The Philadelphia Jewish Voice Celebrates 10 Years

Many thanks to everyone who came to our 10th anniversary celebration. Philadelphia Jewish Voice President Bonnie Squires welcomed the sell-out crowd, served as M.C., thanked our gracious hosts Mark and Judi Aronchick for opening up their beautiful home to us, and praised David and Debra Magerman of Six Points Kosher Events for their generous donation of the lavish buffet. They even sent along Jim, their wonderful staff person, to arrange all the platters.

The event raised $12,000 to support our paper. Founder and publisher Dan Loeb spoke about his inspiration ten years ago in creating our community all-volunteer newspaper. (His remarks are below the photo.) Dan then made a presentation on behalf of our board of directors to our immediate past president Ronit Treatman for her devotion and leadership.

Ronit gave a gracious acceptance, loved the silver Menorah which Dan had presented, and her parents and many family members among the crowd were beaming.

Dan Rottenberg, the legendary editor, author and publisher, read from one of his opinion pieces, published years before the founding of the Philadelphia Jewish Voice, calling for a Jewish community publication which would be diverse in nature and opinion. He proved to have been clairvoyant.

State Senator Daylin Leach then gave the keynote address, analyzing various legislative issues in the state capital, including medical marijuana and marriage equality, while commenting on gerrymandering and urging reform. He peppered his comments with his usual wit.

Montgomery County Coroner Walter Hofman, M.D., and Lower Merion Township Commissioners President Liz Rogan were among the luminaries who enjoyed the evening.

PJVoice board

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice board of directors. Left to right: Lisa Grunberger, Dan Loeb (secretary), Bonnie Squires (president), Ronit Treatman, Jessica Weingarten, Daylin Leach, Charlie Smolover (former board member), Perry Dane, Ken Myers (vice-president). Not shown but present: Eric Smolen (treasurer), Debbie Rosan. Photo by Helen Loeb.

Remarks by the Publisher

Ten years ago, we were simply members of the Philadelphia Jewish community who sought a paper which would give voice to all parts of our community, and address its critical issues in a spirit of intellectual honesty and diversity. We called ourselves The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

In 2010, we moved from a monthly webzine format to “blog” format that could be updated daily. All of our writing is done by our team of exceptional “citizen journalists.” Our volunteers allow us to stay on top of the day’s news with analysis from a wide range of viewpoints, from writers like Rabbi Arthur Waskow to Lori Lowenthal Marcus.

We highlight various groups in order to advance worthy endeavors in our community and encourage networking. We interview prominent politicians, candidates and leaders, letting them speak directly to our readers on issues of concern to the Jewish community while keeping a permanent record of their promises to our community. Other regular columns focus on our community, food, Israel, Jewish thought, parenting, teen issues and arts & culture.

Our readership base is in the Philadelphia area, but we are read each month by thousands of subscribers around the world. Our interview of Elie Wiesel was even translated into Portuguese.

Indeed, we have so much material that we strive to bring to you, our readers while the news is still relevant. This is where your support is so helpful. We only have one paid staffer: our webmaster Amir Shoam. He works from Israel and does a great job keeping up with The Philadelphia Jewish Voice during what is for us in Philadelphia the wee hours of the morning.

Dan R Ronit Bonnie Daylin Dan Loeb

Left to right: Dan Rottenberg, author and guest speaker; Ronit Treatman, honoree; Bonnie Squires, president of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice; Senator Daylin Leach, keynote address; and Dan Loeb, founder and publisher of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice. Photo by Helen Loeb.

Tonight we have raised about $12,000 in our 10th anniversary reception. This support will allow the Philadelphia Jewish Voice to continue to provide the level of journalism which we strive for.

Meanwhile, remember that while this reception is a once-in-a-decade celebration, our expenses are an ongoing engagement. Comparable publications get significant ad revenue and ask for $36 per year or more from their readers. We have almost no advertising and provide our content for free. So your continuing generosity is greatly appreciated.

