Legislators are back in Harrisburg this month, and that means it’s time for them to hold hearings on SB22 and HB722, the bills that could amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to end gerrymandering for good.
But despite a flood of calls from constituents during August—and a press conference Tuesday, where more than 100 of our amazing volunteers showed up on the Capitol steps (thank you!)—the State Government committees in both the House and the Senate have no plans to hold hearings. Without these hearings, the bills can never come to a vote in the full legislature.
So it’s time to get even louder: we need letters to the editor blanketing the pages of every newspaper in the state.
Letters to the editor can reach people across the political spectrum and across all demographics. They are easily shared via social media and often more influential to average readers than the official editorials run by the papers. And right now, letters are even more important—because they make sure as many people as possible know about the legislature’s failure to act on these bills.
Use your letter to help your local community understand this issue, and why hearings are so critical this fall. Here’s what we recommend you include:
Briefly define the problem of gerrymandering, using local examples if possible.
Explain the proposed legislation, SB 22 and HB 722 (refer to our synopsis of the bills for help).
Note that these bills have been sitting in their respective State Government Committee for months without a hearing. In order for changes to go into effect before the next redistricting cycle in 2021, a bill must pass both chambers of the legislature by June 2018. If committee hearings aren’t held soon, we could get 10 more years of gerrymandering.
Mention that we have reports of several legislators who have been refusing to meet with their constituents. These legislators claim their legal counsel advised them not to discuss proposed reform because the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania lawsuit over the constitutionality of the last district maps, made in 2011, is still pending. Fair Districts PA chair Carol Kuniholm wrote a letter to Senators Scarnati, Corman, and Folmer on August 29 asking them to justify and explain this stance—because every legal expert we’ve asked has told us there’s no reason for this. That letter has gone unanswered.
Urge the specific legislators in your area (find yours here if you’re not sure) to support the bill, and ask that they speak up to their peers about the need for committee hearings.
Encourage your fellow constituents to contact their representatives, too. Even if their representatives already support the bills, the more constituent voices they hear, the stronger their support will become.
For more inspiration, check out these recent letters by Fair Districts PA supporters. Laurie Hess opens her letter in Lancaster Online by connecting the budget gridlock in Harrisburg to gerrymandering:
It is the middle of September. Pennsylvania still does not have a budget for this fiscal year… Imagine operating this way at your job. Your most important annual task is habitually done late and poorly. You would be fired, and rightly so!
Fortunately for legislators, they are almost impossible to fire because they get to pick their own bosses (voters)!
In the Philadelphia Inquirer, Lori Yeghiayan Friedman uses her letter to highlight legislators’ inaction, and point out that while one party is in control right now, both parties are to blame:
Both bills are in the hands of those in power who, naturally, are reluctant to have that power taken from them. They are stalling, refusing to hold hearings or move the bills forward.
Republicans and Democrats in Harrisburg have reasons to continue the status quo. The current maps, drawn by Republicans in 2011, favor the GOP, which holds 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 seats in the U.S. House — or 72 percent — despite winning 54 percent of the statewide congressional vote in 2016. And Democrats may not want things to change, believing they will get their turn to tilt the scales after the 2020 census.
Remember, you don’t need to be a professional writer to have your letter published. You just need to have a clear story that’s compelling to your local paper. So take a few minutes to think about how your community is impacted by gerrymandering, and help us get the word out about the need for hearings.