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GOP's Congressional Redistricting Plan Under Attack For What It Does In Western Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG (KDKA) - House Republicans on the state House Government Committee released their proposed congressional redistricting map. Democrats immediately denounced the plan, especially for what it does in western Pennsylvania.

It's a near impossible task -- cutting Pennsylvania's 18 congressional districts down to 17, while keeping counties intact, communities of interest together, respecting minority rights and not giving one party an advantage over the other.

This Republican map, say Democrats, fails on all counts.

Pennsylvania Rep. Seth Grove, the Republican chair of the State Government Committee, called his plan, drawn up by a former Republican county commissioner who once sued the state over redistricting, historic.

"The General Assembly has never in the history of the Commonwealth selected a citizen's map as the preliminary map," Grove told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Thursday.

In this region, the GOP map splits up Butler County along with Washington County, putting Republican U.S. Rep. Guy Rechenthaler of Peters into the 17th Congressional District, while moving Democrat U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, and his hometown of Mt. Lebanon, into the city of Pittsburgh district.

The GOP plan also puts Altoona in the same congressional district as Harrisburg.

PA Rep. Scott Conklin, the senior Democrat on the State Government Committee, says Republicans are adopting a partisan map without ever holding a hearing for citizen input.

"It's most likely going to be a 12-5, twelve Republicans-five Democrats map, if this map would go through. If you're in western Pennsylvania, you're going to lose a Democratic congressman," says Conklin.

FairDistrictsPA president Carol Kuniholm wonders why this map was picked by the GOP over higher scoring maps.

"The scores for that map are not good," says Kuniholm. "For compactness, it's definitely not compact. Minority representation does not do as well as several other maps. And it appears to lean pretty heavily towards Republicans."

Senate Republicans are finalizing a plan next week which, Democrats say, is even worse for this region, stringing Beaver County to Indiana County in one congressional district.

"I view them as partisan maps that favor Republican Party here, particularly in western Pennsylvania.," says Pennsylvania Sen. Jay Costa, the Democratic Leader in the state Senate.

"From Erie to Greene County, from Ohio to the other side of Harrisburg and even further, there would be only one Democrat representing those folks in that area," Costa says.

The House map is a preliminary map, and some local Republicans like Pennsylvania Rep. Jason Ortitay, who represents part of Washington County, want it changed to keep Washington County in one congressional district.

"I would like to see it remain whole. I think it makes sense with a county with a population of 220,000. I know we're trying to keep all the numbers pretty close, but we're one of the bigger ones. I think it makes sense to keep us together," says Ortitay.

There are other maps. A group called Draw the Lines created a Citizens Map with input from 7,000 residents. David Thornburgh of the Committee of Seventy says that map got an "A" from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.

"Accountability in this process only begins when citizens have a chance to take a look at a map. All of the other stuff is just sort of theoretical preamble," says Thornburgh.

So will citizens have a chance to comment on these plans before a final vote?

The House State Government Committee has scheduled a vote on the GOP House plan for 8 a.m. on Monday morning, but Grove says there is still time for amendments on the House floor.

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