By Jon Delano

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Republican state House lawmakers are advancing a congressional redistricting plan that Democrats call partisan gerrymandering.

This comes as the legislature is under increasing pressure to act to avoid delaying the May 17 primary.

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On Tuesday and Wednesday, the state House of Representatives is considering a House Republican plan to redistrict the state’s 17 congressional districts, one less than the 18 we currently have.

The latest GOP map, say Democrats, would give Republicans a partisan advantage.

(Photo: Provided)

“At the end of the day, the best-case scenario would probably be 12 to 5, twelve Republicans to five Democrats,” state Rep. Scott Conklin, a State College Democrat, told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Tuesday.

In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 600,000, under this Republican map, twelve of the seventeen members of Congress would be Republicans, says Conklin, the senior Democrat on the State Government Committee whose Republicans drafted this bill without Democratic input.

“The Democratic party has not been involved. We’ve asked to be involved. I’ve not been involved, so again it’s just a waste of taxpayers’ money. We need to get serious about these things. We can’t just be playing politics,” says Conklin.

“It’s a very strong plan for western Pennsylvania, and it is true that we are losing population,” says state Rep. Eric Nelson, a Hempfield Republican.

Despite losing people in this region, Nelson on the State Government committee defends the Republican map which does keep at least four members of Congress in southwestern Pennsylvania.

It also puts all of Westmoreland County back into one district.

Delano: “Do you think there’s a Westmoreland politician who might like to run for Congress under this plan?”

Nelson: “I think this politician’s wife would have him sleeping in the barn if he chose to do something like that.”

While the GOP plan unites Westmoreland, it splits Butler County in half again and splits Washington County, moving Congressman Guy Reschenthaler and Peters Township into Congressman Conor Lamb’s 17th District, while moving Lamb and Mt. Lebanon out of the 17th into the new 15th District of Pittsburgh and the Mon Valley.

“We’re going to pass a map that has no chance of going anywhere. None,” says Conklin.

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At the end of the day, says Conklin, without Democratic support in the legislature, Gov. Tom Wolf will veto this Republican House bill, and state Senate Republicans have a very different bill of their own.

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“It’s kind of a messy, puzzling process right now,” says Carol Kuniholm, chair of Fair Districts PA, a citizens group that wants a transparent process with citizen review of maps before they’re approved.

Kuniholm says this last-minute behind-the-scenes map-drawing is a disservice to the public.

“Normally the congressional map would have been passed by the end of the year. It’s puzzling why they haven’t done that. There’s no reason. It doesn’t take that long to draw a congressional map. We know they’ve had plenty of time,” she says.

Democrats call this House Republican map a partisan gerrymander because 12 of the 17 congressional districts are likely to elect Republicans, and Democrats say they were shut out of the map-drawing process.

“The governor will not sign this map. The Democratic party has not been involved,” says Conklin.

Republicans say Democrats want the state Supreme Court to draw the congressional map.

“There hasn’t been the engagement because they feel they control the court, and they won last time,” says Nelson.

The failure of Republicans to work with Democratic lawmakers, and vice versa, is likely to require the court to intervene soon, says Kuniholm.

“I think that’s quite likely, yes. I think that’s quite likely. The time is short,” says Kuniholm.

And that, she says, means a delay in the May 17 primary.

“I think it’s inevitable that this will all end up in the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court will move the primary,” she says.

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On Monday, the state Supreme Court rejected a petition to take up this matter, hoping the legislature will approve a map acceptable to the governor. But the court left open the possibility of future petitions.