POLS ON THE STREET: Gerrymander Fix May Help GOP

Filed under: Politics,Pols on the Street,South Philadelphia,Subject Categories |

WITH Pennsylvania’s budget up in the air, city leaders gathered at Fox School of Business to defend Temple’s vital state funding. L-R, Dean of Students Dr. Stephanie Ives, Student Body President Tyrell Mann Barnes, State Reps. Chris Rabb and Donna Bullock, State Sens. Art Haywood and Sharif Street, State Reps. Maria Donatucci and Morgan Cephas, and State Sen. Vincent Hughes. Photo by Wendell Douglas

If gerrymandering reform comes to Pennsylvania, it may come at the hands of the same Republicans who now appear to have gained from it. That’s because what goes around comes around – and they can even tell the date: 2021.

Legislation promoted by the anti-gerrymandering lobbying group Fair Districts PA – SB 22 in the Pennsylvania Senate and HB 722 in the House – is in their respective chambers’ State Government Committees. If enacted, these bills would clear a path to changing the State Constitution to establish an impartial, nonpartisan body to handle the chore of redrawing the Congress’ and General Assembly’s district boundaries.

As matters have always stood, the General Assembly draws districts after every decennial U.S. Census to suit the taste of incumbents as well as the majority party. The governor and the State Supreme Court get to weigh in as well. When government is divided, compromises are struck.

But the lines were drawn after the 2010 Census when the Republicans held all four branches of state government. And it showed. Currently, Republicans enjoy lopsided elective majorities throughout the state despite being outnumbered in registrations. Modern computer technology makes it possible to design arbitrary maps to lock in victories for more than 90% of all incumbents, or to give a 50% party 70% of the seats.

But come 2021, the game will likely change. This year, no Republican lawmaker in Harrisburg is willing to bet the mortgage that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf will be defeated by a GOP challenger next year. That’s one. None will bet that the Supreme Court, now firmly controlled by Democrats, will swing back to the red team by 2001. That’s two. And the SC has the last word: the power to design and impose its own map by decree if it finds the legislative and executive branches have made a mess of the job.

So Republican legislators who want to continue on Capitol Hill for six more years may now prefer a map designed by blind Justice to a map designed in part by people who may be out to get them.

State Sen. Anthony Williams (D-W. Phila.) sees it this way. A Senate veteran, he is minority chair of its State Government Committee and has a cooperative relationship with Majority Chair Mike Fulmer (R-Lebanon). He is also a co-sponsor of the Senate bill.

Thanks to the Democrats’ dramatic sweep of the 2016 SC races, Williams said, the anti-gerrymandering bill “has a good chance of proceeding.” His Republican colleagues, he said, are not much swayed by the boisterous home-district demonstrations organized by Fair Districts and its allies the League of Women Voters and Common Cause. But they are thinking about their futures, “in totally political ways,” as he put it.

SB 22 has 13 co-sponsors in the Senate; 12 more are needed to pass it there (Lt. Gov. Mike Stack will walk it home in a tie). Williams has some sales work ahead of him. But he does have a bipartisan lineup to begin with.

U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL Jeff Sessions visited Philadelphia last week to share with local law-enforcement leaders his policies on urban crime. Protestors outside the U.S. Attorney’s Office had a beef with Sessions’ controversial stands on immigration and other issues. Photo by Wendell Douglas. Photo by Wendell Douglas

The picture is different in the State House. There, HB 722 is being studied by a State Government Committee headed by pugnacious State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), an ardent Tea Partier who is known to bulldoze opponents – including Philadelphia’s Brian Sims (D-S. Phila.) – with ruthless rule-making.

Ever since State Rep. Babette Josephs (D-S. Phila.) lost the chair of that committee, city Dems have had small say in its affairs. Most of its Philly Ds are newcomers sentenced to impotence at its meetings.

State Rep. Pam DeLissio (D-Northwest) is more experienced at three years on the committee. She is hopeful about her bill’s progress.

