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First’s Official Comments on Redistricting

PO Box 5128
Harrisburg PA 17110

May 10, 2012
Hon. STEPHEN J. MCEWEN, Jr . P.J.E., Chairman
2011 Legislative Reapportionment Commission
North Office Building, Room 104
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Dear Chairman McEwen,
I am writing to request that redistricting be removed from the Pennsylvania legislature and placed in the hands of a non-partisan, computer-driven process.  There are two reasons for my request.  First, gerrymandering disenfranchises voters by diluting their vote’s effectiveness.  Second, it leads to behavior by those running the partisan process that reinforces entrenched Party interests; those Party interests work harder to protect the Party than the citizens’ interests.
Pennsylvania’s redistricting has long been defined by unfair gerrymandering by both Democrats and Republicans, and you now have an opportunity to help end it.  With the January 24th, 2012, Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision rejecting the heavily gerrymandered state redistricting map of 2011, and singling out the 15th Senate District for which I recently ran as especially egregious (calling it “the Iron Cross”), Pennsylvania’s citizens and leaders have the clear authority and opportunity to put in place a non-partisan, computer-generated process that gives neither party an artificial advantage and which honors voters’ full rights.
Gerrymandering protects career politician incumbents to keep their seats “safe” from voters wanting electoral change, and safe from independent-minded candidates.  Deals are struck between the parties to protect or trade certain seats for others.  While the political parties gain from this behavior, Pennsylvania’s voters lose: Their votes are artificially diluted, and strong, independent-minded candidates who buck party bosses are artificially eliminated or undermined by their parties from opportunities to run.
Gerrymandering has created a “Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe” culture, with each political party using minor, legalistic technicalities to achieve huge, undeserved results against the voters’ interests.  The protected seats have become profit centers for the Party’s chosen government affairs firms and other selected private businesses.  This weasely culture creates elected leaders who are less willing to take clear positions on important issues.  They instead rely upon redistricting to eliminate potential challengers who are motivated by parties’ failures to resolve important societal issues.  Gerrymandering reinforces an entrenched political establishment that is more interested in making deals and profits that benefit the parties than in leading and making hard choices that benefit citizens.
As a conservative Republican candidate in the contested April 24th, 2012, primary race for the 15th Senate District, I am eminently qualified to comment on this situation. 
Long a politically active Republican voter in the 15th Senate District, and a known potential candidate for the 15th Senate District seat, the area I live in, Harrisburg City, was “mysteriously” eliminated at the last minute (late 2011) from the original senate district.  No observers I knew could make sense of how Harrisburg City was removed from the senate district that had so long served it, especially considering that the city was being separated from its own county.  It appeared to be a blatant and contrived decision effort to eliminate a strong candidate who was not hand-picked by the Republican Party leaders.  Only the January 24th, 2012 Supreme Court rejection of the “Iron Cross” district allowed me to enter that race. 
Separating the city of Harrisburg from most of Dauphin County makes no sense, because each of those political entities shares in a $300 million incinerator debt, common infrastructure, school districts, economies, and communities.  Had the senate district been shaped with the citizens and their infrastructure in mind, then we would have had a more level playing field to compete on, more competition, more meaningful choices for the voters, better, more representative government.
To highlight just how negative this politicized redistricting can be, consider that only two weeks before the April 24th, 2012, primary election, your commission issued a proposed redistricting map for the 15th Senate District that looked exactly like the one that had been struck down by the court.  Why your commission did not wait until after the April 24th election date is a poorly kept secret:  Republican leaders used the proposed map to unfairly influence the primary election in the 15th Senate District.  Because I live in Harrisburg City, which under the new proposal would once again be outside of the new 15th Senate District, releasing the proposed map was a strategic effort to persuade Republican voters not to vote for me.  Voters received a strong message (reported in the press) not to vote for me, because I would not be able to represent them, unless I moved into the new district.  Republican leaders from all over the state were actively and openly supporting candidate John McNally, who received at least $150,000 from the Republican Party of Pennsylvania.  It was a shameless manipulation of the process by Party leaders trying to protect their “investment.”
This kind of weasely, manipulative, unethical behavior is a direct result of the Party’s participation in redistricting.  If you take the Party out, and put in charge a disinterested computer, then these fool-the-voter games will cease.
Another poorly kept Harrisburg secret is that elected Republican leaders have subsequently worked out an agreement with Republican justices on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to avoid another rejection of the “Iron Cross.”  This, despite the proposed 15th Senate District map’s facts remaining the same now as they were on January 23, 2012.  That the court will have to now find differently on the same facts that caused rejection only a few months ago, will degrade the voters’ confidence in both the judiciary and legislature.  Voter confidence in elected officials is core to the success of our Commonwealth and Republic’s representative form of government.
If you are happy with the current defunct arrangement, then the Commission can carry on.  If you believe in professional government, with the best interests of the voters at heart, however, then please make a recommendation to end gerrymandering once and for all and place the process in the hands of a computer.
Thank you for considering my comments.

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Josh First,
Voting Citizen