The Rot of the Right: The Gerrymander of the Pennsylvania Legislature

Our Commonwealth took a step in the right direction with the recent ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to scrap the gerrymandered Congressional map, created by the right-wing faction in our state legislature, to benefit people over party. While the Pennsylvania Supreme Court intervened to right a colossal wrong to our democracy, gerrymandered state legislative maps that have tied up our politics in gridlock to the detriment of Pennsylvanians still remain. The rot of the right begins here, with a party that abandoned principled advocacy in favor of selfish partisan math that deprives the people of Pennsylvania and resulted in serious consequences for governance in the Keystone State.

One serious consequence from gerrymandering was the insulation of incumbents from Democratic competition when they run for reelection. In 2016, around 50% of incumbents from both parties and from both state chambers running for reelection didn’t face a challenger in November, depriving voters of real choice and representation. Why should voters take the effort to bring themselves to the ballot booth if they know that their vote will only serve as padding for their unchallenged incumbent? Why should citizens care which party or movement controls the state legislature when the electoral game is rigged to benefit a right-wing fanatics that used 2010 to etch their anger onto the electoral map, thereby trapping the rest of us in a time capsule for a decade? Unfortunately, unlike the Congressional map, the state legislative gerrymander cannot be reversed until after the 2020 elections, thereby resigning us to another round of right-wing grandstanding for at least another cycle.

What does this mean for the Commonwealth, especially for progressive Pennsylvanians? For one thing, it shows that the rot of the right has its roots in the cynical play for power inside the halls of Harrisburg. In a bid to maintain control and protect their partisan agenda from popular pressure, those who gerrymander effectively neutered the beating heart of democracy; eliminating competitive elections where voters have clear choices reflecting distinct visions for the common good. Stuck with this status quo, it is no wonder why many Pennsylvanians are unaware of who their state elected officials are and when elections for those seats occur. Why would any candidate go door to door throughout the community for votes if they knew they were going to win with their own patriarchal machine? And if they don’t have to work for votes, then why would most voters pay attention to who’s representing them? I myself didn’t pay serious attention to state government until 2014 the heat of a competitive gubernatorial campaign and the crisis over school funding to woke me up from a slumber in ignorance.

The redrawn Congressional map from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is a welcome step in the right direction. But the most rotten robbery of our democracy lies in the state legislature, where far-right representatives, radicalized by a need to maintain power over principle, went so far as to discuss a partisan impeachment of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in a last-ditch effort to save their Congressional gerrymander. Any fixing of our Commonwealth’s politics must come from reversing the gerrymander at the state level to place the people’s voice front and center instead of the selfish interests of any party or faction.