The new map is here! And it’s probably doomed

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By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

Those of you old enough to remember Steve Martin’s film tour de force (yes, tongue in cheek), The Jerk, may remember the scene when his character runs about shouting “The new phonebook is here! The new phonebook is here!” might find the Pennsylvania GOP’s dump of a new Congressional map Friday night a bit of deja vu.

Those of you too young to remember The Jerk — or gasp, too young to know what a phonebook is — may need to hit up the Internet to figure out what I’m talking about.

The new map is a doozy.

“The Republican Legislative Leaders in the House and Senate have agreed to a Congressional District Map that complies fully with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s order and opinion. We will be submitting our map to the Governor this evening,” Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and Speaker of the House Mike Turzai said in a release, Friday night.

The new map in the southeast.

What those two lovable kids forgot to mention was the new map basically protects all of the incumbents — especially U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello (R-6), who gets a very Chester County district, minus his well-funded, high profile opponent.

The 16th would entirely leave Chester County, becoming a Lancaster County dominated district, while the 6th gets most of Chester County — except for a slice of the eastern side of the county, as “luck” would have it, the home of 6th Democratic challenger, Devon’s Chrissy Houlahan, who would find herself in the 7th. The only Democratic challenger remaining in the 6th under the new plan would be Kennett Square’s Elizabeth Moro, currently a candidate in the 7th. What a tough break (wink wink) for the Democrats.

Gov. Wolf will be taking a look at the new map and offering his opinion next week.

Don’t expect it to be a positive one.

In a statement Friday, Wolf seemed to question whether Turzai and Scarnati — who excluded the entire General Assembly from the process — had complied with the court order.

“The court asked the General Assembly to submit a new map to the governor by February 9th,” Wolf said in a statement. “While the Court’s order did not appear to allow for two individuals to draw a map on behalf of the entire General Assembly, Governor Wolf will review Speaker Turzai and President Scarnati’s submission in consultation with the experts retained by the administration to determine his next course of action.”

Wolf seems to hint that even though the new map has “compact” districts, he thinks it’s still really, really Gerrymandered, and therefore, still in violation of the state Constitution.

“The original map was fundamentally unfair in a multitude of ways and, from the court’s orders and majority opinion, it is clear the gerrymandering of the current map went beyond manipulating the shape of the districts,” Wolf said.

From a first blush, that seems pretty much the case. The GOP also can jettison any argument it has on whether U.S. Constitutional rights regarding legislatures’ purview on drawing Congressional Districts has been infringed — 2/253rds of the legislature and their staff drew this up. That tactical mistake — and a failure to comply with the state Supreme Court ruling — will likely come to haunt Republicans if they try to appeal a state court-mandated map to the federal courts.

What isn’t clear is this: will Wolf come back with a counter proposal? Will he reject the map and send it to the court? Is there any chance he agrees to it?

We’ll take the last one, first. There’s little chance that Wolf accepts this wildly partisan map.

The guess here: he sends it back to the courts to draw up neutral districts, and then federal litigation ensues.

***

Goodness, what a week (or two) for democracy (small “d”).

First, Pennsylvania Republicans act like a bunch of spoiled toddlers when the state Supreme Court and that noted leftist, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito ruled against them in a Gerrymandering case — refusing to comply with court orders and then one State Representative circulating a legislative memo calling for their impeachment, before finally submitting a map generated by the GOP House and Senate leaders, not via a vote of the state House and Senate, as noted above.

Then President Donald Trump suggested that Democrats who failed to applaud his comments during last month’s State of the Union might have been guilty of treason — his people walked back the comments claiming they were a joke, but it didn’t sound like too many people were laughing.

And of course, the issues with alleged spousal abuse for two White House staffers — and the seeming presidential siding with the alleged perpetrators.

Plus, there’s there’s the Nunes Memo — which has proven a hilariously fictional attack on the FBI and the Justice Department in order to assist the apparent obstruction of justice in the ongoing investigation of the Trump Campaign’s ties to Russia.

And I suppose we could pile on with the budget bill — which adds even more to the deficit on top of the 2017 tax bill, in combination estimated to add some $2 trillion to the deficit over a decade, signaling the end of any argument of fiscal conservatism.

What we seem to be seeing is that some members of one party are becoming so myopic that they are utterly convinced that their actions are correct and that anyone in opposition is wrong, evil and un-American.

Let’s call it the Divine Right of Republicans, with apologies (very limited ones) to King James I of England, who argued that monarchs are always right because God said so.

Obviously, the irony of such a stance by some (many, but not all) Republicans is deeply lost on them — our friends in England thought so much of King James’ attitude that they tried to blow him and Parliament up in 1605 — Guy Fawkes and all — and the exact same attitude by King George III led to some, uh, difficulties here in the colonies.

“…when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.”

The Declaration of Independence

And we kind of know how that worked out.

And while it likely won’t come to tea being dumped into Boston Harbor, the winds of change suggest that Republicans might be in for a rude awakening — in the only way that seems to shake them from this path: electoral loss.

Folks can protest them all they want but it won’t have an impact — GOP elected officials just claim that said protesters are “paid” and therefore not legitimate; notwithstanding the fact that a: unlike Republicans, Democrats and liberals rarely have the money for AstroTurfing (the process of paid faux-grass roots efforts) and b: the folks protesting are actual constituents, i.e. their employers and they should at least be listened to and taken seriously.

Besides, God and Fox News (kind of the same thing these days) said they were right.

It will take the cold shower of massive electoral defeat to break this fever and get Republicans to start acting like, well, Republicans again, and not mini-monarchs, who need not be concerned with pesky things like the rule of law and the will of the people.

***

As if that weren’t bad enough, it seems like Republicans have a special gift of saying exactly the thing to enrage and energize Democrats.

Let us consider the Tweet from U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), bragging about a Lancaster, Pa. school secretary’s $1.50 a week raise thanks to the tax bill. Ryan’s office quickly pulled the Tweet down when someone realized how bad it was from a messaging standpoint.

Aside from the fact that the $72 yearly tax cut this person described is a far cry from the $1,000 folks were promised, it comes on the heels of the announcement that the U.S. Treasury is going to have to borrow almost twice as much money as it needed last year, largely because of the tax bill cutting revenues to the federal government.

Essentially, middle and lower class Americans are coming to realize that they got handed one of the those payday loan deals, with a few bucks in their pocket now, but a big bill looming on them in the future. Already, it appears that the increased Federal debt could lead to a spike in interest rates, both making the purchase of cars and homes more expensive and slowing down the economy just when it appeared to be picking up steam.

The stock market began to figure that out this week, hence the panic in the markets.

Another example: White House Chief of Staff John Kelly suggesting that some unregistered aliens brought here as children are “too lazy to get off their asses” to register for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Anyone who has spent time in the Latino community knows it’s not laziness, but fear — and since the 690,000 in the program are now risking deportation for themselves and potentially their families, that fear seems pretty justified.

The arrogance, the dismissiveness — this drives more than half the population absolutely nuts.

Say what you will about George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan, while you may not have agreed with them, they never showed a callousness or arrogance we’re seeing now. 

It seems a bit like the political version of “mansplaining.”

Which may or may not be playing in the Fox News Channel portion of the audience, but has those with independent or liberal streaks kind of pissed.

And ready to vote.

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