Conklin: Fair Lines for Pennsylvania House Districts

Every 10 years Pennsylvania undergoes the redistricting process, during which legislative boundaries are redrawn to reflect our state’s ever-changing population. While this is supposed to be an apolitical process, in the past politicians have used their party’s political power to choose who they represent, rather than having the people choose who represent them.

The current redistricting process is being led by Mark Nordenberg who has proven to be a remarkably civil, fair and non-partisan administrator of the process. Nordenberg is the former chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, and critically, was appointed to chair our state’s Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC) by the state Supreme Court – not the legislature or the governor.

Nordenberg’s tenure on the LRC has produced maps which, despite what some of my more cynical colleagues have claimed, may be amongst the fairest and non-partisan in our state’s recent electoral history. As Nordenberg himself told the Philadelphia Inquirer last week:

“This map, which continues to favor Republicans, could hardly be considered a political gerrymander. And I certainly was not a part of any effort to disadvantage the Republicans in any way other than to reflect, in the maps, the population trends that have changed the state over the last 10 years.”

The key part of his statement is “continues to favor Republicans” – a reference to the current legislative maps, which were initially so gerrymandered after the last census that the state Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional and had them redrawn. In other words, some of my more politically cynical colleagues are not arguing that the proposed map doesn’t favor them, but rather that the proposed map doesn’t favor them enough, despite being the minority party in terms of state-wide voter registration numbers.

Taken to the extreme, this viewpoint, which puts political concerns first, results in a form of political narcissism and a broken system that does not concern itself with representational governance, but upholds political control as its chief goal.

This broken system has been on display in the state House’s State Government Committee (of which I am the minority chair), where the GOP majority has forced through votes on a Congressional ‘map’ that was literally a blank sheet of paper, giving them total control over what the final product would be. To see these same legislators then turn and cry that they were not involved in the legislative reapportionment process leaves me so incredulous I am at a loss for words.

Keep in mind this is the same group that gerrymandered the former maps so badly that once again the state Supreme Court had to step in and throw them away in their entirety.

The LRC maps are not perfect and will be open to adjustment in the weeks to come, but they are a far cry from the cynically gerrymandered maps Pennsylvania has had in the past, in which politicians chose who they represented, rather than the other way around.

This process will continue over the next month, but it must be rooted in facts and not fantasy or political hyperbole. Further, I would suggest that the energy my colleagues are expending on their narcissistic campaign against Nordenberg could be better spent tackling the challenges that everyday Pennsylvanians continue to face – getting people back to work, improving our schools, investing in our communities and protecting our right to vote.

It has been an honor to serve the people of my district – the 77th – and I look forward to continuing these and other discussions in the new year ahead.

Rep. Scott Conklin

Representing part of Centre County, and Democratic Chair of the PA House State Government Committee