(This article first appeared at Real Clear Politics PA)
By Matthew Brouillette
Weeping, gnashing of teeth, and lots of Monday-morning quarterbacking could describe Pennsylvania Republicans’ reactions to Novembers’ election losses.
From poor candidates to poor messaging to poorly run campaigns to poor mail-in voting strategies, no shortage of factors played a role.
Before the 2010 census and subsequent decennial redistricting process, Democrats architected a “divide and conquer” strategy. To their goals of winning legislative and gubernatorial elections, Democrats prioritized another aim: file lawsuits challenging current maps and win control of state courts so that these lawsuits would end up before friendly judges.
Success would mean that candidate and messaging quality wouldn’t matter because district lines alone would deliver wins.
This strategy was the impetus for the founding of organizations like the litigation-focused National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), established with the backing of former President Barack Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder.
In 2015, the Left put its strategy to work in Pennsylvania.
That year, unions, trial lawyers, and Democrats spent more than $11 million to win three open seats and gain a 5-2 majority on Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court. Republicans raised a paltry $3.6 million, effectively handing victory to Democrats.
This victory became the fulcrum of the Left’s efforts to gerrymander congressional and state legislative districts in the Keystone State.
Before long, the NDRC-friendly League of Women Voters challenged the state’s congressional map as unconstitutional. The map had been approved by the legislature in 2011 with bipartisan support and was signed by then-Gov. Tom Corbett. It was in place for three election cycles with nary a lawsuit in sight. But with control of the court in their hands, Democrats seized their chance.
The court tossed out the map and imposed one of its own, drawn by a Stanford law professor without any legislative input or oversight. The new map, not surprisingly, was a win for Democrats.
But the story doesn’t end there.
As congressional and state redistricting got underway in 2021, Democratic lawyers and judges were ready.
After Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed the congressional map submitted to him by the GOP-controlled state House and Senate, the Democratic-controlled state Supreme Court happily stepped in and picked a map favored by Democrats.
On the legislative front, state maps are drawn by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, made up of two Republicans, two Democrats, and a fifth member selected by the other four. If the four can’t agree, as was the case here, the state Supreme Court picks the fifth member.
Not surprisingly, the Democratic Supreme Court picked a Democrat as the fifth member.
Then, when the commission voted in favor of a Democratic-gerrymandered House map and Republicans sued, the state Supreme Court sided with the Democrats.
It’s little wonder that under the gerrymandered map, Democrats last year won a House majority for the first time in 12 years, albeit by a slim, one-vote margin. They had been plotting for this moment for years – a long-game approach that Republicans must learn from.
Because Republicans failed to recognize the importance of the 2015 judicial races, the Left was able to put Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court solidly in Democratic hands until at least 2027. If Republicans want to reclaim a majority beholden not to a political party but to the rule of law, they can’t wait until 2027. They must start with the race this year for an open Supreme Court seat.
Similarly, if Republicans want to undo Democratic-gerrymandered maps after the 2030 census, they must begin work now to reclaim not only the courts but also the state House and the governor’s office, as the governor has veto power over congressional maps.
Last year should have been the perfect opportunity to do the latter. Instead, while Democrat Josh Shapiro had been effectively running for governor for a decade – again, playing the long game – Republicans chose a weak gubernatorial candidate despite clear warnings of impending loss.
While focusing on the next election may bring the excitement of immediacy, delivering long-lasting free-market, rule-of-law victories requires a long-term approach. It’s past time for Republicans to find a winning strategy.