Gerrymandering: How Our Elections Are Really Rigged – Part One

The original gerrymander
Do any of you know what gerrymandering is? Put in its simplest form, it’s a process by which our legislators pick the voters instead of the other way around. It takes place every ten years, after the census. Though it’s almost unnoticed, it is probably the biggest danger to our representative democracy. It’s a rigged system, designed to provide job security for legislators who toe the line while punishing any who dare rebel. The fox is in the henhouse, as politicians themselves decide on new districts. They can extend their stay as long as they want. It has resulted in a Pennsylvania State legislature that is completely unresponsive to voters. And it’s getting worse.  

On Friday night, at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethlehem, a large group of nearly 100 people attended a gerrymandering panel discussion that included Pa LWV Board member Carol Kuniholm, State Sen. Lisa Boscola (Dem.), State Rep. David Parker (Rep.) and Common CausePA’s Barry Kauffman. Boscola and Parker have teamed up with bi-partisan legislation to fix a broken system, but they will be the first to tell you nothing is going to happen unless voters themselves get involved and start pressuring their own legislators. In addition, leaders like House Democrat Frank Dermody and Republican Speaker Mike Turzai, who have been unwilling to act, need to be targeted.

Today’s focus is the problem of gerrymandering itself, as laid out by Kuniholm. Tomorrow, I’ll get into the bi-partisan legislative fix proposed by Boscola and Parker. Thursday, I’ll tell you what wizened reformer Barry Kauffman thinks about the problem. Friday, I’ll finish with what our local legislators are doing, or more accurately, not doing.

Over 100 people crowded into a hot church basement
Every time there’s a poll of Pennsylvania voters, the issue that bothers them the most is school district funding. Most people think the state should contribute more, and less money should be coming out of their pockets in the form of increased property taxes. They want a fairer way to fund schools, and one that keeps seniors on fixed incomes in their homes. And of course, there has been a rash of bills over the years to change the way schools are funded.  Lisa Boscola herself has for years been a champion of property tax reform. But it always fails. It will continue to fail, too. That’s because legislators no longer serve you. 

Though gerrymandering has existed since the 1800’s, there was a big change in the 2012 election cycle. “Something went crazy,” says Kuniholm. 

First, a new mapping technology called Maptitude provides locations of candidates and incumbents, census information, economic information and precinct-by-precinct reports of election results in previous elections. It’s just the thing to have to draw a district so that a preferred candidate wins.         

Second, technology and computing power has made for a vast increase in data mining capabilities over the past ten years that Kuniholm calls the “difference between a horse and buggy and a rocket ship.”

The third big change is money. In the wake of Citizens United, hybrid Super PACs have provided a huge infusion of undisclosed outside money that is then used to win elections. It can’t be traced. 



Both parties have these hybrid SuperPACs.

RedMap2010

Pa. League of Women Voters Carol Kuniholm
For Republicans, it is RedMap2010, which dumped $30 million into state races to affect the redistricting, with the ultimate goal being control of the US Congress through reapportionment.  

Republicans admit this. They were able to buy Pennsylvania for just a little under $1 million in 2010, despite having fewer votes than Democrats. Here’s what they themselves say:

“[T]he RSLC [Republican State leadership Committee] spent nearly $1 million in Pennsylvania House races in 2010 – an expenditure that helped provide the GOP with majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. Combined with former Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett’s victory in the gubernatorial race, Republicans took control of the state legislative and congressional redistricting process. The impact of this investment at the state level in 2010 is evident when examining the results of the 2012 election: Pennsylvanians reelected a Democratic U.S. Senator by nearly nine points and reelected President Obama by more than five points, but at the same time they added to the Republican ranks in the State House and returned a 13-5 Republican majority to the U.S. House.” 

Things went so well that Republicans are raising $125 million for the 2020 redistricting, four times what they spent in 2010. 

