‘Democracy requires full representation’: Group pushes for racially equitable redistricting | Thursday Morning Coffee
The floor of the Pa. House of Representatives (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso).
Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
In 2015, people who identified as Black, indigenous or as a person of color made up 20 percent of Pennsylvania’s population. Now, they’re 24 percent of the Keystone State’s population. But when Salewa Ogunmefun looks at the 253-member General Assembly, she sees an overwhelmingly white and male institution that doesn’t reflect the changing face of the commonwealth.
And now, with a special commission made up of the four floor leaders in the state House and Senate, led by a fifth, impartial chairman, about to embark on the once-a-decade redrawing of the state’s legislative maps, Ogunmefun wants two big things. First, to make sure that BIPOC Pennsylvanians have a seat at the table, and, second, that their interests are enshrined in the final map adopted by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission.
Ogunmefun, who serves as the executive director of the statewide advocacy group Pennsylvania Voice, spend a few minutes speaking with the Capital-Star this week about her organization’s mission, how it intends to try to influence the decennial remapping process, and what an equitable map might look like at the end of the process.
The interview below has been lightly edited for clarity and content.
Q: So tell me a bit about Pennsylvania Voice, who are you, and what do you do?
A: “Pennsylvania Voice is a partnership of 44 organizations, united in three things. We believe that democracy requires full participation and representation; that the pathway to power values BIPOC communities, [and] the way to really build transformative power is through collective liberation and partnership. We are united together, because we are more powerful together and need to shift the balance of power in the state.”
(Editor’s Note: Some of the groups in that partnership include the immigrant rights’ groups CASA and Make the Road PA; POWER, the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, the Amistad Law Center, Asian Americans United, PA Stands Up, and Common Cause.)
Q: How is that happening?
A: “When we did that first analysis in 2015, and [looked at] the demographics of the state, we did a lot of research, and investigated the communities that are under-counted. We made sure they were counted during the  Census … We really see redistricting as central to that work. Districts are really drawn in backrooms. We’re really excited this year … we are trying to focus on those communities, to make them see that those populations exist and do not have power because of the way Ines are drawn.
” … Our campaign is focused on state legislative maps. The Legislature has the real power on minimum wage and healthcare [and other issues]. Our campaign plan starts off with influencing the process from the beginning. We wanted [the reapportionment commission] to understand what we were looking for in the fifth commissioner. We had some folks from our pool who applied [during public interviews]. We want to have meetings with all five of the commissioners, especially the chairman [former University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg]. We want to make sure they understand how to value these communities.”
Q: Have you had the opportunity to speak to any of the commission members about your concerns? If so, what sort of reception have you received?
A: “We’ve had conversations with members of the LRC. We’ve heard people echo that they’re interested in racial equity. The biggest challenge is that it hasn’t been considered …
“We’re having community members draw maps … and we will provide all that data to the state. They’ve let us know that they want to hear us … We have a commitment from the LRC to have robust community engagement. We’re hoping to have five hearings, that gives us the opportunity to have community members heard, so we can do as much education to inform the mapmakers as possible.”
(Editor’s note: While Pennsylvania Voice is a statewide organization, it is focusing its community mapmaking efforts in seven Pennsylvania counties: Allegheny, Berks, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, Philadelphia, and York counties.)
Q: Bottom line, what’s the most important thing that people should know about your organization and the work that it does?
A: “We are a partnership of diverse folks throughout the state who are committed to advancing progressive values … and the way we do that is to make sure we have a democracy that is reflective to the community it serves. And right now, we don’t have that. Through this process we really have an opportunity to balance power and we’re really excited about that.”
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9:30 a.m., G50 Irvis: The House and Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness committees host a joint meeting.
1 p.m., Capitol Steps: Rep. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin, hosts Harrisburg High/Penn State alum & NFL first-round pick Micah Parsons to celebrate the Steel/High State Champions
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You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
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John L. Micek