BY JOE SHAHEELI/
Redistricting federal and state legislative districts is a problem that, in the end, costs taxpayers in several ways.
The first is in the pocketbook, when money is spent for lawsuits that occur whenever districts are due for a redrawing based supposedly on population.
Secondly, the voting taxpayer will continue to find he or she has no say in how the legislative maps are withdrawn – though in Pennsylvania, a statewide map drawn by a piano teacher did move the State Supreme Court to reject the General Assembly’s first offering of a redistricting plan mandated by the Census.
Thirdly, no matter what, redistricting plans will always be drawn to favor the party controlling the legislative branches up for redistricting. This is not only so in Pennsylvania, but throughout the 50 states.
State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) has renewed his call for redistricting reform, following an election where there were eight fewer Democrats elected to Congress from Pennsylvania than Republicans despite Democratic Party candidates’ earning 75,870 more votes for Congress than Republicans. He said, “The results from the latest congressional election proves partisanship trumps fairness and balance in redistricting and a new process is needed to ensure proper representation. Voters should be electing their representatives. Instead, politicians are handpicking their voters. That’s not democracy.”
Congressional maps are redrawn every 10 years by an act of the General Assembly, while the General Assembly is redistricted by a commission of appointed leaders and a fifth member-appointed member. Winning Democratic candidates won by an average more than 185,000 votes, whereas winning Republican candidates won by an average of 55,000 votes. “If this General Election has taught us anything, it’s that the will of the people is much stronger than partisan tactics,” Leach added. “Pennsylvanians deserve a political process that is fair and reflects their best interests, not the interests of one political party. We need to take a long, hard look at how the State determines its districts and reform the process.”
Leach has introduced a legislative redistricting reform plan which would expand the membership of the commission and require a supermajority to pass a plan. He said that he is exploring changes that could be made to reapportioning congressional districts to make that process fairer. Odds are he will be frustrated in his effort in the next session of the General Assembly, though.
Leach needs in part to credit Philadelphia’s margins for its 1st, 2nd and 13th Dist. Congress Members’ margins for the overall lopsided figures.
A few states have tried to wrest redistricting from control by their state legislature. In 2008, California voters passed a referendum creating an independent citizen commission to handle redistricting. In previous cycles, the two major parties had struck an informal deal protecting incumbents on each side. This time, a group of eight citizen-commissioners held dozens of public meetings to help shape their proposals. Advocates for redistricting reform have praised California, but it’s unclear how much the new system really changed the results. Even here, politics managed to rear its influence. Parties were found setting up fake citizens groups to represent the specific parties’ interests at public meetings, influencing the shape of the districts on the agenda.
It’s a sad but true fact, no single system works for every state. Legislators will work the system to insure they keep their own jobs.
Now the US Supreme Court may upend every state’s effort to bring order to mayhem, with its announcement it intends to revisit its 1962 ruling states must redraw their congressional and state legislative districts every 10 years, after release of new census data. This was done to ensure everyone receives roughly equal representation. But the high court largely allowed the states to decide how they would go about it. While most states have general guidelines for drawing new districts, including that they must be relatively compact in shape, most allow the legislature to draw lines largely as its members please.
The only strict federal law, coming from the Voting Rights Act, is district maps must adequately represent the state’s minority voters. The idea is to prevent legislators from packing minorities into a small number of districts or spreading groups across too many to dilute their vote. In several states with a history of discrimination, the federal government must approve (“pre-clear”) new maps. This ruling may become a casualty when the US Supreme Court makes its decision on the Voting Rights Act this time around.
BRADY AIDS FAMILY ON ITS WAY TO UKRAINE
Congressman Bob Brady (D-Phila.) reached out to help a family facing a three-day deadline passed ending their efforts to adopt a teenager in Ukraine. They had come to Philadelphia’s airport to emplane for the Ukraine when they realized their passports were gone.
A call to Brady’s office, though closed for Veterans Holiday, did bring a quick response. With new passports, the family was on its way and expected in time to meet the deadline for the orphan’s adoption.
It was obvious Congressman and Party Chairman Bob Brady put his money where his bragging rights are into his 34th Ward on election day, delivering 17,656 votes to President Obama as opposed to 683 for Romney. His was the highest ward percentage in turnout by wards throughout the city.
WHITHER GOETH THE CITY G.O.P.?
Republican City Committee’s General Counsel Michael Meehan believes present Republican efforts in this city will continue to show poor results unless “We could sway voters and get our message out to Blacks, Hispanics and Asians.” He said, “We are a city of minorities and we need to reach out to them through touching their families and friends, one at a time and explaining to them how they can benefit by enrolling in a party that will not take them for granted.”
Meehan pointed to the reelection victory of State Rep. John Taylor (R-Kensington) in the 177th Legislative Dist. as an example of a legislator who had done just that. He also needs to see more Republicans stepping up to challenge every one of the Democratically controlled legislative seats in this town. “It is possible to wage effective challenges,” he explains, by putting together a small, dedicated army of volunteers made up of family, friends, colleagues, and alumni and work at it from now until the next go around.”
Rick Hellberg, director of the state-supported Republican City Committee here, also added his congratulations to Taylor.
CORRECTING WARD-LEADER LABEL
The last issue of our paper carried a photograph of Magistrate Tim O’Brien, which erroneously identified him as a Republican ward leader. He is not. We regret the error.
REPUBLICANS LOST SEATS IN HARRISBURG
House Republicans control at least 110 of 203 seats in the next session. In the Senate, Democrats picked up three open seats to narrow the GOP majority to 27-23 in the 50-member chamber.
SUSPENDED WITH PAY!
The Pennsylvania State Supreme Court has suspended Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Thomas M., pending formal charges from the Judicial Conduct Board.
Judge Nocella is charged with misrepresenting his legal qualifications to the Philadelphia Bar Association in 2009 and 2011, reportedly failing to report lawsuits and other legal problems while interviewing with the bar association to determine if he should be recommended for election as a judge. Judge Nocella will continue to receive his regular pay and benefits.