Your feedback and support will fuel us to continue to improve our work as we adventure into a second decade of citizen journalism.

Liz Rogan Mark Aronchick Daylin Leach Ronit Treatman

Left to right: Liz Rogan, president of Lower Merion Board of Commissioners; host Mark Aronchick, Esq.; Senator Daylin Leach, keynote speaker; and honoree Ronit Treatman. Photo by Bonnie Squires.

Why Gov.-Elect Wolf Is Right About the Death Penalty

imageThe widow of a police officer who was murdered criticized both Governor-elect Tom Wolf and me for our opposition to the death penalty in a piece that appeared on PennLive last week.

Maureen Faulkner specifically asked why should a person who has taken the life of another “be allowed to keep their own life.” She has a unique standing to comment on this important issue of public policy: Obviously, the horrors she has endured give her a valuable perspective on many facets of the criminal justice system. She raised important points and deserves a response.

The death penalty, which has been eliminated throughout most of the civilized world and has recently been repealed in six states, including our neighbors New Jersey and Maryland, is an inappropriate punishment for many reasons.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for rejecting capital punishment is the inevitability of executing completely innocent people. Since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the death penalty to be reinstated, 149 people have been sent to death row and then released, after being fully exonerated of the crimes for which they were convicted, most through DNA evidence. Some of these people came within hours of being executed.

Counting all crimes, more than 2,000 people were found to have been wrongly convicted in the past 23 years. It is clear that our criminal justice system is imperfect. Considering all of the innocent people who were convicted but then freed by DNA, it is extremely disturbing that DNA evidence is available in only about 15% of all murder cases.

Most murders are committed by guns, leaving no DNA evidence. Thus, considering the scores of death row inmates whose innocence was proven by DNA out of the 15% of cases where it is available, how many innocent people are among the 85% of cases in which DNA evidence is not available? Assuming that the proportion of innocent people is the same in both groups, we have sent to death row many hundreds of people who are innocent, but unable to prove that innocence.

Faulkner said that in no case it was “proved” that an innocent person has been executed. That is misleading.

First, in most cases, once a person is dead, people stop looking. There is generally no funding source for the hundreds of thousands of dollars it would take to continue investigating a case after the defendant has been executed.

Even if funding was available in a given case, in no forum a person’s innocence can be “proved.” The state does not conduct posthumous retrials of dead defendants. That said, in a number of cases there is very strong evidence that an innocent person was executed.

Another compelling reason to eliminate the death penalty is that we simply cannot afford it. Recent studies in California and Maryland have shown that a death-penalty case costs between $2 million and $3 million more to process, try and carry out than a non-capital murder case.

Given that we have processed hundreds of death penalty cases since reinstatement, simple math tells us that we are spending billions of dollars just to have a death penalty. Think of what that money could be used for instead: more effective forms of crime reduction, education, or even tax cuts.

Other reasons to eliminate the death penalty relate to:

  • the unfair, arbitrary, and racially disparate way it is administered;
  • all of the ancillary costs of litigating issues related to capital punishment, such as what chemicals may be used for the execution; and
  • the significant moral problems with giving a government, that many people do not think can deliver the mail efficiently, the power to decide when to kill its own citizens.

I can certainly understand Faulkner’s rage and desire for revenge against the man who killed her husband. I am sure I would feel the same way if I were ever in similar circumstances.

One of my heroes, the former New York governor, Mario Cuomo, who opposed the death penalty in all circumstances, was frequently asked what he would do if someone he cared about was murdered. I will paraphrase his typical answer:

I would pick up a baseball bat to bash the killer’s brains in myself. But before I reached him, what I hope I would do is ask myself if this would bring my loved-one back, and if I am acting in a way consistent with my religious and moral principles, and if I would want my family to see me acting this way. And I hope that before I got to the killer, I would put the baseball bat down.

That is what we as a society must do. We must put the baseball bat down.

Originally published in PennLive.

