HARRISBURG -- A Republican-crafted map of Pennsylvania's 18 new congressional districts unveiled Tuesday renames York's Congressional district from the 19th to the 4th to reflect the loss of a seat.
Democrats stand to lose one of their seven seats and see more of their most reliable voters packed into fewer districts as a result of the map. Democrat Tim Holden's 15th District is moving to the east, so the city of Harrisburg would shift into the Republican-dominated district held by Republican Todd Platts of York County.
The map, drawn in private by Republican state lawmakers, eliminates a Democratic-held seat in southwestern Pennsylvania and forces two Democratic incumbents there, Jason Altmire and Mark Critz, into the same district.
An initial vote on the map was anticipated in the Senate on Wednesday, and Republicans hope to make it law by the end of next week. The time to get a map to Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's desk for his
signature is shrinking: Jan. 24 is the first day for candidates to circulate nomination petitions.
The map has significant changes because Pennsylvania's congressional delegation must shrink by one seat in the 2012 election. But those changes will be controlled by Republicans, since they control the state Legislature and the governor's office, and a map must be enacted like any other bill that becomes law.
Republicans say their aim was to protect the re-election chances of the 12 current Republican U.S. House members and that the proposed map contains better-drawn districts than many alternatives or past maps.
The criticism: But Democrats, who are essentially powerless to prevent a Republican map from becoming law, unleashed searing criticism, saying it defies the wishes of voters.
Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, singled out the 7th District seat of GOP freshman Rep. Pat Meehan as the result of what happens when people are "drunk with power."
Currently, the district represents parts of Delaware, Chester and Montgomery counties in a relatively compact shape that holds more Republicans than Democrats. But voters there supported two Democrats for president, John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008, worrying Republican mapmakers that Meehan could be vulnerable.
Under the proposed map, which is designed to give Meehan a more reliable Republican voting base, the 7th District would snake into Lancaster and Berks counties.
"I'm just shocked and speechless that any self-respecting public servant could, with a straight face, submit such a district and say it was in any way reflective of what the people of Pennsylvania wanted," Vitali said during a joint House and Senate State Government Committee meeting to distribute the first copies of the map Tuesday. "This is an unmitigated, absolute disgrace."
In response: House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, defended dramatic changes in the districts as logical. For instance, many districts had to move west because a district in western Pennsylvania is being eliminated, he said.
"From a compactness, community interest and contiguity perspective, we haven't seen a map really this positive, I would say, in some time," Turzai said after the meeting. "When you look at it, there's no issues with respect to gerrymandering in the way that these districts are drawn."
A new congressional map is required every decade to reflect population shifts. Because Pennsylvania grew more slowly than the rest of the nation, it will lose a U.S. House seat, dropping from 19 to 18.
On paper, Democrats have an advantage of more registered voters in Pennsylvania, with four for every three Republicans.
But Democratic voters are less reliable in congressional elections: Six Republican-held districts are home to more Democrats than Republicans: The 3rd District in northwestern Pennsylvania, the 6th and 8th in suburban Philadelphia, the 11th in northeastern Pennsylvania, the 15th in the Allentown area, and the 18th in suburban Pittsburgh.
The heavily Democratic cities of Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Easton would shift into Holden's seat currently in central and eastern Pennsylvania, taking Democrats away from Republicans Charles Dent in the 15th District and Lou Barletta in the 11th District.
Portions of Altmire's 4th District and Critz's 12th District would move into one district where both men live. Eliminating a seat in southwestern Pennsylvania made sense, Republicans say, because of the area's population losses over the past decade.
Meanwhile, the districts of various eastern Pennsylvania Republicans -- Meehan, Dent, Barletta, Tom Marino and Jim Gerlach -- would stretch into central Pennsylvania, which is home to more reliable Republican voters.
Erie County would be split to shift Democrats into the Republican-dominated 5th District held by Glenn Thompson and hand more Republicans to the 3rd District held by freshman Republican Mike Kelly.