mary Jo White, R-Franklin.
White’s territory also includes parts of Clarion, Forest, Venango and Warren counties.
Under the plan, Orie’s territory—which encompassed parts of northern Allegheny County and southern Butler County—moves to Monroe and Northampton counties on the eastern half of the state to reflect growth near the New Jersey border.
While Orie’s Butler County communities will be split between White and Sen. Elder Vogel Jr., R-New Sewickley Township, in the 47th District, the North Hills— including Pine, Richland and Ross township—will become part of the 38th represented by Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park.
Butler County Officials Fight for Cranberry
The finalized plan represents a big change from a proposed preliminary reapportionment plan approved in April that would have placed Cranberry and Seven Fields in Vogel’s territory.
Cranberry’s Board of Supervisors opposed that plan because the township and Seven Fields would have been the only Butler County communities in Vogel’s district, which spans Beaver and Lawrence counties.
Hadley was particularly concerned Cranberry’s interests would be overshadowed by the needs of the rest of Vogel’s district. He questioned why Cranberry would be separated from the rest of Butler County, particularly when much of the county’s growth—in business and population—is in that area.
Cranberry also has little in common with communities in Beaver and Lawrence counties, he said.
Those observations were duly noted May 2 when Kim Geyer, administrative assistant to Butler County Commissioner Chairman Bill McCarrier, spoke on behalf of Cranberry supervisors and Butler County commissioners at an open hearing in Harrisburg.
Geyer noted in her testimony the partnership Cranberry enjoys with commissioners on various boards across the county, including work with the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission and Butler County Community College.
“This effective working partnership has provided strength to both the county and the township,” she said. “The people of this county need Cranberry Township’s presence just as much as this dynamic and thriving township needs Butler County.”
She added there is a belief held by many in the area that Cranberry, which is located on the border of Allegheny County, is removed from the rest of Butler County. Separating Cranberry and Seven Fields from the rest of Butler “would be detrimental and exacerbate issues further for all public officials working collaboratively to dispel this mindset amongst county citizens and communities,” Geyer testified.
The legislative committee consists of Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, House Minority Leader Frank Dermody and former Superior Court Judge Stephen McEwen.
Costa, D-Forest Hills, who called the map gerrymandered and containing “way too many inexplicable and unnecessary partisan county splits” cast the lone dissenting vote in the plan's final approval.
“The final map is the product of a broken and bewildering process in which the public was ignored and negotiation was illusory,” he said in a statement. “The map is a total disappointment.”
He did not rule out filing a state Supreme Court challenge like the one in January that brought down the first Republican-drawn map.
The final map divides Butler County into three senatorial districts. Jackson Township, along with Harmony and Zelienople, will join Vogel in the 47th District.
Hadley agreed with Bruce Mazzoni, chairman of the Cranbery Board of Supervisors, that it would have been preferable to have all of Butler County under one senator, which Hadley added is the case with most of the state's counties.
Still, Mazzoni was pleased Cranberry will join the majority of Butler County in the White's district.
“For Cranberry Township specifically, I think it’s better than being totally isolated from the dealings of Butler County,” he said. “We feel our relationship with the Butler County commissioners is very important."
Hadley wondered if the 40th district would have been moved to the other side of the state if the seat had not been vacant following Orie's conviction. Last week, a judge sentenced Orie to 2 1/2 to 10 years in prison for using public resources for campaigns and forging documents.
Like Monroe and Northampton counties to the east, Butler County is a hot bed for growth, Hadley said. In 2011, it was named the nation's sixth-fastest job growth market by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Just because it’s convenient doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do, which is unfortunate,” Hadley said of transporting the 40th District.
The redistricting plans will take effect for the 2014 elections.
What do you think of the plan? Do you agree with Hadley that the territory would not have been moved had the seat not been vacant? Leave your thoughts in the comment section.