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Fair Districts for Pennsylvanians

Dec 14, 2017 • by Arthur Naylor, Coordinator for Berks and Schuylkill Counties, Fair Districts PA
From Wikipedia: The word gerrymander (originally written Gerry-mander) was used for the first time in the Boston Gazette on 26 March 1812. The word was created in reaction to a redrawing of Massachusetts state senate election districts under Governor Elbridge Gerry (pronounced /ˈɡɛri/; 1744–1814). In 1812, Governor Gerry signed a bill that redistricted Massachusetts to benefit his Democratic-Republican Party. When mapped, one of the contorted districts in the Boston area was said to resemble the shape of a salamander.

Shared from City of Reading Council Newsletter

Sadly, when it comes to electing our representatives to Congress in Washington and to the state General Assembly in Harrisburg, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most of us wonder whether our votes really matter.

We’ve all, no doubt, heard about gerrymandering, and we probably all know about the related court battles, from Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, to name but two.

It’s the same trick that political leaders from both major parties have been pulling for over 200 years to protect themselves and their party from being voted out of office.

At one time, gerrymandering was just a parlor game for political leaders. Today, however, with modern mapping technology, gerrymandering can be done to a razor’s edge giving one party an outsized advantage over the others. And that’s troubling.

It now means party leaders already know which candidate will win in each district, even before the first vote is cast. And this is why, for the last ten years, we’ve had pretty much the same representatives in Congress and in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, year after year after year.

In Berks County, in 2016, none of our state legislative candidates for the General Assembly in Harrisburg had opponents in the General Election. After all, running against an incumbent is expensive, and if there’s very little chance of winning with gerrymandered districts, why even bother?

When it comes to our representation in Washington, Berks County is divided into four congressional districts, each of which crosses into several other counties and divides our local communities, school districts, business corridors and public infrastructure. And none of our congressional representatives live in Berks County.

So, how well can they really know us or our local communities? How much do they really care about our businesses and infrastructure, especially when we are just a small part of their gerrymandered districts?

Modern gerrymandering is an unconstitutional theft of our right to representation. It reduces us to red and blue votes, and yes, it means our votes really do not matter.

Gerrymandering ignores the communities in which we live and work. It ignores our school districts. It ignores our businesses. It ignores our infrastructure. The point of gerrymandering is not what’s best for constituents but what’s good for politicians. And there’s the problem.

Berks County has not been served well because of our gerrymandered districts that make our votes and our representation nearly meaningless.

There is a better way. Fair Districts PA supports an amendment to the state constitution that eliminates political influence in determining our congressional and state legislative districts.  Senate Bill 22 and House Bill 722 will end gerrymandering in Pennsylvania. They are identical bills.

Both bills are currently in the State Government Committees of their respective Chamber in the General Assembly in Harrisburg. They need to have public hearings, and for that to happen, we need local legislators to stand up and speak out for their passage. Which means we all need to contact our local legislators, now, and urge them to co-sponsor these bills.

Four of our Berks County state representatives, Mark Rozzi, Thomas Caltagirone, Mark Gillen and Jim Cox have co-sponsored House Bill 722. One of our state senators, Judy Schwank, has co-sponsored Senate Bill 22. We need to thank them for representing their constituents, first and foremost.

The following Berks County state representatives have yet to co-sponsor House Bill 722: Barry Jozwiak, Jerry Knowles, David Maloney, Ryan Mackenzie and Gary Day. The following state senators have yet to co-sponsor Senate Bill 22: Bob Mensch, David Argall and John Rafferty. We need to let them know that as their constituents, we want them to represent us, first and foremost, rather than the status quo, which clearly is not working in Washington or Harrisburg. They need to stand up and speak out for the passage of these bills, and they need to do so now. Ask them to co-sponsor these bills, today.

City Council of Reading has passed a resolution of support for redistricting reform in Pennsylvania. They know well what the lack of good representation has meant for our neighborhoods, schools, businesses and infrastructure. Other local municipalities are also passing resolutions of support for redistricting reform.

Redistricting reform is not about changing representation from one political party or the other. That should always be up to the voters.

Redistricting reform is about good representation. It’s about making our votes matter.

We need to put our elected officials on notice that we intend to make our votes matter, with or without them. And we can each help end gerrymandering in Pennsylvania and in Berks County, once and for all, by contacting our local state legislators, who can fix this for all Pennsylvanians.

Contact us at FairDistrictsPA.com for more information about how you can help change the way politics works in our state and in Berks County.

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