It's slipping away.
Don't let it.
A bill to curb gerrymandering is in trouble in the Pennsylvania legislature. Gerrymandering is the dark art of drawing electoral districts to stack the deck in favor of incumbents and the party in power. Pennsylvania is the second-most-gerrymandered state in the land.
House Bill 2420 "is a key pillar of fundamental, transformational reform," says Barry Kauffman of Pennsylvania Common Cause.
So, of course, friends of the status quo are trying to bury this bill in committee.
The main thing that can save this reform is - you. Your voice, dinning in key lawmakers' ears, could get this bill to the House floor, where it has a chance of passage.
Would your phone calls and e-mails really matter?
Remember how stirred up you got over that illegal pay raise lawmakers voted themselves in 2005? Your fierce anger chased dozens of incumbents from office in '06. It petrified those who remain, turning this session into the most productive one for Harrisburg reform since God was a pup.
Consider this: Gerrymandering is a far bigger threat to your interests than that piddling (though infuriating) pay hike ever was.
You see, gerrymandering is why the sultans of the Susquehanna figured they could get away with that pay raise - and so many other arrogant things they do.
An incumbent nestled into a gerrymandered district could pretty much assume that his chances of getting booted out were about the same as those of Lichtenstein's winning the gold medal count at the Summer Olympic Games.
Sure, the pay-raise cyclone unsettled that confidence. But the old hands in Harrisburg seem to think that their skies have cleared; business as usual creeps out of the storm shelter.
Take what's happening to H.B. 2420, introduced by Rep. Steve Samuelson (D., Lehigh).
It's a solid reform.
The bill would force party honchos to end some favorite habits. No more fancy computer models drawing districts for maximum partisan advantage. No more threats of a hostile gerrymander to keep independent lawmakers in line. No more dividing poor Monroe County among six senators.
The bill calls for compact, contiguous districts that respect communities of interest.
Changing legislative (though not congressional) redistricting requires amending the state constitution. This means H.B. 2420 must pass by the end of June to take effect for the 2010 census and redistricting. Samuelson's bill had some momentum; it had 92 co-sponsors, 10 short of the magic number.
Then Harrisburg happened.
Rep. Babette Josephs, the Philly Democrat who chairs the committee where the bill sits, asked the head of the Legislative Reference Bureau, the respected agency that helps legislators draft laws, to comment on 2420. The bill would assign to the bureau the job of drafting the electoral maps.
Its executive director, Robert W. Zech Jr., wrote back solemnly that this duty would "compromise the neutral and nonpartisan reputation of the bureau." Lewis Carroll must have helped draft this missive. The looking-glass logic: We're famously nonpartisan, so don't ask us to do a job crying out for that approach.
Zech wouldn't talk to me about his letter. I think I can translate it, though. Lawmakers appoint him to his job. His reply to Josephs is really a yelp of pain: "Why are you doing this to me? This'll just make you guys mad at me!"
Josephs, a co-sponsor of 2420, chose to treat this bureaucratic anguish as a substantive problem. She pulled the bill from consideration. Explaining that to me, Josephs made one fair point: "Who decides what a 'community of interest' is?" Deciphering such issues, she said, would thrust the bureau onto more subjective turf than usual.
OK, but to hear Josephs describe the rigors of mapmaking, you'd conclude that no one shy of the Almighty could do the job, and only if Moses and St. Paul did the staff work.
Samuelson is working on revising the bill to calm the chairwoman's qualms.
You can detect here the sound of Harrisburg's old hands doing what they do: killing a pesky reform through phony, harrumphing scrutiny; slow-walking it to oblivion.
Let this reform die and you blunt the impact of many good steps taken since the pay-raise revolt. Don't let that happen. Tell Josephs (firstname.lastname@example.org; 215-893-1515) that you want 2420 voted out of committee. Tell Speaker Dennis O'Brien (215-632-5150) and Majority Leader William DeWeese (717-783-3797) you want it passed.
Breathe new life into democracy. Kill the gerrymander.