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Local leaders question redistricting proposal

SPOTLIGHT PA/SUN-GAZETTE GRAPHIC Proposed maps for the state legislature have drawn criticism by area leaders, who say the new districts mix suburban and rural communities and divide up school districts.

A proposed redistricting map shuffling boundary lines of state lawmakers is not sitting well with local leaders.

Montoursville Mayor Steve Bagwell, for one, doesn’t like how his home school district would be split into two House districts.

“I think the Montoursville Area School District should remain in one area,” he said. “I can’t see splitting it up into two different districts.”

Bagwell and others including state Reps. Joe Hamm, R-Hepburn Township and Jeff Wheeland, R-Loyalsock Township, count themselves among those not crazy about the proposed redistricting.

Hamm has gone as far as calling it “unconstitutional,” claiming that legislative districts must be drawn to be compact and contiguous.

“My district is the most egregiously drawn,” he said.

Under the proposed mapping scenario, Hamm would lose several of the municipalities he now represents while gaining others.

Some of the more rural municipalities he represents such as Muncy and Wolf and Mill Creek townships would shift to Wheeland’s 83rd District, which has traditionally encompassed Williamsport and the more suburban communities of the city.

“They are intermixing the urban and rural areas,” Hamm said.

As a result, a lawmaker could be faced with representing constituents with more varied rather than common interests.

“I am obviously opposed to what they are doing,” he said.

Hamm is referring to the five-member Legislative Reapportionment Commission comprised of two Democratic and two Republican legislative leaders along with Mark Nordenberg, the commission’s nonpartisan chair who cast the deciding tie-breaking vote on the map last month. The map is now under review.

“If people believe this map disenfranchises them or splits them, they should speak out,” Hamm said.

What Hamm referred to as “communities of interest” should not be split unless absolutely necessary.

“If you have competing interests,” Bagwell said, “it doesn’t serve anyone well.”

Bagwell said his issue has nothing to do with who holds a particular legislative seat or even political parties.

Wheeland noted that Lycoming County has long been represented by two House members, and under the proposed redistricting, that would change with Republican Stephanie Borowicz’s 76th District moving east into parts of Lycoming County. Her district now encompasses parts of Centre County and all of Clinton County.

Wheeland said a new map ideally keeps intact his 83rd District representing Williamsport and the surrounding more populated municipalities.

“That would leave the 84th with smaller municipalities and rural areas. That meant communities of interest,” he said. “And it worked very, very well. The 84th could concentrate on rural issues and the other on city and suburban issues. That is not so much so with this map. It is blending communities of interest.”

For now, he said he is unsure how the remapping will eventually play out.

“Will it remain the same?” he said. “Who knows? Will it end up in court? Probably.”

Wheeland said the proposed changes to legislative districts are the result of a ripple effect that divides State College into separate districts.

“I think they were so focused on State College, that the fallout came our way,” he said.

State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, said the proposed map doesn’t greatly alter his 23rd District, although it does call for him losing his half of Susquehanna County.

He said it’s best for lawmakers to represent full counties.

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