If the Pennsylvania legislature doesn't vote to end gerrymandering by July 6, residents can not only forget about a citizens' redistricting commission but also can pretty much give up on the hope of any needed government reforms.
As it is now, Pennsylvania's congressional and state legislative districts are among the most gerrymandered in the nation. Legislators from the party in power manipulate boundaries to dilute the power of voters of other parties. It's how they've gotten away with ignoring equitable taxation and fair school funding, failing to pass gun safety laws that most residents want, and passing budgets that are built on solid financial footing and not fake gambling revenue projections. They don't have to respond to diverse interests because they draw legislative districts filled with enough like-minded voters to keep them in office term after term.
But the time to fix this is right now . Under convoluted rules, both houses of the state legislature must pass bills by July 6, or we have to wait another decade to address redistricting changes. A truly independent citizens' commission would draw state legislative and congressional district lines based on principals of fairness after the 2020 Census. They would do it in the open and not in some dark corner of the Capitol where political deals are cut. The commission wouldn't slice and dice towns to dilute minority party's voters or reach far into the hinterlands to create majority districts for the party in power.
They'd have to respect county and municipal boundary lines to ensure that people of similar interests, not political leanings, can choose representatives who understand the issues of their regions. Districts would be politically diverse enough that representatives would have to get used to considering differing viewpoints to come up with the best solutions to our problems.
>> READ MORE: Pa. gerrymandering's surprise co-conspirators: Democrats
So far, the Senate State Government Committee released a compromise bill by Sen. Mike Folmer but some advocates say the commission would not be independent enough. There has not been a full Senate vote on it. The House, under the leadership of Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny), is where the most tortured form of depriving the public its due process is occurring. On April 11, Butler County Republican Rep. Daryl Metcalfe's State Government Committee gutted a bill that would have created a citizens' commission and replaced it with an even more partisan committee than now exists.
Meanwhile, supporters of fair districts introduced an independent commission bill and House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R., Indiana) also has sponsored a fair district bill. They could fly only if Turzai assigns them to a committee that would pass them. That's possible if the 24 House Republicans and eight Senate Republicans, who signed on as co-sponsors to independent commission bills, pressure Turzai to do the right thing. They can't hide behind GOP leadership anymore. They have to stand up or be considered hypocrites who talk reform but when it matters, play possum.
Find their names and contact information at fairdistrictspa.com. Tell them to push Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati (R., Jefferson) to move the citizens' commission forward.