Turzai Offers “Fake” Redistricting Reform Plan

(Third & State, by Marc Stier) Speaker Turzai has recently floated a proposal for legislation to delegate the process of drawing congressional district lines to a commission modeled after the process used for drawing legislative districts that is embedded in the PA Constitution. The legislative districting commission consists of one member appointed by the majority and minority caucuses and fifth member appointed by those four. If they cannot agree on a fifth member, according to the PA Constitution, the Supreme Court chooses that person.

We have various ideas about what real redistricting reform looks like. But we agree that this proposal is not it. We urge Speaker Turzai not to advance this proposal in the remaining days of the legislature this year. If he does, we urge the General Assembly to reject it for three reasons.

First, we note that there is absolutely no rush to advance a legislative proposal in the waning days of this General Assembly for a redistricting process that will not take place until 2021. This is not the time to be considering a major change in a critical process, especially when it might stand in the way of consideration of real reforms in the next year.

Second, advocates for redistricting reform have been critical of the heavily politicized process by which legislative districts are currently drawn. It is hardly redistricting reform to use the same process for congressional districts.

Third, we fear that if his proposal were to be considered this year, Speaker Turzai would pull a bait and switch and advance a proposal that gives the Commonwealth Court, not the Supreme Court, the power to appoint the fifth member of a congressional redistricting commission. Given that Republicans control the Commonwealth Court, this would give Republicans a 3-2 majority and the power to draw congressional districts gerrymandered in their favor.

In 2018, Speaker Turzai has stood in the way of redistricting reform, and he may be putting this proposal forward to portray himself as a reformer. For the reasons we have indicated, we do not find this plausible.