Hypocrisy on Redistricting Is Epidemic in PA House GOP Caucus

Pottstown House DistrictsPottstown House Districts (Submitted Images)
Oo-Ed by Carol Kuniholm, Fair Districts PA Chair in Exton, PA

Hypocrisy on the topic of redistricting is epidemic in the PA House GOP caucus at present. Sadly, it appears past members are not immune.

The recent opinion piece by four former PA representatives mentioned more than 100 years of collective service. That includes a combined record of many decades of personal benefit from the last two cycles of extreme partisan gerrymandering.

The representatives mention that this is the sixth legislative reapportionment under the current Pennsylvania constitution. The first three yielded districts with a slight Republican skew. In a hypothetical, exactly-even election, those House plans would have yielded about a 1% Republican advantage: about 2 extra seats to the Republican party. In 2002 that changed to a 4.3% advantage, an extra 8 or 9 seats in that hypothetical election. In 2012 that jumped to 7.5%: a robust extra 15 seats for the party that had the final say in drawing our current House map. All four representatives who wrote that op ed were in office at the time. None spoke out against that clear injustice.

The proposed map shifts back toward a more balanced outcome. In that hypothetical election, the outcome would be about a Republican advantage of about 2.5%, about 5 extra seats. Voters who believe in free and equal elections would prefer to see that number closer to zero, but 2.5% is certainly better than the current 7.5%.

The writers point to the 29th District in Bucks and 168th in Delaware County. They fail to mention egregious examples even closer to home in the current PA House map. My own House District 155 wobbles and weaves not far from Steve Barrar’s 160th and Marcy Toeppel’s 147th, splintering five Chester County school districts, dividing the small, cohesive municipality of Phoenixville, and splitting a Phoenixville precinct. All in the name of a few extra R districts.

Toeppel’s own 147th cuts West Pottstown from Pottstown City. The city itself is split by HD 146 and HD 26, a Chester County district except for the urban slice of Pottstown pulled into an otherwise conservative rural district. Without question partisan bias was the primary motive.

It’s true that the proposed LRC map does not score well on competitiveness, which is not a value embedded in law or legal precedent. On every criteria spelled out in the PA Constitution (compactness, contiguity, as few divisions as possible to counties, municipalities and wards) the proposed map scores far better than the current House map.

House District 177 Committee of Seventy

The writers say “the proposed state House map is an affront to the institution in which we served.” Not at all. It remedies past affronts, including current HD 177, the district where John Taylor presided for over thirty years. That bizarrely shaped district was drawn to provide him with enough white Republicans to remain in office as the neighborhoods around him, in the beleaguered community of Kensington, became increasingly Black, Latino and Democratic. His voting record will show opposition to many bills which would have benefited a majority of his constituents. His district became increasingly competitive over time until he finally decided not to run again in 2018. That he would speak out against gerrymandering after enjoying that distorted district for so many years is an offense to the reason of any Pennsylvanian able to read a map.

Fair Districts PA is a non-partisan, volunteer-led organization which educates voters about redistricting and advocates for a less partisan process. We encourage readers to ignore the misinformation and partisan hype. You can find tools to compare maps and offer comments at www.fairdistrictspa.com/updates/preliminary-maps-review-and-offer-comment.

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