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Between the Lines: State Lawmakers Ready Pennsylvania Map for Monday Target

Keystone State lawmakers continue to work through several last-minute adjustments to the state’s new Congressional map while they try to make their projected Monday release date.

Sources say state lawmakers hope to pass the map by Dec. 14, but Republicans caution that might be an unrealistic target because so many unresolved issues remain on the table.

The state lost a House seat in reapportionment, and Republicans have indicated for months that they plan to move Democratic Reps. Jason Altmire and Mark Critz into the same southwestern district. For related reasons, southwestern Pennsylvania remains the most fluid area in current map discussions.

Lawmakers are seriously considering a proposal that creates a series of concentric circle districts around the Pittsburgh area. Rep. Mike Doyle (D) would continue to represent the Steel City’s downtown, Rep. Tim Murphy (R) would represent more of the northern suburbs, and the district intended for Critz and Altmire would include the exurbs and small towns around the rest of southwestern Pennsylvania.

But Congressional cartography is never that simple. Influential local Republicans want to ensure that Beaver County, on the state’s western Ohio border, lies in the district intended for Altmire and Critz. State Rep. Jim Christiana’s (R) base is in Beaver County, and he’s planning to run against the victor of that Democratic primary.

A powerful GOP state lawmaker continues to shop around a map that moves Altmire’s home into Murphy’s district. But Republicans in Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., want to avoid the Murphy-vs.-Altmire situation at all costs.

Finally, mapmakers are putting the finishing touches on a map of northwestern Pennsylvania that splits Erie County into two House districts. Republicans aim to split the Democratic county between GOP Reps. Glenn Thompson and Mike Kelly to try to shore up the latter’s competitive district.

Thompson appeared amenable to usurping parts of Erie County into his sprawling, mostly rural 5th district.

“Erie County has a lot of agriculture. That part of Erie would probably be a good fit for the 5th,” Thompson told Roll Call at the Capitol. “All I know is the district right now is 22 percent of the state in terms of land mass, and it’s going to get larger.”

Florida: Intent Is Key in Congressional Maps

Who knows what lurks in the hearts of men? The answer to that question may well decide how many Congressional seats Democrats are able to pick up in Florida this cycle, where the legality of new lines hinges on the intent of Republican mapmakers.

A 2010 Sunshine State constitutional amendment prohibits crafting Congressional districts with “the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent.”

Unlike some other redistricting standards, which prohibit certain and specific outcomes, the state statute only forbids purposeful political gerrymandering. The wording of that part of the amendment, known as Fair Districts, appears to be a recipe for a lengthy court battle.

The GOP-controlled state Senate released a draft Congressional redistricting map Monday that more or less keeps most of the 19 Republican Members in the delegation safe. National Democrats immediately blasted the proposed plan. A spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said the new map was “partisan and inconsistent with the Fair Districts law.” Republicans, of course, insist it was exceedingly consistent with the new law. And, in the end, a judge will probably decide.

Historical partisan data is almost always loaded into states’ redistricting computer systems so line drawers can see the political bent of potential new districts. But, in a sign of how carefully the state GOP is treading in order to avoid the appearance of political intent, that information is absent from the Sunshine State’s redistricting program.

“The mere presence of political metrics in the interface for building districts could create a perception, unsubstantiated and inaccurate though it may be, that partisan factors influenced how districts were drawn,” the website for the state Senate’s Committee on Reapportionment notes. “The Senate, in an abundance of caution, therefore departed from traditional practice and chose to omit voter registration counts and election results.”

Another part of the Fair Districts amendment requires that both the intent and the result of redistricting don’t abridge minority rights. Deviation from that standard would be easier to spot and might also violate federal law. Florida Republicans appear to have substantially focused on this portion of the state law, insiders said, pointing to a number of minority-opportunity districts under the proposed lines.

Although the release of a draft Congressional plan by the state Senate was only the first in a number of steps before final lines are signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott (R), Tallahassee insiders expect the Legislature to complete new lines relatively early in its 2012 session.

That would leave time for the inevitable court challenges, which will probably determine just what mapmakers intended. The case, likely to land in the Florida Supreme Court, may break new ground.

“The court in Florida may be the first to deal with a state constitutional requirement dealing with intent and what that means,” Democratic redistricting expert Jeffrey Wice said. “There have been no decisions on that issue yet.”

Kentucky: Republicans Release Competing Plan

The Republican chairman of the state Senate’s redistricting committee proposed a new Congressional map that leaves the political bent of the Bluegrass State’s six districts about the same, the Associated Press reported.

It conflicts with the map proposed by the Democratic state Speaker. At issue will likely be changes to Democratic Rep. Ben Chandler’s 6th district, which he won in 2010 by only 647 votes. A new Congressional map is subject to veto by newly re-elected Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear. A plan is expected to be passed early in the new year.

Arizona: Brewer Won’t Call Special Session

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has taken at least one option off the table when it comes to Republican efforts to battle an independent redistricting commission’s draft map.

Brewer said in a statement she will not call a special session in a Republican effort to “pursue a ballot proposal to repeal or reform” Proposition 106, the legal basis of the commission.

The idea of repealing the law altogether had been bandied about among Republicans. The Brewer statement is striking because it is the first time since the redistricting fight blew up in early October that she has backed off of any option opposing the new map.

Previously, Brewer removed the commission’s chairwoman with the consent of the state’s Republican-dominated Senate during a one-night special session called for that specific purpose. The Arizona Supreme Court overruled that action Nov. 17.

Both politicians and lawyers have been perplexed by what to do next. The commission and its reinstated chairwoman, Colleen Mathis, returned to work Tuesday.

Send news items on redistricting to Between the Lines here.

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