By, Lowman S. Henry
Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal
Emboldened by the success of their strategy to re-gerrymander Pennsylvania’s congressional districts, Democrats have set their sights on gaining control over the re-drawing of district lines that will occur upon completion of the 2020 census.
By way of review the Pennsylvania Supreme Court earlier this year ruled the district maps, approved back in 2011 in a bi-partisan and previously court-approved process, amounted to unconstitutional gerrymandering. The decision was rendered by new justices who in 2015 unethically campaigned on issuing just such a ruling should they be elected to the bench.
The new Democrat justices then imposed new district lines by judicial fiat, in what many correctly saw as a violation of provisions in both the federal and state constitutions. Since the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of what is constitutional, the only recourse would have been impeachment by the General Assembly. Even as they watched the high court emasculate their legislative powers, lawmakers could only muster howls of protest while taking no substantial action.
At the end of the day the court ordered map – artfully gerrymandered in its own right – was implemented. When the dust settled Democrats picked up four congressional seats contributing to a national wave of wins that saw Republicans lose majority control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Having used unethical and extra-constitutional means to achieve that end, Governor Tom Wolf has launched yet another end run against the established process with an eye to controlling the 2021 redistricting. He has empaneled a 15-member commission to supposedly “improve” the redistricting process.
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, who allowed the Supreme Court to get away with its last power grab, protested that Wolf has no power to set up such a commission, failed to consult with the General Assembly in selecting its members, and charged the commission fails to represent rural Pennsylvania. Knowing the legislature is a lion that roars, but does not bite, Wolf proceeded with naming the commission.
Keeping in mind that words such as “fair districts,” “reform,” and “improving the process” are merely code for stacking the process in favor of Democrats, Wolf reeled off high sounded rhetoric while in fact naming a commission guaranteed to continue the hijacking of the 2021 redistricting.
He named as chairman of the commission the head of a Philadelphia-based organization posing as a “good government” group. The League of Women voters, another Democrat front group has a seat at the table as does higher education and “urban affairs” representatives. To balance partisan Democrats on the commission the governor appointed Charlie Dent, a former Republican congressman well-known for his Left-leading ideology.
In short, the commission is stacked with those whose mission is to overthrow the state constitution and ensure the illicit methodology implemented by partisan Democrats this year supplants the orderly process that for decades had passed court muster.
Exactly what is that process? Congressional redistricting takes the form of a bill which must be approved by both houses of the General Assembly and then be signed into law by the governor. To win legislative approval, the congressional redistricting bill must go through the same process as any other legislation: it is drafted, there are hearings, there is a committee vote followed by a floor vote in each chamber. Both houses must agree on an identical bill for it to be sent to the governor for signature.
In other words, the very same process by which any other law is enacted is how we do congressional redistricting. For the governor and his partisan Left-wing allies to suggest that process is unfair is to suggest our entire system of government is unfair.
Here is what the governor is actually saying: Republicans control both houses of the General Assembly and are likely to remain in control through the 2021 redistricting. That means the GOP will largely control the process, although the governor can wield his veto pen as an end game.
That is not good enough for Tom Wolf. He wants to subvert having elected representatives use the legislative process and instead have the job done by an unelected commission which he would appoint.
Not only is that unconstitutional, but it undermines the very separation of powers foundation upon which our Republic is built. This time, Senator Scarnati and his fellow legislative “leaders” need to do more than just talk – they need to stand up to Wolf and his power grab, because this time the very essence of our constitutional republic is at stake.