Electoral Districts in Happy Valley
I am writing from “Happy Valley” in central Pennsylvania. Happy Valley is recognized throughout Pennsylvania, the United States, and even internationally as the home of Penn State University. The world sees Happy Valley as a culturally, economically, and functionally distinct community. However, our representation in the state legislature and the U.S. Congress does not even recognize that Happy Valley is a valley, bordered by steep ridges that are hard to cross in bad weather. Here, as in most Appalachian regions, growth and development have mostly proceeded on the valley floor. These geographic realities are ignored by the election districts overlaid on our valley, which is currently split between two U.S. congressional districts and four PA House districts. My own municipality of 20,000 people, Ferguson Township, is split across three House districts. My House district (PA 81) crosses over the ridges on both sides of the valley. My representative is from Huntingdon, 35 miles away by car., and the district extends another 40 miles beyond that. This degree of political fragmentation flies in the face of the valley's substantial population, unique concerns and opportunities, shared government services, and co-dependent economic activities. The university is central to the local economy and everyone’s quality of life. Forty thousand young adults are in temporary residence. Tourism operates on a grand scale. With the influx of fans on home football weekends, Happy Valley becomes the third largest city in Pennsylvania. The valley has only two school districts (State College Area School District and Bellefonte Area School District). Through the Centre Region Council of Governments (COG), six municipalities (State College Borough, College Township, Ferguson Township, Half Moon Township, Harris Township, and Patton Township) share and coordinate such services as public transportation, parks and recreation, libraries, land use planning, emergency preparedness, and public safety. Two other municipalities (Bellefonte Borough and Brenner Township) also participate in COG. Penn State and the local schools are represented as well. The municipalities unified by these local structures are fragmented into bit and pieces by the state’s electoral districts. Although 10 miles apart and assigned to different Congressional and PA House districts, the two population centers (State College and Bellefonte) are closely linked by commuting and shopping patterns. The University is in State College. The Centre County government offices and courts are in Bellefonte. The two boroughs are joined by a heavily commercialized state highway, with the local mall and big-box stores like Walmart and Sam’s Club between. A limited access highway (Interstate 99) runs parallel to the state highway and facilitates commuting and quick trips between locations. Pennsylvania’s electoral maps should recognize that Happy Valley is a single community, defined by geography and united by common concerns and interests. All residents should be in the same U.S. congressional district and PA Senate district. Our local “community of interest” is well approximated by the municipalities in the valley’s two school districts. Their combined population is about 125,000 people, enough to warrant two representatives in the Pennsylvania House.