HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Pennsylvania State Senate District 48 meets the requirement that a district is contiguous only in the most technical sense: The district, which encompasses Lebanon and parts of Dauphin and York counties, is connected across the Susquehanna River only in a part of the river that has no bridges.
The League of Women Voters (LWV), in fact, planned to make that point with a kayaking event across the river Thursday, before they canceled the event due to unfavorable weather. The safely Republican district — “one of the more badly, sadly gerrymandered districts of Pennsylvania,” Carol Kuniholm of LWV said Thursday during a virtual event — gives GOP nominee Chris Gebhard the edge in his quest to fill the seat that has been vacant since Dave Arnold died in January.
Don’t blame Gebhard for the boundaries. He’s a first-time candidate, powerless over the current boundaries — and likely, he says, over those that will prevail for the next decade, following the 2020 Census.
“I’m a realist,” Gebhard told abc27 separately Thursday. “Whoever wins this election is going to be the most freshman of freshman senators… and I’m not sure how much input that the most freshman of freshman senators is going to have.”
So what matters more: Being a member of the party in control of the legislature, i.e., Republicans in Pennsylvania’s case? Or being an incumbent, with influence over the selection of commissioners who will draw the new boundaries?
“I would say yes to both of those things,” Kuniholm of the LWV said.
In “purple” Pennsylvania, which voted for President Joe Biden, Republicans hold 27 Senate seats, compared to 20 for Democrats. In the state’s House of Representatives, Republicans hold a 111 to 90 advantage. Kuniholm said politics have long played a role in the way boundaries are drawn, including in past decades, when Democrats were in charge. But she said a combination of hyper-partisan politics and technology — enabling computers to use Census data to draw boundaries designed to give one party as many “safe” seats as possible — have supercharged the trend.
Calvin Clements, the Democratic nominee for District 48, said parts of the district — in York County, especially — rarely attract attention from incumbent lawmakers.
“The only time they see representation is during elections, and then the visits of their elected representatives become fairly sparse,” Clements said. “It smacks of how we built this country: taxation without representation.”
Speakers during the LWV event repeated several times the complaint that “politicians choose their voters,” rather than the other way around.
Gebhard, although the beneficiary of District 48’s boundaries, agreed there might be a more “logical” was to draw district boundaries than the way they are drawn in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
LWV supports legislation that would provide voters a chance to provide input during the process of drawing boundaries.