Last week we had a request from a resident to consider a resolution in support of gerrymandering reform legislation. Specifically, one that supports a citizens commission for legislative redistricting. This is similar to a request made in front of Lehigh County a few weeks ago. County Commissioners passed a resolution in favor. Here is the article. Whitehall Township also is considering similar a resolution.
Pennsylvania is one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation. Gerrymandering is when politicians draw the borders of their own voting districts to protect and give unfair advantages to incumbents. When this happens, instead of voters choosing their elected officials, politicians choose their voters. Because of this many districts are no longer competitive. Each year a growing number of candidates run unopposed. Voters in those districts no longer have a choice. Because of this partisan hackery, gridlock in Harrisburg gets worse and worse.
Here is a video from Fairdistricts PA which overviews the problem.
I have written about this problem many times on this blog and I 100% support the request to draft and pass a resolution strongly urging elected officials in Harrisburg to tackle the problem. This is a basic and essential good government reform.
The fair question here is why should a local municipality take the time to draft and pass a non-binding resolution? Well for one thing this kind of advocacy is actually outlined as one of our responsibilities in the Township Commissioner Handbook.
“The commissioners’ role as a legislator is not confined to enacting township laws. Elected officials represent the township and are expected to be concerned with and at times, attempt to influence state legislation affecting their municipality. The General Assembly considers legislation affecting all townships, all local governments in Pennsylvania and each individual municipality or region.
As representatives of the township, commissioners are in a position to exert some influence on the decisions of state legislators. The relationship between commissioners and legislators is more effective if the board takes an official position by adopting a resolution prior to contacting their legislators.” – Township Commissioners Handbook 4th edition
So how does gerrymandering impact Lower Macungie Twp.? For starters, we rely on our state elected officials to advocate on behalf of our township in Harrisburg. So much of what we do at the township level is determined and dictated by decisions made at the state level. When districts are gerrymandered in extreme ways state officials represent districts that make no geographic sense. Often times including vastly different areas with very different concerns and needs. In the very worse cases districts aren’t even contiguous. Meaning they can have donut holes or islands. This makes the whole process of advocacy less effective. It’s not the case, but in theory – Let’s say Lower Mac was cherrypicked by one district and Alburtis another. This would mean each area would be represented by a different legislator. Makes no sense since both face the same issues, share a border and share infrastructure needs. (Exhibit ‘A’ would be the truck issue)
So we definitely should have concerns for local townships who want most effective advocacy from our state officials. The 134th right now is pretty spread out, but again nowhere near the worse example. However this can always change if state parties decide they want to arbitrarily protect an incumbent for political gain.
The system today is political instead of objective. As a local elected official we have an obligation to be concerned with and at times, attempt to influence state legislation affecting or potentially affecting our municipality. The best way we can accomplish this it is to pass a formal resolution and urge Senator Pat Browne and Rep. Ryan Mackenzie to both support (or continue to support) bi-partisan redistricting reform. Browne and two other area State Senators representing the Lehigh Valley already do. Lisa Boscola (D) (representing Emmaus) is a prime sponsor. Pat Browne (R) (representing Lower Mac) and Mario Scavello (R have joined as co-sponsors. Browne chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee, and is one of the most influential legislators in the state. Very important as a township that we support him and others in this good government reform effort.