Here are two numbers to keep in mind. One is an exact date and the second is a year far in the future: June 23, 2008, and 2022.
Pennsylvania voters do not pick their legislators. Through a complex process mostly fueled by a procedure scornfully referred to as “gerrymandering,” the members of the state House of Representatives and the members of the state Senate pick us.
Under the Supreme Court’s famous “one-man, one-vote” rule, legislative districts need to be redrawn after each census to reflect the changes in population. In Pennsylvania legislators get to fill four of the five seats on the re-apportionment commission and those four select the fifth member.
The current Pennsylvania General Assembly could pass a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that strips away from legislators the power of creating their own districts, beginning with the new legislative districts for the elections of 2012. This proposed amendment must pass two separate two-year legislative sessions and then be adopted by the voters.
To meet all deadlines necessary for passage during the 2007-08 legislative session, the proposal known as H.B. 2420 must be adopted by June 23. This, of course, will not happen. Citizens are not being encouraged to waste their time begging legislators to act.
Even incumbent Democrats, comfortable with their own re-election advantages, are not proceeding at warp speed to make the system more fair. When June 23, 2008 passes with no action by our legislators, they will once again be in control with no hope of change until the legislative contests of 2022.
Change could only come about that far in the future if the legislature were inclined to begin making a constitutional amendment by late June of 2018.
How bad is gerrymandering in Pennsylvania? Monroe County, with a population of 150,000 and in the Poconos almost 300 miles east of here, is home to parts of six separate Senate districts and four House districts.
A senator represents about 250,000 residents and a House member about 65,000.
The League of Women Voters of the United States claims Pennsylvania is the second-most gerrymandered state in the country. The ladies are kind to us.
Newly elected Senate majority leader Sen. Dominic Pileggi, R-Montgomery County, appearing at then-Greenville Country Club in early 2007, bragged that the Pennsylvania Senate was the only legislative body in the U.S. unaffected by the Democratic tidal wave at the polls in 2006. Not only did the Senate remain Republican 29-21, but not a single seat changed hands.
There are 99 state legislative bodies in the U.S. Nebraska has a unicameral legislature. Throw in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and what Pileggi means is that Democrats made gains in the other 100 legislative bodies in the 2006 elections.
Republicans even lost ground in both houses of the Texas legislature in 2006. Former U.S. House majority leader Tom DeLay remains under indictment for efforts to corrupt that apportionment process.
Just think, in less than three weeks all 253 Pennsylvania legislators can breathe a huge sigh of relief. Unlike everyone else, their jobs will be relatively secure for another 14 years!
Hey, League of Women Voters, Pennsylvania has it all over Texas!
Miller, a Democratic activist for four decades, is also mayor of Greenville.