Robert Swift: Capitol Matters: Redistricting power games
HARRISBURG - When members of the Occupy Harrisburg movement showed up at a Nov. 18 public hearing on a preliminary plan to redraw the boundaries of state legislative districts, they picked a well-chosen target. The Occupy members chanted in unison that the hearing was poorly advertised, held in an obscure location and not easily attended by individuals with workaday jobs.
"All voices should be heard," chanted the Occupy members.
The chants went on for 40 minutes while the members of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission huddled over how to respond. Then the two dozen Occupy members suddenly left saying they were being evicted from their encampment in a city park.
Reapportionment and its counterpart, congressional redistricting, are considered an insider's game, the province of elected officials and chambers of commerce concerned about wielding regional clout in Harrisburg and Washington.
But the outcome will have a big impact for constituents who will have an even harder time getting the ear of their elected representative if that person has to become acquainted with an entirely new district or their town or county is Balkanized among several districts.
The commission's second hearing was held the afternoon before Thanksgiving where reapportionment issues concerning Northeast Pennsylvania were heard. James Barrett McNulty, the former Scranton mayor, told the commission that it's important to keep the boundaries of districts in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties intact as much as possible to uphold the common culture of the area and save taxpayers the expense of relocating district offices.
The issues drawing the most concern are a three-way switch in state House representation for the city of Scranton, the shape of the 115th District represented by retiring Rep. Ed Staback, D-Archbald; and the splitting of flood-damaged municipalities in Luzerne County between House districts.
This hearing was held on one of the busiest travel days of the year, a time that few would find convenient to come to Harrisburg to testify.
This hearing wasn't interactive either. Individuals simply read their testimony in the allotted five-minute or 10-minute slots, got a polite thank you in return and yielded their seat to the next speaker.
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-28, Pittsburgh, said the hearing was held on a government workday when legislative staffs were meeting over Marcellus Shale legislation and noted individuals have had plenty of opportunity to testify.
The commission votes on a final reapportionment plan next month.
ROBERT SWIFT is Harrisburg bureau chief for Times-Shamrock Communications newspapers, of which The Daily/Sunday Review is a part. Email: email@example.com