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Area officials divided over court redistricting ruling

Published January 26. 2012 05:01PM

Local elected officials are predictably divided over a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling Wednesday that quashed a planned redistricting that would have, among other things, moved Summit Hill Borough from the largely Democratic 122nd legislative district to the largely Republican 124th.

The court, which described the plan as "contrary to law," rejected the proposal by a 4-3 vote and sent it back to the Legislative Reapportionment Commission. The ruling means the current district lines will now remain in place for the time being.

The redistricting plan, which adjusted 120 House districts and 25 Senate districts, was favored by Republicans and opposed by Democrats, who argued it was politically motivated.

State Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-Schuylkill, disagreed with the court's ruling.

"I believe that the House (redistricted) map met the standards and conditions set forth by the Constitution," he said. "But until we actually see the opinion, we won't really know how it will be fixed. That will be up to the commission to do whatever needs to be done."

However, he said, "I will be honored to represent whoever the courts determine I should represent."

Efforts to reach freshman GOP state Rep. Doyle Heffley were unsuccessful early Thursday.

State Sen. John Yudichak, D-Luzerne/Carbon/Monroe, who was one of the legislators to challenge the plan in court, lauded the ruling in a statement released late Wednesday.

"I applaud the prudent decision made by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to send legislative redistricting back to the drawing board. People won over partisanship in the court today, and I encourage legislative leaders to advance a new plan that reflects the voice and will of the citizens of Pennsylvania," he said.

Carbon County minority Commissioner William O'Gurek, a Democrat and Summit Hill resident, took GOP lawmakers to task for the plan.

"I am sure I am speaking for many Summit Hill residents some of whom called our home last night after the Supreme Court ruled in saying the people in this community are thrilled with the court's decision," he said.

"Everyone in the community knows the district was redrawn with Summit Hill removed from it for political purposes. The map proposed by the Republicans was more about benefiting incumbents like Doyle Heffley than it was about benefiting the communities they represent," O'Gurek said.

"When former Speaker (Keith) McCall and myself went to Harrisburg to testify against the redistricting as it pertained to removing Summit Hill from the 122nd District, testimony we presented contended exactly what the court said in its ruling that the Republicans designed the districts to gain political advantages and that kind of activity, in the words of the Supreme Court, is 'contrary to law'.

"As pleased as Summit Hill residents are about this ruling, it also clearly points out the sad state of affairs in Harrisburg where those in power believe they can violate the law without consequences. So, as a community, I believe the Supreme Court has restored our faith in the system in that it recognized how this type of political posturing is not in the best interests of the people and is not above reproach," he said.

States typically redraw legislative districts every 10 years, after the decennial U.S. Census.

According to the state Constitution, legislative districts "shall be composed of compact and contiguous territory as nearly equal in population as practicable" and that "unless absolutely necessary no county, city, incorporated town, borough, township or ward shall be divided in forming either a senatorial or representative district."

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