(The Center Square) – Residents in the congressional district that spans Pennsylvania’s north central region asked to remain unchanged as lawmakers draw new maps in the coming months.
The House State Government Committee hosted its fourth regional hearing in Tioga County on Tuesday to collect input about what shape Pennsylvania’s 17 congressional districts should take.
It will be the third time Pennsylvania’s congressional district lines have changed since 2011 after a Republican-drawn map drew national scrutiny for its nonsensical and bizarre borders that many critics uphold as the pinnacle of gerrymandering.
The state Supreme Court officially tossed the map in 2018 and imposed its own borders. But now new census data – which stripped Pennsylvania of its 18th congressional seat – means lawmakers must once again reconsider district boundaries.
The census data also confirmed what many across Pennsylvania’s northern and central counties said they already knew. Over the past decade, residents of these regions have fled south toward the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Philadelphia – or the left state entirely – for better career prospects, deepening a trend that’s been unfolding for decades.
The trend means already widespread rural districts may have to expand further to meet population guidelines – though residents of the 12th district encouraged lawmakers to consider the natural travel patterns of the region, communities of interest and “recognizable” boundaries when reconsidering borders.
The 12th congressional district, the state’s largest, includes the counties of Potter, Tioga, Crawford, Susquehanna, Clinton, Lycoming, Sullivan, Wyoming, Union, Snyder, Mifflin, Juniata, Perry and portions of Northumberland, Montour and Centre counties.
Jason Fink, of the Lycoming County Chamber of Commerce, said he remembers when the region was split in two districts – creating logistical challenges when it came to working with elected officials.
“Having been through something like this in our not too distant past, we encourage you to keep Lycoming County whole,” he said.
Fink said the coordination of services and shared economies between surrounding counties – including Clinton, Tioga, Union, Northumberland, Snyder and Sullivan – also makes split districts less effective for residents.
It was a point bolstered from testimony by Malcolm Derk of the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce and commissioners from Union and Tioga counties.
“Communities of interest are also created by the ways we collaborate with neighbors,” Derk said. “Grouping these collaborative communities together in one district makes a lot of sense because they share these common interests.”
Lawmakers must draw the new map, pass it through the General Assembly and get approval from Gov. Tom Wolf before the new map will take shape.
They hope to accomplish it all before the 2022 primary elections next spring.
That’s why, said Committee Chairman Seth Grove, R-York, he announced a slate of hearings to field input from the public about what the new districts should look like. The House also launched a website to collect comments.
The committee’s regional redistricting hearings will continue Oct. 13 at the York College of Pennsylvania, where residents from Fulton, Huntingdon, Mifflin, Franklin, Juniata, Perry, Cumberland, Adams, York, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Schuylkill and Northumberland counties, will be invited to testify.
Wolf also formed his own redistricting advisory committee and launched a website to gather public input last month.