EDITORIAL: Removing politics from redistricting great in theory, not a reality

2017-12-07 | The Tribune-Democrat

Dec. 07--We agree with the premise of a lawsuit challenging the state's process for drawing legislative districts, but we suspect that any notion of squeezing the politics out of this political process is folly.

The battle over the practice of aligning political boundaries to favor one party over another -- known as gerrymandering -- is playing out in courtrooms in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

The process tends to skew representation at the federal level in favor of the party that controls the state legislature.

A group of Pennsylvania Democrats challenged this state's boundaries, and a trial is going on this week before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a gerrymandering case out of Wisconsin and is yet to rule.

The plaintiffs in Pennsylvania argued that while voter rolls are split almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans, the GOP-led General Assembly set district boundaries that put high concentrations of Democrats in a few congressional districts and gave Republicans a smaller majority in more districts.

Republicans currently hold 13 of the state's 18 congressional seats, including in districts 12 (Keith Rothfus of Sewickley) and 9 (Bill Shuster of Everett).

This process allows for the oddly shaped voter districts that seem to make no sense in terms of geography, topography or municipal lines.

The 12th District, held by Rothfus, stretches from Johnstown west to Pittsburgh's north hills, and resembles a pendulum swinging up to the right.

Before the previous redistricting was completed, the 12th was controlled by the late John Murtha of Johnstown and stretched southwest to Greene and Washington counties in a shape some said looked like a dragon flying upside down.

State House and Senate districts aren't much better.

Thomas Geoghegan, attorney for the Democrats group, called the district design "voter-proof."

Daniel McGlone, another attorney fighting the current alignment, said: "If you can take a state that's pretty even and you can get all the Democrats in only four or five districts, I would argue that you've done a pretty good job of gerrymandering."

Attorneys on the other side say the Democrats are making a legal argument based on sour grapes.

Jason Torchinsky, arguing in favor of the current process and alignment, asked McGlone: "You just don't like the way it went?"

Several concepts have been rolled out through the years with eyes on making the process as non-partisan as possible.

A few years ago, Pennsylvania considered having the drawing of district lines done by a committee made up of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats with an "independent" moderator.

The state Supreme Court surprisingly agreed to hear the case quickly and is expected to rule before year's end -- in time to potentially affect the 2018 mid-term elections and lay groundwork for the 2020 census and the next redistricting.

And should the state's high court rule in favor of the Democrats, you can look for this case to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court by the Republicans.

Don't let anyone fool you: This is all about who has the power, not fairness for the voters.

Timing is everything, and the Republicans have done a masterful job of winning the majority in the House and Senate ahead of past realignments.

We would love to see district maps that actually made sense -- and, more importantly, provide an objective representation of voter populations.

But the claim that the politics can be combed out of this process is nonsense.

WCIC is the United Voice of the Construction Industry in Washington State.