Pennsylvania Republicans just won’t give up in their fight to keep on gerrymandering, and their latest actions can only be described as legislating by ambush. The GOP took a bill that would create an independent redistricting commission, which legislative leaders had blocked from getting a vote even though a bipartisan majority of state House members supported it, and replaced it—without warning or debate—with an amendment that would give Republican legislators complete control over redistricting.
This power grab would create a six-member redistricting commission made up of members appointed by the legislature. Under this proposal, a party holding a majority in both chambers—as the GOP does now—would be able to select four of the panel’s members. The amendment does specify that five votes are needed to pass a map, but in the event of a deadlock, the legislature itself can pass the commission’s draft maps.
The commission therefore is little more than a fig leaf, but the real kicker is this: The amendment would remove the governor from the redistricting process entirely, denying him or her the opportunity to veto any maps. This is an obvious effort to target Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who’s favored to win re-election this fall and would thus be in a position to block any future GOP gerrymanders if Republicans keep control of the legislature in 2021—which they may very well do, thanks to their existing ill-gotten gerrymanders.
And of course, they’re fighting to retain their authority of those maps as well, since the amendment similarly usurps control over legislative redistricting from the state’s existing bipartisan commission. That commission has an even number of Democrats and Republicans, while the state Supreme Court appoints a tiebreaker when the parties inevitably can’t agree on a fifth member.
When Republicans controlled the high court after both the 2000 and 2010 censuses, the justices chose a tiebreaking member who signed off on the GOP’s preferred gerrymanders. But now the court is home to an anti-gerrymandering Democratic majority that’s poised to remain in place through at least 2022, so Republicans have decided the court should no longer play any role.
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