I believe civility and consensus are essential to solving problems and addressing issues. However, as American statesman and three-time presidential candidate Henry Clay once lamented: “. . . everyone wants his own way, irrespective of the interests and wishes of others.” Sadly, little has changed since Mr. Clay’s time.
Consider redistricting reform. I support changes to the current system because I believe in the words of Article 1, Section 2 of the Pennsylvania Constitution: “All power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their peace, safety and happiness. For the advancement of these ends they have at all times an inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think proper.”
That’s why I worked with a number of different people and groups to help fashion a consensus that was overwhelmingly accepted by the Senate for an 11-member, independent commission of citizens to draw election maps for both Congress and the General Assembly.
While we weren’t able to finalize the manner in which citizens would have applied and been considered for selection to the commission, the plan would have had legislative leaders and the governor recommend four Democrats, four Republicans, and three independents to the independent panel for two-thirds confirmation by the General Assembly. To reach the two-thirds threshold requirement would have necessitated some consensus and perhaps (and hopefully) civility as well.
Lobbyists or legislative staff would not have been allowed to serve on the independent citizens’ commission and those being considered would need to be properly registered to vote.
This plan would have also restricted splitting counties, municipalities, and election wards. Splits were the unsuccessful focus of 2011 legal challenges to maps drawn after the last census.
The proposed independent citizens’ commission would have had a year to draw election maps. Any map approved by the commission would have needed the support of seven of the 11 members – with at least two Democrats, two Republicans, and two independents or other parties supporting them. Again, civility and consensus would have been essential in securing commission approval of any and all maps.
If the commission would fail to finalize maps, commissioners would submit two or three sets of draft maps to the General Assembly for two-thirds approval by both chambers. The General Assembly could not draw its own maps – it could only consider those developed by the independent citizens’ commission.
If the General Assembly would also fail to reach consensus in approving maps, the same sets of maps would have been forwarded to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. However, the Court would also have not been allowed to draw its own maps.
My conversations with citizens and the different advocacy groups helped to address a number of concerns with proposed changes. I appreciated the civility of our discussions as we worked toward a consensus that didn’t give everyone all that they wanted yet sought to ensure private citizens would be in charge of the independent drawing of election maps.
The consensus plan was ultimately approved by the Senate and although time ran out in the Pennsylvania House, I believe it nonetheless represented an improvement over the status quo.
I look forward to working on continued deliberations on possible changes to how congressional and House and Senate election lines are drawn.
Hopefully, these discussions will again embrace civility and the goal of working toward consensus. Or, as Henry Clay once said: “All legislation, all government, all society is founded upon the principle of mutual concession, politeness, comity, courtesy.”
State Sen. Mike Folmer is a Republican who represents the 48th Senatorial District in Harrisburg.