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Penn State Professor Named to Governor's Commission on Redistricting Reform

by on December 03, 2018 11:30 AM

A Penn State professor is one of 15 members of an independent commission established by Gov. Tom Wolf to study and make recommendations on redistricting reform in Pennsylvania.

Lee Ann Banaszak, professor and head of the Penn State Department of Political Science, is one of two educational representatives on the Pennsylvania Redistricting Reform Commission, which also includes members from government and non-partisan advocacy groups.

“The electoral process is the cornerstone of our democracy, and redistricting shapes the degree to which elections are fair and equitable to all citizens,” she said in a news release. “I look forward to learning from the citizens of Pennsylvania, and hope my expertise and analytical insights can contribute to the development of recommendations and best practices that will serve all Pennsylvanians well.”

Wolf signed an executive order last week to create the commission, which will study processes in other states to reduce gerrymandering, engage experts and the public for input and make recommendations to the governor and legislature on how to next go about redrawing congressional lines in the commonwealth.

Congressional districts are redrawn every 10 years based on new census data, so the next redistricting will take place after the 2020 census. Current rules have the General Assembly draw the congressional map and the Legislative Reapportionment Commission draw lines for state legislative district. While legislators on both sides of the aisle have agreed there is a need for reform, there has been no consensus on the path forward. Redistricting bills in the House and Senate earlier this year both failed to move forward.

Many reform advocates have called for establishing a separate independent commission tasked with redistricting, but that won't happen for the next maps. Changing the process requires a state constitutional amendment with voter approval and passage in the General Assembly in consecutive sessions. To meet the deadlines for the next redistricting process in 2020, one of the bills to establish an independent commission would have had to pass prior to this November's election. 

The creation of Wolf's advisory commission comes after the state Supreme Court earlier this year ruled the existing congressional map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered and ordered a new lines to be drawn. When the Republican-controlled legislature and Wolf failed to reach an agreement, the court issued its own map, which was used for the primary and general elections.

“This commission will bring together diverse experts and citizens to explore ways that Pennsylvania could use policies, technology and data to curb gerrymandering and ensure fair maps,” Governor Tom Wolf said. “There has been significant bipartisan support for bringing more fairness to this process. The goal of this commission is to hear from experts and citizens about what can be done to make this process more fair. The redistricting process should ensure every citizen’s voice is heard in our democratic process.”

Republican leaders in the state House and Senate objected to Wolf's commission, saying that it "ignores large swaths of the Commonwealth, specifically rural communities..." and that the governor does not have authority when it comes to drawing congressional and legislative districts.

State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, along with Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, Speaker of the House Mike Turzai and House Majority Leader-elect Brian Cutler, said in a joint statement that Wolf can "grandstand all he wants," but that the legislature would continue its work to re-examine the redistricting process.

"This spectacle only serves as a distraction to the work the legislature has been doing to examine the redistricting process in Pennsylvania," the statement said. "We will not be props in his theater that is an attempt to be a make-shift alternative to the federal and state constitutions and will have no practical effect. The fact remains that under the constitutions the responsibility for redistricting falls to the General Assembly."

The Redistricting Reform Commission is chaired by David Thornburgh, president and CEO of the Committee of Seventy, a non-partisan government reform advocacy group. The commission's members include:

Lee Ann Banaszak, Penn State

Dr. Damary Bonilla-Rodriguez, Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs

Susan Carty, President, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania

Kathy Dahlkemper, Erie County Executive

Charlie Dent, Former Congressman

Amanda Holt, Lehigh County Commissioner

Rev. Robert Johnson, Tindley Temple United Methodist Church

Sharmain Matlock-Turner, President, Urban Affairs Coalition

Wes Pegden, Carnegie Mellon University

David Thornburgh, President and CEO, Committee of Seventy

Secretary of the Commonwealth or designee



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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