The 10 lessons reformers learned in the fight against gerrymandering

To my fellow redistricting reformers, now that the dust has settled on your disappointing season, it’s time to take stock and review what you’ve learned from our Legislature’s latest round of “Legislating Without Results.”

Lesson #1: Most legislators agree the current system for redrawing district lines is flawed. They’re just not ready to agree on a proposed solution.

Lesson #2: Some Republican legislators will never believe your claim that you are against gerrymandering no matter which political party is doing it. They prefer to believe rumors that you’re funded by billionaire George Soros rather than listen or respond to your reform proposals.

Lesson #3: Those same hard-core partisans on the right will continue their false accusations even when partisans from the left try to block the reforms you support.

Lesson #4: The smartest people working in the Legislature aren’t as smart as they think they are. They advised their bosses in the Senate to allow a vote on redistricting reform to provide political cover for their more vulnerable members, then sabotaged that maneuver with a “poison pill” amendment that raised frustrations even higher.

Lesson #5: Legislators don’t always act in their own best interest. If nothing changes, Democrats will control the five-member commission that will redraw state Senate and House district lines after the 2020 census. That’s because the state Supreme Court, now dominated by Democrats, will appoint the chairman of that panel, who will have the deciding vote. Some Republican legislators understand this and would like a bipartisan solution. Others seem oblivious to the changing dynamics.

Lesson #6: The “blame game” works best when there’s plenty of blame to share. First there was the year-long delay when absolutely nothing happened to move reform forward in the General Assembly. Then the chairman of the House State Government Committee produced a bill that gave the majority party in the Legislature even more control over the redistricting process than they have now. Then there was the Senate’s “poison pill” (see Lesson #4 above). Then the attempt by both political parties in the House to bury a reform bill with hundreds of bogus amendments. Which brings us to …

Lesson #7: The party with an overwhelming majority in the House somehow lacks the power to enact reform. A majority is all they need when they want to enact laws that benefit their party and those who support it (e.g., Voter ID). But when it comes to ending gerrymandering, it seems a majority isn’t enough. Apparently you need a “consensus” to enact redistricting reform, but we’re still not clear how many votes that requires.

Lesson #8: It always helps to take good notes. They will come in handy on Election Day. You’ll want to remember how many times House Speaker Mike Turzai ignored requests to meet with reform advocates and even his own constituents (at least 75). Which legislators voted for Rep. Daryl Metcalfe’s gut and replace amendment. Which refused to co-sponsor reform legislation. On the flip side, you’ll want to remember the brave legislators on both sides who worked hard to make reform happen.

Lesson #9: It’s important to share what you’ve learned with others. All Pennsylvania voters will benefit from these lessons when report cards are issued to voters across the Commonwealth in time for the November election. More to come on that. And finally …

Lesson #10: Never lose faith that reform is possible now that you know how the legislative process works. Remember, a new semester begins in January, hopefully with some new faces in the Legislature, and new opportunities to learn.

Patrick Beaty, legislative director, Fair Districts Pa

Link to the Penn Live site where this was published