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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.

      Josh First's signature


Josh First,
Voting Citizen

York Dispatch Profiles First

First makes run for the 15th Senate District

by: ANDREW SHAW The York Dispatch
Updated: 03/08/2012 11:35:35 AM EST

If elected,15th Senate District candidate Josh First would not do the following things:
—Take a state pension,
—Take a state car,
—Take per diems,
—Take state health care,
—Serve for more than three terms.
Those are absolutes in First’s mind, as the Harrisburg resident said state government has for too long been behaving badly.
“We have to return the government to being a servant of the people,” First, 47, said.
First is a husband, father of three children and owner of Appalachian Land and Conservation Services.
The former 17th Congressional District candidate said he might be running as a conservative Republican, but he’s not afraid to stand his ground even when it rubs other Republicans the wrong way.
And he’s also made his stance on education clear, he said.
In a Pennsylvania State Education Association questionnaire for candidates, First was asked, “Would you oppose legislation that authorizes taxpayer-funded vouchers and diverts public money away from public schools to private or religious schools?”
First’s response?
“Hell no,” he checked off, adding the “hell” for emphasis. He added, “How on earth does any adult try to argue for continuing the current state of affairs?
“If I lose because the PSEA is scared of me, then so be it,” First said of his stance.
The self-described “hook and bullet” Republican who loves to fish and hunt said he’s a conservationist and would help support land preservation if elected.
First is running in a district occupied by Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, who is not seeking re-election. Republicans John McNally and William Seeds and Democrats Alvin Q. Taylor and Rob Teplitz are also running.
The district is mostly in Dauphin County, but also includes five York County municipalities — Conewago and Newberry townships and three boroughs, York Haven, Lewisberry and Goldsboro.

link to the article on http://www.yorkdispatch.com/localnews/ci_20129219/first-makes-run-15th-senate-district

First demands end to use of Republican Party funds in Senate Race

From: info@joshfirst.com
To: rgleason@pagop.org
Sent: 2/9/2012 1:38:13 P.M. Eastern Standard Time
Subj: 15th Senate District race

First for Senate
PO Box 5128
Harrisburg, PA 17110

February 8, 2012

Hon. Mr. Jeff Haste, Chairman
Dauphin County Republican Committee
2255 Paxton Church Road
Harrisburg, PA 17110

Dear Jeff,

It pains me to write this, but it must be said.

The December 2011 endorsement by the DCRC of a candidate for the recently redistricted senate district no longer stands. That endorsement is null and void as a result of two court decisions.

Both the Pennsylvania Supreme Court (two weeks ago) and a Federal Court (today) have rejected the mangled mess that was presented as redistricting, with the 15th Senate District specifically cited as an egregious example. Clearly those of us in the 2001 version of the 15th Pennsylvania Senate District will be in that district for some time to come, probably a year, or more. My candidacy for that senate seat is well known, and we have collected far more ballot petition signatures than are necessary to be certified to the primary ballot next week.

Thus, the endorsement of immediate DCRC past-chairman John McNally does not stand, and the expenditure of DCRC money on his campaign is both unethical and illegal. It is unethical because I have not been considered for the same endorsement in the actual district, and illegal because that district no longer exists.

I request that DCRC immediately cease the expenditure of party money on the McNally campaign. Additionally, I am sending a similar letter to the Pennsylvania Republican State Committee, which funded the robo-calls last week, inviting Republicans to McNally headquarters. State Republican Party money is also off limits.

If a lawsuit is necessary to enforce this, I will pursue it. I also expect to be invited to any new endorsement meeting, where I will speak against party endorsements in the primary race, and where I will ask John McNally to reject any endorsement.

Using Republican Party money to promote one Republican candidate over another in a primary race is destructive and wasteful. Actually, it is outrageous and corrupt. That money must be used to defeat President Obama in the fall. Republican donors and voters deserve better than this. The Republican Party must stay out of primary races. Let the people choose without the party machine coloring their choices.

I look forward to your response, to info@joshfirst.com or my cell, which you have. Thank you.


Josh First Signature

Josh First

Josh First begins campaign for State Senate

With Tuesday’s historic decision by the Supreme Court to overturn the recent redistricting, the former PA – 15th senate district remains intact.  That means that I am now back in a district from which senator Jeff Piccola is retiring, and for which I can run.

The Pennsylvania 15th Senate District is a beautiful place, really the heartland of America. It also includes Harrisburg, the state capital and one of the major Underground Railroad thruways, with one of the nation’s most majestic public edifices, the capitol building.
It is an honor to declare my candidacy for the 15th Senate District.
Please let me know if you can volunteer to circulate petitions, which are due by February 15th.

Email: info@joshfirst.com, or call 717 232-8335.

Thank you!


Josh First