As good-government types know, redistricting reform in Pennsylvania is a decade-long process of pulling teeth.

And in the 11th year, alas … life in Harrisburg goes on with the same rotting teeth — with partisan fangs fully intact, of course.

This year looked to be different, as a groundswell of public support formed around the idea that an independent citizens commission might be approved to redraw the boundaries of state Senate and House districts, using the updated information from the 2020 census.

But that type of change is cumbersome. It requires a constitutional amendment, which in Pennsylvania means approval of both houses of the Legislature in two separate sessions, followed by statewide voter approval in a referendum.

And once again — with Republican leaders keeping a big toe on the brake — Pennsylvania is stumbling into a new decade without a better way to redraw state legislative district lines. That, in turn, enables gerrymandering — the process by which lawmakers create ready-made districts packed with like-minded voters, to fend off competition and keep Republicans in majority control. But it also has the effect of keeping minority Democrats in mostly blue districts, leading to the type of partisan isolationism that works against change. Against reforming a corrupt system. Against new blood. Against any need to compromise. Against consideration and discussion of bills in committees.

Against good government.

As bills to create a citizens commission have stagnated, two senators — Bethlehem Democrat Lisa Boscola and Delaware County Republican Tom Killion — have drummed up support for another route. Their bill wouldn’t deny the Legislature the final say on new political maps, but it would switch a public light on the subject, and stem the outright mangling of communities to create “safe” districts.

As reported by SpotlightPA last week, the bill would require lawmakers to hold public meetings about the redrawing process. “War-room” findings would be made available for public analysis before the 10-year die is cast.

Also, guidelines would limit the slicing and dicing of municipal/county boundaries to establish ultra-red and deep-blue districts. That practice was cited by the state Supreme Court when it threw out Pennsylvania’s gerrymandered map of congressional districts in 2018 and replaced it with one more reflective of the state’s partisan make-up.

With congressional districts, state lawmakers oversee the redrawing process. The final bill is subject to the governor’s approval or veto.

State legislative districts, on the other hand, are redrawn by a five-member commission made up of the four Democratic and Republican legislative leaders, along with a chair selected by the other members. If they can’t agree on a fifth member, the state Supreme Court makes the choice.

The Boscola-Killion bill advanced out of the State Government Committee last Tuesday with bipartisan support and some opposition. A companion bill is being sponsored in the House by Rep. Wendi Thomas, R-Bucks.

If this approach sounds like a type of low-cal reform, it is. The reform favored by FairDistrictsPA, NAACP, League of Women Voters and other groups — having non-politicians oversee the redrawing process — is eminently better.

But consider the alternative: Ten more years of partisan stasis.

The constitutional amendment to create an independent commission must remain on the Legislature’s to-do list, even as the door closes on another 10-year opportunity.

Still, a bill illuminating the mapping process and limiting the worst instincts of power-mongers is a step forward. Gov. Wolf should climb aboard, if the bill gets to his desk.

— Easton Express-Times


Difficult year comes at worst possible time for Pennsylvania dairy farmers

Some Pennsylvania dairy farmers, after years of struggle with volatile and evolving markets for their product, entered 2020 cautiously optimistic about their financial situation. “Then, COVID-19 hit. And by mid-March, a government-ordered shutdown forced dairy-buying restaurants closed, instead sending customers to clear out grocery store shelves,” LNP ‘ LancasterOnline’s Sean Sauro reported for a story that appeared in the Sept. 27 Sunday LNP. “It was an abrupt change in the farm-to-consumer supply chain — one that left processors unable to quickly adapt, leading to waste and yet another round of profit loss.”

The pandemic has had devastating ramifications for so many aspects of our lives, economy and culture. LNP ‘ LancasterOnline journalists and these Opinion pages, through editorials, op-eds and reader letters, work to bring the stories and concerns of all those in Lancaster County affected by COVID-19 to the forefront.

Sunday, Sauro examined the difficult and heartbreaking year that local dairy farmers have experienced. Their stories and their livelihoods are intertwined with the necessary shutdowns to keep the deadly novel coronavirus from spreading further in Pennsylvania, causing more deaths and potentially crippling the health care system.

