‘Democracy requires full representation’: Group pushes for racially equitable redistricting | Thursday Morning Coffee

Members of the Pennsylvania House applaud newly elected Speaker Bryan Cutler on June 22, 2020. (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.

(Capital-Star file)

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 [2020] 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.”

Eric Randall, of Pittsburgh, makes his pitch to lawmakers on Monday, 4/26.21, to become the next chairman of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission (screen capture).

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.”

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Under legislation now making its way through the state House, Pennsylvania doctors could be punished for rejecting vaccine-skeptical parentsStephen Caruso reports.

Gov. Tom Wolf traveled to State College on Wednesday, where he had a simple message for vaccine-averse football fans: Want to see Penn State in-person this fall? Get the jab, I report.

A federal judge in Washington D.C. struck down the CDC’s temporary order banning evictions, a move that could affect millions of Americans, including thousands in Pennsylvania. The Department of Justice says it plans to appeal the ruling, Cassie Miller reports.

The African-American Museum in Philadelphia has reopened, welcoming visitors with new exhibits and security precautions, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Mark O’Keefe considers the financial plight of Pennsylvania’s volunteer fire companies, and the legislative efforts intended to help them. And a SUNY-Binghamton scholar explains how ‘socialism’ stopped being a dirty word for some voters – and started winning elections across America.

Elsewhere.
Philadelphia needs to set a reopening date
, City Council members said during a budget hearing on Wednesday, the Inquirer reports.
Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, is encouraging constituents to get vaccinated, the Tribune-Review reports.
Keystone State voters should think long and hard about changing the state constitutionPennLive’s John Baer argues.
Faced with declining demand, Lancaster County’s mass vaccination site has trimmed its hoursLancasterOnline reports.
Muhlenberg College in Allentown has joined Lehigh University in requiring vaccinations for students, the Morning Call reports.
Get ready for a chlorine shortage this summer, pool lovers. The Citizens’ Voice has the details.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

Philadelphia’s gun violence epidemic was the top issue at Wednesday’s debate between DA candidates Larry Krasner and Carlos Vega, WHYY-FM reports.
A new state climate report has projected a nearly six-degree rise, more heat waves, and intense storms by 2050, StateImpact Pennsylvania reports.
The ranks of Erie’s vaccinated cops and firefighters has increasedGoErie reports.
A former part-time police officer at Washington Hospital has filed a federal whistle blower lawsuit, the Observer-Reporter reports.
The NRCC has added the 6th CD seat now held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan to its must-win list, PoliticsPA reports.
State governments are pushing to extend postpartum Medicaid benefits to help save lives, Stateline.org reports.
Roll Call looks at the partisan divide over security infrastructure at the southern border.

What Goes On.
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
1:30 p.m.:  The Departments of Health and State on how changing disaster declarations would make it harder to get people medical care

WolfWatch.
Gov. Tom Wolf 
has no public schedule today.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Brittany Crampsie, in the office of Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, and to reader Aja Beech, of Philadelphia, both of whom celebrate today. Congratulations and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
Singer-songwriter Grant McLennan, who was one half of the songwriting partnership behind Australian legends The Go-Betweens, died on this day in 2006, at the entirely too young age of 48. McLennan’s work has always meant the world to me. And on this day, I always take a moment to honor his memory. Here’s one of my favorites, maybe it’ll be one of yours now, too. From 1994’s wonderful ‘Horsebreaker Star,’ It’s ‘All Her Songs.’

Thursday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link.
Baltimore 
snapped its losing streak, shutting out Seattle 6-0 on Wednesday night. Baltimore’s John Means made history, throwing the O’s first solo no-hitter since 1969.

And now you’re up to date.