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LNP - Nothing, not even a decent and fair congressional map, comes easy in Pennsylvania

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New proposals to redraw Pennsylvania’s congressional districts were submitted Thursday, meeting a court-ordered deadline to submit maps of boundaries for the state Supreme Court to consider adopting for this year’s election, The Associated Press reported. Among those submitting maps were the group of registered Democratic voters who sued successfully to invalidate the current map, plus Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, Democratic lawmakers and a group of Republican activists who intervened in the case. On Feb. 9, Republicans submitted their plan, which Gov. Wolf rejected. There are seven proposals for redrawing Pennsylvania’s electoral districts, LNP reported Friday.

It shouldn’t be this difficult. But alas, whether it’s redrawing a congressional map or ordering a sandwich, our state government never fails to disappoint with its ability to turn the relatively uncomplicated into a mind-numbing conundrum.

Not to worry. It’s in the hands of a bunch of lawyers and politicians. What could possibly go wrong?

Wolf has also retained a Tufts University mathematician to weigh in on his version. Not surprisingly, she gave the governor’s map an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

The Supreme Court, meanwhile, has retained a redistricting expert from Stanford University.

As the AP reported Friday, among the sticking points in the suggested maps are how many times heavily populated Montgomery County is split up, which counties are packaged with the city of Reading, and whether incumbent congressmen are kept in their districts.

In one of the Democratic voters’ maps, as the AP reported, the districts of Republican Reps. Lloyd Smucker of Lancaster County and Ryan Costello of Chester County were combined. In another map, Republican Reps. Glenn Thompson of Centre County and Tom Marino of Lycoming County were tied into the same district. In Wolf's map, Thompson and Republican Rep. Mike Kelly of Butler County are in the same district.

Yes, this process is legal and legislative sausage-making at its finest. And it’s likely to get uglier.

Perhaps the best suggestion to resolve the current dilemma came from Philadelphia Daily News columnist John Baer, whose column appears in the LNP Opinion section. Baer called on Amanda Holt, the Allentown piano teacher with no college degree who drew legislative maps that helped end Pennsylvania’s last redistricting fight following the 2010 census. Her maps led to a final 2012 map of state legislative districts. “Not perfect, but better than what lawmakers tried to ram through,” Baer wrote.

Why not? She couldn’t do any worse.

However it happens, this needs to get resolved quickly or, as Baer pointed out, “We face more bickering, more litigation, a constitutional clash, maybe moving the May primary, all while a state House member — Jefferson County GOP Rep. Cris Dush — seeks support for impeaching the five Democratic justices on the seven-member state Supreme Court.”

Republican lawmakers say they will swiftly ask federal judges to block a new map, and contend that the Democratic-majority court had no power to invalidate the congressional boundaries or draw new ones, the AP reported.

But there is something positive happening amid all of this wrangling.

It’s shedding light on the ridiculous practice and process of gerrymandering, for which Pennsylvania is a poster child.

This is not about party. In fact, it can’t be if we’re ever going to have congressional districts that fairly represent the population.

This is an opportunity to restore some semblance of order to the process of drawing congressional districts.

As we’ve written previously, we prefer that a citizens commission — like the one proposed by Fair Districts PA — handle the task of drawing legislative districts.

It’s also not a perfect solution but certainly better than what we have. In this case, perfection is the enemy of good, and we’ll settle for good.

In the meantime, we urge Gov. Wolf and lawmakers to come up with a map that enables Pennsylvanians to cast meaningful votes. What we don’t need is more litigation, especially with the May primary looming.

If the end result of this mess is a bipartisan solution that moves Pennsylvania closer to a fair and permanent fix for drawing congressional districts, then something positive will have come from all of this bickering.

There are seven maps from which to choose. Surely from seven, it shouldn’t be that difficult to cobble together one that makes sense.

It shouldn’t be.


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