Westmoreland officials favor congressional map that unifies county

Westmoreland County could be consolidated into a single congressional district or see some of its western and northern communities split into one that includes parts of Pittsburgh and the city’s eastern suburbs under proposals who redrew the map determining the representation of Pennsylvania in Washington, D.C.

The state will lose a seat in Congress, and proposals from the Republican-controlled state legislature and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf both eliminate a district representing southwestern Pennsylvania.

Neither plan is expected to be the final version, and the congressional map of the state could ultimately be determined by Supreme Court justices.

In 2018, judges stepped in to redraw the map used in the last two election cycles.

“I think it’s old wine in new bottles,” said Joe DiSarro, a political science professor at Washington & Jefferson College. “It’s deja vu again. It’s not going anywhere but the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

The State House has already approved its version, with the plan awaiting Senate approval.

It cuts Allegheny County into two districts which separate at Pittsburgh. A district includes the western and northern suburbs with Beaver and parts of Washington counties. The other district includes the eastern districts and the suburbs of the city.

A separate district would include all of Fayette, Greene, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

The Governor’s proposal also splits Allegheny County in two. The district that represents the eastern part of Pittsburgh expands to include part of North Huntingdon and Irwin as well as Arnold, Lower Burrell and New Kensington. The remaining part of Westmoreland County, in the governor’s plan, would be part of a district that includes part of Washington County and all of Fayette, Greene, Somerset and Bedford counties.

Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, warned that maps of congressional districts are still in the works.

“We’re still working on the redrawing process, so the maps aren’t final,” she said. “A top priority for me is to cement the power of our large population as the largest county in a congressional district and to be represented by one congressman in Westmoreland instead of two as we have now. This is what the map we are working on does.

Westmoreland has long been divided into several congressional districts. The current map places the western half of Westmoreland County in a district that includes Washington, Fayette, and Greene counties. The east Westmoreland communities, beginning with Unity, are part of a district that includes Blair County and extends approximately 150 miles east to Gettysburg in Adams County.

Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Peters Township, and Rep. John Joyce, R-Altoona, are Westmoreland County’s representatives in Congress.

Local Westmoreland officials also favor unifying the county into a single congressional district.

“I think it would be best if Westmoreland County had its own representative in Congress. We have a set of characteristics that do not match those of other regional neighbors. For example, our largest business sector is still agriculture and agriculture,” said Westmoreland Commissioner Doug Chew, a Republican.

Commissioner Gina Cerilli Thrasher, a Democrat, flirted with running for Congress in 2018 but dampened a possible campaign when she announced she would wait for the county to be unified into a single district.

Thrasher this week declined to comment on the proposed cards.

“I haven’t seen the actual format of the cards yet. Therefore, I have not formed an opinion as to which would be best for Westmoreland County,” Thrasher said in a text message.

DiSarro, a Republican, said both map proposals were flawed, though he thinks the GOP-backed plan that political observers are suggesting in favor of Republicans is likely the best option for western Pennsylvania.

“Maps are meant to be continuous and not meant to divide municipalities,” DiSarro said.

State lawmakers and the governor must agree on a new map to avoid court intervention.

State election officials said a final map from Congress is needed by Jan. 24 to prepare for this spring’s primary. The Commonwealth Court has set a January 30 deadline before intervening.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, rcholodofsky@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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