Is there a moral case for redistricting reform? A Philly clergyman says ‘Yes’ | Monday Morning Coffee

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Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

With the fight over redistricting reform about to rev back up again in the General Assembly, and with no clear solutions in sight, we’ve decided to turn things over to a higher power on this first day of the working week.

And, yes, higher than the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Keep the snickering down, Republicans, we can hear you.

This morning, we’re turning to the Rev. Jarrett Kerbel, the rector of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. He also sits on the steering committee of the reform-minded ‘Draw the Lines,’ which advocates for citizen-based solutions to redistricting. 

Writing on ‘Draw the Lines’ website, Kerbel — keeping things nice and ecumenical — argues that gerrymandering is a sin, regardless of which political party perpetrates it.

“Without a doubt gerrymandering is socially and politically destructive  — whether practiced by Republicans, Democrats or hypothetical third parties,” Kerbel writes. “Gerrymandering  (the practice of drawing voting districts to ensure the election of candidates of one party) demoralizes and disenfranchises voters, fragments communities, contributes to the hyperpolarization and ideological segregation of our politics, and undermines trust in government. 

“Gerrymandering is a tool of domination wherein a majority party seeks to enshrine their advantage and dominion over time by rendering powerless any voters with dissenting perspectives,” he continues. “Domination breeds despair and despair breeds low voter participation rates and the cycle of disempowerment devolves from there.”  

And this is where things get really heavy:

“Apathy is not an unreasonable response to a system that wastes my voting potential even before I get to the ballot box,” he writes. “For the follower of Jesus, gerrymandering undercuts our fundamental vow to respect the dignity of every human being.  Self-determination and active communal solidarity are both crucial components of human dignity.  Therefore, anything that discourages meaningful participation in the politics that shape our common life is an affront to human dignity.”

(Image by Flickr Commons)

And if you’re sitting there asking yourself what interest a man of the cloth has in something as frankly temporal as redistricting, Kerbel is way ahead of you:

“The objection typically arises that the church should not engage at all,” he writes. “To that rejoinder I simply ask, “Would you have said the same to the churches when they were deeply engaged in the abolition movement, the women’s suffrage movement or the civil rights movement?”

He continues: “We could also include the Prohibition movement, which had profoundly mixed and ambiguous motivations while being rooted in the church’s concern for vulnerable women.  In the case of the civil rights, abolition  and suffrage movements, it is hard to argue that the church was wrong to mobilize against evil enshrined in law.  So why not continue in that fine tradition? The church is called to be engaged — to lend voice, moral authority, resources and organized effort — to resist evil and to reorder our common life in ways that protect the most vulnerable and enhance human dignity for all people.”

Thus endeth the lesson.

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What Goes On.
The Senate is off until March 18. The House gavels in at 11 a.m. today. As you might expect, there’s a full slate of committee meetings. Here’s what’s on.
10 a.m.: Liquor Control Committee, 205 Ryan
11 a.m.:  Environmental Resources and Energy, G50 Irvis
11:30 a.m.: Education Committee, 205 Ryan
12 p.m.: Consumer Affairs, 140 Main Capitol
The House Appropriations Committee meets at the call of the chair. Be sure to listen for Chairman Stan Saylor’s lilting yodel echoing through the Capitol, hopefully to the tune of the ‘Ricola‘ commercial: ‘Fiscaaaaallll Noootteesss.’

WolfWatch.
Gov. Tom Wolf
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What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
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7:30 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Frank Ryan
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Daryl Metcalfe
11 am.: Luncheon for Rep. Dan Frankel
11 a.m.: Luncheon for Rep. Tom Caltagirone
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Joanna McClinton
5:30 p.m.: Reception for House GOP Whip Kerry Benninghoff
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Mark Rozzi
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Margo Davidson
5:30 p.m: Reception for Rep. Ed Gainey
6 p.m.: Reception for House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler
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And now you’re up to date.

An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

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