Now that Pennsylvania’s congressional district boundaries have been settled — albeit through an unfortunate, partisan-charged and messy process — and the gerrymandered congressional district maps of 2011 have been tossed to the trash heap of history where they belong, it is time for our state lawmakers to fix this the right way, and for good.
There is, literally, no time to lose in the fight to ensure that the partisan and self-serving manipulation of our representative democracy by both Republican and Democratic power brokers over the years is extinguished once and for all.
It is time for all state lawmakers of integrity, honor, and principle, Republicans and Democrats alike, to insist that their leadership bring to a vote the bills (HB 722 & SB 22) providing for first session approval of the constitutional change needed to finally remove the politicians and political parties from both the congressional and state legislative redistricting process.
The once-every-10-year task, following the national census, intended to delineate compact and contiguous districts of near equal population (ones that don’t divide communities of interest, or counties and municipalities “unless absolutely necessary” as stipulated by the Pennsylvania Constitution) belongs in the hands of an independent nonpartisan citizens commission as envisioned by the Fair Districts PA-backed bills introduced in both the state House and Senate.
And because amendments to Pennsylvania’s constitution are, by the design of our founders, not easily achieved, requiring approval in two consecutive two year sessions of the General Assembly, and then subjected to voter approval of the people of Pennsylvania, time is running short on the need for first session action if this necessary reform of the redistricting process is to be implemented in 2021, following the next census in 2020.
Because of legal requirements associated with proposed constitutional amendments, our state lawmakers need act on first session approval before July of this year or this golden opportunity to effect real and positive change from the status quo politics-as-usual will be lost for at least another decade or longer.
Through the unanimous action of my commissioner colleagues and I, I am proud to say that Cumberland County became the very first county in Pennsylvania to adopt a resolution endorsing this good government, citizens’ initiative to depoliticize the redistricting process.
Since our original action in 2016, which we reaffirmed last year, we have been joined by many other counties in Pennsylvania with both Republican and Democratic majorities in urging the General Assembly to move this proposed constitutional amendment forward for an eventual final decision by Pennsylvania’s voters.
Many municipal governments across the state, including at least a dozen from east to west in Cumberland County, have followed suit in adopting similar resolutions calling for action.
I’m encouraged to see that state Rep. Mark Keller (R-86) and state Sen. Richard Alloway (R-33), who represent portions of western Cumberland County, have joined in cosponsoring the Fair Districts PA-backed bills. But, it is disappointing to note that, at least up till now, most of the members of our county’s delegation to the state House and Senate have either not taken a stance, or have answered with a series of excuses, about this good government reform that’s backed by a growing number of their constituents, their county commissioners and many of their partners in government at the municipal level.
But, here’s the deal, whether they co-sponsor the needed bills or not, what really matters is whether they have the courage to do what’s right, whether they’re up to the challenge of putting the people’s interest ahead of partisan or perceived political self-interest, and to do so by demanding that their party’s legislative leaders bring the needed legislation to a vote before it’s too late ... before the General Assembly recesses for the summer.
Make no mistake — and this is an election year for every member of the state House and half the state Senate — their constituents, of both parties and no party, are paying attention.
They’re watching to see who has the courage to challenge the mediocrity of the status quo, to put the public interest ahead of partisanship, and to begin to restore the public’s trust by doing the right thing instead of the same old, political thing.
And, on this fundamental issue at the heart of our representative democracy, the clock is ticking.