Lehigh Valley

Bethlehem Township says "no" to gerrymandering

BETHLEHEM TWP., Pa. - When it comes to politics, Bethlehem Township wants to end voting districts that look like "Goofy kicking Donald Duck."

On Monday night, commissioners voted 3-0 to support a resolution to establish a citizens' commission for legislative and congressional redistricting in Pennsylvania. The vote followed a presentation by Frederick Walker, who spoke on behalf of a partnership between the League of Women Voters and a group called Fair Districts PA.

During a roughly 25-minute presentation to the board, Walker said the subject material was a "very wonky."

"Frequently it is legislators who are choosing their voters," Walked told commissioners. "Voters don't matter. That's what we want to change."

In the last decade, politicians in both parties have become more brazen in their efforts to ensure the political gravy train continues to charge down the tracks, Walker said. To illustrate the point, Walked noted the evolution of the Seventh Congressional District in Pennsylvania from 1952 through 2013 -- the district is regarded as the most gerrymandered district in the entire country.

Walker said that in 1952 the Seventh District resembled a normal and healthy shape. However, over the years an image revealed a bizarre metamorphosis into irregular sections of land containing several protrusions resembling jagged edges on a map. Some of the areas are connected by only about  800 feet, he told commissioners.

Eventually someone said the district resembled Walt Disney characters "Goofy kicking Donald Duck."

Today the Seventh Congressional District inhabits five Pennsylvania counties: Berks, Lancaster, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery; he said it was designed to ensure Republican rule for generations to come.

Walker added Democrats also play the game. To illustrate the point he showed Maryland's Third Congressional District which is known as the "Praying Mantis" District and is Democratic stronghold.

Gerrymandering has a perverse impact on American democracy, Walker said. In some districts it elevates the Democratic or Republican primary above the general election.

Why is that harmful?

"It throws the Democrats further to the left and the Republicans further to the right," he said.

To make his case, he told commissioners that a recent Harvard Business School survey of graduates indicated that 54 percent of them believe gerrymandering is the reason the government is not solving economic problems impacting the business community.

Fair Districts PA backs legislation in the Pennsylvania Senate co-sponsored by Sen. Lisa Boscola ,D-18, and Sen. Mario Scavello, R-40. The bill would establish an 11-member redistricting commission. The two major political parties would each have four representatives, with the other three seats held by third or unaffiliated parties.

In other business Monday night, commissioners also adopted a resolution updating the township's comprehensive plan.

Vice President Thomas Nolan said the updates had been an "almost two-year endeavor" on part of the township. He identified the two most critical issues: traffic and stormwater management. The plan is primarily used to provide the township with direction for land development, redevelopment of existing parcels and township preservation over the next 10 to 15 years, according to documents.

President Michael Hudak and Commissioner Kimberly Jenkins were absent from Monday night's meeting.

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