But the necessity of the shutdowns doesn’t lessen the anguish for farmers.

“Overnight, the amount of places that were taking milk just slowed down completely,” Robert Barley, an owner at Star Rock Farms in Conestoga and chairman of the state Milk Marketing Board, told Sauro. “April and May were some of the worst months in recent memory.”

Farmers also found themselves dealing with an inefficient industry and government framework that — for a time — couldn’t provide enough places for perishable products to go.

In a May editorial, we wrote of “the incredibly frustrating scenes of milk being dumped by dairy farmers because there was no market for it amid a pandemic that has jolted traditional buyers and supply chains.” Additionally, “there was no appreciable infrastructure to distribute surplus food from farms to food banks before COVID-19.”

For dairy farmers, profits were literally going down the drain.

“The system is set up in a balanced way, where everything was working and then you had this huge disruption that just threw everything out of whack,” Barley told Sauro.

While the situation has recovered somewhat from that lost spring, there remain no easy answers moving forward for the Pennsylvania dairy industry. Not with the continuing double jeopardy of COVID-19 and an ongoing transformation of the dairy industry. In recent years, LNP ‘ LancasterOnline has detailed the struggles of dairy farmers who have seen the value of milk drop more than 2% since 2012 and are battling to keep their farms viable. Said one dairy farmer in 2018: “I’d rather keep on going, but I don’t see any milk futures as being profitable, so there’s no sense in keeping cows. It’s not profitable.”



Let Columbus stand

The Pittsburgh Art Commission has unanimously voted to remove the statue of Christopher Columbus from Schenley Park. But the final decision is up to the mayor.

Actually, it will probably be up to the courts. For the city promised, in 1958, when the statue was installed, to maintain it in perpetuity. Perhaps the Art Commission could argue that it could be maintained in a storage unit, or even a museum. But that would not be very honest or honorable.

This is a moment for Mayor Bill Peduto to take the long and wide view, to create a teachable moment and to be a statesman — one with guts.

Some will call this vote and votes like it a tip of the hat to wokeness and political correctness. But it’s a lot more than that. It’s a vote against history and historical understanding which, of its true nature, must embrace complexity and the possibility of many truths.

This is the long view: History is full of bad guys and good guys, but also people who were both bad and good. Lyndon Johnson did some very good things in his life in politics, and some bad ones too. Ditto, John F. Kennedy.

Moreover, and more important, history is full of gray areas — conflicting truths, disputed truths and myths that rise and fall as we look and think harder. History is not static.

This is the wide view: Sometimes those myths have their own power. Kennedy is, again, an example. For many people in this country and around the world, the understanding of what Jack Kennedy did, right and wrong, is less important than this mythic aspect — what his life and death and rhetoric stand for as an idea.

There is something deeply ahistorical about the statue smashers in our midst. They do not embrace history in all of its complexity and messiness. They want it cleansed and purged to fit the ideologies and fads of the moment, which is actually anti-historical and, at its far edges, totalitarian.

This hostility to the character of history is also unimaginative and dumb.

Suppose, 50 years hence, the consensus of the moment is that Martin Luther King Jr. was a womanizer and a misogynist? Will we then take down all the statues to him? Will we decide that all the good he ever did should be washed away?

There is something, also, profoundly unempathetic about destroying parts of our past that have mythic power for some people. Christopher Columbus is a symbol of pride for Italian Americans. He stands for something other than his life and the specifics of it — many of which are rightly repugnant to us today. Shouldn’t those not of Italian descent respect what Columbus means to Italian Americans?

The left is sympathetic to forgotten people and oppressed people on a selective basis. The white and poor Appalachian feels as forgotten as the Black man in America today and the Irish and Italians were once the oppressed immigrants of the nation. All are entitled to their pain, myths and heroes. And all of those heroes have feet of clay just as all of the myths have holes in them.

Would it not be better to build a memorial to Native Americans in Schenley Park than to take down the Columbus statue?

We know the answer to that question in our hearts and clear minds. The mayor knows the answer. He can choose history, complexity and sympathy, or he can bow to the bullies, the puritans and the witch burners.

Which will it be, your honor?

— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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