By winning control of the state legislature, they were able to insure a nearly three to one advantage in Congress, despite having less numbers 

Advantage 2020

Before you get too upset at those evil Republicans, I have to tell you Democrats are now doing the same thing with a hybrid SuperPAC called Advantage 2020. They are focused on Pennsylvania, and have the 6th Pa. Congressional District featured on their homepage. This SuperPAC blasts the gerrymandering done by the GOP, but that’s precisely what they want to do, too. 

Kuniholm failed to say how much money Democrats intend to raise, but it has to be substantial. 

The money spent by both parties has nothing to do with you. It is all about flipping districts to win control of the state legislature and, ultimately, Congress. He who controls the state legislature, controls redistricting. He who controls redistricting controls Congress. 

International groups on both sides contribute to these SuperPACS, so far all we know, China are Russia could be buying the Democrat or Republican Party

Focus is Winning and Control, Not Effective Governance 

This enhanced gerrymandering has resulted in a significant change in state government. The focus is winning and control instead of effective governance. Legislators who rebel and want to work for the common good end up being targeted or ignored.  

The political agenda is no longer what is right for the people, but is instead held hostage to outside moneyed influence. “That money that’s pouring in is much more than what is being raised locally by the legislators,” said Kuniholm. “There’s a lot of research that shows that once that outside money comes into an election, the loyalty of those who are elected has shifted. They are no longer loyal to the constituents, who did not put them in office. They are loyal to the outside interests that put them in office.”

At the same time, the extremes within the party of a safe district become the norm, leading to disaffection by everyone else. So nationally, 43% of Americans refuse to declare themselves with either party. In Pa, only 13% are independent, but that is only because primaries are closed.

“There’s basically no effective choice,” noted Kuniholm. To drive that point home, she said that 86% of our state incumbents had no primary challengers this year. For the general, 57% have no opposition.

“How do you vote them out if nobody’s running against them?” she asked.

Coming Up: On Wednesday, I will bring you a bi-partisan legislative fix proposed by Senator Boscola and Representative Parker. On Thursday, I’ll tell you what Barry Kauffman thinks you can do. Friday, I’ll report where LV legislators stand (or hide). 

Bethlehem’s NAACP Story – Airing Dirty Laundry

My story concerning last week’s community relations forum at Bethlehem’s Town Hall is now at the online edition of The Bethlehem Press. It is an expanded and more detailed version of what was reported here.

Brown and Christie Share a Tender Moment

… and then they kissed.

The National Anthem and Our False Patriotism

Break out the torches and pitchforks. It’s time to lynch an American for acting like … an American. I refer to NFL back-up QB Colin Kaepernick (he must be an Irish Muslim), who had the temerity to refuse to stand like everyone else and pretend to be a patriot during the singing of the meaningless National Anthem during an equally meaningless preseason game that his team lost. He should show respect to the Flag, they say. Move to Canada, they roar. Kaepernick was simply exercising his First Amendment rights, something a lot more important than a song penned by a bigoted slave owner while the British were burning the capital to the ground. It probably should be scrapped.

I am always leery of these forced displays of false patriotism. A true patriot does exactly what Kaepernick did. A true patriot goes to government meetings or gets involved in his community. He informs himself before voting and is willing to take unpopular stands if he thinks he is right. A false patriot condemns those who follow their conscience.

When I was growing up, I remember quite clearly how people vilified Muhammed Ali for courageously refusing to sign up for the draft. He was stripped of his title, prosecuted and condemned. Except by one loudmouthed Jewish broadcaster who himself happened to be a WWII vet – Howard Cosell. Cosell then realized and said that what really had people fired up about about Ali is that “he was black and he was boastful.”

And so it goes with Kaepernick, another black man (his father is black) who does not know his place.

Oh but he disrespected the Flag, you say. How dare he! This reminds me of another time, when America was in its infancy, and Pennsylvania Revolutionaries required everyone to take a loyalty oath. Whiskey patriots would ride throughout the Lehigh Valley, looking to line their pockets with the assets of Mennonites, Moravians and Quakers. In 1778, for example, eleven wealthy Mennonite farmers were herded onto Northampton County Court and ordered to swear their allegiance. Because their religious scruples made that impossible, they refused. Their assets were declared forfeit and they were ordered to leave Pennsylvania. Of course, most of the money ended up in the pockets of a few officers.

