Leg­is­la­ture must choose ger­ry­man­der­ing so­lu­tion care­fully

The Southern Berks News - - OPINION -

For over a year, the Se­nate State Govern­ment Com­mit­tee, which I chair, has been re­view­ing pro­pos­als to change how elec­tion lines are drawn.

Un­der the cur­rent sys­tem, the four leg­isla­tive lead­ers plus a fifth mem­ber they or the Penn­syl­va­nia Supreme Court ap­points es­tab­lish the Gen­eral As­sem­bly’s elec­tion dis­tricts. Con­gres­sional dis­tricts are deter­mined by statute. Op­po­nents say both sys­tems too of­ten re­sult in “ger­ry­man­der­ing.”

“Ger­ry­man­der­ing” is named af­ter Mas­sachusetts Gov. El­bridge Gerry who in 1812 signed a bill estab­lish­ing elec­tion dis­tricts. Op­po­nents said one map was so odd it re­sem­bled a sala­man­der; Gerry’s name plus “sala­man­der” gives us “ger­ry­man­der.”

Be­cause the Com­mon­wealth’s cur­rent process is out­lined in Penn­syl­va­nia’s Con­sti­tu­tion, changes re­quire a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment and Cal­i­for­nia has been much of the fo­cus.

Cal­i­for­nia’s ap­point­ments be­gin with ap­pli­ca­tions. Of the over 35,000 ap­pli­cants, 5,000 sub­mit­ted es­says re­viewed by ran­domly cho­sen au­di­tors and from this list, 14 cit­i­zens were ran­domly cho­sen to serve on the Cal­i­for­nia com­mis­sion.

I agree: Penn­syl­va­nia needs an in­de­pen­dent cit­i­zens’ com­mis­sion. How­ever, I sim­ply can­not in good con­science del­e­gate ap­point­ments to a process even sup­port­ers called “com­pli­cated and com­plex.”

I be­lieve the Leg­is­la­ture has an un­ques­tioned re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure any redis­trict­ing com­mis­sion is care­fully cho­sen. I take my oath of of­fice se­ri­ously to sup­port, obey, and de­fend both the United States Con­sti­tu­tion and the Penn­syl­va­nia Con­sti­tu­tion and to dis­charge my du­ties “with fi­delity.” Ar­ti­cle I, Sec­tion 2 of the United States Con­sti­tu­tion es­tab­lishes the re­quire­ment to ap­por­tion con­gres­sional dis­tricts and gives states the au­thor­ity to es­tab­lish qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

Work­ing with var­i­ous pro­po­nents of redis­trict­ing re­form, I’m pleased to have helped ad­vance a mea­sure to bring needed changes to our Com­mon­wealth’s redis­trict­ing process.

The Se­nate State Govern­ment Com­mit­tee re­cently ap­proved pro­posed changes to es­tab­lish an 11-mem­ber in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion ap­proved by two-thirds votes of the Gen­eral As­sem­bly: two Democrats and two Repub­li­cans ap­proved by two-thirds vote of the Se­nate, two Democrats and two Repub­li­cans ap­proved by two-thirds vote of the House, and three in­de­pen­dents or other par­ties ap­proved by two-thirds vote of both cham­bers. A two-thirds vote en­sures ev­ery­one is both heard and has mean­ing­ful in­put.

While de­tails of the ap­pli­ca­tion and se­lec­tion process need fur­ther re­fine­ment, I very much ap­pre­ci­ate the will­ing­ness of those who have been work­ing with me to de­fer this knotty is­sue while we con­tinue to work with one another to ad­vance the pro­posed con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment. I’m hon­ored by their trust and I look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing to work to re­solve the is­sues as­so­ci­ated with this key com­po­nent of a re­vised redis­trict­ing process.

At the same time, I’ve ques­tioned the role of the Penn­syl­va­nia Supreme Court un­der both our ex­ist­ing Con­sti­tu­tion and with pos­si­ble con­sti­tu­tional changes.

I be­lieve the Penn­syl­va­nia Supreme Court ex­ceeded its au­thor­ity by their re­cent ac­tions to re­draw 2011 con­gres­sional maps. The Court ap­pointed a Spe­cial Master: one per­son, from out-of­s­tate. No pub­lic in­put. No pub­lic hear­ings. No op­por­tu­ni­ties to ques­tion the new lines.

I find this lack of open­ness and trans­parency to be trou­bling at best and a bla­tant dis­re­gard of our Con­sti­tu­tion at worst. Ei­ther way, if we’re go­ing to change the redis­trict­ing process, I be­lieve th­ese is­sues must be ad­dressed as well.

I hope the changes we have pro­posed will help to se­cure and pro­tect the in­tegrity of our Con­sti­tu­tional Repub­lic. I be­lieve in our sys­tem of govern­ment and I re­main com­mit­ted to its en­dur­ing abil­ity to pro­tect our in­alien­able God-given rights.

State Sen. Mike Folmer rep­re­sents Penn­syl­va­nia’s 48th Sen­a­to­rial District in por­tions of Le­banon, Dauphin and York coun­ties.

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