Gaza as Seen by a Progressive Zionist

Courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen drybonesblog.blogspot.com/

Courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen drybonesblog.blogspot.com/

— by Daylin Leach

As a progressive (or “liberal” as I grew up calling myself), I’ve been troubled by the divide I’ve seen in the progressive community over the Israeli-Hamas conflict.

While there are many good progressives on the national scene who, as I do, support Israel enthusiastically, I have also seen the unmistakable strain of anti-Israeli sentiment on the part of progressives I know, read, or interact with on social media. To me, much of what I’ve heard from these people with whom I normally share so much is both profoundly troubling, and antithetical to everything progressivism is supposed to be about.

First, when I say I am a progressive, let me tell you what I mean: the legislation in Pennsylvania legalizing same-sex marriage, raising the minimum wage to $12 per hour, mandating paid family leave, abolishing the death penalty, legalizing marijuana and taxing the use of plastic bags are not only bills I support, they are bills I’ve introduced. A number of commentators have nicknamed me “The Liberal Lion of Pennsylvania,” a moniker I proudly embraced during my recent Congressional campaign.

My views on foreign policy are similarly, if not quite as aggressively, progressive. I opposed the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Panama, and Grenada. However, I am not a pacifist; I supported going into Afghanistan to prevent those who attacked us on 9/11 from planning their next strike. Generally, I support more foreign aid to help alleviate poverty and a greater emphasis on human rights in our dealings with other nations.

Courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen drybonesblog.blogspot.com

To me, this general world view can lead to only one logical conclusion, which is the strong support of Israel in its current conflict with Hamas. There is one country in the Middle East which respects women’s rights, gay rights, the rights of political minorities, free speech and the right of dissent, and that is Israel. There is no other nation in the region which could, in any sense of the word, be considered progressive.

Hamas has a human rights record that can only be described as awful. Being gay is a crime punishable by death and women are subjected to strict dress codes, and are often the victims of “honor killings” while the Hamas government looks the other way. Religious minorities living in Gaza are subjected to almost daily governmental harassment, and one need only watch the news to see reports of extra-judicial killings of anyone even suspected of opposing Hamas’ war on Israel. There is no other context in which progressives would tolerate the sort of human rights violations against their own people that Hamas perpetuates every day.

It is certainly true that a large number of Gazans have lost their lives in the current conflict. And some of my progressive friends have correctly noted that many of them are innocent civilians and children.

But tragically, this is the case in all wars. We don’t fight wars against individuals; we fight against governmental regimes that control the weapons that threaten us. There were many innocent Japanese children during World War II. They were too young to know who Hideki Tojo was. But Tojo bombed Pearl Harbor. We had to fight back, sad in the knowledge that innocent people would die. Similarly, Israel has the right to defend itself when attacked, doing their best to minimize civilian casualties.

Many progressives, who share my strong preference for peace over war and rarely, if ever, find a legitimate reason for Israel (or the United States for that matter) to use force, somehow justify Hamas shooting rockets into Israel. The fact is that since Hamas assumed power, they have fired almost 15,000 rockets, killing dozens and injuring almost 2,000 Israelis. No other nation in the world would be expected to tolerate this.

Courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ cartoonkronicles.com

Courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ cartoonkronicles.com

Perhaps we could all have some faint hope that the recently announced open-ended cease-fire will result in some progress in addressing the concerns of all sides. I understand that progressives feel the Palestinian people have legitimate grievances, and it seems to me that the negotiating table is the place to address them. But there is no grievance that would justify Hamas’ deliberate targeting of civilians, which is a war crime. And there is no progressive principle which would require Israel to silently endure countless attacks on its people.

We all have political heroes. As a progressive, I find my inspiration in the words of Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. These great, progressive leaders all achieved far more for their people than the rocket-launchers and suicide-bombers of Hamas have for theirs. I would hope that in time, the progressive community can come closer to speaking with one voice in condemning the sort of terrorism and genocide that can be found in the Hamas charter. If we as progressives really care about the suffering of the Palestinian people and peace, we have no other choice.