And let’s talk for a moment about the real verses in Francis Scott Key’s Star-Spangled Banner. At that time, the British military was recruiting and using runaway slaves. Key, who in fairness did think slaves should be treated humanely, writes gleefully about slaves being killed by American bombs.
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.

No refuge could save the hireling and slave

From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The Star-Spangled Banner became our National Anthem because Woodrow Wilson, another bigot, issued an edict making it so. Congress eventually rubber-stamped Wilson’s decree.

There is nothing remotely American about that song, unless you want to emphasize the ugly American. Nor should we be required to pledge allegiance every time we fart.

The whiskey patriots say otherwise, but any real patriot would understand and respect what this quarterback did.

Opinions Online, 8/27/16

Blogger’s Note: Opinions Online is a regular Saturday feature. If you’d like to express your opinion on any topic, click on the Opinions Online button on my left sidebar. I prefer local topics, especially concerning topics I miss, as opposed to talking points. You can also call 385-325-2564. In addition to these submissions, I sometimes highlight comments from throughout the week and re-publish them here. Please keep your comments brief, if possible. Anonymous personal attacks will be deleted, especially when aimed at other readers. Same for anything I consider possibly defamatory.

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Olympics: “Bummed to see that the two US shot putters did not have their hands over their heart during the anthem. Gabby Douglas caught a ton of grief for the same thing.”

Blogger’s Reply -I see no reason why athletes should be forced to take some sort of loyalty oath every time they fart. This false patriotism, which extends to the pledge of allegiance before meetings, is complete bullshit.

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Internet Trolls: “Inquiring minds want to know: Is Leroy21 , ripping you and Rick a new one in the MC comments; The Slog Mentor (soon to be Martin’s serf) or that ugly skank ( soon to get booted out of West Easton) ?

Blogger’s Reply – It makes no difference. I’d rather discuss issues.

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IS ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT A TWO EDGED SWORD? – Yesterday I drove past the new Fed Ex site and sure enough ground displacement has started. (They didn’t even wait for the corn to mature…just bulldozed it over.) The thought occurred to me ,will the day come when we will regret the unabashed economic development we now see which is primarily all warehousing anyway. How many jobs do we really need?? Does anybody know? How many more days of unhealthy air will we have? need for new schools? increased congestion on our roads etc.? Virgin land sacrificed for a warehouse…go figure.

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Hillary Clinton’s “boring” emails: “These days, Hillary brazenly goes on Jimmy Kimmel to clown around about her “boring” e-mails.

“Well, if they’re so irrelevant, why was she hiding them from the Justice Department? If it’s no big deal, why did it take four years and a lawsuit against the State Department to gain access to her planning schedules? Why did she lie to the American people? Erase tens of thousands of e-mails? Set up a private server in the first place?”

Iran Money: “It is being reported that 13 identical payments to Iran of exactly $99,999,999.99 ($1.3 Billion Dollars) from a State Department fund that pays foreign claims against the U.S. government were made. These payments were not authorised by Contress.

“While the evidence suggests that the payment was made via routine wire transfer, there is no definitive word on just how the money got to Iran and whom or what it was sent to.”

Even Fed Ed’s Supporters Cringe

So last Sunday, Allentown Mayor Edwin “Fed Ed” Pawlowski was at Allentown’s Pride in the Park celebration, along with a gaggle of Democratic political hopefuls. Republicans were building a wall. The MC, probably Adrian Shanker Rob Hopkins, introduced F…

John Brown: NorCo’s MIA Exec Aboard the Trump Train

How Brown has expanded servicesI had to laugh when Northampton County Executive John Brown discussed absenteeism at Gracedale during the last County Council meeting. He piously condemned underpaid bastards who “abuse the system.” That’s precisely what …

NorCo DA to Drug Dealers: We Will Take Your Money, Car, House

Morganelli with Forks Tp Detective Philomena Kelly earlier this year,announcing
homicide charges against a drug dealer who provided a fatal overdose. 
Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli announced yesterday that his drug forfeiture Program netted $140,290 for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016. This includes $119,632 in cash, $16,019.13 from the sale of 15 forfeited vehicles and $4,638 in shared proceeds from Attorney General Forfeitures. ​

