The topic of fair Congressional maps has been at the forefront of political discussion across the United States for quite some time, while Pennsylvania specifically has been at the center of this debate for the past couple of years. Now, a former Democratic president is entering the discussion with Pennsylvania remaining at the forefront.
Former President Barack Obama’s new initiative fighting against partisan gerrymandering places Pennsylvania as one of their ten “priority states.”
Earlier this year, All On The Line was launched, which is a combination of Obama’s Organizing For Action and former Attorney General Eric Holder’s National Redistricting Action Fund, aimed at fighting against “rigged electoral maps” that “silence the will of the people.”
Obama announced on Twitter last Monday that Redistricting U, which is apart of the All On The Line campaign, will send trainers to cities across the country to train volunteers and give them “the tools to impact the redistricting process” and “empower them to be leaders in the movement for fair maps” through free, in-person organizing.
Training is at the heart of organizing. It’s why I’ve always made it a priority – from my 2008 campaign until now. And it’s why I’m proud to announce @allontheline’s in-person training initiative, Redistricting U. Join us: https://t.co/yrWJ50wSdE pic.twitter.com/HiKvGd2XyE
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 26, 2019
“The fight for fair maps is happening nationwide, but we’ve identified 10 priority states where we can have a unique impact on fair representation for the next decade,” the initiative’s websites reads, which includes Pennsylvania.
While the former Democratic president says the fight is to combat partisan gerrymandering, the Pennsylvania Republican Party believes his group is just aiming to “ensure a permanent Democratic majority in the US House” and specifically pointed to a June US Supreme Court decision that deemed partisan gerrymandering was outside of the constitutional authority of federal courts. This Supreme Court decision does not impact Pennsylvania’s recently redistricted map because it was based on the state constitution, according to WESA.
“Despite these constitutional mandates, Obama and Holder are attempting to ensure a permanent Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives by diverting mapping authority away from the legislature to courts, which are sympathetic to the Democrat party,” PAGOP Chair Lawrence Tabas said in a statement to PoliticsPA. “We saw Obama’s and Holder’s intentions play out in 2017 when Supreme Court candidates campaigned on the promise that, if elected, they would ignore the constitutional authority of the legislature to redistrict congressional maps, and again in 2018 when those newly elected justices made good on their campaign promises.”
Tabas added in the statement that the issue of drawing congressional maps should be addressed by legislative bodies.
When Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court ruled in January 2018 that the Congressional map was unconstitutional and needed to be redrawn, previous PAGOP Chair Val DiGiorgio called the ruling a “hyper-partisan decision by an activist judicial bench.” That Congressional map, approved in 2011 under a Republican majority in PA, had 13 Republicans in Congress to 5 Democrats at the time of the PA Supreme Court decision in January 2018. The state’s Congressional delegation is now locked at 9 members for each party under the new map.
The Pennsylvania Democratic welcomed the support of Obama’s new initiative claiming that Republicans have attempted to suppress the voters and the will of the people.
“We welcome the support of President Obama’s new initiative on redistricting,” said PA Democratic Party Executive Director Sinceré Harris in a statement to PoliticsPA. “For years, Republicans have fought to stack the deck on redistricting, make it harder to vote, and suppress the votes and voices of the people. We need more groups like these taking a look at how the GOP has rigged the system to work for them and against the interest of the average voter.”
Outside of this newly launched initiative, the conversation about gerrymandering continues in Harrisburg.
Last Thursday, a panel created by Gov. Tom Wolf through an executive order called the “Redistricting Reform Commission”, released findings that showed citizens think the state’s redistricting process is “broken and corrupt, manipulated by politicians for their own gain, and lacks transparency,” WHYY reports. A spokesperson for the state Senate GOP said in a comment to WHYY that the commission was a “distraction… to [legislative] efforts”, while Republicans have also accused the order to create the panel as an overreach.