Comments from State Representative Jake Wheatley

Dear Chairman Nordenberg and Commission Members, I am the State Representative who currently represents the 19th Legislative District, which I have had the honor to serve for the past 19 years. My home is located in the 5th Ward of the City of Pittsburgh, where I have lived for 25 years. It is this 5th Ward, along with the 3rdWard of the City of Pittsburgh that are what some would call the heart and soul of the 19th Legislative District. Historically, these wards are the largest African-American block of voters within the 19th District. For the most part, the 3rd & 5th wards cover the entire neighborhood of the Hill District. I will not take up your time recounting the legacy and history of Pittsburgh's Hill District and its historical significance as it relates to African-American tradition and political influence in the city. I will not recount how the beginnings of the 19th Legislative District started with the late K. Leroy Irvis, our only African-American Speaker, and was just the 3rd & 5th wards of the City that made up what is now considered the 19th District. More than history or tradition, which I think should be seriously considered in any reconfiguration of this district, the voting strength and power of those African American residents living in the 3rd & 5th wards of Pittsburgh will be diluted -- and by extension -- their ability to critically impact who represents them. Their voice in the political process will be significantly and negatively impacted if the Commission allows the current district proposal to stand. I believe that the Commission's current plan tries to provide a fair and equitable reconfiguration of voters across the state and that should be commended. However, looking at how the Commission has proposed sending the heart and soul of the current 19th District to an already predominate African-American district (24th District) is unconscionable and harmful to the thousands of African-American voters who have had a say in who their representative would be within the current, well balanced, demographically diverse current district. Where else in the state can we point to where a majority African-American district has the influence in a district where the second- and third-highest economic areas of the state also call themselves a part of? Where else in the state do we have an almost 50/50 split between African Americans and whites, and an almost equally split age and income disbursement of our residents? Again, I applaud the makers of this plan for their work and think that what they have come up with is a good plan forward. However, I would suggest that the plan, as it relates to how they are proposing to sever the heart and soul of the 19th District and potentially significantly impact, in a negative way, the political power of one of our traditional African-American communities, should be reevaluated and changed. Thank you for your time and consideration, Jake Wheatley, Jr., Member 19th Legislative District Chair (D), Professional Licensure Committee Pennsylvania House of Representatives