As is typical when the Left can’t win their go to tactic is to change the rules. This was done successfully last year in a number of states, including Pennsylvania, where election laws were changed in a manner that benefitted Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden, but which ultimately destroyed confidence in the election outcome.
An equally important battle is being fought over the ground rules that govern the process of redrawing congressional district lines. Republicans control both chambers of the Pennsylvania legislature, Democrats see themselves at a disadvantage so their allied front groups, like so-called Fair Districts PA, have been working hard to change the process.
It is a constitutional requirement that the number of congressional districts allocated to each state must be reapportioned following the decennial census. This is to take into account population shifts among states to ensure the most equal representation possible. That has occurred and Pennsylvania has again lost one congressional district as our population has grown at a much slower rate than that of other states.
So not only must the lines be redrawn to take into consideration population shifts, but one district must be eliminated dropping Penn’s Woods to just 17 congressional seats. When the game of musical chairs stops someone is going to be left standing; the fight is now over who and where.
If you think the process through which laws are passed is fair then you must also view congressional redistricting as fair. That is because the redrawing of congressional district lines follows the exact same process: a input is gathered, a bill is drafted, the bill must win a majority of votes in both chambers of the legislature, and then it must be signed by the governor.
National Democrats attempted to wrest majority control of the Pennsylvania General Assembly from Republicans in last year’s elections directing tens of millions of dollars in out-of-state money into legislative and senate races. It was a spectacular failure as they were unable to add a net of even one seat in either chamber.
Concurrently, the Left had been agitating to change the redistricting process by advocating for a new law that would create a “citizens commission” to redraw the lines. The commission would be appointed by the governor, who happens to be a Democrat.
Aside from the laughable assumption any citizen who might sit on such a commission would be non-partisan and neutral, the entire proposal was a solution in search of a problem and specifically designed to minimize Republican control over the process and advantage Democrats.
Fortunately that has not happened and with the granular data needed to begin the line drawing process expected to be released by the census bureau next month the General Assembly is preparing to do its duty. How that will unfold was outlined last week by legislative leaders.
“The House Republican Caucus has said we are committed to a fair, open and legal process to draw new district lines to preserve our ideal of ‘one person, one vote,’” said state House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R-Center/Mifflin) in announcing a series of public hearings that began this month in Harrisburg and which will extend through October in all areas of the commonwealth. Additionally, a website www.PaRedistricting.com has been launched so the public can submit comments electronically. The website also gives individuals the ability to submit their own proposed redistricting map.
For their part, state senators have also pledged to hold an open and transparent process. Ultimately, after public input has been gathered, a proposed map will be put to a vote in both chambers and sent to Governor Tom Wolf – a Democrat – for signature.
Lurking in the background, however, is the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Following the 2020 census new districts were drawn and passed by the legislature in a bi-partisan vote. The new map initially survived legal challenges before the high court. But, after three highly political activist justices were elected in 2015 the court accepted a case challenging the map, ruled it unconstitutional and then, in an unconstitutional act of its own, imposed a new congressional district map by judicial fiat. The result was a net three seat gain by Democrats.
Bottom line: the congressional redistricting process will proceed under the time-honored, constitutional process used in past years with a Republican-controlled legislature committed to public input and transparency. In the end, it remains to be seen whether Governor Tom Wolf and/or the state Supreme Court hijacks the process for partisan political gain.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal and American Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected].)
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