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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Anti-Gerrymander Bill Clears Senate, Despite Hissy Fit by "Good" Government Groups

Those of us following along at home knows that time is of the essence for legislation to end the currently flawed system under which legislative and congressional districts are created. It has to clear both the Senate and House for two years in a row before it can go to the voters. Next year will be too late. FairDistrictPa, the League of Women Voters, Committee of Seventy and other good government groups should be ecstatic that the Senate voted yesterday to approve an anti-gerrymander bill that will call on an independent commission to set these boundaries. Instead, they are furious. They are taking their marbles and going home. In doing so, they have diminished themselves and betray a partisanship they tried to deny.

About two summers ago, on a hot Friday night inside a crowded Bethlehem church, I received an education concerning the fundamental threat to democracy posed by gerrymandering. Thanks to advances in technology, a system has arisen in Pennsylvania in which your legislators pick you, and not the other way around. The change proposed was the creation of an independent election commission, which would establish fair boundaries instead of an incumbent insurance program.

I am proud to say that the Gerrymander Slayers in the Pa Senate have been our own State Senators, Lisa Boscola and Mario Scavello. In the House, the driving force was Bethlehem's Steve Samuelson.

Partisan Republicans were afraid of this reform. Backbenchers Marcia Hahn, Joe Emrick, Ryan MacKenzie and Zach Mako put on their blinders and ran from reform, while GOP apparatchiks adopted the short-sighted view that they could use this to water down Democratic votes.

That thinking changed when a Democratic Supreme Court struck down the unconstitutional gerrymander, and imposed a congressional map of their own when state Republicans refused to act. A light bulb went off in the small minds of at least some of these partisans, who realized they had gone too far and given a Democratic Supreme Court just the excuse it needed to negate decades of gerrymandering.

Worried that Democrats could do what they've been doing, they suddenly developed an interest in correcting a flawed redistricting process.

A Senate Committee decided to endorse the gerrymander bill after watering it down a little. Then on Tuesday, State Sen. Ryan Aument added a new wrinkle - the creation of judicial districts for the election of appellate judges. You'd think the sky has fallen. All the supposed good government groups withdrew their support of the gerrymander bill, and all but two Democrats joined them in voting No on a bill that would finally end the gerrymander.

Boscola, who still voted for the Senate bill, explained that she would have preferred a more "pristine version," but even with these amendments, the bill is a "vast improvement" over the current system

Like Boscola, I would have preferred to see a separate bill to create judicial districts. But I actually like the Aument amendment. Currently, he vast majority of appellate judges are from Pittsburgh (conservative) and Philly (liberal). It is extremely difficult fora qualified judge from he Lehigh Valley to get elected. Sure, it happens, but is rare. Most people will just pull a lever. With judicial districts, voters will have a much better chance to learn about the candidates. They in turn will not have to spend $10 million to be heard. This way of selecting judges is much more democratic than the current statewide system.

The reason these good government groups are so opposed is because it could mean that more conservative judges will be elected. Too bad. The price of democracy is that the people, and not some reform group, makes the call.

It's probably true that some of the inspiration for this legislation is anger at the Supreme Court over its gerrymander decision. That's OK by me because it means that the gerrymander bill will attract more Republican support in the House, where it is badly needed.

The fact that these so-called reform groups are blowin' oil over a measure that will actually allow voters to make informed choices tells me these groups are more partisan than they pretend.

On cue, Democratic State Senate candidate Mark Pinsley - who announced his candidacy before he was even sworn into office in South Whitehall - proclaimed that the "anti-democratic movement is at it again." How? By enabling people to vote for people they actually know. He slams Pat Browne "because when it matters, he gets in line and votes for whatever his party wants, not his constituents." The reality is that Pinsley is standing in line, screaming what his party wants him to scream, while real Democrats like Lisa Boscola are trying to govern.

By the way, Pinsley wants you to send him money so he can end corruption.

Like Fed Ed.


Anonymous said...

So-called “non-partisan” groups no longer want to play and perhaps now reveal their political orientation? Didn’t Marty Nothstein get blasted for not playing ball with the League of Women Voters on debate scheduling while claiming something similar to this?

