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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Gerrymandering: How Our Elections Are Really Rigged - Part Three

Blogger's Note: This is a continuation of my series on the gerrymander, which started on Tuesday. Part One describes the dramatic increase in the use of both technological advances and hybrid SuperPACs with the goal of controlling Congress. Part Two details a bipartisan legislative fix proposed by State Senator Lisa Boscola and State Rep. David Parker. This part of the series details the impact the gerrymander has had on government, and suggests what you can do to help achieve legislative reform.  

Barry Kauffman, an icon of good government, is someone I've always admired. As Executive Director at Common Cause Pa, he never shied away from pointing out the ethical oil slicks in the land of midnight payraises. He was the clean-up hitter at last week's panel discussion about gerrymandering before a full house at Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethlehem. And he hit it out of the park. .

The first thing Kauffman did was recognize two Lehigh Valley warriors who have been fighting to slay the gerrymander - Lehigh County Comm'r Amanda Holt, a Republican, and State Rep. Steve Samuelson, a Democrat. Both were in the audience

The Patriot News named Holt citizen activist of the year in 2012 as a result of her successful challenge to a gerrymandering scheme put forward by the state power structure. Kauffman called Samuelson, first elected in 1999, a “long-time champion of redistricting reform."  This blog reported in 2008 on Samuelson's war on the gerrymander.

Pointing to legislators Lisa Boscola, Dave Parker and Samuelson, Kauffman said he "can pretty much guarantee you they are not getting invited to their leaders' picnics and dinner parties, where the next generation of good ol' boys are being picked and groomed right now."

Barry Kauffman
Gerrymander: The Biggest Election Fix

"We heard a lot from our candidates about elections being fixed," Kauffman observed. "Well, they are right, but for all the wrong reasons. Redistricting abuse is probably the biggest problem, the biggest fix."

Partisans who oppose redistricting reform argue that "only a fool would give up his advantage to the enemy." But to the politicians preparing these distorted maps, the real enemy is not the Democrats. It is the people themselves. So in 2011, while the power structure decided on new Congressional districts, the public was kept in the dark. So were legislators like Samuelson who with no knowledge would be asked to vote for something he had neither seen nor reviewed.

You have to vote for it to see what's in it.  When you finally do, it's too late.

The Gerrymander Guarantees Electoral Success for Incumbents 

Here's how Kauffman explains it:

"Elections are in fact being determined before the first vote is cast. ... The redistricting process has made the voters irrelevant. In fact, in most districts, the battle is not between Democrats and Republicans. The battle has become politicians against the voters. It's now all about allowing lawmakers to pick their voters instead of voters picking their lawmakers.

He goes on.

Gerrymander Leads to Governing Gridlock

Kauffman and Sen.Lisa Boscola
"The current system makes the primary the real election in most area of the state, and if you aren't registered with the majority party in your district, you really do not have a say. That means the most radical wings of each party control the real election and, ultimately, the power structure and agenda of the legislature. It means that a lawmaker's biggest threat is a primary challenge and therefore, they must cater to the most extreme wings of their parties where they really turn out in the primaries. It means governing gridlock and the inability to compromise for the common good. Thus, the ability to govern from the center, where most people's beliefs and aspirations reside, becomes lost."

Thus, you have a nine-month budget gridlock, or a US Senate incapable of performing the basic task of confirming a Justice and other judges while the US House periodically shuts the government down. As Kauffman explains, "They no longer feel accountable to voters. They feel accountable to the power structure. This means the issues you care about - economy, education, government ethics, healthcare, and environment - don't get dealt with because the other issues suck up all the oxygen."

How to Pressure For Redistricting Reform

We now know that the gerrymander is a serious threat to our representative democracy. We know that State Senator Lisa Boscola and State Representative David Parker are sponsoring a bi-cameral, bipartisan legislative fix that effectively removes politicians, if not politics, from redistricting

Kauffman urges citizens to start discussing this matter with their local community leaders. He states that local municipalities are "tired of being chopped up to pieces just to protect the electability of politicians." State Representative Parker adds that, until the last round of redistricting, Monroe County was divided up among six different state senators, none of whom lived there. Kauffman predicts that will happen to Cumberland County next.  "When you redistrict in this way, it really damages a local community's power base, “he observes. "They know it makes it much more difficult to organize support for local initiatives."

So far, resolutions supporting the Boscola-Parker proposal have been approved in Pittsburgh, Cumberland County, West Hanover Township, ​East Pennsboro Township, Upper Allen Township, Lower Paxton Township, Highspire Borough Council and Capital Region Council of Governments. 

Tomorrow: Where the legislation stands. Who supports it? Who doesn't?


Anonymous said...

Looking forward to the list of names tomorrow. Anyone who opposes redistrict reform and defends the current set up is only interested in self preservation over what's best for the state or is simply a mindless partisan. They need to be removed from the political equation.

I didn't get to comment on yesterday's post, but would be interested in hearing more details on how hands on the 11 person commission would be in the process. To be honest, I think the whole thing could be done by a computer program with the 11 member council simply agreeing to what parameters need to be in place for the districts versus them actually creating the lines for the districts. Then just have the program spit out a handful of state maps with limited detail which the commission would eyeball and ultimately approve one.

Scott of Nazareth

Bernie O'Hare said...

Good suggestion!

Ron Beitler said...

That's sort of what Holt argues for. Math as a basis for total and complete objectivity. I don't know if a computer alone would be able to account for historical political subdivisions. That's something holt talks about alot. Which is something that should be accounted for since they already exist, and are neutral and non-partisan. I think that's how she describes it.

I wouldn't argue for a computer, but a computer like system.

Here is an interesting article I found in a google search of this issue right now. Not sure I agree but it dives into the computer question in detail.

I think there is genuine conversation about how you get this done. But the question that it's an issue that needs to be solved is irrefutable. And I find it astonishing that there are people in these comment sections who acknowledge (albeit behind anonymity) that gerrymandering is an acceptable tactic. Just another partisan tool for subversion right?

Anonymous said...

The only people who really care about this are Democratic activists.

Barbara Diamond said...

Your report on the Gerrymandering event last Friday is an important public service and synthesizes very well what was said. Tom Ulrich's is to be commended for organizing the panel presentation.

Anonymous said...

@11:49 - I fixed your post for you...

The only people who really care about this are democracy activists.

Anonymous said...

The government that governs least, governs the best.

Anonymous said...

@3:14 Speak for yourself. When I wrote Democratic, I meant Democratic.

Carol Kuniholm said...

Thank you Bernie O"Hare for taking time to record and comment on the redistricting event. As a panelist, I was encouraged by how broad the interest in this is. In conversation afterward, citizens concerned about gun safety, school funding and effective environmental regulation commented on the need to restore responsive government. Democracy activists from both parties are involved in this effort, but it's gathering support from others across the state who feel their votes and voices no longer count on issues of concern to all of us.