Pittsburgh region to lose seat apiece in House, Senate

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HARRISBURG -- The Pittsburgh region will lose one House and one Senate seat in the 2014 elections under legislative maps approved Wednesday by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The high court found that a redistricting commission had sufficiently fixed a plan that had been rejected ahead of the 2012 elections on the grounds that it violated the state Constitution by dividing too many counties, municipalities and wards.

Like the rejected maps, the approved versions account for eastward shifts in population by moving one House and one Senate seat from the Pittsburgh area. The maps add a Senate seat in the Northeast while redrawing the neighboring seats of Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Shaler, and Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, to include much of the Republican-heavy North Hills.

Mr. Ferlo, who since 2003 has represented a district stretching from Brighton Heights east into Westmoreland and Armstrong counties, released a statement beginning with the phrase "It is what it is" translated into Latin.

"It's a bit early to begin writing my political obituary," he said. "I will continue to faithfully represent the 38th Senatorial District with same energy and with sense of responsibility and further plan to be around for a while."

The House map moves to Allentown the seat of Rep. Erin Molchany, D-Mount Washington, putting her residence in the district of Rep. Harry Readshaw, D-Carrick. Ms. Molchany said in a statement she was disappointed in the ruling.

"These new maps divide communities like Beechview, Brookline and Mount Washington, and separate neighbors in Whitehall," she said. "In the South Hills of Pittsburgh, these maps are neither compact nor contiguous."

She said the decision would not affect her work: "I look forward to continue working with colleagues and serving the commonwealth for the foreseeable future."

Critics of the second plan, including the Senate Democratic caucus, had argued that mapmakers again had failed to fashion a lawful set of districts, but the court in an unopposed opinion found sufficient improvements. The finding allows the new districts to take effect for the 2014 legislative elections.

"We can now look forward to the next election cycle being conducted on the more accurate and more improved legislative lines, based on the most recent census rather than the older census," said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware and a member of the reapportionment commission.

Legislative districts in Pennsylvania are drafted by a commission made up of the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate and a fifth member, in this case former Superior Court Judge Stephen McEwen. The commission adopted its second redistricting plan in June 2012 on a 4-1 vote, with Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, opposed. In their challenge, the Senate Democrats argued the maps had been crafted to preserve Republican majorities in both chambers.

But the court, in an opinion written by Chief Justice Ronald Castille, found that "political parties may seek partisan advantage to their proverbial heart's content, so long as they do so within the constraints" of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

The opinion was joined by four justices, while Justice Thomas Saylor filed a concurring opinion. The opinion notes that former Justice Joan Orie Melvin, who was sentenced Tuesday for misusing staff for campaigns, did not participate in the consideration or decision of the appeals.

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Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 717-787-2141. First Published May 8, 2013 4:15 AM


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