​Forfeited money is used to purchase police equipment for police, fund undercover drug purchases and provide police training. It also pays for an assistant District Attorney. Seized vehicles are used by local police as unmarked or undercover vehicles or sold at auction. Real estate used to facilitate drug distribution can be forfeited as well, although the District Attorney only uses that tool against convicted drug dealers. “I will continue to return monies we have seized to our local police departments, block watch groups, civic groups and other organizations that assist us in prosecuting drug crime and in educating our youth on the dangers of drugs,” said Morganelli.

In a strange sign of economic recovery, the $140,290 forfeited over the past year is substantially more money than was taken in any of the last three years (2015 – $107,802; 2014 – $120,544; 2013 – $79,831). Since he began this program, which is authorized by state statute, Morganelli has seized over $2 million from drug dealers and returned it to the community.

“Just about every municipal political subdivision in Northampton County has at one time or another benefited from a donation from the drug forfeiture fund,” said the District Attorney. “The message that we want to send to those who deal in illegal drugs is a simple and clear one: be assured that you are doing it at your own risk. When we catch you we will seize your money, your house, your vehicle and any other ill gotten gains from your drug dealings. Drug use and drug dealing in Northampton County will be very unprofitable.”

Hanover Tp to Name New Park After First Responders

Hanover’s Supervisors, from L to R: Michael Prendeville, John Tanczos, John Diacogiannis, Steve Salvesen and John Nagle At a community forum in Bethlehem on Monday night, Police Chief Mark DeLuzio heard several complaints from citizens w…

Nazareth Cop Admitted He Hates Black People

On Monday night, Esther Lee and the Bethlehem NAACP conducted an overdue forum on race relations between the City’s minority population and a bunch of panelists about the City’s mostly white police department. Several instances of possible bias were reported, although they seem to really boil down to questions of respect. In fairness to Bethlehem police, whom I consider the best in the Lehigh Valley, it should be noted that beat cops were not invited. I think the discussion would have been even better had they been asked to come. Despite their absence, however, there were no reports of overt racism from the audience.

In Nazareth, things are different. A lot different. Two years ago, I reported claims that then Nazareth Police Officer Danny Troxell was referring on radio to blacks spotted in Nazareth as UNT (Unauthorized N—er in Town) or UNB (Unauthorized N—er in Town). This report came to me from other police officers. I went with this complaint to Nazareth Borough Council, which pretty much ignored me.

I now have additional evidence to support overt racism at Nazareth’s police department. It is a written and signed statement provided by Parking Enforcement Officer Mike Tarnok, who has retired and moved out of the area. Because he is gone, I have no fear that he will experience retaliation. That will pretty much be limited to me, and will consist of snide remarks on the newspaper comment boards.



I have thick skin.

Tarnok’s statement concerns Officer Daniel Troxell. His name is no longer listed on the active police roster, but until recently, he was very much in contention for a full-time job and might still be on the Civil Service list

I have decided against publishing the entire two-page, handwritten statement because Troxell makes references to others who should be kept out of this matter

Troxell starts with some bizzaro claims about the Masons: “[Troxell] feels that Stephen and Fred [two other cops] are using their membership in the Masons to try to make him look bad. Danny says you can’t beat the Masons and a lot of influence and power.”

From Masons, Troxell goes on to blacks.

“Danny told me he hates ‘ni–ers.’ He also told me he is not fond of [a Nazareth female] because she ‘fucked ‘ni–ers.'”

Troxell very nearly became a full-time Nazareth police officer. Troxell is the Nazareth police officer who smashed a door down when a mentally distraught Timothy Nixon had stolen a friend’s gun and then called him to tell him. He refused to call back-up, setup a perimeter or just call Nixon. When Troxell kicked in the door, Nixon committed suicide. A dismissal of Nixon’s wrongful death lawsuit is in the Third Circuit Court.

Incidentally, Timothy Nixon was black.