Former Gov.’s son tours Pa. in VW van to raise redistricting awareness

Committee of Seventy President David Thornburgh in Duncannon, Pa. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

A one man — er, van — moveable billboard is criss-crossing Pennsylvania calling for citizens to join in the effort to redraw state voting districts.

David Thornburgh, president of the Philadelphia good government group Committee of Seventy, will be driving across the state in his freshly painted red, white and blue Volkswagen bus in the coming weeks to encourage people to engage in the once a decade redistricting process.

Thornburgh, son of former Republican Gov. Dick Thornburgh, said the tour is going to stop at many Pennsylvania offbeat tourist spots, from a big red dragon off the side of U.S. Route 15 in Duncannon, Perry County to a house shaped like a shoe in York County.

The tour will also hit some spots with political history. That includes the seafood restaurant parking lot that was used to complete an infamous 2011 Congressional gerrymander, as well as parts of Lancaster County cut out of former House Appropriations Committee Chairman  John Barley’s district when his neighbors complained about his sudden sale of land to create a landfill.

“It ought to remind us, when we draw districts, of what we’re doing to communities. It’s too often that they are carved up,” Thornburgh said. “Plus, it’s fun.”

The van, which in his time off the clock you may find Thornburgh pulling into state parks, currently advertises Draw The Lines PA, an effort to award Pennsylvanians prizes for drawing their own political maps to fit certain criteria. 

And, on Monday, with just four days until the deadline, Thornburgh also encouraged central Pennsylvanians to apply to chair the state’s redistricting commission.

Four of Pennsylvania’s legislative redistricting commissioners are confirmed. The fifth will decide who wins and loses

The commission, which meets every decade to draw all 253 state legislative districts, is currently seeking applicants from the general public to round out the five-person redistricting commission.

The chair can guide negotiations and casts the tie breaking vote on maps drawn by the House and Senate Democratic and Republican leaders, who make up the other four commissioners.

The chair should be “willing to serve, uninterrupted, for the entire time frame required for the Commission to complete its work,” which could border on full-time, and can also expect to draw a salary.

Citizens have until Friday to apply, and must submit a cover letter and resume to this email address.

At least one big name is keeping her name out of the conversation — Fair Districts PA executive director Carol Kuniholm.

Kuniholm, whose barnstormed Pennsylvania to raise awareness around gerrymandering, told the Capital-Star she decided against applying, despite the prodding of some boosters.

“I’m committed to the work we’re doing, and [the commission] isn’t really our top goal, fun though it would be to give it a try,” Kuniholm said.

But in the meantime, Thornburgh told the Capital-Star he had talked with about 20 people as of midday Monday, at stops in Lancaster and Harrisburg, encouraging them to apply.

And “once you enter into the conversation circle, no is not an option,” he joked.

The commission also accepted general public applications in 2011 for the chairmanship.

Thornburgh said just 13 people applied that year, and estimated that “there are multiples of 13 that have already applied.”

The legislative leaders must pick a chair by April 30, or the state Supreme Court’s seven justices will pick the tiebreaker.

Despite the public interest in 2011, the lawmakers could not agree on a chair. The high court then picked a retired judge.

This year, Democrats finally control the state’s high court this time, giving them the final say if the leaders cannot agree.

The commission has only agreed on a chair once, according to a 2019 legal paper on the state’s redistricting commission authored, in part, by former House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny.

Redistricting, explained: What it is, how it works, and how Pa. politicians get to draw their own maps