Until a few months ago, only half of the four Democrats running to represent Pennsylvania's 13th Congressional District - a gnarled contrivance encompassing parts of Montgomery County and Northeast Philadelphia - actually lived within it.
The district's former and would-be future representative, Marjorie Margolies, was a longtime resident of Wynnewood, which was excised from the district in Harrisburg's latest round of increasingly fervent gerrymandering. In February, Margolies moved to Plymouth, which is within the district, and before long was attacking rival Daylin Leach as a carpetbagger. "I live about 200 yards from the district," scoffed Leach, a state senator from Upper Merion. "I do not find myself confused when I walk across Brookwood [Road] at the strange land I find myself in."
The absurd exchange underscored a much grander absurdity: the state's crazy collection of congressional districts and the process that creates them. In their quest to choose their voters lest voters choose someone else, Pennsylvania's legislators have contorted the 13th into a bizarre shape that divides municipalities as small as East Norriton, with six square miles and fewer than 14,000 residents, between congressional districts. The result has become so indefensible as to allow Leach, a member of the institution that's ultimately responsible for the lines - though, to his credit, a proponent of redistricting reform - to openly dismiss the idea that legislators should live in the districts they represent.
He isn't alone. Kevin Strouse, the Democratic establishment's choice to oppose Republican Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, moved to the Bucks County-based district last year.
Meanwhile, political perennial Steve Lonegan, a Bergen County native and former mayor of a town six miles from Manhattan, moved to Lavalette in January to mount a run in South Jersey's Third District. Lonegan's rival for the Republican nomination and the party leadership's choice, Tom MacArthur, was the mayor of another North Jersey town through December.
Candidates elected in districts they've barely managed to live in will owe it to their geographically forgiving supporters to back redistricting reform. Democratic California Rep. Alan Lowenthal has introduced legislation that would empower citizens to draw districts transparently and according to the boundaries of their communities.
"It is time for politicians to give up their control of the redistricting process and let the people draw the lines," Lowenthal wrote in an Inquirer commentary last week. It's certainly clear that the existing lines are becoming meaningless, particularly to the political class that draws them.