Friday night, just hours before the deadline imposed by the Supreme Court, the Republican leadership of the Pennsylvania House and Senate unveiled their redrawn map of the state’s eighteen Congressional districts. According to the schedule set by the Court, Governor Tom Wolf has six days to decide whether to approve or reject the map, which is solely the work of the Republicans. Wolf should not only reject the map; he should tell Republican leaders precisely which bodily crevice they should file it in.
Why? First, while the proposed map is an improvement on the current unconstitutional version, almost any change would have to be an improvement by default. There’s a reason the old map is being tossed out, so let’s not pretend any revision could be much worse. There are still far too many split counties and districts that don’t make much sense.
While a cursory glance doesn’t necessarily reveal the underlying strategy, let’s not kid ourselves. There is most definitely a method to the Republican madness, and the fact that said method isn’t readily apparent implies it must be something genuinely nefarious. The fact that the map was released without any attempt to explain or justify the proposed districts only heightens the suspicion.
One issue of speculation revolves around House Majority Leader Dave Reed, who has already announced his departure from the State House to run for Congress this year. Reed is from Indiana County, which has been put on the edge of the proposed 9th District, which would include Indiana, Fulton, Bedford, Somerset, Fayette, Cambria, Blair, Huntingdon, and Mifflin Counties. Was Indiana County put into this district, most of which is currently represented by Bill Schuster, who is not seeking re-election, to create a smooth path for Reed from Harrisburg to Washington? Other observers point out that if the goal was to draw a favorable district for Reed, there are different ways to accomplish it. Again, there is almost certainly a plan at play here, but nobody knows what it is.
By the way, here is an exclusive video of Dave Reed telling his caucus he was leaving to run for Congress:
The speculation is that the Republican map will now open up negotiations with Governor Wolf leading up to Thursday’s deadline. Could Wolf massage a few of the lines to help Democrats? Absolutely. Should he do it? Absolutely not. No way in hell.
By sticking his fingers in this political pie, Wolf runs the risk of creating static within his own party by potentially picking winners and losers as part of any negotiation. With a re-election campaign looming that is hardly a slam dunk, why make more enemies when you don’t need to?
But there is a more significant political message to be sent here, and it needs to be addressed to the Republicans controlling the Legislature. And that message is simple:
Go fuck yourselves.
Sound harsh? Maybe. Is it the appropriate response? Absolutely.
Since taking office in 2015, the Legislature has jerked this governor around pretty much non-stop on any and every issue imaginable. Their favorite move, especially in the House, is to pass legislation that is unrealistic and wildly irresponsible from a fiscal standpoint, then cry to the media and their constituents about fighting for the taxpayers. Some of them use this false rallying cry as a stepping stone for higher office (see: Saccone, Rick).
The overwhelming majority of the Republicans in the State Legislature aren’t warriors. They’re obstructionist charlatans who relentlessly push a false narrative instead of actual policy. They tout their morals; at least until they find a reason to abandon them to conform to whatever hellish legislation the lobbyists want. I’ll give them credit for one thing; they do a hell of a job selling it to the voters, who rarely bother to fact-check the glowing claims sent out in taxpayer-funded “newsletters” that are nothing more than political propaganda.
This redistricting fight could have gone down in any number of ways, and there was a real chance for bipartisanship. But instead, the Republicans did what they always do- they let their greed outweigh every other consideration.
Usually, that strategy gets them what they want in the end, but not this time. If Wolf rejects the Republican-drawn map, the State Supreme Court will draw the final version of the map. And because the Department of State, which oversees elections, is part of the Executive branch, all the governor needs to do is order the Secretary of State to comply with whatever the Court decides. The Republicans will have no legal recourse, and Wolf’s hands are clean because he didn’t draw a single line on the final redistricting map.
Anyone who thinks the State Supreme Court isn’t sitting in a dark room with blank maps and an array of colored pencils hasn’t been paying attention. The Republicans defied a direct court order to hand over redistricting data. Then they filed a Hail Mary appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which was denied. Then they starting alleging conflicts of interest, which is a prime example of the pot calling the kettle black. Then, some idiot State Representative name Cris Dush announced plans to try and impeach all five Democrats on the Supreme Court because… well, because he’s an idiot. Plus, let’s remember that the Court already struck down the existing gerrymandered map, so it’s easy to assume the Court’s map will not make Republicans happy.
Rejecting the Republican map is a golden opportunity for Tom Wolf to throw a much-deserved elbow and let everyone know that he may be a nice guy, but even nice guys have limits. If Wolf has been Charlie Brown and the Legislature has been Lucy, pulling the football away every time, this is the functional equivalent of Charlie Brown ripping off Lucy’s head and drop-kicking it into the end zone. A bit graphic perhaps, but you get the point. It’s a show of strength to a group of people who have historically failed to respect Wolf or the office he holds.
And when the Mike Turzai and Joe Scarnati show up at the Governor’s mansion trying to make a deal, Wolf should invite them in, offer them a refreshing beverage (Turzai’s preferred drink is the tears of public school students), let them plead their case, and then slide a folded piece of paper across the table with nothing on it but a zero. Play hardball and don’t apologize for it.
The Republicans have outkicked their coverage here, so why save them? If their recklessly poor strategizing ends up costing the GOP three or four seats in Congress, you’d have to think the people controlling the purse strings for the massive amounts of cash that seem to find Republican candidates like water finds cracks just might think twice about trusting the local Republican brain trust. If nothing else, someone’s gonna have some ‘splaining to do.
At its core, this is nothing more than applying the Golden Rule. It’s time that someone treated Republican legislators the way they treat everyone else, and if they lose a couple of Congressional seats along the way as a price for their greed and arrogance, so much the better.