Now that the federal courts have declined to intervene in Pennsylvania’s redistricting case, and this year’s congressional races will be conducted using the new map imposed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, attention appropriately turns to how to prevent a recurrence.
On Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf and Democratic allies in the state Senate proposed a series of statewide election reforms that include creating an independent commission to develop the state’s electoral maps. The goal would be to end naked gerrymandering of the sort that until the Supreme Court decision had split Erie County between two congressional districts.
Wolf and company’s proposals and their timing drew quick fire from Republicans. They came a day before the Senate State Government Committee was set to conduct a hearing on redistricting issues.
“This is a campaign stunt,” said Jennifer Kocher, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman.
That’s likely to be said about all manner of issues as Wolf gears up his re-election campaign and Republicans go about choosing a nominee to oppose him. And that’s hardly the only election in play. Half of the state Senate and all 203 seats in the state House are up this year as well.
The inevitable campaign sniping doesn’t change the fact that the issue is timely and the governor’s voice is relevant. And given what’s occurred in recent years — a greedy Republican gerrymander overturned by a Democratic majority on the elected Supreme Court — the attention redistricting is getting from both the executive and legislative branches is welcome and long overdue.
We’ll withhold judgment on some of Wolf’s proposals, including same-day voter registration and campaign finance limits. But the governor and legislative leaders should seek common ground on forming a commission to drain as much of the partisanship as possible out of the redistricting process.
It wouldn’t be perfect, no doubt. But it would be better, and that’s saying something in Pennsylvania.
As statewide experience and Erie County’s erstwhile congressional separation have demonstrated, it’s simply undemocratic to create political boundaries that discourage electoral competition and policy compromises and feed the toxic form of partisan division that has become the norm in Harrisburg and Washington.
It’s a bipartisan temptation. While GOP overreaching prompted the court challenge in Pennsylvania, the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear a challenge of a gerrymander in Maryland that the state’s former Democratic governor has acknowledged was designed specifically to produce a partisan result.
While it will be difficult to separate policy from politics on this issue, like so many others, preventing as much as possible the de facto fixing of elections is fundamental to fair and productive politics, whether it’s done from the right or the left.
— Erie Times-News