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How political competition is stifled to protect incumbents

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Message Harris Martin
The 10-point (PA)Roadmap to Reform, recently proposed by the Reform Coalition, includes redistricting reform. Gerrymandering of legislative districts is part of what's wrong in Harrisburg and Washington. Following each 10-year census, legislative districts are redrawn to equalize populations. This process is abused for partisan advantage, resulting in districts constructed to promote reelection of incumbents of the controlling party. The Roadmap to Reform proposes that legislative districts be as politically competitive as possible.

Many districts make no sense when viewed on the map. Bucks County's 8th Congressional District's "Greenwood gash" plunges deep into Montgomery County's 13th Congressional District, including small slices of three different townships, rather than one entire township. In this and other ways, the congressional map of Montgomery County has been sliced and diced to protect incumbent Republican seats.

The most egregious example of gerrymandering is House Republican Speaker John Perzel's 172nd House District which consists of four separate pieces of territory chosen from the most heavily Republican districts in Northeast Philadelphia. The four separate pieces are connected to one another by thin slivers one row house wide, but you can't tell that from looking at the map. Perzel's district looks like four jigsaw puzzle pieces that got dropped on the floor, with nothing but threads of carpet lint connecting them.

Here in lower Bucks, the Republicans who control the state legislature reshaped the 6th Senatorial District to promote the continued re-election of Republican State Senator Tommy Tomlinson. Heavily Democratic Falls, Tullytown, and Morrisville were removed from the district and replaced with heavily Republican Northampton, Warwick, Wrightstown, and Ivyland.

Now Republicans are doing the gerrymandering, but in the past it was Democrats. Both parties have been guilty of this abuse of our system of representative democracy. Modern gerrymandering methods are more insidious and precise with the use of computer geographic information systems and other computer methods.

For legislative districts to be as politically competitive as possible and have logical boundaries, state law should be changed as follows. The State Constitution will require amending to enact some of these provisions:

1. Legislative districts should be entirely contiguous and as geographically compact as possible.
2. Legislative district boundaries should follow municipal boundaries as much as possible. District boundaries should be drawn so that as many municipalities and counties as possible are contained entirely within one district.
3. Municipalities should be grouped into districts in such a way as to make the two political parties as competitive with one another as possible.
4. In Pennsylvania, we have 50 Senate districts and 203 House districts, a nearly 1-4 ratio. If we reduce the size of the House by three districts, we could draw district boundaries to fit exactly four House districts into each Senate district. This would simplify district boundaries considerably and create a team of legislators working to represent the interests of that area.
5. Slight deviations from the goal of exact equality in population size from district to district should be allowed in order to achieve goals 1 through 4.
6. Control of redistricting should be taken away from our partisan legislature and put in the hands of a bipartisan commission chaired by a registered independent with a tie-breaking vote. This independent Commission Chair should be an expert in geography and demographics.

Clean and open government reform is not a partisan issue. Across the state, PACleanSweep candidates for State House and Senate include Republicans, Democrats, independents, and third party candidates all committed to reform. In Bucks, however, all of the PACleanSweep candidates who survived the primary are Democrats -- Chris Serpico (10th Senate District), Larry Glick (143rd House District), John Galloway (140th House District), and myself (18th House District). I propose that once elected, we form a bipartisan reform caucus in the House and Senate to implement these reforms.

In Bucks, the Democratic candidates, including those not backed by PACleanSweep, are far more supportive of reforms such as these than are the Republican candidates. I challenge the Bucks Republican candidates to prove otherwise. If voters in Bucks County want to see redistricting reform, real lobbying reform, and other clean and open government reforms enacted by our legislature, they will need to vote Democratic.

Originally published in the BUCKS COUNTY COURIER TIMES
Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Harris Martin, Ph.D. is the PACleanSweep Democratic candidate for the 18th State House District in Bensalem and part of Lower Southampton. Martin is the former chairman of the Bensalem Democratic Organization and is an environmental scientist.
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Harris Martin, Ph.D. is the PACleanSweep Democratic candidate for the 18th Pennsylvania state House District in Bensalem Township and part of Lower Southampton township in Bucks County. Martin is the former chairman of the Bensalem Democratic (more...)
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How political competition is stifled to protect incumbents

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