Remember to Vote in the Primary Election

Pennsylvania’s primary election day is Tuesday, May 20, and the polls will be open between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.

You understand the importance of turnout if you have seen the “ground game” that candidates run in elections these days.  

The vote that is assured, including people tied to the government and other reliable votes, are “pulled” by a team working for a particular candidate. Independents, and centrists in general, are not urged to come out. And so when turnout drops too low, a lazy electorate can result in an unwanted result.

According to statistics assembled in the election project at the George Mason University, only about 40% of Pennsylvanians eligible to vote came out for the gubernatorial general election in 2010. The turnout in primaries is usually even lower; in 2012, only 20% of the electorate bothered to vote in the primary.

For a representative government to be truly representative, we all need to vote and to get others to vote.

Information on absentee ballots and the most important races after the jump.

Absentee Ballots

If you cannot be at the polls on election day, you may vote absentee ballot.

The completed application form must be received by your county’s election board by 5 p.m. on May 13; having it postmarked by May 13 does not count. In addition, only an original of your completed application can be submitted; do not submit a copy of your form.

For example, people in Montgomery County can mail their applications to: Election Board, Montgomery County Court House, P.O. Box 311, Norristown, PA 19404-0311.

To file in person or through UPS or FedEx, the address would be: Election Board, One Montgomery Plaza, Suite 602, 425 Swede Street, Norristown, PA 19401.

Completed absentee ballots must be returned to the same office by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, May 16. If the ballot is to be delivered by hand, then it may only be returned by the actual voter. And again, having a completed ballot postmarked by May 16 does not count.

People serving in the military can also vote through absentee ballot. However, different deadlines apply.

Also, certain people may qualify for emergency absentee ballots before or even after May 13.

Among the many contests, four important races to be decided have created real excitement.

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett is seeking a second term. Seeking the Democratic nomination to oppose him in the Fall general election are four candidates:

  • State Treasurer Rob McCord;
  • Kathleen McGinty, previously state environmental protection secretary;
  • Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz; and
  • Tom Wolfe, previously state revenue secretary.  

Also running are Paul Glover for the Green Party, and Ken Krawchuk for the Libertarian Party.

In the race to be the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 13th District, former Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies is battling State Sen. Daylin Leach, State Rep. Brendan Boyle and medical professor Valerie Arkoosh.

Lining up to oppose incumbent Republican Mike Fitzpatrick in the 8th District are two Democrats: publisher Shaughnessy Naughton, and Afghanistan and Iraq war veteran Kevin Strouse.

Long-time Democratic State Senator LeAnna Washington represents the 4th District, spanning portions of Northeast Philadelphia and Montgomery County. Challengers in this race are nonprofit social services officer Brian Gralnick, and Cheltenham Township Commissioner Art Haywood. The race is considered competitive because the incumbent is under indictment for misuse of public funds and staff.

Other congressional races will be decided, along with local races for state legislature that add to the interest and importance of this primary.  

PA-13 Congressional Candidates Call for Higher Minimum Wages

Two candidates for Pennsylvania’s 13th congressional district, Dr. Val Arkoosh and State Senator Daylin Leach, called for higher minimum wages at the March for Minimum Wage in Philadelphia last Friday.

Arkoosh said, “Low-wage workers are the backbone of this city, this state and this country. They need a raise so they can earn a paycheck that provides for them and for their families.”

Leach said, “The average CEO now makes 500 times more than their average worker. The economic policies give every cent to the top 1%.”

More after the jump.
Arkoosh added, “Low-wage earners need paid sick leave — because no one’s job should be jeopardized when a family member becomes sick. Moms need safe, affordable and quality child care.”

