|State Sen. Lisa Boscola|
Democrat Lisa Boscola is without question very popular in her state senatorial district. Her constituents may actually love her. The leaders in the state house and senate? Not so much. "I swear, if there was a bridge you could build to New Jersey, they'd put me there," she only half-jokes. That bridge might be under construction right now. Boscola is the prime sponsor of a senate bill (SB484) that would eliminate gerrymandering in Pennsylvania by establishing an independent citizens' commission to draw the boundary lines for Congressional and state legislative seats every ten years. A companion bill in the state house (HB 1835) has been offered by State Representative Dave Parker, a Republican from Monroe County.
Both Boscola and Parker were among the panelists at Friday's crowded gerrymandering conference at the Unitarian Universalist Church.
|State Rep.David Parker|
In addition to being a victim, Boscola has witnessed legislators abandon their principles very quickly when their job security is threatened by party leaders. Though everyone wants to see property tax reform, she watched in amazement as the infamous SB76 property tax relief bill was struck down by just one vote in late 2015. "If you really represent your district, you should do what you think is right," she argues. But she watched as leaders pulled one Senator aside and sent him home for the day. Another switched his vote when threatened.
Unlike most, Boscola has publicly expressed her disgust for our current redistricting system, right from the Senate floor.
"[O]ur current system has become a tainted, corrupt, disingenuous mess. Gerrymandered and distorted district boundaries have become the rule rather than the exception. If you do not believe me, take a look at the map of some of our State's congressional districts. There is a so-called 1-81 district [Lou Barletta] that stretches from Adams County in the south all of the way to the northern tier in northeastern Pennsylvania. Then there is the 1-78 district [Charlie Dent], which snakes its way through the Easton line all the way to the Harrisburg suburbs. Do not even get me started on the 6th Congressional District.
"Mr. President, we should be embarrassed and ashamed. The blame for this politically polluted system lies squarely at the feet of politicians who have the power to choose their own constituencies. It should not work that way, and all of us know it. Our current system has harmed everything from fairness of our elections to the level of cooperation and compromise between lawmakers."
The Boscola-Parker bills
Instead of the inherent conflict of interest that exists when politicians are allowed to choose their voters, instead of the other way around, the Boscola-Parker bills establish an 11-person commission to draw the boundaries. It will consist of four members of the largest party, four members of the second largest party and three members who are registered as independent or with another party. Elected officials, staffers, lobbyists and state party officials are ineligible. No politics.
New maps require a super-majority of seven votes and there must be at least one vote from each of the three groups. The newly drawn districts must meet a standard test of compactness, and no district may be drawn to favor a political party or, for that matter, anyone else.
This proposal is based on how redistricting is done in Iowa (since1980), Arizona (2010) and California (2010).
A proposal for a citizens' commission in Illinois has been blocked by its state supreme court, along party lines. But the United States Supreme Court upheld an independent commission in Arizona. Legislators had contended they had the power, but Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg countered "that the people themselves are the originating source of all powers of government."
The Iowa system, which consists mostly of compact rectangles, has never been challenged. "I see a pathway to Republican control. I can also see a pathway to Democrat control," says their Republican House Speaker.
Boscola also said that a citizens’ commission to end gerrymandering should be part of any attempt to downsize the state legislature.
"If you're going to downsize the legislature, you better do something about redistricting and how the citizens redistrict because if the leaders get to decide which House and Senate members get to stay, who do you think they are going to want to stay? The leader is going to be able to pick which ones stay. Not the people.
When the legislature voted to reduce its size (it must vote again), Boscola offered an amendment to provide for a citizen redistricting commission, but she said the Senate was able to sidestep it without a vote.