Gerrymandering highlights Indivisible KSQ agenda
By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Before about 50 concerned citizens at the Friends Meeting House in Kennett Square on Feb. 3, the first meeting of Indivisible Kennett Square in 2018 centered much of its focus on ways that members can continue to support proposed legislation and court rulings aimed at eliminating gerrymandering in Pennsylvania.
Indivisible KSQ was established in 2017 to empower local citizens to focus its energies on creating effective action by weakening congressional Republican agendas while supporting Democratic opposition through informed local action. Supported by nearly 300 members, the group dedicated a large portion of its first year to helping Hispanic families in the Kennett Square community who are affected by anti-immigration efforts and possible deportation.
The agenda addressed the 4-3 decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Jan. 22 that ruled in favor of redrawing the state's 18 congressional districts. In an effort to eliminate gerrymandering in the Commonwealth, the state's Supreme Court ruled that Gov. Tom Wolf and the state's Republican-controlled Legislature now have until Feb. 15 to draw new lines. If Wolf and Republican lawmakers can't reach a consensus by Feb. 15, the Democratic-controlled state Supreme Court will draw the lines itself. The deadline for prospective candidates for Congress to file with the state is in March.
As expected, several members of the Pennsylvania Republican Congressional Delegation quickly issued a statement in opposition to the Supreme Court ruling, calling it “a misguided decision” and “an unfortunate example of the judicial branch inserting itself into the core functions of the legislative branch.”
Despite Republican opposition to the ruling, the United States Supreme Court announced on Feb. 5 that it will not block a state court ruling requiring Pennsylvania's Legislature to immediately redraw its legislative boundaries.
"The U.S. Supreme Court correctly recognized that there is no reason to delay implementing the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's order," Wolf said in a statement. "Now, all parties must focus on getting a fair map in place. Gerrymandering is wrong and we must correct errors of the past with the existing map. My team is ready, willing and able to work with the General Assembly to ensure a new map is fair and within the clear orders given by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court."
Indivisible KSQ volunteer Joanne Greenstein encouraged those in attendance to apply pressure on their legislators to support the passage of Pa. Senate Bill 22, a bipartisan proposal introduced by Sens. Lisa Boscola-(D) and Mario Scavello-(R) and Pa. House Bill 722, a bipartisan proposal introduced by Reps. Eric Roe, a Republican, and Steve Samuelson, a Democrat. Both bills propose to create an 11-member independent citizens commission, chosen by the state's Secretary of State, to be in charge of both legislative and congressional redistricting.
The commission would include no current or recent elected officials, candidates, political party officials, or their aides or spouses would be eligible. Legislative leaders from both houses and parties would be able to strike a designated number of candidates from each pool. Further, the commission would establish transparent procedures, follow a strict timetable, and provide meaningful opportunity for public input prior to drawing plans and again before adopting final plans.
Greenstein said that as of Feb. 3, the two bills bills have received support from 103 members of the Pa. House of Representatives and 17 state senators. She also encouraged members to help in efforts to join Coatesville with the 16 local municipalities that have recently passed resolutions in support the two bills. For those in attendance who do not live in the Coatesville district, Greenstein suggested they reach out to the Chester County Association of Township Officials, to encourage them to encourage Coatesville's elected officials to support the formation of an independent commission.
Wayne Braffman of the Kennett Area Democrats offered those in attendance what he called a “purely partisan perspective” to the anti-gerrymandering efforts currently underway, saying that while he acknowledges that the bills are receiving support from Republicans Roe and State Sen. Thomas Killion (9th District), neither has been able to get these bills to a hearing. He said their support of the bills “is flat dead phony.”
“[Killion] has known about these bills for a year, but has not been able to get a single hearing to mark the bill up in his own committee,” Braffman said. “It's wonderful that Eric Roe is the sponsor [of the bill] on the House side, but he has not been able to get a single meeting to mark up that bill on the House side. The politics of it? There is no way the Republican Party will allow [these bills] to go forward. There is no way that they will allow those hearings to take place.
“They know that this a wildly popular idea, that the public is in favor of getting rid of gerrymandering. It's nice to say that they can say, 'I'm a sponsor. I'm with you.' Then they go home. Don't give them a pass. If they can't get the hearings, then these bills are worthless. They're just toeing the party line. That's just the brutal, political facts of it. Don't let any of these folks off the hook. Let them know that their support is not enough. If they can't get the bills to committee and to a vote, then we don't need them.”
Greenstein said that while many in attendance may share Braffman's viewpoints, she encouraged members to remain non-partisan in their fight to eliminate district gerrymandering in Pennsylvania.
“Whereas some of you may have Wayne's perspective, it's not going to get us anywhere if you approach people that way,” she said. “You have to look at it from a different perspective. Thanking Killion and Roe for [their support] to get the bill out of committee is a good idea.
“If we have an 'Us versus Them' thing, I don't think we're going to be successful. We need to thank them, and then keep up the pressure.”
Indivisible KSQ also addressed issues related to the impact of recent legislation on local residents affected by Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and guidelines related to the signing of petitions that are required for candidates to run for office in Pennsylvania. The group will host a petition signing party for local candidates at the Kennett Brewing Company on Feb. 10, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
To learn more about Indivisible KSQ, visit www.indivisbleksq.wordpress.com.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.