At her back: 95 co-sponsors, including 27 Republicans. That leaves reformers just seven votes short of a walk-away victory. House Republicans may be more worried than Senate Republicans about their re-electability; or they may simply be closer to their constituents and more affected by protests against a practice that ordinary voters of either parties see no moral defense for.

“I’m a champion for the cause,” DeLissio, a primary sponsor of HB 722, said. She acknowledged Metcalfe’s protocols and rules are “very different from any other committee I’ve served on.” But she has found that if you meet Metcalfe’s procedural standards, the chairman will move your business along.

DeLissio said the grassroots effort led by Fair Districts PA, with Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, has stepped up its game since its maiden introduction of gerrymandering reform in the last General Assembly. “They’re running a pretty wicked campaign,” she said.

Williams was dubious Fair Districts is swaying his Republican colleagues. “I have not heard much about political inroads with Republican leaders they have made,” he said.

Both lawmakers are confident committee hearings on the gerrymandering bills will commence in the fall. But advance horse-trading is taking place right now, while everybody else is at the beach.

MICHAEL BOYLE, ESQ., C, is the new General Counsel of Democratic City Committee. He is seen with Judge Matthew Carrafiello, L, and Party Chairman Robert Brady. Boyle is Leader of the liberal 5th Ward, and an expert in Social Security matters. Congrats from The Philadelphia Public Record! Photo by Joe Shay Stivala

Hodge Eases DA’s Race

The election of Interim District Attorney Kelley Hodge by Philadelphia’s judges should settle the minds of campaign strategists for the November general election. Now the discussion is framed: between a hard-core defenders’-rights advocate and a prosecutor experienced in the DA’s Office’s core procedures. The Democrats’ Larry Krasner will be up against the Republicans’ Beth Grossman. Krasner probably benefits a bit more than Grossman, though.

The administrative chaos of DA Seth Williams’ final years in that office were a major selling point for the Republican candidate, who needs massive public revulsion against a Democratic incumbent’s scandal to overcome a massive registered-voter deficit. Rest assured Grossman will be selling this.

But the matronly Hodge, widely respected across the aisle, will do her best to dampen its fires in the DA’s Office between now and November. As she should.

Krasner picked up another break in snagging the Philadelphia Building & Construction Trades Council’s endorsement announced today that it has endorsed the democratic nominee for district attorney. The influential labor body asserted “Krasner has the vision, character, and ability to be an outstanding chief prosecutor for our city” in a statement.

John J. Dougherty, business manager of the council, said of Krasner, “He understands our issues, such as the damage done by the underground economy, misclassification of workers and protecting our first amendment rights. Larry Krasner will work to ensure a level playing field for the Building Trades in an increasingly competitive construction industry. On the pressing issue of opioid abuse, to which our members are not immune, Krasner has vowed to attack this huge public health problem from day one in office. On virtually every Building Trades issue, Larry Krasner is 100% with us. We look forward to delivering the labor movement’s significant votes for Krasner on election day.”

Beverage Tax Keeps Afizz

How is Philly’s internationally famous tax on sweetened drinks faring? It depends on whom you talk to.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg suffered a major loss to the beverage industry when he tried to impose a tax on sweetened drinks in that city.

ON SATURDAY, the 400 block of S. 50th Street was renamed the Sonny Hill Way, commemorating the 81st birthday of the legendary civic activist and all the great things that he has done for the community. L-R, Faatimah Gamble, Lynne S. Carter, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, Hill, Kenny Gamble, gospel recording artist Tamica Tanksley, Tamika Patton and Commissioner Mike Carroll, rear. Photo by Leona Dixon

Evidently the elephant has not forgotten. Now he has donated $1.6 million to Philadelphians for a Fair Future, a lobbying group that supports the Sweetened Drinks Tax and the public works it will pay for.

Bloomberg, a very wealthy man in his own right, is following in the footsteps of George Soros, an out-of-town liberal with deep pockets who saw in Larry Krasner a chance to score a big victory for his philosophy.

