Gerrymandering: GOP power grab
Republicans who have controlled the state Legislature for all but four of the past 27 years have been able to do so partly because of gerrymandering.
Several generations of GOP legislative leaders steadfastly have rejected creation of a nonpartisan citizens commission to draw new electoral maps every 10 years, following each census.
In 2011 the Republican majority devised a legislative district map so badly gerrymandered that the state Supreme Court precluded its use in the 2012 elections. The final map for the 2014 elections — the current map — skews Republican by more than 8 percent, according to the nonpartisan, nonprofit Princeton Gerrymandering Project.
The proposed new map was produced by a commission comprising the partisan leaders of legislative Republican and Democratic caucuses and a court-appointed independent chairman, former University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg — the key player. According to the Princeton group, it would shrink the GOP edge to 1.2 percent.
Cynically playing on the public’s preference for an independent commission, Republican legislative leaders have concocted a constitutional amendment to create a fake one.
The legislative majority alone would appoint members to a “citizens commission,” but that majority would retain the right to throw out the commission’s work and adopt its own map. Attacking the judicial branch, the amendment also requires that if the Supreme Court invalidates a map, the legislative majority would draw the replacement.
Republican state Rep. Seth Grove of York County, the sponsor, said, “We’ll … have the final check to make sure there’s no skulduggery at the end of the day,” apparently by guaranteeing skulduggery at the beginning of the day.
“It’s a power grab disguised as reform,” said Michael Li, a redistricting expert at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.
To emphasize that, the amendment would require the districts to be redrawn immediately if voters approve it. That means the legislative majority itself would redraw the districts for 2024 rather than after the 2030 census.
And, of course, the cynics aim to place the measure on the 2023 primary ballot, to take advantage of typical low turnout in an off-year primary to preserve minority rule.
Pennsylvanians have a history of reflexively approving amendments. If this one makes the ballot, they must reject it to prevent Pennsylvania from replacing representative democracy with cynicism as its form of government.
* Guest editorial by the Scranton Times-Tribune, Pennsulvania.