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Goodbye to the 12th?

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With the passing of U.S. Congressman John Murtha last week, the 12th Congressional District will, beginning with a Special Election on May 18, have a new face representing it for the first time since 1974.  When 2012 rolls around, it is quite possible that face, as well as the entire 12th Congressional District, will be gone as well.

This morning, the Philadelphia Inquirer got a jump on the next reapportionment effort, which is slated to begin right after the U.S. Census is tabulated this year.  The new Congressional districts will be drawn (barring lengthy court challenges) and in place for the 2012 elections. Conventional wisdom seems to be that Pennsylvania, due to slow population growth, will lose one Congressional seat, taking the number from 19 to 18.

The Inky says the seat that will disappear is likely to be the 12th

Consider that in 2002, the 12th was drawn to protect Jack Murtha so as to retain his seniority and influence in Congress.  It covers 9 counties from Johnstown all the way to West Virginia and it looks…well, quite frankly…ridiculous.  Sort of like an octopus laying on its side.  Now consider that most of the population growth in the state is decidedly not in those 9 counties. And finally, whoever happens to occupy that seat in 2012 will have only been there for 1 term, making it easy for the merry mapmakers to cashier that individual.

One can very easily picture a scenario where Congressman Jason Altmire’s 4th Congressional District is shoved south a bit, thereby forcing Congressman Tim Murphy’s 18th CD down into Greene to the West Virginia border.  Move Congressman Bill Shuster’s 9th CD a bit to the west, and voila! Bye-bye 12th.  

But for anyone who knows how these reapportionment decisions are made, it is far from being that simple.  Unlike legislative reapportionment, Congressional reapportionment is done like any other bill in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.  It passes both chambers, and is signed by the governor.  So consider:

  1. If a Democrat is sitting in the governor’s office in 2012, how quick does one believe he will be to sign a bill that further weakens the Democratic representation in the state, and thereby in Congress?  Can you see House Speaker Nancy Pelosi being OK with throwing away a safe Democratic seat?
  2. If, as in 2002, both chambers and the governor’s office are held by the GOP, the vanishing 12th scenario looks a bit more likely.  Unless lightning strikes on May 18 and a Republican claims the 12th.  Then what?
  3. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  In 2002, the state GOP tried, as was expected, to maximize the number of Republican-held Congressional seats. What eventually happened was that no matter how those districts were drawn, the GOP could not create more Republican voters in the state (Hello, Congressman Tim Holden!)  A GOP-dominated Harrisburg might try to rid itself of another Democratic Congressman, but that doesn’t mean that the voters in the 12th magically disappear as well.  One would have to think that moving Tim Murphy south could impact his re-election status.

And of course, this whole conversation could be rendered moot if the 2010 election cycle is a wild as some are predicting.  It is a long way from here to 2012, especially in politics. 

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