Prior to Bloomberg’s intervention, the advertising guns were mostly being fired on the side of the American Beverage Association, which has been campaigning against the Sweetened Drinks Tax for more than a year. Anthony Campisi, a spokesman for Ax the Philly Bev Tax Coalition, claims more than 60% of Philadelphians oppose the tax.

Is the tax working to raise it needs for the improved schools, parks and libraries it aims to serve? The jury’s still out.

Preliminary figures for fiscal year 2017 show the Philadelphia Beverage Tax came up just shy of the $39.7 million projected – with June, the final month of FY17, bringing in the second highest amount of revenue since the tax went into effect in January.

City officials told The Philadelphia Business Journal Friday that preliminary PBT revenue for June was $6.9 million. That means, combined with the prior months’ revenue, PBT generated $39.3 million in its first six months, or the second half of FY17.

In pitching it, the tax’s advocates predicted it would bring in $45 million during the same period. This is a significant shortfall, but not unusual in government budgets at either end of the spectrum.

Don’t Park in S. Broad’s Median?

Every so often, a major player in Philadelphia affairs amazes us with its cluelessness.

5th Square, a progressive PAC that appeared on the scene in 2014, has decided that parking in the median strip on S. Broad Street is bad for our city and has filed a lawsuit to force the Philadelphia Parking Authority to ticket and remove all those cars.

We’re not judges. But we suspect real judges will find this argument specious.

Every enforcement agency in the state retains a practical right to set enforcement priorities for all the laws that are on its books. Police officers are directed to take care of murders first, off-leash dogs second; parking officers too have their own priorities.

The claim that accidents are skyrocketing around South Philly’s traditional parking practices is fishy at best. S. Broad Street is not Roosevelt Boulevard, a highway in need of major rethinking.

Progressives weaken their appeal when they adopt causes that are as manifestly unpopular in the communities they wish to “progress” as this one is.

LABORERS’ Leader Sam Staten, Jr.’s eye was caught by prize-winning journalist April Ryans’s latest book, on display at a Women for Hughes summer gathering. Photo by Leona Dixon

Teacher Gets Key Post

State Labor & Industry Secretary Kathy Manderino will move over to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, to be replaced by the head of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

Jerry Oleksiak, a special-education teacher in Montgomery County and the president of the 180,000-member PSEA, has spent 32 years in the classroom. Oleksiak has been dedicated to improving education and training, and the support of family-sustaining jobs, Wolf said in his announcement issued late Friday afternoon.

“I am confident that Jerry can lead the Department of Labor & Industry to build on our improving business climate to encourage companies to locate and expand in Pennsylvania and to provide apprenticeships and other job-training programs so workers have the skills to succeed in the 21st century economy,” the governor said.

Oleksiak’s nomination must be confirmed by the Senate. Don’t look for that body to rush to confirm another Democratic appointment – at least not until the dust settles on the state budget.

Champions for Kids

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children was in Washington, D.C. this week to present 2017 Champions for Children awards to nearly a dozen Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate in recognition of their commitment to improving public policies and support for investments that benefit the commonwealth’s children. The awardees join almost 60 state policymakers and Gov. Tom Wolf as part of PPC’s 25th anniversary as a voice for kids.

“These policymakers have been true partners, working with PPC to advance policies that affect our most vulnerable citizens across several policy areas, including children’s health, child welfare, early learning and K-12 education,” said Joan L. Benso, PPC president and CEO.

“We appreciate the open lines of communication and the opportunity to set politics aside and work in a bipartisan fashion to come together for Pennsylvania’s children,” she said.

Federal policymakers in our area who received awards this week include: Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Congressman Robert Brady (D-Phila.), Dwight Evans (D-Phila.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks) and Patrick Meehan (R-Delaware).

Benso noted that PPC currently is working with federal policymakers on efforts to ensure the preservation of the Medicaid program and stop any changes that may impact children as a result of potential actions to repeal the Affordable Care Act; the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Maternal, Infant & Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, both of which will expire in September absent congressional action; and appropriations for critical children’s programs such as child care and Head Start.

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