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Patriot News publishes op-ed by First



With the creation of the new state Senate seat in Dauphin County, presently held by Jeff Piccola but soon to take on a new shape, citizens of Pennsylvania’s capital city and the Republican Party have just been handed a defeat.

Harrisburg might be the capital of Pennsylvania. The city might be a significant part of Dauphin County, with which the city shares many business, tax, cultural and infrastructure relationships. City residents’ personal lives will be strongly influenced by the new state Senate seat that lies just across Vaughn Street in uptown Harrisburg. Yet despite these multiple bonds of steel, Harrisburg citizens are now cut off from that new district and have no voice in an elected position next door that is otherwise going to be a huge part of their lives.

The boundaries of this new district might be a problem simply for the artificially bifurcated relationship between the county and the city alone. But what is really irksome is that uptown Harrisburg is a demographically rich, heavily Republican area. In other words, it’s safe for Republicans.

The 14th Ward, specifically, is the most Republican precinct in the city, and it is home to many gay Republicans, lesbian Republicans, black Republicans and the largest group of Jewish Republicans between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

I know this because as a conservative Republican activist, I routinely collect ballot signatures for Republican candidates in this ward and am on a first-name basis with many of these neat people. On evening walks with my wife through uptown, I quietly mutter “Republican. Democrat. She’s Republican, and he’s a Democrat, Republican. Republican,” as we pass by each house.

Had the new Senate district included this area, then any or all of these Republicans could have been compelling candidates for the Senate position. Sadly, every one of them is now eliminated from consideration for the new seat, a rare opening in a state where elected officials camp out in seats for what feels like a lifetime.

Including uptown Harrisburg in the new Senate district would have included enough of Harrisburg to give city citizens representation while easily protecting the Republican character of the new district and creating opportunity for greater diversity in the Republican Party. An opportunity has been missed, and who knows how many decades will pass before another one occurs. To those of us who toil in the trenches of the Republican Party, it’s a self-inflicted wound in the foot, easily avoided.

Josh First is a businessman living in Harrisburg.

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