I am writing in response to criticism of Senate Bill 22 by Keystone Progress, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center and others. We are sorry to see any advocate organization come out against a bill that is still a work in progress and is likely the best avenue toward reform of our current very partisan redistricting process.
The status quo is not acceptable.
Without a viable legislative vehicle, such as SB 22, to advance reform efforts in the current legislative session the status quo continues for another decade or more.
Despite the criticism we’ve heard, it’s hard to imagine how 11 citizens, working in public meetings, forbidden to use partisan data and constrained by rules limiting split municipalities and counties would yield legislative maps even worse than those currently drawn by five party operatives working in secret with any data they choose.
And it’s hard to believe that the process that gave us Goofy kicking Donald and other wild distortions would be seen as offering checks and balances stronger than language added to the amended SB 22 to ensure a fair, transparent process.
Any legislative solution — even an ideal one — is subject to a perfect storm scenario, where anything that can go wrong, does go wrong. Rather than dwelling on the least likely outcomes, let’s focus on the most likely. SB 22 as amended puts in place a process manifestly less likely to be subverted by partisan manipulation than the current one.
We believe SB 22 as amended is an important step forward in efforts to end partisan gerrymandering in PA.
We are also confident that the current version of SB 22 is not the final version. Fair Districts PA and other organizations have been working with Senator Folmer and other legislators on specific changes to further strengthen the bill before it goes to a vote on the floor.
Implementing legislation will add more safeguards. The California redistricting commission, the model for the original SB 22, owes much of its success to the very detailed commissioner vetting regulations developed from ideas originating in public town halls, online comments and extensive negotiation. All took place after passage of the citizens initiative itself.
Much of the pushback we’ve seen about details removed from SB 22 to be added back in implementing language, reflects a misunderstanding about the scope of a constitutional amendment. The policy staff who drafted the original Senate Bill 22 argued that it was too long and contained too much detail. Even with some of that detail removed, the amended version dwarfs whole sections of the PA Constitution.
If strong implementing language is not in place in time for a public referendum, then that would be the time to vote no. Opposition at this point is premature and would imperil the process rather than help build momentum toward reform.
The Folmer amendment to Senate Bill 22 is not perfect. Neither was the original SB 22, or the current HB 2402 (the reintroduced HB 722). The bill introduced by House Majority Leader Dave Reed is not perfect. The California commission, the only independent redistricting commission in the country selected without any legislative input, offers a good model but is itself imperfect. We will continue to work toward the strongest bill possible, but insist that any comparison be with the current partisan process rather than a theoretical ideal.
This is a complicated, important statewide and national conversation, and Fair Districts PA has been at the forefront here in PA, resulting in:
Over 40,000 citizen signatures, heavily bipartisan, on petitions calling for reform.
Over 30,000 Fair Districts members and supporters across the Commonwealth.
Over 260 resolutions asking for reform from city and town governments and 19 county commissions of all political persuasions.
Over 435 public meetings with over 20,000 attending.
The response from politicians and the public has been clear:
Strong bipartisan support in the Legislature in terms of authorship and co-sponsorship. The original version of HB 722 had more co-sponsors than any bill on this session’s calendar.
60 editorials this year alone (84 in all) from 40 media outlets statewide, ALL of them calling for reform.
A public poll shows nearly 70% of Pennsylvanians support redistricting reform.
Because Pennsylvania has no provision for initiative or referendum, any effort toward redistricting reform must include the Legislature. Therefore, we very much appreciate the willingness of Senators Folmer, Corman, Costa and others to join and support that conversation as it unfolds. We ask Speaker Turzai to do the same in the House.
We invite all organizations committed to redistricting reform to join the conversation in a positive way. Not by criticizing efforts already underway, but by supporting legislation that has a real chance to succeed in replacing our current hyper-partisan system with a fully functioning independent citizens commission free from political interference..
Carol Kuniholm, Chair, Fair Districts PA