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Activist groups: Fair legislative districts needed

Legislative districts in many cases appear on the state map as crazy-quilt, hodge-podge patches thanks to political gamesmanship used to come up with their boundaries.

Draw the Lines Pa., a non-partisan, non-profit group looking to bring fairer representation to residents across the state, wants to change the way the districts are designed.

“Citizens are ready, willing and able to redraw the maps,” David Thornburgh, of Draw the Lines, said during a webinar this week to discuss the issue. “It’s troubling how they have been drawn, and they have gotten worse. They are headed in the wrong direction.”

Toward that end, Thornburgh and others are looking to recruit citizens willing to serve on the five-person Legislative Reapportionment Commission that decides the geographical makeup for the state’s legislative districts.

The process in place, he said, makes it too easy for elections to cater to a particular party.

“More and more you have uncompetitive general elections,” he said. “There are consequences to this.”

Former Gov. Mark Schweiker urged citizens to step forward to be considered to serve on the LRC.

“We need your voice. We need your sense of dedication,” he said. “I don’t have to tell you how raucous this past year has been.”

Thornburgh said it seems clear already that many people are willing to contribute to the goal.

Carol Kuniholm, chair of Fair Districts Pa., said redrawing the lines is an important issue.

“The state has been one of the most

gerrymandered states in the country,” she said. “We want maps that represent all of us. We want government that represents all of us.”

The five-person LRC, created in 1968 to come up with drawing the legislative districts, includes the four caucus leaders of the state’s General Assembly — two Republicans and two Democrats.

The state Constitution states the fifth member is someone who does not hold public office and services as the LRC chair.

But that is where the process can become partisan.

Caucus leaders are to select someone, but several times over the years that person has been decided through the courts.

“Partisanship disrespects districts and boundaries,” Kuniholn said.

The fifth person serving on the LRC needs to be an independent, respected individual who can distance himself or herself from petty, partisan politics, Thornburgh said.

Pat Beaty, legislative director for Fair Districts Pa., noted two bills introduced in the General Assembly call for the creation of an independent redistricting commission.

The Legislative and Congressional Redistricting Act would introduce greater transparency into both the congressional and state legislative redistricting processes, he said.

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