New Castle News

Editorials

January 11, 2013

Our Opinion: Changes needed for remapping congressional boundaries

NEW CASTLE — You don’t have to go far to find an example of gerrymandering in a congressional district.

In fact, there’s one running through Lawrence County.

The most recent redistricting divided the county into two different congressional districts, even though it is — by any definition — a small municipality in area. One of these is the 12th District, which takes in the southern strip of Lawrence County.

The 12th District is an interesting manifestation that doesn’t make much sense on a map. It’s a wriggling strip of a district, meandering from the Ohio border to the Johnstown area.

By its shape, the 12th District defies rational explanation — until you understand the politics behind it. It was crafted by the Republican majority in Harrisburg to pit two Democratic congressmen, Jason Altmire and Mark Critz, into a battle against each other.

Plus, it was crafted to give a Republican a fighting chance to win, despite its Democratic majority. And that’s exactly what happened in November, when Republican Keith Rothfus defeated Democrat Critz.

End result: Republicans gained a seat in Congress and Democrats lost two.

This sort of thing happens all over the country with both parties. Sadly, the courts allow gerrymandering, although in Pennsylvania, they seem to be growing increasingly skeptical.

As we noted yesterday, gerrymandering is a critical factor in Washington’s inability to come to grips with budgetary matters. Instead, the nation and its economy are contending with one crisis after another.

Gerrymandering may serve politicians, but it is destructive to the overall health, security and welfare of the nation. Redistricting must be redirected toward the public interest, rather than the political one.

How? Under the Constitution, states are given free rein to devise the systems for crafting districts. In Pennsylvania, the Legislature holds on to this task. But it need not be that way.

Some states try to minimize the politics of redistricting by establishing bipartisan commissions to oversee the process. California is the most recent example of this.

The goal of commissions is to take power away from a ruling party in a state and make redistricting decisions on a more rational basis. The concept is good, but its practice can be flawed.

Pennsylvania has such a commission for legislative reapportionment. But it’s composed of lawmakers who still place incumbent protection ahead of the people. What’s really needed is a commission made of citizens who don’t take politicians into account.

For that to happen, people need to get involved. And the courts need to take a tougher stand on gerrymandering.

Politicians won’t change a process that benefits them until the public loudly and forcefully demands better.

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