Democrat and Republican leaders in Harrisburg would be wise to find a moderate centrist to oversee the state's powerful Legislative Reapportionment Commission, and accepting applications for the position is a good start.
What happens with those applications and who inevitably oversees the commission's once-a-decade duty to draw new political maps in the state will be critical to creating the transparency lawmakers say they want and Pennsylvanians demand.
For just the second time in a half-century, the commission is open to public applications for the role. How much consideration will be given to qualified candidates remains to be seen. Advocates for fair districting are rightfully pushing for more public involvement.
“I think (lawmakers) understand that we’re in a new political era where Republicans and Democrats, right and left, there’s a real interest in transparency and openness,” said David Thornburgh, managing director of the anti-gerrymandering organization Draw the Lines. “I think the leadership is much more interested in recognizing that than pushing back.”
One lawmaker, says it's "too soon to tell," if that will really be the case.
State Sen. David Argall has sponsored a bill that would prohibit "a person from holding the role if they or their spouse were registered lobbyists or political candidates in the past five years, or worked for a political campaign or public official in the past five years," according to SpotlightPa. That marks another step in the right direction.
“I saw this bill as at least one small step in the right direction trying to make it a little less cutthroat partisan,” the Schuylkill County Republican said.
Both parties are talking a good game. They are looking for a chair who "shares our commitment to a fair, open and legal redistricting process," said House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, a Republican. Senate Minority leader Jay Costa, a Democrat from Allegheny County said they want an individual who is “going to be committed to working for the right outcome, in terms of a fair outcome, an equitable outcome.”
That sounds good. It remains to be seen who "our commitment" references: Party or Pennsylvania. We wonder if the "right" and "fair outcome" benefits us all or just those with the right affiliation
History is not on our side. A decade ago, Pennsylvania's congressional map was among the most gerrymandered in the nation. The maps, largely done behind closed doors as has been the case for decades regardless of what party is in power, were thrown out in 2018 by the state's Supreme Court.
This next redistricting will be scrutinized because of precedent, current partisanship and how the 2020 election was handled and is still being critiqued.
We will be watching, but an independent voice at the head of the crucial committee is the right first step.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item's editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today's was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.