Officials from across Western Pennsylvania gathered Thursday in Cranberry for a joint congressional redistricting hearing designed to receive testimony and collect public input on realignment after results from the U.S. Census.
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, who is House State Government Committee Majority Chairman; and Senate State Government Chairman Sen. Chuck McIhinney, R-Bucks, hosted the two-hour hearing at the township’s municipal center. Joining them was a panel of state House and Senate government committee members.
Redistricting is a state legislative process where the boundaries of congressional and legislative districts are redrawn every 10 years based on growth to meet the constitutional requirement of one person, one vote. Because of the latest census figures -- which showed Pennsylvania not experiencing as much growth as other states across the country -- the state must cut one congressional district, which will bring its total number of seats to 18. Pennsylvania also lost two congressional seats in the 1990s.
On Thursday, the county commissioners from across Western Pennsylvania who spoke at the meeting, including those from Crawford, Armstrong and Indiana counties, made it clear they’d prefer that the redistricting process not require the carving up of their municipalities or counties. Others asked the committee to take into account communities with similar population and socioeconomic conditions when drawing up the new map lines.
Tom Porter, of Armstrong County, noted the people in his rural county would prefer a rural representative to reflect the community.
“I just want you to use your common sense,” he told panel members.
On representation by the U.S. House of Representatives, Butler County Commissioner James Kennedy said officials would prefer the county to be wholly contained within the 3rd Congressional District, which Mike Kelly, R-Butler, represents.
The county now is divided between the 3rd and the 4th District, which Jason Altmire, D-McCandless, represents.
Kelly said residents would have less confusion and a better connection to their legislator with only one representative. While Kelly said both congressmen have done a good job, he’d prefer Kelly, a Butler County native and a former Butler City councilman, as the county’s sole representative.
“It is really important that the public knows and has an association with that representative,” he said.
A statement from Butler County Commissioners presented to the panel concurred. “While the commissioners enjoy a productive relationship with its multiple congressional and state legislators, we feel the districts are too fragmented to efficiently served the needs of Butler County’s people,” the statement read.
Kennedy said commissioners also would prefer one state Senate district instead of the current four. The county also has five state House districts, but Kennedy said commissioners would like to change that to no more than three districts.
With Butler County’s population at 184,694, Kelly noted that it is one of the fasted growing counties in the state. Results from the 2010 Census results showed Butler and Washington counties were the only counties in Western Pennsylvania with an uptick in population.
Other speakers included Dr. Michael McDonald, an associate professor at George Mason University, and Dr. Jennifer Nicoll Victor, as assistant professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh. Both emphasized the importance of transparency and fairness as the new map lines are drawn to avoid redistricting based on politics.
In Pennsylvania, the General Assembly passes congressional redistricting, and the governor must approve it. Metcalfe and McIhinney said legislators have not yet begun the process of drawing the new map lines. The final results should be unveiled to the public at another hearing by the end of the year, Metcalfe said.
He said the turnout at the hearings, which were not conducted during the last congressional redistricting process, pleased him.
“I thought today was very productive,” he said.
The joint committee will conduct a hearing Tuesday in Harrisburg. The first hearing was May 12 in Philadelphia. Residents wanting to give their input on redistricting may call Metcalfe’s Harrisburg office at 717-783-1707.