With new state legislative maps, Pa. communities of color can elect leaders who represent them

With new state legislative maps, Pa. communities of color can elect leaders who represent them

Published July 12, 2022
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Last year’s legislative reapportionment process resulted in maps, particularly in the state House, that will offer BIPOC communities across the commonwealth an unprecedented opportunity to choose elected officials who will truly represent them and help build a brighter future for these communities who have been overlooked for far too long.

This May’s primary elections were the first to be held under the new maps drawn last year by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission. We at Pennsylvania Voice, along with our partners, advocated for racial equity to be a core consideration during the reapportionment process.

When the maps were adopted, House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton said, “We have about 20 percent people of color in the commonwealth. This map should have, finally, for the first time in the House, 20% people of color in the House.” We agreed that the final maps represented a significant improvement.

The results of May’s primaries have confirmed this belief, and the next iteration of the General Assembly will be far more reflective of Pennsylvania’s demographics than it has been over the past 30 years. We predict the ability for communities of color to elect candidates of choice in the Pennsylvania State House will continue to improve with each election cycle under these maps over the next 10 years.

There are two districts with large Latino populations that nominated members of the Latino community to run for currently unoccupied seats in the State House. In House District 116, a district based in Hazelton that is 43% Latino, a percentage that is up from 32% under the old maps, Yesenia Rodriguez will move on to the general election to vie for the seat recently vacated by Tarah Toohill. In Berks County, House District 129, which is 39% Latino, Johanny Cepeda-Freyitz moves onto the general election to fill a seat currently held by Mark Rozzi, who is not running in the district.

In Lancaster, an area where Keystone Counts partner organization CASA was very active, a new seat was created, House District 49, that is 39% Latinx and 12% Black. Both contenders in the primary for what should be a safe Democratic seat came from BIPOC communities, with Izzy Smith-Wade-El defeating Janet Diaz to move on to November.

» READ MORE: Pennsylvania’s new House map can fix decades of gerrymandering | Opinion

In Harrisburg, which is currently represented by Patty Kim, who is Asian-American, there are two new seats. Kim won her primary and will continue to represent House District 103. In House District 104, David Madsen, who is Black, won a primary for a safe Democratic seat and Justin Fleming, who is also Black, won his primary, so Harrisburg city will likely be represented by three candidates of color in 2023.

While this first round of results is encouraging, they represent only five of the state legislative elections that will take place with these new maps. Pennsylvania grew more slowly than other states over the past 10 years, and as a result, we lost a seat in Congress. In fact almost all of Pennsylvania’s growth over the past decade came from growth in BIPOC communities.

These maps were drawn to account for that growth, and as these demographic trends continue, we’re optimistic about more opportunities for BIPOC communities to elect leaders of their choice. There is still much work to be done, but these maps represent an important first step towards making Pennsylvania’s General Assembly an institution that better reflects the communities it serves.

Salewa Ogunmefun is the executive director of Pennsylvania Voice.