Somerset County residents testify against reapportionment plan
Pamela Tokar-Ickes (Submitted photo)
County Commissioner Pamela Tokar-Ickes was among eight delegates who testified during a public hearing before the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission.
Preliminary redistricting maps released in October show Democratic state Sen. Richard Kasunic no longer representing Somerset County and Democratic state Sen. John Wozniak's district reduced to Windber Borough and Paint Borough.
Tokar-Ickes said the county has built productive relationships with its state senators.
"The complete loss of Sen. Kasunic and (the reduction) of Sen. Wozniak's district will be a loss to our county," Tokar-Ickes testified. She provided the Daily American with a written copy of her testimony. "They understand our county's needs and have used their leadership positions to give our county a strong voice in Harrisburg.
"Their loss will diminish the voice of those (Somerset County residents) they now represent."
Jeff Silka, executive director of the Somerset County Economic Development Council, seconded Tokar-Ickes' testimony. Silka attended the hearing with Tokar-Ickes, Dave Mankamyer, Alan Rhoads, Len Lichvar, Mary Libengood, Kerry Claycomb and Andy Tvardzik. He said the group of delegates stood unified on the stance regarding reapportionment.
Silka said the biggest loss for Somerset County is the loss of Kasunic.
"We've benefited greatly from having that singular, senior voice in Harrisburg," Silka said. "We can speak to (Kasunic), he knows our issues and he knows us well."
The preliminary redistricting maps also split the county between Republican state Sens. Kim Ward, based in Westmoreland County, and Donald White, based in Indiana County. Republican state Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar would gain more of Bedford County while losing some of Somerset County. State Rep. Mike Reese, a Republican from Westmoreland County, would pick up most of southwestern Somerset County.
Tokar-Ickes testified that Somerset County will be further challenged at a time when resources are already stretched thin.
"From a practical standpoint, fragmenting Somerset County into six districts will make advocacy increasingly difficult for both county and municipal officials," Tokar-Ickes said. "It will be necessary to coordinate with six separate elected officials and six separate staffs on every key issue that is important to Somerset County, which could ultimately present challenges to attaining consensus."
Tokar-Ickes said the county, with fewer than 78,000 people, will become the "tag-along" of Ward's and White's districts.
"Most of our decisions are not based on what we want to do, but rather on how we meet and pay for the mandates that county government is required to provide," she said.
"People don't believe in government anymore or certainly are suspect of political processes," Tokar-Ickes added. "We must be careful not to unintentionally disenfranchise segments of our population who may not feel that their political party or their vote matters."
The group of Somerset County delegates also submitted a petition signed by 2,100 county residents urging the commission to change its stance on reapportionment.
The Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission is scheduled to make a final determination on redistricting maps in December.