Overreaching in Pa.'s gerrymander fight makes our politics worse | John Baer

Voters stand to gain from fixing gerrymandering — don’t they?

Stop looking at maps. Think about broader implications of Pennsylvania’s current conflict over congressional districts.

The bigger picture holds risks. Whatever happens with maps could play out not as a solution to a gerrymander problem, but as increased politics of division.

Democrats are bent on rushing to defy the authority of an elected Republican legislature and/or forcing protracted litigation over separation of powers.

Republicans cry “chaos” and constitutional crisis and claim Gov. Wolf is helping Nancy Pelosi steal congressional seats.

The issue has become like too many others – driven by partisanship and lacking common sense cooperation. And as leaders, judges and officials in both parties overreach, they push opportunity, compromise and maybe voters further away.

Republicans started it. In 2011, they drew maps for partisan gain because that’s what is done when maps are drawn by the party in power. But they overreached.

Look at history. In 2006, we sent 11 Democrats and eight Republicans to Congress. In 2008, 12 D’s, seven R’s. Then President Barack Obama’s first midterms drew a GOP wave that flipped the table. In 2010, we elected 12 R’s, seven D’s.

Why? Not gerrymandering. R’s won with the same maps that D’s won with.

Then we lost a seat after the 2010 census due to population decline. Republicans, sensing further opportunity, drew new maps. In 2012, they gained another seat: 13 Republicans, five Democrats. Been that way since.

But, remember, big GOP gains in 2010 didn’t come from new GOP maps. They came from shifting political winds. Republicans were doing fine. Didn’t need to overreach by drawing overly partisan maps.

Yet they did. GOP greed (with complicit Democrats) set the stage: for last year’s lawsuit challenging the maps; this year’s state Supreme Court ruling against the maps; and the helter-skelter we’re in now.

Republicans are reaping what they sowed.

(Oh, and complicit Democrats? When the House, in December 2011, approved the GOP map, the vote was 136-61. It takes 102 votes for passage. Of the 136 “yes” votes, 36 were Democrats, many from Philadelphia. If they had voted “no,” would we even be in this mess? Why’d they vote “yes?” Ask Bob Brady, though he denies involvement.)

Democrats overreach, as well.

If the 2011 GOP maps are, as our Democratic justices ruled, so “clearly, plainly and palpably” unconstitutional, why did it take until June 2017 for the League of Women Voters and citizen plaintiffs (or anybody) to challenge them in court?

The 2015 judicial elections giving Democrats control of the state Supreme Court come to mind. As does the 2016 election of Donald Trump, viewed from the get-go as likely leading to a Democratic year in 2018.

You maybe can see how litigation brought years after the fact, offered as pro-voter/pro-democracy, also serves as partisan Democratic political strategy.

And, of course, the Democratic court voted along party lines against the maps. Then set impossible deadlines for the legislature and Wolf to agree on new maps – which, given this legislature and governor, is a laughable notion in itself.

Finally, the court said if that failed (pretending, I guess, there was some possibility it wouldn’t), the court would draw its own maps, with help from a hired expert, ignoring the legislature’s redistricting authority established under the U.S. Constitution and subsequent case law.

Seems a tad overreachy, no?

Now various maps, none agreed to, none approved by the state House and Senate, have been sent to the court.

I suppose it’s possible court-hired Stanford Law professor Nathan Persily, a former University of Pennsylvania  law prof, who worked for other states on redistricting, produces a court map acceptable to all.

I also suppose Republicans, no matter the map, make good on their threat to return to federal court to further challenge the state court’s authority.

And I’m pretty certain unnecessary political rifts caused by all this won’t serve our government or politics well going forward.

Look, gerrymandering is real. Harmful in many ways. Needs to be addressed in a sensible fashion. Maybe all the tug-of-war attention it’s getting helps. Maybe it spurs interest in bipartisan support for an independent redistricting commission.

But right now? The only bipartisanship we see is bipartisan failure to work, act and deliver in the best interests of all citizens.