What he can’t do

Columnist : Albert Paschall

Early term members of the State House of Representatives never cease to amaze me.  Mine is particularly amusing, as he should be, as he worked as a stand up comedian to help pay for college.  But he just got what every first term House member wants – a second term – and he’s trying to step onto the bigger stage in Harrisburg.

Now there’s a lot I have tolerate to like State Representative Daylin Leach.  He’s a trial lawyer with ideas that I often tell him must have come straight out of Moscow in the bad old days.  But the one thing that’s best about him, like a lot of people holding their first elective office, he doesn’t know what he can’t do yet.

Ideas pour of Leach’s head at a mind numbing pace.  Some are actually good ones.  He worked out a way for a school to be built in his district that was being blocked by some arcane bureaucratic rules.  He earned a lot of votes when he organized four busloads of veterans from his district and took them to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington.  However his latest idea is absolutely off the wall.  Leach has proposed a bill in Harrisburg that would change the way we redistrict the state every decade after the U.S. Census.  The concept is that State House, Senate and Congressional districts better reflect population shifts but the process is controlled by the party that is in control of the legislature.  The founding fathers wanted a fair system of representation by population instead we’ve created the planet’s most political process and Leach thinks that can be changed.

Redistricting all over the US is characterized by the words that Senator William L. Macy uttered back in 1832: “to the victor belong the spoils.”  Senator Macy couldn’t have ever imagined the meaning technology would give his words today.  No more smoky back rooms with party bosses hacking over maps.  Today, high powered consultants line their computers up against each other crunching numbers and demographics.  These hackers can do a job, especially up there where the air is rare:  the Republican and Democratic National Committees.  In eastern Pennsylvania they’ve created two bizarre congressional districts.  The 6th that sort of circles around Chester and parts of Berks and Montgomery counties and the 13th that used to boast that it was Montgomery County’s seat.  Now it is stretched from north Philadelphia in a sliver to touch Bucks County.  Republicans own the 6th district, Democrats dominate in the 13th.

Same thing happens on the state level.  With Republican control of the House and Senate, leadership fights to maintain the status quo.  That hasn’t always worked.  After the last round of redistricting veteran Republican State Senator Richard Tilghman was forced to retire and Democrat Connie Williams took the seat handily.  Demonstrating another amazing strategic insight by the State Republican Committee.

But by and large, courtesy of our system of redistricting State House districts aren’t competitive.  According to Leach fewer than 10 of the 203 state House seats, and only two or three of the 50 Senate seats are competitive in any given election cycle.

Leach’s six point plan would essentially minimize the political component in redistricting.  The process would be conducted by a nine member commission of four Republicans and four Democrats with one registered independent that would be appointed by the other commission members.  It would attempt to define how compact a district could be based on its population.

Leach is deadly serious about his plan.  “We have reached a point in America where democracy is increasingly meaningless.”  Someday as the technology of demography improves Leach will be increasingly right and it won’t be often in his career that he will be described as ideologically right.

State Representative Daylin Leach cracks me up, he just doesn’t know what can’t be done.  With ideas as naïve and as good as this one I hope he never does figure that out.

Albert Paschall
Senior Commentator
The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc.

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