Welcome to the 9th Congressional District, the sprawling result of a reapportionment that saw heavily Democratic Washington and Greene counties in 2012 shift to Republican Congressional representation for the first time in 80-plus years.
And considering the way the congressional district boundaries have been drawn, it’s a good bet Washington and Greene will have GOP representation in Washington, D.C., for quite some time.
The 9th, in particular, has become known as a gerrymandered district, stretching from Waynesburg in Greene County, to Waynesboro in Franklin County, a distance of about 180 miles, and taking in all or part of 10 other counties in between.
The district has been represented by Bill Shuster since 2001, succeeding his father, Republican Rep. Bud Shuster.
Shuster of Hollidaysburg, Blair County, has two Republican challengers in Tuesday’s primary – Travis G. Schooley of Quincy Township, Franklin County, a former municipal manager, and Arthur L. Halvorson of Harrison Township, Bedford County, a commercial real estate investor. Incumbent U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, whose 18th District completes Republican control in this two-county area, is unopposed.
In 2002, after a redistricting that follows each decennial U.S. Census, Centre County was taken out of the 9th District and Somerset, Cambria, Indiana, Fayette, and Cumberland, which was later moved to the 11th District following the 2011 shuffle, were added.
It was after this latest redistricting that the 9th moved even further to the west, gaining Westmoreland, and parts of Greene and Washington counties. Shuster was once quoted saying it takes him about four hours to drive from one side of his district to the other.
In Greene County, Shuster represents the townships of Cumberland, Dunkard, Greene, Jefferson, Monongahela and Morgan (Chartiers/Teagarden and Mather), and the boroughs of Carmichaels, Clarksville, Greensboro, Jefferson and Rices Landing.
Murphy’s representation includes the townships of Aleppo, Center, Franklin, Freeport, Gilmore, Gray, Jackson, Morgan (Lippencott), Morris, Perry, Richhill, Springhill, Washington, Wayne and Whiteley, and the borough of Waynesburg.
In Washington County, the 9th is focused in the Mon Valley, taking in 21 municipalities, while the rest of the county is in the 18th District.
So, the question now comes down to, “Do you know who your congressman is?”
If you live in Morgan Township in Greene County that could be a tough question to answer, depending on which side of the road you live.
Morgan Township has three precincts – Chartiers/Teagarden, Mather and Lippencott. The first two precincts fall within the 9th District, while Lippincott is in Murphy’s 18th District.
“Yes, this is very peculiar,” said Morgan Township Supervisor Chairman Shirl Barnhart, a Democrat.
He could offer no plausible explanation why his township was divided, but did offer this assessment: “In my position, it gives me two people who I can call on.”
State Rep. Pam Snyder happens to live in the 9th District part in Morgan Township, but she cannot vote in the Republican primary. “Thank goodness I am a Democrat,” she said.
However, she called the splitting of Morgan “unfortunate,” and was quite critical of the reapportionment process.
“We need an independent commission to draw the lines. It should not be political, but scientific and technical. This could have been done with just the push of a button,” she said.
Jim Minor, chairman of the Greene County Republican Committee, seemed rather accepting of the far-flung 9th District.
“That was the spirit of those who drew up the district,” Minor said. He said the district’s configuration is “interesting, but not confusing, but I will admit the split in Morgan Township is unique.”
He didn’t think voters are confused by the unusual representation in Morgan Township. “I am fairly certain everyone knows which congressional district they are in,” he said.
However Greene County Republican Commissioner Archie Trader thinks the situation in Morgan Township is confusing to the voters. “It is very strange indeed,” he said.
Trader said he is not pleased with the fact the Jefferson-Morgan School District is split.
“The reapportionment was to have been done by school disricts and all but J-M are intact,” he said.
Perhaps the best way to define these two congressional districts in Greene County is to use Route 221 as a measuring stick. If one were to travel on Route 221, passing the Greene County County Club on the right, (which would be in Murphy’s district) Route 188 would lie just ahead. If you turn left and head toward Jefferson, you are in Shuster’s district. Make a right and proceed toward Waynesburg, you are traveling in Murphy’s district.
One thing the reapportioners did in Greene County was to ensure each congressman had the same number of precincts – 22. The difference, however, is that Shuster has 11 municipalities while Murphy has 16. “Is that a big deal?
“Probably not,” said Tina Kiger, director of elections for Greene County.
On Tuesday, the 232 registered Republican voters in in the two Morgan Township precincts in Shuster’s district will have a congressional contest. For those 187 GOP voters in Lippencott – well, maybe next time.