When will Sen. John DiSanto’s actions on redistricting reform match his rhetoric? | Opinion

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 23: Signage at an early voting center on September 23, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Minnesota residents can vote in the general election every day until Election Day on November 8. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

By Jean Handley

We’re addressing this op-Ed to Senate State Government Committee Chairman John DiSanto, R-Dauphin, in the hope of gaining a better understanding of his positions on transparency in government, gerrymandering and redistricting reform.

That’s because his actions — and inactions — are inconsistent with his publicly stated previous support.

DiSanto is a co-sponsor of SB22, authored by Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, which would establish an independent citizens redistricting commission. Unfortunately, as DiSanto is aware, the language in that legislation prohibited any change in procedure until redistricting in the year 2031.

DiSanto further clarified support in his Fair Districts PA Survey response in April: “I have supported redistricting reform in the past and have been a champion of the idea of taking partisan politics out of redistricting. I believe we must put into place an independent commission that looks only at fairness and not partisan outcomes.”

We are confounded at the lack of any action taken on two pieces of legislation respectively sponsored by Boscola (SB1022) and Sen. Tom Killion, R-Delaware (SB1023), that would have established an independent commission for state legislative and Congressional redistricting. 

These bills have been in DiSanto’s committee since last January. They have strong bipartisan sponsorship. Yet, under DiSanto’s leadership, no action was taken on these bills, and subsequently they were allowed to die.

This happened while DiSanto knew his constituents overwhelmingly supported redistricting reform.

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DiSanto knew that elected municipal officials in his district, representing 68 percent of his constituents, and both county commissions adopted resolutions between May 2016 and February 2020 in support of an independent redistricting commission. They also asked the Republican lawmaker to publicly announce his commitment to work towards passage of such legislation.

DiSanto knew that this was not a partisan issue, since 10 of the 12 municipal boards and both counties that adopted the resolution had Republican majorities.

DiSanto knew that there was overwhelming support for redistricting reform by Pennsylvanians.

DiSanto was given details of how elected municipal officials from 387 governing bodies statewide, including 24 county commissions, adopted this same resolution with both Republican and Democrat majorities, representing more than 9 million Pennsylvanians—approximately 70 percent of the citizens of our state.

DiSanton was given the results from a Franklin & Marshall Poll in September 2019 showing that 67 percent of Pennsylvania voters support an independent commission to draw legislative district lines, including majorities of Democrats (66 percent), independents (78 percent) and Republicans (63 percent).

Equally important, the results also showed that only 15 percent believe that “districts should continue to be drawn by state legislators.”

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Then, on July 13, a proposed constitutional amendment (HB 196), sponsored by Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon, establishing judicial districts for Pennsylvania’s appellate courts, was reported out of your committee. It was hastily passed on July 15 without discussion, hearings, or evidence of public support. 

It is a bill that had no bipartisan sponsorship and no bipartisan support in its passage in either the House or Senate. 

In addition, this proposed amendment would create the potential for gerrymandering of judicial districts since the districts would be drawn by the legislators in the same partisan, nontransparent fashion that they use to draw our state and Congressional districts. This is in direct conflict with your stated support of redistricting reform (Editor’s Note: The bill still must be approved by the House and Senate in next year’s legislative session, and then by voters at a statewide referendum. The earliest that would happen is 2021).

Killion has introduced new legislation (SB1242) establishing strict guidelines and requirements for transparency, partisan data usage and public input for the redistricting processes to be conducted by our legislators in 2021. The bill is before the Senate State Government Committee.

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As its chairman, DiSanto has control over the fate of this bill.  Will his actions finally support his words that he is “a champion of the idea taking partisan politics out of redistricting”?

DiSanto’s constituents will have a choice on November 3. The Democratic nominee in central Pennsylvania’s 15th District, George Scott, is a strong supporter of redistricting reform. You now have one last chance prior to the election to use your power and move redistricting reform forward in the Senate with Killion’s SB1242.

If he does not use that power, DiSanto’s words are meaningless.

Jean Handley writes on behalf of the Dauphin County Leadership Team of Fair Districts PA., a voters’ advocacy and redistricting reform organization.