Redistricting legal bills put party ahead of people

Redistricting is not just something that happens every 10 years.

It is more than just the way that we shuffle the decks of legislators and change the game board that says who goes where.

It’s a complicated, necessary process that should be an accurate reflection of not how we wish the state looked according to the decennial census but how it actually is.

But instead it is ugly. It is contentious. It is a brutal political fistfight that lasts far longer than it should.

And it is something else that cannot be overlooked: expensive.

Nothing that happens in Harrisburg is ever cheap, but the state’s lawmakers are uniquely talented at taking what ought to be a routine task and turning it into a circus with an exponentially growing cast of characters.

Today, the process seems to default to a final sudden death round that happens in front of judges instead of the boring committee work originally conceived.

The congressional redistricting map was picked by the state Supreme Court because of a lawsuit. The state House and Senate districts triggered five lawsuits; one is still in court.

It should surprise no one that going to court means that what could have been done by the people already being paid to do the redistricting becomes a ballooned expense.

Nothing involving lawyers is ever cheap.

A Spotlight PA investigation asked the Democratic and Republican caucuses of the House and Senate for their legal bills spent on redistricting from January 2021 to June 2022.

The tally was eight law firms and $3 million. Experts made as much as $350 an hour — possibly more based on the $90,000 bill from a GOP-hired political science professor whose hourly rate in New York was $500. A similar Democratic expert made $65,000.

What this doesn’t take into account is the other costs of a fight like this becoming a regular court battle instead of a negotiated peace.

It ties up the courts in something that judges should never be called upon to settle. It isn’t their job.

The intention in the state and national constitutions is for lawmakers to act like civilized colleagues who can do their jobs fairly and efficiently. Clearly, that was an area where the Founding Fathers had more faith in future leaders than was merited.

Perhaps the $1.4 million spent by Democrats and $1.6 million spent by the GOP barely even feels like money anymore to legislators who regularly deal in billions. But it is money — a lot of money — and Pennsylvanians deserve more than having their voting districts reduced to a battle of big legal budgets and expensive experts.

And it wouldn’t be necessary if both sides in both chambers — and the governor — would focus on actually representing the people instead of their parties.

— Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


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