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Redistricting proposal harmful to Mifflin, Juniata and other rural counties

Gerrymandering, the process of redistricting with the intent of preserving a political majority by either major party is wrong. Reasonable people find it hard to disagree with that.

But what about redistricting with the intent of diminishing the political representation of a particular group? For example, redistricting in southern states has been challenged in court in the past for diluting the voting power of minorities.

The Pennsylvania Legislative Redistricting Commission, which has proposed a new alignment in the wake of the 2020 census, is guilty not of reducing minority representation in the state legislature, but of dividing rural Pennsylvania in a way that will have a negative impact on the residents of smaller counties like Mifflin and Juniata.

Undoubtedly, this also will enhance the political power of the state’s urban areas — which could lead to one political party gaining power in the state house.

The means of doing this is to sever smaller counties — counties that already work together, have many things in common, and are represented in the state by local people who care about us — and merging them into districts with larger counties, who don’t have the same interests in the legislature.

Locally, this fiasco of a proposal will split the 82nd legislative district, which has been represented by a local resident for nearly 50 years — almost the entire life of the district, which was created in 1969 when the state ceased apportioning seats by county. Chances are, it will mean that after the next election, no matter where in Mifflin County or Juniata County you live, your state representative will not be from here, will not know who we are and may not have an interest in the same things we do.

Yes, there are portions of Mifflin County that are outside the 82nd now — and we appreciate the fact that Kerry Benninghoff of Centre County and Rich Irvin of Huntingdon County have served us well in Harrisburg and have made it a priority to make sure their constituents here feel fully represented. But with a slight downward population trend in both counties, this is a time to bring more of us together under the same legislative umbrella — not steal our representation through a different kind of gerrymander.

Think about the services shared between Mifflin and Juniata counties — human services agencies, chamber of commerce and visitors bureau, employers — and how they rely on local representation to have a voice in the commonwealth.

Now picture the two local counties each being in three different districts — with two of those being distant from either Lewistown or Mifflintown.

Under the current proposal, portions of Mifflin and Juniata counties will be shoved into the 85th district, along with Snyder and parts of Union counties (which, like our two, are being split further than they are currently, despite being joined at the hip much like Mifflin and Juniata).

Most of Juniata County would end up shifting into the 86th, with all of Perry County. While that county has rural aspects in common with our area — and shares a (non-political) judicial district with Juniata County — it is also a bedroom community for the Capital Region, with which we have little in common. Juniata Countians’ voice will clamor to be heard under this alignment.

Significant portions of Mifflin County would be shifted into the 171st (currently Benninghoff’s district), along with 10 Centre County municipalities. And if someone else from Centre County — which doesn’t always share our values — takes that seat, we may see a large part of Mifflin County muzzled.

The target size for a legislative district is between 63,000 and 67,000 residents. Mifflin and Juniata counties have about 70,000, so a few will still be in a different district. Wayne Township, and Kistler and Newton Hamilton boroughs are located close to Irvin’s 81st district and have commonalities with Huntingdon County, which he represents, including the Mount Union Area School District. A small portion of Juniata County is in Perry County’s Greenwood School District, and putting it in Perry Stambaugh’s 86th district would not be out of line — and if not within the target number, certainly would be close. If Armagh Township alone remains in the 171st, the vast majority of our two counties remain in a single district.

There is no other reasonable way to draw the lines — which makes it clear that this proposal is designed to diminish the influence of the people who live here.

The state constitution allows for any person aggrieved by the plan to voice their concerns. If you live in the current 82nd district, you need to speak up — now — or see us divided by Harrisburg.

We strongly encourage you to send your objection to this alignment in writing to 2021 Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission, P.O. Box 203079, Harrisburg, PA 17120. You may comment online as well at www.redistricting.state.pa.us.

Our counties are married in so many ways, and need to stay that way. Speak now, or we may forever be in pieces.

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