Anonymous said...

If you want fair districts. then make them with an even number of registered democrats and republicans. 50-50 . How could it be more fair? let the democrats have Philadelphia, then slice up the rest of the state however it should be with an equal number of each. While the districts may have had some gerrymandering, it was approved by the legislator and there is a committee of legislators that draw it up and it can be appealed, if not approved. This was not the case. The court overstepped its authority, and all those who voted to draw the lines themselves should have been impeached, because they broke the law. Of course breaking the law to advance progressive causes is now an accepted practice.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, Hope the involved parties read and heed your comments on this.

Anonymous said...

"these groups are more partisan than they pretend."

Marty Nothstein was right! This wasn't about good government. If it was, the LWV would have filed the suit back in 2011 like Amanda Holt did after the regular redistricting. Instead, they are part of a partisan nationwide effort by Eric Holder to recapture the House this year.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Bernie, Hope the involved parties read and heed your comments on this."

I have spoken to Fair District. They prefer to allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Marty Nothstein was right! This wasn't about good government. If it was, the LWV would have filed the suit back in 2011 like Amanda Holt did after the regular redistricting. Instead, they are part of a partisan nationwide effort by Eric Holder to recapture the House this year."

I'm not going that far. Nothstein refused to make himself available to voters, and used LWV as an excuse. The LWV performs a vital role in allowing voters to make informed choices. But get this. It has withdrawn its support of a bill designed to make sure your vote matters because of the insertion of another bill intended to make sure your vote matters. Some of the same people who say they want to protect your right to vote don't even think you should vote for judges. And they are horrified at the prospect that conservative appellate judges could be elected. This is base partisanship and elitism.

I have made clear to these groups how I feel, although all I am is a blogger. I also have great respect for he work they did in pushing for reform against what seemed like insurmountable odds. It's understandable that they would like a pristine bill, but the withdrawal of support is childish.

Anonymous said...

How can a lawyer not see the inherent problem of trying to gerrymander the PA Supreme Court, in direct retaliation for a decision where they rejected partisan gerrymandering?

Even some Republican state Senators voted against that amendment, because it was that obvious it was a blatantly partisan effort to retaliate against the Supreme Court.

Canary_In_Coalmine said...

Bernie do you agree with 7:08 that outside of cities where it isn't practical, it makes sense to create districts that are as close as possible to 50/50 Dem/Rep?

I think this would maximize the number of contested elections, which I think maximizes competition and discourages extremism.

OTOH I could be missing some unintended consequences. Drawing boundaries is probably more complicated than it seems.

Anonymous said...

7:08 - Republicans in 2010 had an advantage in #'s, then used that advantage to twist and distort the map to further the advantage - Democrats would and will do the same if given the chance. Progressives don't have a lock on breaking or bending the rules to advance their causes, both sides do it with regularity and to pretend otherwise is either dishonest or willful ignorance. There is absolutely no honor in politics today and the polarization and antagonism displayed by both sides only insures that petty grade school behavior will continue.

The fact that there are cheerleaders for either side who only live and feel satisfied when they're sticking it to the other side is pathetic and sad. Honestly if you are that emotionally invested and angered by "Lib-tards" or "Con-tards" reexamine your life, your wasting too much time and energy attacking and defending issues that 90% of us have only limited understanding of beyond standard and over simplified talking points.

Anonymous said...

10:22 - It is *possible* to draw 50/50 districts, but they would make the 2010 map look downright simplistic. There would be tentacles and tendrils all over the state to make those types of districts work.

Each district needs 700K voters. Philadelphia, Allegheny and Montgomery counties all exceed that population threshold. Meanwhile, you can likely put together 15 rural counties in Northern & Central PA and still be under 700K.

Philly & Pittsburgh are obviously very Democratic leaning areas, similarly the "T" of Pennsylvania is heavily tilted toward Republicans. Philly/Pittsburgh suburbs, Lehigh Valley, Reading, Scranton-Wilkes Barre & Erie are where you have a competitive mix.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a strongly biased district based on who is living there and what their particular values/needs are. So if the people of Philadelphia want a left leaning liberal to represent them or if Potter County and others similar want conservative representation its most likely going to happen.

