Commissioners discuss adoption of resolution for redistricting reform




BELLEFONTE – Centre County may become the 14th county in the state of Pennsylvania to pass a redistricting reform resolution.

During their Tuesday, Jan. 9 meeting, the Centre County Commissioners discussed what will be their first resolution of the new year: support of a citizens’ commission for legislative and congressional redistricting. The commissioners approved adding the resolution to next week’s consent agenda with a 2-0 vote, as Commissioner Steve Dershem was absent.

“It’s a great opportunity to reduce some of the divisiveness we have within congress, within the general assembly and Harrisburg, and allow for some more compromise and dialogue to occur,” said Commissioner Mike Pipe.

The resolution supports Senate Bill 22 and House Bill 722, fair district bills that call for the elimination of gerrymandering, the practice of drawing political boundaries in a way that gives one political party an advantage over the other.

According to Pipe, redistricting reform is an effort led by many organizations across the state, with the goal to change how the redistricting process works across the state and the country.

“The fairness and the ability to have a nonpartisan group of people doing this is very appealing,” Pipe said.

He added that a big congratulations goes to Clinton County, which is the first county in the state to have all of its municipalities and the county itself approve a similar resolution. Several Centre municipalities have passed similar resolutions, including Bellefonte Borough, but Pipe said the county still has a ways to go.

Commissioner Mark Higgins said the reelection rate for a lot of elected officials in gerrymandered districts is about 97 percent.

“In my opinion, if you have a competitive district, you’re going to serve your constituents better, so I think we need a resolution and we need some changes in the state,” he said.

One organization that supports redistricting reform is nonpartisan group Fair Districts PA, which had a couple of its Centre County members express their thoughts at the meeting.

One individual who thinks the resolution is much needed is Steve Zarit, a Centre resident who serves as coordinator of Fair District PA’s local chapter.

“This is an important step forward to making the political process in Pennsylvania more open and transparent,” Zarit said.

He said that the way districts are drawn today serves no purpose, other than to guarantee an election of an incumbent and guarantee that a particular district stays in the hands of one political party.

It is particularly important for Centre County to reach out to legislators about redistricting reform, as Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre, is Senate majority leader and has a lot of influence in the senate, Zarit said. In addition, State Reps. Mike Hanna, D-Clinton/Centre; Rich Irvin, R-Spruce Creek Township; and Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, are all co-sponsors of the House bill.

Another Fair Districts PA – Centre County member who vocalized support of the resolution was Debbie Trudeau.

Trudeau said it is very important to have government at the local level work together and compromise in order to put pressure on state representatives for the reform bill.

“We need state Senate, state House and congressional representatives who are not responding just to their donors but who are responding to their voters, and it’s not going to happen until the citizens can take over this process,” Trudeau said. “As long as the legislators are drawing their lines, they’re not answering to us.”