As we get ready for another presidential election, another battle is brewing around the corner in many states. Redistricting will occur in all 50 states in 2022. Some states will be easy, as they will either keep the same amount of districts or shrink down to one district, while others will face a much harder time in making the new map for the next decade. One of those states will be my home state of Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania was a crucial swing state throughout the past decade, and in 2018 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rewrote the congressional map that was used in three midterm elections. Their new map allowed Democrats to gain several seats in the 2018 midterms. As redistricting approaches, Pennsylvania legislators will again deal with a divided government and potentially another court-drawn map.
How did we get here?
A question always asked of myself when it comes to his subject is, “Why did the court redraw the map”? That’s a fairly easy one to answer. The Republican legislature and Democratic Governor Tom Wolf could not come to an agreement when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court told them to do a mid-decade redistricting of the congressional map, so the court took matters into their own hands and gave us the current congressional map of Pennsylvania. With that came what many consider a generally fairer map that really hurt suburban Republicans in the Philadelphia area.
After the court ruling, three suburban Republicans (Charlie Dent, Ryan Costello and Pat Meehan) faced newly Democratic districts. All three retired and all three districts flipped. The redrawn 17th district also saw a flip as Conor Lamb beat incumbent Keith Rothfus, but Lamb had to give up his redrawn 18th district seat which flipped to Republican Guy Reschenthaler. So the two redrawn seats in the Allegheny area cancelled each other out.
What comes next
Redistricting in Pennsylvania for 2022 is not going to be any easier. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, will hold the governor’s office until 2022. Additionally, Republican majorities in the state legislature will be weakened by then as many suburban Republicans either retire like Mike Turzai or lose. This will lead to another drawn out and long fight. It will only be made harder since Pennsylvania is losing a congressional seat after the 2020 census. No matter who draws the map in the end, someone will lose their congressional seat. Here are the candidates who I think could be on the chopping block for their seats.
Candidate #1: Glenn “G.T” Thompson (PA-15)
Thompson has been thrown around as one of the more likely names to be sacrificed in 2022. He was first elected in 2008 in what was the old 5th district and won every race in that seat easily before he was redistricted in 2018. The new 15th district is every bit as conservative as the old 5th, however.
Unlike most of his fellow members of Congress in the state, Thompson’s district did not change all that much. He lost some to the new 16th and a little to the new 12th, but otherwise it stayed the very rural district it was. And that’s why it could end up hurting him. The current 15th can very easily be drawn in to the 12th and 16th to shore up their rapidly losing population. However, Thompson is next in line for Agriculture chair if the GOP would win back the House before he retires, making him not the best choice to remove.
Candidate #2: Mike Kelly (PA-16)
Mike Kelly was redrawn into the 16th district for 2018 and faced a close call in his race for re-election. He has also had his share of controversies. Kelly is a car salesman by trade and his business has been caught multiple times selling cars with recall notices.
Above all that, there are multiple rumors that Kelly is not the most likable member of Congress on either side. That alone would make it hard for him to run again, but his district is also based in Erie, which is rapidly losing population.
No other major population centers are in the 16th, so the district itself could be doomed. It remains to be seen how the legislature would do this but it is certain that nobody would lose sleep over it.
Candidate #3: Conor Lamb (PA-17)
Before all you moderate Democrats come after me, let me explain. Western Pennsylvania is not getting better for your party. It is likely that any deal will make Lamb’s seat more Republican. So why not free him up and allow him to take over a statewide office?
If things go well for Democrats in 2022, they could let him take the Attorney General spot. Current AG Josh Shapiro will have a new job if it’s another wave year for Democrats and he could then very easily appoint Lamb to fill in his current job. This would allow Lamb to continue to grow his statewide credentials as the next big-name Democrat to run in Pennsylvania.
Whether that would mean quickly taking a stab at an open seat in 2024 if Senator Bob Casey Jr. retires or running for a full term as AG, there would be options available for Lamb. This would free up a big name for statewide Democrats and would allow for Lamb to walk away without any losses on his record.
Deal or no deal?
The short answer is a pretty likely no. Bar some bigger surprises in the legislative elections this fall, the GOP will have control of the state legislature. This would give Governor Tom Wolf and state Democrats all the more reason to punt back to a more favorable state Supreme Court when the time comes. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is currently 5-2 for Democrats and is not changing anytime soon. If it does change, Democrats should pause over punting redistricting back to the Supreme Court again.
The 2020 Ballot Issue
One of the few victories in recent years for Pennsylvania Republicans is that they were able to get an issue regarding the Supreme Court on the ballot in 2020. Under the proposal, justices will each have separate districts to run in as opposed to the current system where all are elected statewide. According to the Pennsylvania GOP, this is to make sure that rural areas can have more representation on the Supreme Court. Democrats claim that this is just a way for the GOP to take control of the PASC.
If the ballot issue does get large amounts of campaign time, which it will, it could very easily come down to how the presidential election turns out. In fact, a singular tweet from the President saying he supports this measure would further polarize the issue. With that up in the air, it might not be the worst idea for Democrats to look at making a deal with Republicans over the new map.
How this will go
No matter what, this upcoming redistricting cycle is going to be another painful battle for Pennsylvania. Our legislators, governor, and the PASC will fight over this for months when it becomes the next point of discussion. It will be interesting to watch as it is one of the crucial redistricting battles across the nation. Make no mistake, redistricting is going to be another long slugfest in Pennsylvania, and the stakes don’t get much higher than this.