Its when voters are intentionally and deliberately concentrated or diluted to give an advantage to one party over another that screws over citizens of the state. Based on voting records, PA as a whole is around a 50/50 split R vs D. With 18 districts (17 after 2020 census) you would think 9 districts a piece would be an accurate representation, but obviously that isn't the case.

Based on populations of Pittsburgh and Philly, there are 3 districts there that would be considered Strong Dem no matter what, conversely you can probably get 3 or 4 Strong Rep districts out of the "T". How and where you draw the boundaries for the other 11 or 12 districts is where the game begins.

Depending on political winds and tides of popularity, there could/should be election cycles where one party might have an 11 to 7 advantage at the max based on where moderates and independent voters are leaning in any given year.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"How can a lawyer not see the inherent problem of trying to gerrymander the PA Supreme Court, in direct retaliation for a decision where they rejected partisan gerrymandering?"

To answer your question, let me first point out that while I am a lawyer in the sense that I have a law degree, my license to practice was suspended in 1985.

You go on to suggest that the creation of judicial districts is a gerrymander, but that assumes facts not in evidence. Under your reasoning, the logic would compel the abolition of all districts and would require that all seats be statewide. That would in effect mean a tyranny of the majority and would dilute the voting power of many people in rural areas. If you believe the creation of judicial districts is a bad idea, it necessarily follows that you must oppose all districts. As you must know, that would be extremely unfair and would deprive people in local areas from deciding who they want to represent them.

Was this an attempt to retaliate against the Supreme Court? The drafter of the amendment denies this, but let's assume that the motivation is retaliation. So what? On its face, this actually strikes me as a good idea, regardless of its motivation, and one that will be fair if accompanied by an independent commission to draw up the district boundaries.

"Bernie do you agree with 7:08 that outside of cities where it isn't practical, it makes sense to create districts that are as close as possible to 50/50 Dem/Rep?"

I do not agree. I believe, and more importantly, the Pa Supreme Court has ruled, that districts should be set based on factors like geographic compactness, minimizing splits of different regions and neutral benchmarks that avoid incumbent protection. Redistricting that is based in any way upon party preference, even an attempt to make it 50-50, is itself a form of gerrymandering.

Richard Cowell said...

good article!``````

Anonymous said...

Did the postal system consider party affiliation when they came up with zip codes?

Zip codes...anyone know how they did it and why?

Anonymous said...

My issue with appellate judge districts is that the judges are more likely to have similar political leanings as the judge and jury that decision being appealed. I mean, ideally judges would be appointed, not elected, but this definitely seems like it could undermine the judicial process in intensely Democratic or Republican areas. I haven't decided whether this makes the amendment bad enough that the good outweighs the bad, but if the Republicans in the Senate really want judicial districts so badly, they should have put it in a separate bill.

And Bernie, in your comment above, you note that making all seats elected at a state-wide level would dilute the power of rural votes. While I agree with you that getting rid of districts altogether is a bad idea, and would reduce geographic diversity among judges, it wouldn't dilute the power of rural voters because, unlike the US Senate, the districts of both houses in the state assembly have to be based on population size. This means that assuming no gerrymandering, rural and urban voters already exert equivalent influence over the state assembly.

Anonymous said...

The sad think is this all comes down to TRUSDT! We just don't trust each other anymore and are scrambling for a non-existent eay to run things that is perfect. It is truly sad that people in both political parties and even those in other areas of power and influence have so manipulated average citizens so they can use fear and anger to make money and control things.

Remember the slogan, "workers of the world, unite". I am not advocating the old slogan but I am saying there was a reason people bought into that. If your existence is put into a cage, it may be a gilded cage but it is still a cage.

Citizens of this nation, stop believing the conspiracy theories and outlandish things people say. Analyze everything you hear and see, even if you agree with it. We can do this but we need to rebuild a foundation of trust.

BlackSox'sSam said...

Murray and Fleck =fucked up !

Anonymous said...

Trump 2020 ✌️
Murray 2025 👎