Since the approval of the draft districts plan by the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives on December 16, there have been many discussions about the impact of this map on communities of color across the Commonwealth. As Latino members of the Chamber, we feel compelled to address these important concerns.
We applaud the work that Speaker Mark Nordenberg and the Legislative Redistribution Commission, or LRC, have done to ensure that these communities, which have been underrepresented in the legislature for too long, are fairly represented.
Since the 2010 census, while the population of white Pennsylvanians has decreased by 500,000 people, the Latino population has increased by 45.85% or 329,955 people.
This is a seismic shift in the racial makeup of the Commonwealth, with people of color now making up almost a quarter of the total population.
The LRC’s preliminary house plan responds to this growth in the Latin American population in several important ways.
Statewide, this plan creates nine districts in which Latin American communities should be able to elect the candidates of their choice.
Three of those districts will be open seats with no incumbents, meaning a choice Latino candidate would not need to overcome the power of office to be elected.
The voices of minority communities can be diluted in elections by what is called packaging. It is when a community is isolated in a district, which represents a high percentage of the population of that district and therefore prevents them from having an impact on elections in neighboring districts.
The LRC plan unpacks some of these districts so that communities can elect their candidate of choice in more than one district.
Over the past decade, all of Lancaster County’s population growth has occurred in communities of color, and today 11% of Lancaster County is Latino. This growth is reflected on the map by moving a district of homes from southwestern Pennsylvania, where population was lost, to the city of Lancaster. As proposed, this House District will have a 50% minority population, nearly 33% of whom identify as Latino, and no outgoing members. This neighborhood is an obvious opportunity for the Latino community to gain representation.
In Reading, the Latino population has grown by more than 25% since 2010 and now represents 68% of the city’s total population. The preliminary house plan unpacks the Latino population in house districts 126 and 127 and increases the Latino population in house district 129 to over 35%. The effect of these changes is that the Latino community in Berks County will have three opportunities to elect prime candidates.
In Allentown, where Latinos now make up more than 50% of the population, the LRC plan is also increasing opportunities for minorities. The map unpacks House District 22 to increase the Latin American population in House District 134 to almost 40%, resulting in two districts in which the Latino community should be able to elect candidates of their choice.
In Luzerne County, House District 116 has been redesigned and will have a Latin American population of over 37%, an increase of nearly 10%. This change should allow the Latino community in Luzerne County to elect the candidate of their choice.
In conclusion, Latino representation is lacking in Pennsylvania, especially considering the growth that has occurred throughout Pennsylvania over the past decade. The LRC plan makes major strides in correcting this injustice and restoring equity in representation in Pennsylvania. As Latino members of the Pennsylvania House, we embrace the purpose of the RCL and applaud their work. We look forward to serving in a more diverse legislature.
Guzman is a Reading Democrat. Burgos and Cruz are Democrats from Philadelphia.