Legislators draw odd district lines that cheat Pennsylvania voters

Pennsylvania Budget
State legislators are able to choose their voters by drawing district lines that favor their reelection.

Opposition to rigged elections is growing in Pennsylvania, where advocates have secured 101 co-sponsors on House and Senate bills aimed at redrawing the state’s preposterous legislative and congressional districts.

The clearest result of Pennsylvania gerrymandering is poor representation, and few regions are more hobbled by that than Philadelphia. The city’s schools are historically underfunded and the city can’t get traction in the legislature on curbing illegal guns.

For some reason, six Philadelphia lawmakers don’t seem to understand that if legislative districts were drawn less lopsided, the city would have a better chance to resolve its issues. Under the current arrangement, Harrisburg doesn’t even have to listen because legislative leaders are able to pick their voters and ensure eternal job security.

Republicans controlled the maps the last time boundaries were drawn and sketched pockets of Republican voters, which gave them 13 congressional seats to Democrats’ five. In the legislature, Republicans hold a 122-80 advantage in the House and 34-16 edge in the Senate. That’s cheating because the state has 4.2 million Democrats to 3.3 million Republicans. Democrats might have more seats if their leaders had not cut backroom deals to save their own seats.

Maybe that’s why six city legislators aren’t enthusiastic about creating an independent citizens commission that would draw new legislative boundary lines. The diehards apparently want to keep their seats the old-fashioned way, through political machines uninterested in playing fair.

The naysayers to progress include State Sen. Sharif Street, the son of former Mayor John Street, who was bequeathed the seat by former Sen. Shirley Kitchen; State Sen. Christine Tartaglione who holds office by virtue of her birth within a politically active family; State Sen. John Sabatina, son of a Philadelphia ward leader; and State Sen. Vincent Hughes, who has long complained about Philadelphia’s underfunded schools. Now is Hughes’ chance to fix that for future generations. He and the royal three should sign on to the bill and lobby for it with their colleagues.

Democrats in the city’s House delegation are well represented among the bill’s supporters, and Republican State Rep. John Taylor is a co-sponsor. But it’s hard to understand why State Rep. Kevin Boyle, who says he favors good government, isn’t a co-sponsor too. Republican State Rep. Martina White, who seems to want her party to keep a grip on its stolen majority, also is missing in action.

The political party with the most seats has routinely sat on bills that would give the public more control over its representation, and sadly the public has let it slide.

But this time feels different. The advocacy group, Fair Districts PA, reports that 9,000 people have learned about gerrymandering and fair representation at meetings around the state. More are scheduled in Jenkintown, Doylestown, Philadelphia, Malvern, and elsewhere, including Robesonia. You can learn more at www.fairdistrictspa.com.

GOP leaders in the statehouse shouldn’t be allowed to block fair representation. Any legislator with the slightest concern for voters should support this bill and make it impossible for it to be ignored.