EAST FALLS NOW ARTICLE: COVID-19 and Redistricting Reform

By the time you read this, we will have shared the experience of this pandemic for almost three months.

During those three months, we have been in session in Harrisburg for many days of those weeks; a record number of consecutive weeks in my experience.

Please know I am truly willing to work 24/7 on behalf of my constituents, especially at such an urgent time. My point of frustration has been the myriad proposed pieces of legislation that have been introduced and voted on during this time. The sole goal of this legislation is to undermine the Governor’s executive powers during this emergency. Emergency powers granted by the General Assembly, albeit not this General Assembly.

I imagine that the General Assembly that granted these powers was a body made up of state senators and state representatives who talked to each other and not at each other; a General Assembly who would work diligently with a Governor to identify the priorities for the commonwealth and a magnitude of order that was for the greater good of our citizens; a General Assembly composed of members who would not say, after the fact, “Gee, I wish I did not have to put up that bad vote.”

I can provide (and have on many occasions) chapter and verse of examples of a General Assembly that is not functioning to the best of its ability to serve our constituents.

On too many session days, and in too many committee meetings, it is about winning. Too many times, I have seen a bill bottled up, not because there are insufficient votes to vote the bill out of committee, but because the majority of votes needed to pass the bill must come from the majority party. Whipped votes (a pre-count of how members will vote) do not include minority party members.

What is the cause of this dysfunction? What is the remedy? Gerrymandering has greatly contributed to this polarization, gridlock and skewed outcomes of the legislative process.

Yes, gerrymandering has been around since the early 1800s. Yes, no system of redrawing lines to determine the district boundaries for state senate, state representative and congress is foolproof. However, there are better processes that are used successfully by other states, and I have been a staunch member of the effort to bring such reform to Pennsylvania.

The establishment of an Independent Redistricting Commission to draw these boundaries would take this critical task out of the hands of the elected officials who are directly impacted by this redraw of the district lines.

My first year in this role as your state representative, 2011, was a redistricting year, and I was horrified at the process. It was opaque, and I witnessed my colleagues arguing over which voting divisions and neighborhoods they wanted in their districts.

Citizens need only look at how gerrymandered districts are throughout the state and in Philadelphia, too. I have an album of such gerrymandered districts on Facebook. The current exception is the congressional districts because the League of Women Voters sued the commonwealth in 2017 over the egregious gerrymander of the congressional districts and won. However, those fairer drawn districts will go away in 2021 unless an independent redistricting commission is established.

I have worked tirelessly for a committee vote of HB22, HB23 and HB2327. These bills would establish an independent redistricting commission. This reform would produce more competitive races in the state senate, representative and congressional races.

If races were more competitive, candidates would have to appeal to a broader number of citizens and not just a narrow base on the far left or far right. If candidates were elected with a broader base of support, their decisions, once in office, would be more moderate; elected officials would be talking to each other and not at each other, and, as importantly, the General Assembly would not have made it a goal over the past three months to undermine the Governor’s duly granted executive powers in the middle of this pandemic.

By the way, the primary election is June 2. My hope, as always, is an engaged citizenry without that engagement elected officials could be less inclined to feel accountable. Please know, yours truly is accountable regardless of turnout – if not I would not be hosting my 96th town hall this month.

Stay well. Let’s continue the dialogue. This topic, and hopefully this pandemic, is time limited and time sensitive as our next redistricting is in 2021.