Wall Street Journal Cites PA’s 11th District as Case Study in Extreme Gerrymandering

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Today’s front page of the Wall Street Journal featured an article titled “GOP Redistricting Bolsters Vulnerable House Members” which used our very own 11th District as a case study in the extreme gerrymandering done by the GOP after the 2010 census.  The article also briefly mentions Congressman Jim Gerlach’s district as a milder example, as well as Democrat Tim Holden’s seat.

Bill Vinsko, the first declared Democratic challenger to Barletta, announced that he was running last summer.  Vinsko has been the assistant city attorney for Wilkes-Barre since 2002, and also owns a private-practice law firm with his brother, Brian, and serves as the president and chairman of the board for VPharm, Inc., a local pharmacy that serves nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

After announcing his candidacy in July, Vinsko’s house was drawn a football toss away from the district lines after the GOP gerrymandering process.

“This is a prime example of the extreme partisanship that has really hurt the United States and the people of Pennsylvania,” said Vinsko.

While Republicans will not admit that it was done purposefully, the cut-out literally looks like an arrow to Vinsko’s house.  Further adding credibility to the idea that this was done purposefully, Vinsko raised $84,972.16 in his first campaign finance report submitted in October, and $80,144 of that total was from individual contributions.

Vinsko totals were only about $15,000 shy of Barletta’s totals for the quarter.

“Our campaign will bring back the voice of the people to Washington, and fulfill a promise to protect Medicare and Social Security, not just for the Greatest Generation but for every generation that follows,” Vinsko added.  “I am also firmly committed to creating sustainable jobs and opportunities for all Americans.  It’s time we elect people to Congress who have a plan for our future.”

The relevant portions of the WSJ article [warning, paywall], written by Naftali Bendavid, are quoted below:

In seeking re­election, Republican Rep. Lou Barletta might expect to be getting clobbered. Elected in 2010 from a Democratic-leaning district where he lost twice before, he proceeded to vote a nearly straight Republican Party line in Congress, and faced such hostility at town-hall meetings back home that he stopped doing them for a while.

But at a recent reception here, Mr. Barletta was greeted by “Lou!” signs and constituents who murmured appreciatively as he told stories of how he fought against illegal immigration.

“There are many more Republicans that I’m talking to than in the past,” Mr. Barletta said. “When we talk politics and ideology, it’s much easier.”

His change of fortune is due to redistricting, the rough-and-tumble process of redrawing political maps after each census.

Throughout history, Republicans and Democrats alike have used the reshaping of congressional districts to increase the number of House seats they can win. What’s different this time is that Republicans, in states such as Pennsylvania where they have control of the process, are focused instead on fortifying the seats they already hold. They are trying to bolster vulnerable Republican incumbents, including freshman legislators swept into office in the party’s 2010 midterm tidal wave.

For Mr. Barletta, that meant adding Republican-leaning parts of Pennsylvania to his district and jettisoning Democratic-leaning areas. Overnight, he went from vulnerable to ironclad.

To help Mr. Barletta, GOP leaders shifted two Democratic-leaning cities, Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, out of his district and into that of a Democrat, Tim Holden. That made the Democrat more secure, but he was expected to hold his seat anyway.

GOP leaders took one Wedge out of Mr. Barletta’s 11th congressional district that Democrats say looks drawn specifically to exclude the home of Mr. Barletta’s leading Democratic challenger, Bill Vinsko. Although a candidate doesn’t have to live in a House district to represent it, in practical terms, not being there is a political disadvantage.

Mr. Vinsko stood outside his home on the shore of the Susquehanna River on a recent day and pointed to the new district line, three stop signs away from his house in one direction and 50 yards in another.

“I get that this is part ofthe game,” he said. “But this [spot] has been part of the 11th district for 169 years. And on Dec. 17th, they felt it should no longer be in.”

Republicans say they didn’t target Mr. Vinsko’s house. “This is the first time I’ve heard that gentleman’s name,” said the leader of state Senate Republicans, Dominic Pileggi, sponsor of the redistricting bill in his chamber. “I’m not saying someone might not have had some thoughts about it, but certainly nothing that rose to my attention.”

Besides snipping off Democratic-leaning areas, the state GOP leaders added to Mr. Barletta’s district a chunk of territory that tends to vote Republican. In all, the changes switched Mr. Barletta’s district from one in which Mr. Bush Won 47% of the vote in 2004 to one Where Mr. Bush would have won about 57%, based on how various precincts voted.

Lately, Mr. Barletta has been introducing himself to a Warmer audience, the 400,000 new constituents from Republican-leaning areas of Pennsylvania that were added to his district.

Mr. Barletta, back in his Washington office, said he was “certainly not complaining” about the redrawing of his district.

His office Wall sported a framed jersey of the Penguins, a minor-league hockey team in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, the cities whose Democratic-leaning voters have been stripped from his district. Mr. Barletta said he might have to take the jersey down.

About Jake Sternberger

Jake Sternberger is a recovering/relapsing political professional who has been a contributor to Keystone Politics since 2011. Sternberger covers campaigns and elections for KP, drawing from his experience working on local, county, congressional, and statewide PA races doing field, oppo, comms, and as CM. He is currently a law student. Email: jakes@keystonepolitics.com Twitter: @JakeSternberger
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