By John Taylor, Marcy Toepel, Stephen Barrar and Paul Clymer
We have a unique perspective on the battle over legislative redistricting. Our more than 100 years of collective service to our communities and the commonwealth in the state House of Representatives infused in us a deep respect for our constituents and the institution of the state House.
The citizens of our commonwealth will suffer a tremendous disservice should the preliminary plan passed by a 3-2 vote of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission on Dec. 16 be approved in January without major revisions.
We know the unique relationships citizens develop with their legislators. We all had constituents from whom we would hear regularly on the issues of the day or for assistance in cutting through bureaucratic red tape. We come to know and develop working relationships with officials, both elected and administrative, in other levels of government. Those relationships are utilized on a regular basis for the benefit of our constituents.
Representing about 66,000 people, the state House is still grassroots service. It’s about trying to secure funding to help our Little Leagues and libraries. It’s about making sure our neighbors’ collective voice is heard in state government. The job is not only about where you stand on hot-button issues but rather priorities such as delivering effective constituent services, pushing for increased education funding or the approval of a transportation improvement project in our districts.
What then can be said about a commission that approved a preliminary map that shifts more than 1 in 3 Pennsylvanians to a new legislative district? According to the LRC’s own data, 36% of Pennsylvanians, up from 24% in the 2011 reapportionment, will be moved to new districts. That’s 4.6 million citizens displaced from their already recognized community of interest.
This is the sixth legislative reapportionment under the current state Constitution. While shifts in population will always require that a district or two be moved to a different part of the state, none of the shifts associated with the previous five reapportionments were as seismic as the proposed state House plan.
The 29th District in Bucks County and 168th District in Delaware County are two of the more glaring examples of districts that were repositioned. The 29th district, represented by Rep. Megan Schroeder, would represent five new communities while losing two, changing by more than 75%. And the new 29th would also end the decades-long pairing of Warminster and Warwick townships in the same legislative district.
The 168th District, represented by Rep. Chris Quinn, would lose its historical base of Media Borough and be centered in Radnor. The redrawn 168th would divide the Rose Tree Media School District and also split the Marple Newtown School District.
Why has the proposed state House map been drawn as it has? Unfortunately, it appears partisan ends are being pursued by the LRC. Mark Nordenberg, a retired academic, was selected as LRC chairman by the Democratically controlled state Supreme Court. House Democratic leaders were clear that their goal for the commission was to take back the majority in the House.
Democratic strategist J.J. Abbott told the Philadelphia Inquirer the new House map was drawn with a mind toward “prioritizing competitiveness.” That’s ironic given that the map received an F for competitiveness from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.
The proposed state House map is an affront to the institution in which we served. The lack of competitiveness means more legislators from the extremes of each party will be elected, making compromise even more difficult. It will worsen gridlock and dysfunction as the House and its members find their footing after the earthquake wrought by this unprecedented map.
Legislators represent all of their constituents, including those from the opposing party and the ever-growing number of independent voters disillusioned with the two major parties. The complete rupture from past practice when legislative maps were typically approved on a bipartisan basis and clear lack of respect for those elected to represent more than 4.6 million Pennsylvanians makes this plan one that should be rejected if not significantly revised before its adoption. ••
Taylor, Toepel, Barrar and Clymer are former Republican state representatives.