Latino activists rally in Harrisburg against Pennsylvania's legislative map

Angel Ortiz: "Latinos are getting the shaft."
Angel Ortiz: "Latinos are getting the shaft."
Posted: February 28, 2012

HARRISBURG - Fearful that the rights of the state's fastest-growing minority group are being violated, a coalition of Latino groups is urging legislators to delay the Pennsylvania primary election to ensure that the state's 700,000 Latinos are properly represented.

Latino activists, speaking at a news conference in the Capitol Rotunda, said allowing the primary to be held April 24 using 2001 maps that do not account for recent growth in the state's Latino population would be unconstitutional and discriminatory. The 2001 maps are based on the 2000 census.

"Latinos are getting the shaft in the redistricting process," said former Philadelphia City Councilman Angel Ortiz, surrounded by 25 Latino students bearing flags of their countries of origin.

Speakers at the event lashed out at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for ruling new legislative maps invalid last month. The 4-3 decision sent members of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission back to the drawing board.

"Our justice system has failed us," said Jose Rosado, mayor of Fountain Hill Borough, near Bethlehem.

Ortiz and many other speakers at Monday's event are Democrats; their objections to the court's decision put them in an unlikely alliance with Republican legislative leaders who, thanks to their holding majority control of the General Assembly, held sway this time over the remapping process that is triggered every 10 years by the census.

In its ruling, the high court said the GOP-crafted maps based on the 2010 census violated the state constitution's mandate against splitting municipalities into different legislative districts unless absolutely necessary.

Latino activists - among them, Latino Lines, the group behind a previous unsuccessful effort to challenge the 2001 maps in federal court - said using those maps, when the Hispanic population had grown 46 percent in the last decade, violated their constitutional voting rights.

The maps rejected by the state court fashioned three new so-called "majority minority" districts - in Allentown, Reading, and Philadelphia - in which people of Latino background constituted the majority.

But in North Philadelphia, Ortiz said, the map also split the 197th District - its seat vacant since State Rep. Jewell Williams quit to become Philadelphia sheriff last month - in a way that would pit African Americans against Hispanics.

"Were we satisfied with the percentages?" Ortiz said. "Yes, but it put one community of interest against another."

The five-member Legislative Reapportionment Commission is crafting new maps for 203 House seats and 50 Senate seats to meet the court-ordered changes.

The commission was scheduled to vote on the new preliminary plan Tuesday but announced Monday that it had postponed the meeting and would instead meet at 1 p.m. Friday.

With less than 10 weeks to go until the primary, it would be virtually impossible to have new district maps in effect by then, given the two 30-day comment periods that are required, not to mention another round of potential court challenges. That leaves two alternatives: Use the 2001 maps, or postpone the primary.

Changing the primary date is no easy feat, requiring legislative approval in the House and Senate and Gov. Corbett's signature.

Meanwhile, House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin said details of the final maps were still being worked out.

"We hope to have a final map ready for a vote Friday that meets the new standards set by the Supreme Court in its recent decision," he said.

Contact Amy Worden at 717-783-2584,, or @inkyamy on Twitter.

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