New map, new issue: Many congressional district offices delayed across Pa.
The Congressional Management Foundation has been helping lawmakers with things like constituent services since 1977, and its president says he's never seen anything like what's now happening in Pennsylvania.
A new, court-ordered congressional map that took effect earlier this month complicated the opening of new district offices for many of the state's congressional representatives — a problem typically only faced by incoming freshmen.
Per House rules, member-elects are unable to use any expenditures or take official actions, including toward offices in their new districts, until they're sworn in, which this year occurred Thursday, Jan. 3.
But with the February 2018 state Supreme Court's decision to redraw congressional lines because of Republican-favored gerrymandering, both freshman and experienced representatives still don't have all of their new, local offices open.
A new problem: Bradford Fitch, president of the Congressional Management Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works with congressional members to enhance their operations, said he'd previously never thought of this issue.
"Given the scope of the changes that were made through redistricting, a problem of this scale hasn't come up in the past in Congress as far as I know," said Fitch, who has worked with Congress for more than three decades. "This is the first time I've ever heard of this happening."
Last week, representatives for York County's congressmen — Republican Reps. Scott Perry and Lloyd Smucker, of the 10th and 11th districts, respectively — confirmed neither has yet opened offices in the county.
Perry, whose district previously included all of York County, had an office on East Market Street in Springettsbury Township, but he closed it last month.
With the new, court-drawn congressional lines, the 10th District now includes northern York County, part of Cumberland County and all of Dauphin County. The 11th district includes Lancaster and southern York counties.
Representatives for both Perry and Smucker cited the House rules as the reason for the delay in York County office openings. Both said local offices are in the works; in the meantime, the representatives' Washington, D.C., offices and district offices outside of York County are open and available to constituents.
A spokeswoman for Smucker said he's already selected office locations in Red Lion and Hanover, but no announcement has been made about when they will be open. Neither representative immediately responded to inquiries Friday, Jan. 11, about whether opening dates have been set.
Effects of a lack of offices: While such a delay is typical for incoming freshman members, Fitch said Pennsylvania's redistricting broadened the impact of the House rules.
"There's certainly going to be a delay in having face-to-face interactions with staff members in a physical office," he said. "I can see how it could be frustrating for staffers and constituents."
The York Dispatch put out calls to all 18 of Pennsylvania's congressional representatives. Of the nine whose spokespeople responded, six of the lawmakers were incumbents who reported having issues because of the new congressional lines.
A spokesman for Rep. Mike Doyle, a Democrat representing southwestern counties, agreed the new lines hindered his boss' ability to open offices in the new district, as leases are still being negotiated.
Rep. Glenn Thompson, a Republican representing northwestern counties, faced the same issue, his spokeswoman said.
Other lawmakers, such as Rep. Brendan Boyle, a Philadelphia-area Democrat, and Rep. John Joyce, a freshman Republican representing a handful of southern counties, were able to mitigate the issue to some extent.
Boyle moved into his Philadelphia office the day he was sworn in; Joyce also opened his Franklin County office on Jan. 3, but other offices in his district are still pending lease agreements.
Some lawmakers, though, had an advantage.
Rep. Susan Wild, for example, was sworn in as a freshman representative to the Lehigh Valley area in November because she won a special election, therefore giving her office enough time to prepare by swearing-in day.
Rep. Dwight Evans, a Philadelphia-area Democrat, serves a district that didn't change much from the redistricting process, so he didn't open any new offices, according to his spokesman.
Possible effects of shutdown: While not the case for any of the state representatives who responded, a congressional representative wishing to set up an office in any federal building may have been prevented from doing so because of the ongoing government shutdown.
The shutdown over border wall funding went into effect at midnight Dec. 21 and affected roughly 25 percent of government agencies.
That includes the General Service Administration and Department of Homeland Security, said Hunter Ridgeway, spokesman for Rep. Matt Cartwright, a Democrat representing northeastern counties who's in the process of opening a new office.
The GSA acts as a sort of "landlord" for federal buildings, he said. The DHS also provides security for such buildings.
As a result, the lapse of funding to both entities would most likely affect a lawmakers' ability to move into a federally overseen office space, he said.
While it's clear a variety of congressional representatives — both old and new — are facing issues with opening local offices as a result of redistricting, that doesn't mean they're going to give up on constituents, Fitch said.
"This doesn't mean staff members can't service constituents remotely," he said. "They're going to leap through any hurdles to help their constituents."
— Logan Hullinger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.
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