A chance, every 10 years, to reform government on the ground
Does the perpetual hypocrisy machine grinding its gears in our nation's Capitol concern you?
Republicans in Congress chanted, "No, no, no, no, no" for eight years while their Democratic colleagues cried out, "Obstructionism!"
Now a Republican has replaced a Democrat in the White House, and congressional Democrats are chanting "No, no, no, no, no" while their Republican colleagues cry out, "Obstructionism!"
There is a cure for this. But we get a shot at it only every 10 years. And that time is fast approaching.
Reapportionment is the redrawing of the geographical boundaries for state legislative and congressional districts.
The process is all too often abused by politicians, who have more influence over it than the people they were elected to represent.
The strongest urge for most politicians is to seek the safest route to reelection. So legislators push for district lines to reach that goal.
In this, at least, we get bipartisanship. Democrats and Republicans do the same thing whenever they find themselves in power in the statehouses where the lines are drawn.
Does it work? Let's do some math.
Pennsylvania had 8.7 million registered voters on Election Day in November. Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 916,274 voters. And of the state's 18 seats in the U.S. House, 13 were won by Republicans.
By drawing lines that favor their political party, legislators enable obstructionism. Everything stalls if the most partisan people in the party's base object to any bipartisan effort.
Could this be ripe for change?
Carol Kuniholm is chairwoman of Fair Districts PA, a bipartisan coalition of groups formed last March to change the way congressional and state legislative district lines are drawn here.
Kuniholm sensed a sea change in the effort immediately after November's election.
People who stood on the sidelines of politics and government are now eager to participate. Kuniholm said the issue of reapportionment can factor into many issues those people care about: the environment, gun safety, education funding, immigration, and more.
"If democracy doesn't work it doesn't matter what the issue is," she said.
Here is what happens when that message sinks in.
Last year, the group had a few volunteers. Now it has about 100.
Fair Districts PA held a meeting two weeks ago in Philadelphia, expecting to need a venue for about 200 people. More than 700 showed up.
And it's not just Philadelphia. Kuniholm said 180 people showed up at a meeting in a Bucks County retirement community last month and then 400 for a meeting in Allentown.
"People are willing to put time and effort into understanding this, which is hugely different from a year ago," Kuniholm said. "Now people are saying, maybe this is actually doable."
This is not to say it will be easy. It requires a change to the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Legislation to take the reapportionment process out of the hands of state legislative leaders and give that power to a redistricting commission made up of state residents is being readied for introduction in the state House and Senate, Kuniholm said.
That must pass in the 2017-2018 legislative session and then pass again early in the 2019-2020 legislative session to qualify as a ballot question for voters in the 2020 general election.
Reapportionment will happen in 2021, after the 2020 U.S. Census, which generates the data used to redraw the district lines.
It might sound far off. It isn't. Movement to change the process must gain traction now. That means voters need to push their state legislators to support the change.