The event began with a teach-in at Rittenhouse Square where Camp Galil and Habonim Dror held an interfaith forum on minimum wage. Meanwhile, Josh Yarden spoke about the biblical and American Revolutionary roots of a “living wage,” Drew Geilebter advocated non-violent actions as a means of social change, and other groups spoke about minimum wage as a women’s issue and the economics of a $15 minimum wage.

The event’s participants marched to Independence Hall from Rittenhouse Square between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. The Jewish Labor Committee were among the event’s organizers advocating “for higher livable wages, preferably to a $15 minimum.”

Raise the Minimum Wage: Make Work Pay Once Again

— by Mark Price, Estelle Sommeiller

The top 1 percent of Pennsylvania earners took home more than half the total increase in income over the past 30 years, and saw more than 10 times as much growth in income as the bottom 99 percent, a new report from the Economic Analysis Research Network (EARN) found.

The report findings reinforce the need for a new policy direction in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. to restore broadly shared prosperity and widespread opportunity, including a much-needed increase in the minimum wage.

After the jump: Minimum wage’s real value.
The levels of inequality we are seeing in Pennsylvania and across the country provide more proof that the economy is not working for the vast majority of people and has not for decades. It is unconscionable that most American families have shared in so little of the country’s prosperity over the last several decades.

In Pennsylvania, the top 1 percent took home 51.5 percent of the total increase in Pennsylvania income between 1979 and 2011. The average income of the bottom 99 percent of Pennsylvania taxpayers grew by 12.1 percent, while the average income of the top 1 percent grew by 125.5 percent — more than 10 times as much.

This 1 percent economy is not just a national story but is evident in every state, and every region. Nevertheless, the fact that inequality in the U.S. declined for more than four decades between the 1940s and the 1970s shows that there is nothing inevitable about the extreme levels of inequality we are currently seeing.

Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania Endorses Daylin Leach


Official campaign video.

— by David S. Broida, William Epstein, Burt Siegel and Jill Zipin (steering committee of Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania)

State Senator Daylin Leach is the candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Pennsylvania’s 13th congressional district who best reflects democratic as well as Jewish values. Senator Leach’s long and unwavering record of support of women and families is well known, and he will continue to work to uphold and defend the civil rights of all people.

He supports increased funding for our public schools as he believes all children need and deserve a good education. He understands, as do we, that the path to economic prosperity lies in providing our children with the best education possible.

More after the jump.
Senator Leach also has championed a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million  undocumented immigrants who live in this country. Such a pathway is both a Jewish and American value and is good for the prosperity of our nation. He also is a passionate supporter of a strong and a secure Israel.

We believe that Senator Leach will be the  best advocate for the constituents of Pennsylvania’s 13th congressional district. We are pleased to add our voice to those of the many others who look forward to his victory in the May 20 democratic primary.


Update: February 7, 2014 MoveOn Endorsement

Here’s what a few MoveOn members across Pennsylvania’s 13th district had to share about Daylin:

  • “Daylin Leach is a true progressive with exceptional people skills. His sense of fair play coupled with a great sense of humor will be able to build bridges and form much-needed alliances in Congress-without compromising his principles.”
    — Susan G., Lansdale, PA
  • “I know Daylin personally. While he’s often known for his wit, he is incredibly intelligent, a tireless advocate for progressive causes, and the type of person you would actually want in Congress.”
    — Tony H., Bridgeport, PA
  • “Daylin has been my PA state senator and he is a solid progressive voice and vote. He is also a fearless progressive leader in our area and a really good guy. Doesn’t hurt that he is really smart and funny, and comes from humble beginnings so he understands the life lived by most people.”
    — Mary Ann H., King of Prussia, PA
  • “Daylin Leach is one of the most forward progressive thinkers in Pennsylvania. As a leader in public education, the environment, women’s rights, LGBT equality, and tax fairness, Daylin is bold, unapologetic, and takes action. He has given us a light at the end of the apathetic tunnel-the antithesis of the do-nothing Congress of the past two years. I endorse Senator Leach and look forward to calling him Representative Leach in 2015.”
    — Eric E., King of Prussia, PA

Who Will Replace Rep. Allyson Schwartz in PA-13?

