Here we go again.
After years of struggle (and some success), we've got a new fight over drawing lines for congressional and state legislative districts in what's been regarded as one of the nation's most gerrymandered states.
Gov. Wolf last week created a 15-member reform commission of experts, advocates, and lawmakers to hold public meetings around the state, solicit input from citizens, study what other states do to reduce gerrymandering, and offer recommendations within nine months.
The ambitious goal is to get a new system in place by the time new lines are required following the 2020 census. Remember, the current 18 congressional districts ordered last year by the state Supreme Court need to be redrawn after the census, as do all 253 state House and Senate districts.
But, and I'm certain this won't surprise you, the partisanship that this anti-gerrymandering effort seeks to reduce remains in full swing.
Just after Wolf signed an executive order establishing his commission, all four leaders of the GOP-run legislature – Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, House Speaker Mike Turzai, and House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler – issued a statement saying Wolf is "grandstanding," acting without input from the General Assembly, and trying to usurp legislative authority.
It also said Republicans won't be "props" in the governor's "theater."
In other words: We got this. You can exit stage left.
This week, spokespersons for GOP leaders confirmed that no Republican lawmaker will be appointed to the commission – which is structured to include two Republican and two Democratic incumbents.
Before things even get started, the 15-member commission is down to 13 members. Not a good sign.
Carol Kuniholm, who heads the citizens' group Fair Districts PA, has pushed for reforms since early 2016. She questions how Republicans can "say they have no input and then turn around and say they won't participate."
But Republicans argue the commission is stacked with Democrats and ignores the fact that constitutional authority for redistricting lies with the legislature.
Also fair points.
So, what now?
Wolf plows ahead.
"The commission will continue, and it will solicit feedback on a fair process for which there is bipartisan support," says Wolf spokesperson J.J. Abbott. "The goal of this information-gathering mechanism is to look forward and not backward."
But "bipartisan support" doesn't seem forthcoming.
The commission chairman is Committee of Seventy boss David Thornburgh: "I hope they [Republicans] can find a way to engage productively.… I see it as a straightforward exercise to fan out across Pennsylvania and see what everybody has to say about gerrymandering and redistricting."
The commission includes former Republican Congressman Charlie Dent and Amanda Holt, the home-schooled Allentown piano teacher (now a GOP Lehigh County commissioner), who at age 29 drew legislative maps that helped end redistricting wars following the 2010 census.
But the rest of Wolf's appointees are Democrats or (like Thornburgh) independents. How hard would it have been to name a couple more R's?
And Republicans are right, the constitution does give redistricting authority to the legislature, not the governor.
But it doesn't preclude a governor's involvement or input in the process. And, in the case of congressional redistricting, which is done by legislation, it requires his or her signature.
And that process, which produced congressional districts our state's highest court ruled unconstitutional, remains in place for use after the 2020 census.
Hence the ongoing effort to amend the constitution to allow an independent citizens' commission, not politicians, to draw lines.
And hence political resistance to same.
Republican leaders have stalled reforms. Speaker Turzai is pushing to draw congressional lines the same way legislative lines are drawn, which means by a legislative commission that excludes the governor.
Meanwhile, Thornburgh believes there's "broad agreement we don't want courts or experts from around the country drawing our maps."
That's probably right. Apart from those Democrats just elected to Congress in new court-drawn districts.
Still, the notion that Wolf's commission or the current legislature come up with anything that reduces the power of lawmakers to create their own (and congressional) districts flies in the face of political reality.