Bafflingly Upbeat on Redistricting

By O'Neill, Brian | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), December 30, 2018 | Go to article overview

Bafflingly Upbeat on Redistricting


O'Neill, Brian, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Would that we all had Carol Kuniholm's confidence. She seems to believe we can get the Pennsylvania General Assembly to do the right thing.

Such optimism is baffling. Longtime observers of Harrisburg are justifiably cynical. The leadership there is generally about as eager to embrace reform as Steelers fans are to don a Patriots jersey.

But Ms. Kuniholm, co-founder and chair of FairDistrictsPa, has little patience for pessimism. She wants nothing less than a new map of legislative districts that is stripped of partisan politics, and believes results of the legislative election in November provide hope.

I don't see what she sees.

Sure, the makeup of the state House and Senate is not entirely the same. The Democrats netted 11 seats, which sounds like a lot until you remember this is America's Largest Full-Time Statehouse. Thus flipping 11 seats means the Democrats are still down 110-93 to Republicans, and the Rs are not likely to be interested in releasing their hold on which bills come to a vote.

Take Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, who heads the House State Government Committee. Last spring, he didn't let the House vote on a constitutional amendment to establish an independent commission to draw state legislative and U.S. congressional district boundaries. He shredded the bill instead.

It's simply wrong that one "crazy man," by himself, can keep a bill with bipartisan support from coming to a vote, Ms. Kuniholm said.

The Legislature "spends taxpayer dollars without accomplishing anything - meaning that the cost to residents per bill actually passed is incredibly high," a FairDistrictsPa position paper argues.

Mind you, you don't have to be a Democrat to think the current rules are bogus. Republican Rep. Aaron Bernstine, whose oddly drawn district takes in parts of Beaver, Lawrence and Butler counties, tweeted Dec. 17: "I'm 110 percent for reforms on how bills are voted on to bring more legislation to the floor." He questioned some of FairDistricts' argument, but, in another tweet, he suggested rules to "allow members a certain number of bills that move directly to the floor that would be debated/amended/voted on. Would call politicians on the carpet for voting on issues that matter!"

With 203 House members, that might mean too many bills rather than too few, but the current setup leaves all the power with just a handful of people. …

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