Ohio is a swing state. Florida is a swing state. There may have once been a time that Pennsylvania was a swing state as well, but those days are over. No matter how much the voters residing in the state’s thinly populated rural counties believe otherwise, Pennsylvania is blue, a fact highlighted by the Democratic sweep yesterday of state-wide elections.
If you live in Pennsylvania, you could be forgiven for believing the opposite. Any study of the problems of our system of representative democracy and single-member districts would have to dedicate at least a chapter to Pennsylvania. While Pennsylvania hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988, we have a US Senator from each party, the GOP holds a 13 to 5 advantage in US Representatives, and the PA General Assembly is Republican controlled as well, with the Senate split 30-19 (with one vacancy) and the House 119-84. While some of this discrepancy (such as the GOP Senator) can be explained by Democratic voters baffling inability to find the polling locations in non-presidential election years, much of it can only be explained by problems inherent in our system of choice (cause of course North Dakota should get two Senators, for a non-Pennsylvanian example….), and that enemy of democracy no matter who wields the power, gerrymandering.
Pennsylvania was typical of those states where Republicans benefited in 2012 from the decennial redrawing of congressional district lines. Democratic candidates drew more than half of the total votes cast statewide for the U.S. House last fall, but Republicans won nearly three–quarters (13 of 18) of Pennsylvania’s congressional seats. The GOP–controlled state government approved a map that packed Democratic votes into the five districts that they carried, where the party’s candidates posted winning percentages ranging from 60% to 89% of the total vote. Meanwhile, the Republican vote was spread more broadly, with nine of the GOP winners drawing less than 60% of the vote in their districts.
Source: Rhodes–Cook Letter, Feb. 2013
How anyone can look at those numbers and believe something even close to “political justice” carried the day is beyond me. Sure, the GOP gained seats, but they didn’t gain them through the will of the people, rather they gained them through slight of hand trickery. Republicans may be fine with this at the moment, especially since it gives them much more power than state-wide or nation-wide polling would predict for their party, but it is yet another short sighted vision. Gerrymandering is an evil that both parties engage in, yet the Republican gerrymandering effort after the 2010 census went much further than previous district drawings. When taken along side the push for Voter ID, especially here in PA where the GOP publicly admitted Voter ID was a political strategy to elect Republicans, it reeks of desperation. With the current GOP presidential candidates veering so far off to the right in a nation that is rapidly becoming center left, actions such as the blatant gerrymandering and the push for Voter ID risk painting the GOP as a party that upon losing the culture wars, is willing to do anything to hold on to power. But removing image issues from the discussion, the GOP has to be aware that eventually the other party will get to draw the districts, and by tossing any idea of subtlety out the window, they have given the Democratic party no reason not to respond in kind when they have the power. The damage to our system of government, the destruction of the GOP’s image, and the future threat of retribution; is a few years of unearned power really worth it all?
It is the Wednesday after election day, 2015. The only state-wide races on the ballot were judicial. The stage was set once again for the GOP to gain largely undeserved power in Pennsylvania, as control of the state Supreme Court was up for grabs. And yet….
And yet that isn’t what happened. Michael Wojcik carried close to 53% in his race for Judge of the Commonwealth Court. For Judge of the Superior Court, Alice Dubow did indeed break the 53% mark. And the State Supreme Court race resulted in a sweep, with the win for the three Democrats, David Wecht (18.37%), Kevin Dougherty (18.52%) and Christine Donohue (18.17%), making it clear who PA residents want in control of the State’s highest court.
Across the nation, their are certainly some results that the GOP can point to and celebrate. But this defeat in PA in an off year election has to make them a bit uneasy. Is the damage the extreme conservative wing keeps inflicting on the party hurting the brand to the point where even off year elections favor the Democrats? That is a question that will take much more time and evidence to answer. But yesterday’s election did make one thing abundantly clear, no matter how much the major media will try to convince you otherwise next year:
Pennsylvania is not a swing state.