Will Philly lose a congressional seat?

As we've covered before, the 2010 US Census is fast approaching. Since legislative redistricting is tied to the census, Pennsylvania's sluggish population growth means that the state may lose a seat in Congress. According to at least one lawmaker, that means we can expect to see fireworks in Harrisburg once the process starts.

Each side will try to favor its party by loading its own voters into districts that typically have close elections.

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"That's going to be a battle royale," state Rep. Thomas R. Caltagirone, a Reading Democrat, said of reapportionment.

These battles are exactly why we have some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country. Thankfully, not everyone in the legislature sees the census in purely political terms.

"They chopped up Berks County," said state Rep. Dante Santoni, a Reading Democrat. "I hope it doesn't get as political as it did 10 years ago."

"We worked across party lines in 1991 to keep the county unified, but national politics directed reapportionment here last time in 2002 and, unfortunately, split the county up," said state Sen. Michael A. O'Pake, a Reading Democrat. "When you have four people supposedly representing the county, the question really is whose responsibility it is to be an advocate for Berks because I think it dilutes our strength when it comes to federal issues or aid."

Of course, Caltagirone has some thoughts about which part of the state should lose a congressional seat. His suggestion? Hint: It's not Reading.

"Probably Philly will lose the seat, but Pittsburgh and the southwest have lost a lot of people, too," Caltagirone said.

Philadelphia's population declined to 1.48 million in 2008 from 1.52 million in 2000.

We might hate the idea of losing a congressional seat, but the numbers don't lie. If the census shows that population has dropped, we'll need some kind of process to redraw the congressional landscape.

Right now, the reappointment process is controlled by the state legislature. That automatically makes the process political, and it's why our congressional(and legislative) districts resemble jigsaw puzzles. So, how should it be done? There are a lot of reform ideas, but one state jumps out as a good model. In Washington State, redistricting is handled by an independent commission. Check out its website. Also, check out our special page on Harrisburg reform for more about redistricting.

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