Trial considers whether voters are harmed by redistricting
PHILADELPHIA — With more competitive congressional districts, representatives would be more likely to work with the opposing party and listen more closely to their constituents, Democrats suing for a new congressional map in Pennsylvania told a panel of judges Tuesday.
Louis Agre, the lead plaintiff in the case being heard in Philadelphia, said too many incumbents now are mostly concerned about primary challenges from the fringes within their own parties. With redrawn lines, he said, “we would have hopefully people in competitive districts working together to solve our problems.”
Agre, a union official and ward leader in a Philadelphia voting district, and other Democratic voters are making the novel legal claim that no partisan considerations should be given when lawmakers approve district boundaries. They want the court to throw out the 2011 map in Pennsylvania. Since it was adopted, Republicans have won 13 of the state’s 18 seats in the House of Representatives each year — even in 2012, when more total votes were cast for Democrats.
Scarnati, Turzai not testifying: The trial is moving quickly and could wrap up this week. Lawyers said two Republican lawmakers who could have shed light on the creation of the map — state Senate President pro tempore Joseph Scarnati and House Speaker Mike Turzai — would not be called to testify.
Lawyers for those Republican legislative leaders, who are the main defendants, pushed Agre and other plaintiffs to agree in ways they are not harmed by the district lines being drawn as they are. They’re still able to vote, contribute money to candidates they support, speak up in public and contact their representatives.
Agre, for instance, said he talks about twice a month with Rep. Bob Brady, a Philadelphia Democrat who represents a district adjacent to Agre’s.
A lawyer for the legislative leaders explored why the plaintiffs challenged the congressional map only in October, six years after it was made. Some plaintiffs said they became politically active only after last year’s presidential election and helped form progressive groups whose issues of concern include fair congressional districts.
One of them was James Magidson, a Democrat from Haverford, outside Philadelphia. His U.S. House district is represented by a Republican. Kathleen Gallagher, a lawyer for the legislative leaders, asked him if he’d be part of the suit if a Democrat had won the last three elections in his district. Magidson said he would.
Gallagher asked, “This was about Donald Trump’s election, not just your district, fair to say?”
He said that wasn’t the case. He said he didn’t realize until recently that the congressional map could be challenged.
Other plaintiffs include Reagan Hauer, from the Philadelphia suburb of Downingtown. She’s a Democrat in a sprawling district represented by Republican Ryan Costello.
She said she’d prefer a competitive district, “particularly because I tend to be moderate and I like to see competition between the two parties and occasionally see a Republican or occasionally see a Democrat that I want to vote for.”
Hauer said she was upset that Costello voted for a tax overhaul that Congress is working on. But she acknowledged that, perhaps bowing to pressure in his district, he voted against a Republican plan to scrap much of former President Barack Obama’s health insurance overhaul — something she wanted him to do.
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