— by Ben Burrows

Three Democratic candidates for Pennsylvania’s 13th congressional district:

debated at the Upper Dublin Township Building in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania.

The remaining Democratic candidate former Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies did not respond to five requests to participate in the forum.

The district is currently represented by Allyson Schwartz, who is now running for the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania governor.

Since the congressional redistricting, the 13th district covers the Main Line suburbs, much of Montgomery County, and parts of Northeast Philadelphia. It is one of the five districts in Pennsylvania into which the Republican legislature packed as many democrats as possible in order to create Republican majorities in the other thirteen districts. Accordingly, the stakes in this democratic primary are very high as the general election is practically a foregone conclusion in this dark blue district which Allyson Schwartz carried in 2012 with 69% of the vote.

An audience of about 250 watched the forum organized by Montgomery County Democracy for America and the Area 6 Democratic Committee, and moderated by Philadelphia Daily News writer Will Bunch.

State Sen. Leach: ASA Israel Boycott Is “Misguided, Irrational”

In a letter to the president of the American Studies Association (ASA), Curtis Marez, Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery County) attacked the boycott of Israeli institutions by the Association.

In the letter, that will be publicly released tomorrow (Tuesday), Leach wrote, “you did not issue a statement criticizing a particular practice of the Jewish State; you singled out Israel for an alleged widespread systematic abuse of human rights.

“Among the countries you have not chosen to boycott are Iran, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan and even North Korea, which apparently just executed a former government official on the day of his ‘trial’ by feeding him to a pack of starved wild dogs.”

Dear Mr. Marez,

As a former college professor and current Pennsylvania State Senator and member of the Senate Education Committee, I was disappointed (although, sadly, not surprised) to learn of the American Studies Association (ASA)’s decision to boycott academic establishments in Israel.

It is my view that this decision is misguided, irrational, and a slap in the face to the very concept of academic freedom.

Letter continues after the jump.
In your statement attempt the justify the academic boycott of Israel, the ASA said: “The Council voted for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions as an ethical stance, a form of material and symbolic action. It represents a principle of solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and an aspiration to enlarge that freedom for all,” and that the boycott is warranted because “Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights.”

Really?

Certainly a case could be made that when it comes to human rights, Israel is imperfect. I would note that the same case could be made in regards to the United States, both in the past and currently.

But you did not issue a statement criticizing a particular practice of the Jewish State; you singled out Israel for an alleged widespread systematic abuse of human rights.

To my knowledge, you have call for a boycott of no other nation. This action suggests that Israel is uniquely deficient in its respect for basic rights.

Among the countries you have not chosen to boycott are Iran, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan and even North Korea, which apparently just executed a former government official on the day of his “trial” by feeding him to a pack of starved wild dogs.

Even the Palestinian Authority, which you purport to be fighting for, conducts summary trials and executions and extra-judicial murders by militias of people deemed “collaborators” and has nothing resembling a free press.

Those countries are apparently fine. But you boycott Israel, which:

  • is a democracy;
  • respects the rights of women, who are considered fully equal in Israeli Society;
  • legally recognizes the rights of its gay and lesbian citizens;
  • has an independent judiciary which sometimes strikes down government actions;
  • has the rule of law;
  • has minority voting rights and Arab members of the Knesset; and
  • has a completely free press.

As you may already be aware, more than 100 American universities have taken issue with ASA’s decision, and have themselves decided to reject the boycott. The American Council of Education, the Association of American Universities and the American Association of University Professors have also expressed their opposition.

Further, it has been noted in the media that only approximately 16 percent of the ASA’s 5,000 members actually voted in favor of the boycott. It was troublesome to learn that this decision, which has severe implications, was pushed through with minimal member input and significant public opposition.

Finally, in an examination of your association’s mission statement, is it not a violation of academic freedom and aspiration to target students and professors in a country for reasons beyond their control?

