There is nothing more corrosive to our political system than the election-rigging practice known as gerrymandering. Every 10 years politicians draw legislative districts to ensure that their party wins a majority of seats and their candidates do not have to worry about competitive elections.
During this year's redistricting process, the tie-breaking chair of the five-member redistricting commission made it clear throughout the process that he was willing to side with the Republicans on all disputed matters. This gave the Republicans complete control. With no restraints they crafted such an over-the-top gerrymandered map that the State Supreme Court, on a bi-partisan basis, said it went too far and struck it down.
The court ordered that the old 2001 lines would remain in effect for the 2012 election while the Commission drew a new map. A federal court subsequently affirmed that decision. The Republicans, deprived of the ability to gerrymander and now facing actual competitive elections are not happy.
Gov. Corbett has floated a plan that would keep the scheduled April 24 date for the presidential primary, but then create an entirely separate, second primary election for state legislative seats, to be held sometime in August or September. This is to give them time to draft a brand new gerrymandered plan to ensure that they can pick who shall sit in the state House and Senate for the next 10 years.
Moving the primary is an outrageous idea. First, in reliance on the Supreme Court's order of Jan. 25, 2012, and a subsequent federal order, candidates across the state, House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, have circulated and filed petitions in their current districts and successfully earned a spot on the ballot. To tell these hundreds of candidates that despite the court orders, none of that counted and that they would have to circulate new petitions in new districts they may or may not live in is unfair and wrong. It ignores the express will of the voters who signed the petitions, and it is an invitation to massive chaos and litigation.
More importantly, it is undisputed that a second primary would cost Pennsylvania tax payers approximately 25 million dollars. At a time when we are cutting basic human services and a number of our school districts are literally on the verge of closing their doors, this is unconscionable. Gov. Corbett recently said in his budget address that we are facing "tough times" and "difficult realities." He said, "Every dollar spent by government is one dollar less in the sector that creates real prosperity."
In recent hearings and meetings on school funding in which I participated, the administration was very clear that there simply was no more money to give to poor schools, and that things were so bad we had to cut college funding by 30 percent. The governor also said we have to eliminate the last pennies from cash assistance for the poorest Pennsylvanians.
The Republican legislative leaders have been saying the same things. Yet if their own, personal, political fortunes are at stake, is taxpayer money suddenly no object? If it takes 25 million dollars to facilitate a Republican gerrymander for 2012, does that money suddenly appear? Where does that money come from? What schools or veterans or police or programs for the disabled would get cut to pay for GOP smooth sailing in the 2012 elections?
Rather than kicking 500-600 candidates of both parties who followed the rules off the ballot, or spending tens of millions of dollars to change our time-tested single primary process, it is far better to take our time, understand the Supreme Court's new guidelines and create non-gerrymandered, honest districts that serve all of the people of Pennsylvania rather than the politicians of one party. These new districts could take effect for the 2014 election. There is precedent for this in other states that had unresolved redistricting disputes in the past.
I would note that if we ran the 2012 elections using the 2001 lines, we would hardly be using a Democratic plan or being unfair to the Republicans. Keep in mind, those 2001 lines were themselves the product of the previous GOP gerrymander as the majority of the 2001 commission was also Republican. There is no doubt that Republicans would like to update the map to their advantage. But is this really what we should be spending 25 million tax dollars on?