Due to a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling, every resident of Burg territory is living in a new congressional district.
The new districts take effect for the 2018 mid-term elections, meaning that most of you will be voting for a new person to represent you in Washington, including in this month’s primary.
The new districts will transform Pennsylvania’s political landscape. Most congressional incumbents running for re-election have seen their districts changed considerably, meaning they have to appeal to new constituents in elections that will likely be more competitive. And if recent voting patterns hold, the Democratic Party should gain at least three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The impact will be particularly strong in the Harrisburg metro area, which is more unified in the newly drawn 10th congressional district. This reasonably compact entity encompasses all of Dauphin County, the eastern half of Cumberland County to Carlisle and a northern chunk of York County that extends just south of the city of York.
“The new map puts Harrisburg at the hub of a metropolitan area, and that makes a lot of sense,” said Democratic congressional candidate George Scott. “It’s a beneficial change for the region as a whole.”
One of his primary opponents agreed.
“I am a fan of the new map because it’s more compact,” said Shavonnia Corbin-Johnson. “The needs of Harrisburg are a lot more similar to the needs of York and Carlisle.”
Republican legislators drew Pennsylvania’s current congressional map in 2011, following the 2010 census. They intentionally divided Harrisburg into two districts to dilute its predominantly Democratic voters into two mostly rural, Republican districts.
This “cracking” of an opposition party’s voters is a common practice in gerrymandering, the drawing of district boundaries for partisan advantage. The 2011 map has consistently produced a 13-5 Republican advantage in the House despite Democrats outnumbering Republicans statewide.
On Jan. 22, the Democratic majority in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that this gerrymandered congressional map violates the state constitution’s clause on free and equal elections. After Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Tom Wolf failed to compromise on a new map, the Supreme Court imposed its own map, with more compact districts and fewer county and municipal splits. This map survived Republican challenges in federal court and the U.S. Supreme Court.
The new congressional map has mostly good news for residents of Harrisburg and the metro area in general. The 2011 map not only split the city into two districts, reducing its political influence, but it split Dauphin County into three districts. With the new map, all of Dauphin County is united, along with the West Shore suburbs in Cumberland County.
“Whoever is elected to Congress in the new 10th District will certainly need to be responsive to the interests of Dauphin County,” said Dauphin County Commissioner Mike Pries, a Republican.
Rogette Harris, chairwoman of the Dauphin County Democrats, agreed.
“I am very happy that Dauphin County is now in just one congressional district,” she said. “During election time, it makes us all much stronger as a voting block, and it makes candidates and elected officials focus on the entire county rather than just a certain segment.”
The boundaries of the previous, Harrisburg-area congressional districts preserved solid Republican majorities. But the newly minted 10th district is more evenly balanced, with Republicans holding a slimmer, 5.5-percent advantage in party registration.
Incumbent Rep. Scott Perry, who previously represented the 4th congressional district (York and Adams counties, the eastern third of Cumberland County and southern Harrisburg), is running unopposed in the May 15 Republican primary. Four Democrats are facing off to oppose Perry in the general election: Scott, Corbin-Johnson, Eric Ding and Alan Howe.
Corbin-Johnson and Scott hail from York County. They were planning to run against Perry in the old 4th district, but the new map forced them to shift their campaigns northward. But these Democrats actually face better odds in the new district, as the old 4th had an 11-point Republican edge.
Scott said that he was slightly disappointed in the new map because he had built strong relationships in areas of the 4th that were not included in the new 10th. But, he admits, the district is better overall for Democrats.
“The composition of the 10th district is significantly more moderate than the 4th district was,” he said. “I would not say the playing field is completely level, but it’s certainly much more level than it was before.”
Corbin-Johnson said that she’s happy to run wherever the congressional lines happen to fall, and she thought that the reasons for the redistricting justified the Supreme Court’s decision.
“The district lines have changed, but my commitment to each and every community has not,” she said. “I haven’t flip-flopped on policy or values with the changing of the lines.”
The new map did cost Pries a chance to serve in Congress.
He was planning to run in the old 15th district, which includes the southeastern portion of Dauphin County and parallels I-78 all the way to New Jersey. This seat was vacated when incumbent Rep. Charlie Dent announced he was retiring.
Because both he and Perry now live in the new 10th district, Pries decided to drop out rather than challenge a Republican incumbent.
“The long period of uncertainty around the maps was definitely a burden for many candidates, incumbents and non-incumbents,” Pries said.
He added that he looks forward to helping send Perry back to Washington for another term.
The 10th district does lean Republican, but Democrats have been energized by the Trump presidency and by recent special elections, such as Rep. Conor Lamb’s congressional victory in western Pennsylvania.
“This is going to be a very competitive race, and I think it’s a race that we, as Democrats, can win,” Scott said.
Corbin-Johnson said that the new, compact district boundaries will make it much easier for people to know who their representative is, which, in turn, will make it easier for people to engage in politics and keep their elected officials accountable for their actions.
“It will make sure that a representative will be more present in the community,” she said.
Amid the Democrats’ renewed optimism, Pries added a word of caution.
“Any candidate who underestimates an opponent in this election cycle would be doing so at their own peril,” he said.
The race is on.
To learn about the congressional candidates’ positions on various issues, visit https://hersheyhit.dudaone.com. The primary is May 15.