A goal of your organization is to “enlarge [academic] freedom for all”, but does the boycott not actually limit academic freedom, thereby only granting it to some?

I will conclude this letter by reinforcing what was previously expressed to you by Rep. Eliot L. Engel, senior Democratic Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, when he wrote that he encouraged you to review the most recent Country Reports on Human Rights Practices by the State Department.

I would reiterate his statement pointing out that the report says that “there were no government restrictions on academic freedom” apparent in Israel.

Voters Don’t Decide Who Wins; Map Drawers Do

Top: Republicans control 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 Congressional Districts. Bottom: Alternative map, drawn by State Senator Daylin Leach, gives Democrats control of 13 districts.

Top: Republicans control 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 Congressional Districts. Bottom: Alternative map, drawn by State Senator Daylin Leach, gives Democrats control of 13 districts.

As a democracy, we are proud of our electoral system: We assume that citizens, through their vote, wield the ultimate power over our government and determine who shall represent them.

However, this is not the case in reality. Rather, legislatures, through their redistricting authority, draw electoral maps specifically engineered to re-elect themselves and their colleagues.

In 2012, the majority of Pennsylvanians (50.24%) voted for Democratic candidates for Congress while 48.74% who voted for Republicans, and 1.02% who voted for other candidates.

However, Democratic candidates prevailed in only five of the 18 congressional districts: Bob Brady and Chaka Fattah in Philadelphia, Mike Doyle in Pittsburgh, Allyson Schwartz in the Philadelphia suburbs, and Matt Cartwright in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Was this simply a matter of luck?

Packing and Cracking

The district map was designed to pack as many democrats as possible into these five districts. Fattah, for example cruised to victory with 89.28% of the votes, versus 9.37% for Robert Mansfield and 1.35% for James Foster.

By forcing the Democratic voters to “waste” votes in districts where they are a super-majority, the Republican politicians are able to construct 13 districts with sensible Republican majorities.

Conversely, Democratic seats in other Democratic strongholds such as Harrisburg and the Pittsburgh suburbs were prevented by cracking those areas into pieces and diluting them with outlying areas that lean Republican.

In other words, voters do not choose the representatives who share their values; rather, the legislators wielding their pens choose the constituents whose support they can count on in the voting booth.

The rest of the article, and TED Talk by State Sen. Daylin Leach, follow the jump.
Since the redistricting process was controlled by Pennsylvania’s Republican governor, Tom Corbett, and the Republican majorities in the state House, State Senate and Legislative Reapportionment Commission, it is not surprising that the results are skewed in favor of the Republicans as far as mathematically and legally possible.

If Democrats Drew the Map

To illustrate how easily the results can be skewed in the opposite direction, Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach drew a map, which shows Democratic majorities in 13 congressional districts, and Republican majorities in the remaining five districts.

In other words, if the map had been different, the congressional election could have been completely reversed — 13-5 instead of 5-13 — without a single Pennsylvanian changing his vote. What a farce our elections have become!

In fact, one could draw an even more skewed map, with more homogeneous districts, giving Democrats small majorities in every single district, and leaving the Republicans with no representation at all.

Could it be argued that the Republican-skewed map was dictated by the rules and the demographics, rather than by political interests?

Both Leach’s map and the actual map feature contiguous districts almost equal in population. However, Leach’s map has more “compact” districts, whereas the actual map has districts which meander across the state in search of pockets of Democrats or Republicans as the case may be.

Furthermore, the Pennsylvania State Constitution requires legislative districts to avoid splitting counties, cities, towns, boroughs, townships and wards “unless absolutely necessary.” Some splitting is necessary, because Philadelphia is too large to fit inside single district. However, Leach’s map has three fewer splits than the  map adopted by the state assembly.

Our state’s congressional delegation should be truly representative of the makeup of our state, and the Pennsylvania State Constitution should be amended to enshrine this principle into law.