2012-03-08 / Local & State

Legislative Races Begin Despite Redistricting Mess

By Peter Jackson

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Some may wring their hands and complain, but Michael Schlossberg is basking on the bright side of Pennsylvania's legislative redistricting mess.

The 28-year- old Allentown city councilman is the only candidate on the ballot for an open seat in his House district, all but assuring him of election in November.

Two other people had announced plans to run for the seat based on district boundaries that were redrawn by a special commission. But the state Supreme Court scuttled that plan and forced the 2012 election to be based on the old district boundaries, leaving a wouldbe Democratic challenger outside the district, and a Republican candidate withdrew from the race.

“I’m literally like the luckiest man alive,” said Schlossberg, who is running for the seat long held by Democratic Rep. Jennifer Mann, who is retiring when her term ends this year.

The court’s 4-3 ruling, handed down in late January while candidates were circulating their nominating petitions, angered some legislative leaders, created confusion over the election calendar and threw the redistricting process into disarray.

As of Friday, it remained unclear what the next step will be for the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, which consists of the Democratic and Republican leaders in both houses and a judge whom the Supreme Court appointed as chairman.

Spokesmen for both parties said the decision has crimped their election planning.

When the decision came down, “we lost about 25 percent of our recruited candidates” because they lived in the new districts, not the old ones, said Ethan Smith, executive director of the House Democratic Campaign Committee. Democrats scrambled to recruit replacement candidates and in most cases succeeded, he said.

“The court majority committed a lot of damage,” said Steve Miskin, spokesman for the House Republican majority.

Still, alongside the redistricting debate, the election process trudges along.

In the House, where all 203 seats are up for election, 76 incumbents are running unopposed for re-election – 44 Republicans and 32 Democrats.

Also unopposed are Democrats Schlossberg and Steve McCarter, a retired social studies teacher from the Philadelphia suburb of Cheltenham who is running for the seat Rep. Lawrence Curry is vacating.

McCarter said his status has nothing to do with redistricting, but rather resulted from the withdrawal of his only opponent in the heavily Democratic district.

“It makes life a lot easier,” McCurry said.

Twenty other House seats are open – meaning that no incumbent is running. Twelve of the seats are currently held by Democrats and eight by Republicans.

In the Senate, 25 of the 50 seats are up for grabs. Eight incumbents – five Democrats and three Republicans are unopposed. GOP Rep. Scott Hutchinson, R-Venango, is also unopposed for the seat Sen. Mary Jo White, R-Venango, is vacating after this year.

Four Senate seats are open, all currently held by Republicans.

Republicans currently control both chambers, outnumbering Democrats 112- 91 in the House and 30-20 in the Senate.

It's way too early to make big-picture predictions about what may happen in this year's elections. Candidates may still be added to or subtracted from the ballot.

Independent candidates and the nominees of third parties, such as the Greens and the Libertarians, have until Aug. 1 to qualify.

Criminal proceedings could change the status of two incumbents from western Pennsylvania.

Rep. Bill DeWeese, DGreene, has been convicted of multiple felonies in a corruption case. DeWeese, who is unopposed in his bid for re-election, has said he will step down by the time he is sentenced, as state law requires.

His sentencing is slated for April 24 – the date of the primary election.

In Pittsburgh, a corruption retrial is under way for GOP Sen. Jane Orie, who is charged with crimes including theft of services and conflict of interest for allegedly ordering legislative employees to do political campaign work that benefited the senator and her sister, state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin.

Orie's current term runs through 2014, but she could be forced out of the Senate if she is convicted and sentenced.

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