Lawmakers call Pa. gerrymandered, say they’re working on reform

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The constitution says legislative districts are to be compact and contiguous and keep communities of interest intact.

Apparently, Pennsylvania needs better artists when it comes to drawing boundaries for congressional and state legislative seats.

Take Republican Congressman Lou Barletta’s district. Please. It stretches in a thin line from almost New York in the north to almost Maryland in the south. Barletta represents all or part of nine counties.

Barletta’s boundaries are proof, critics say, that the process is broken in Pennsylvania.

“Instead of voters picking their legislators, our system allows legislators to pick their voters,” state Senator Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton/Lehigh) said.

That system allows legislative leaders to go behind closed doors to carve up the state into political subdivisions that are safe safe for one party or the other. Congressional seats are voted on by the General Assembly, but state legislative districts are not.

“You cannot have self-interested politicians drawing their own districts, punishing those that don’t vote with the leadership,” said Barry Kauffman of Common Cause Pennsylvania, which has long called for a citizens panel to draw district lines. “We have to get the citizens back in control.”

A compact group of politicians, from both parties and both chambers, stood contiguously on a Capitol stage Tuesday calling for a better system. They know it could come at a personal cost.

“Yes, as incumbents, that means we are regularly going to be in more difficult re-election battles,” said Representative Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks), who is currently running for Congress. “But at the end of the day, I for one believe that’s what the framer’s intended.”

Of course, you can never completely depoliticize the drawing of political boundaries, said Representative Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland).

“Can we minimize it? Can we have more public involvement? Can we have more openness about the process? Absolutely,” Delozier said. “And that’s what we’re gonna work for.”

Boscola says she’s committed to the fight and calls it the most important reform lawmakers can pursue. She also said to create change she’ll have to battle legislative leaders who like the power to draw those lines and won’t easily give it up.

“If there’s enough rank-and-file members and enough of the public that demands this change, it can happen,” Boscola said.

Cynics insist self-protecting politicians will never willingly create more competitive districts that benefits voters.

“It’s gonna be a long, hard, tough slog,” Kauffman said. “They said we couldn’t pass an open records law, we did that. They said we couldn’t pass a lobbyist disclosure law, we did that. We’ll get this one done, too.”

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