Every ten years House and Senate maps in Delaware are redrawn by the political parties who control the respective chambers. It goes without saying that the system is open to partisan scheming and manipulation fueled by partisan self-interest rather than ensuring that citizens get the representation they deserve in state government.
Earlier this spring, a wide coalition citizen advocacy groups across the political spectrum worked with a bipartisan group of legislators to introduce Senate Bill 48 to ensure that the state’s redistricting process is no longer controlled by entrenched politicians seeking a political leg-up against challengers. Legislators from both parties had high hopes for this legislation and the positive impact it would have on the redistricting process.
Under the bill, after the census every ten years, an 11-member bipartisan Redistricting Commission would have been formed to ensure that the process was transparent and provided a meaningful opportunity for public involvement. Thirteen states have redistricting commissions designed to carry out this very important responsibility.
Historically, past attempts to pass this legislation have fallen victim to both Republican and Democrat majorities who opposed ceding control of the process. 2014 was going to be a different year, and bipartisan cooperation was the name of the game. Until Democratic House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf killed the effort in the House.
Schwartzkopf knew that his party would be able to protect Democratic incumbents by ensuring that the new 2010 redistricting maps were drawn to exclude potential Republican challengers. In fact, the Democrats were even able to manipulate the redistricting process to create a new Democratic seat for the 2012 election, helping to guarantee that the Democrats in Dover would have the votes needed to continue their tax, borrow and spend policies.
Even Schwartzkopf’s own party voiced its disapproval of his support for the status quo, anti-good government efforts. Jason Melrath, President of the Progressive Democrats for Delaware told reporters, “Currently, the majority leadership in each chamber of the General Assembly is charged with drawing the districts, and they do so, regardless of which party is in control, with an eye to benefit their party. And sometimes they do so with petty animus in mind, as we saw in 2012. Senate Bill 48 would have made the process more independent and more open to the public. Thus, it is beyond disappointing that some Democrats on the House Administration Committee were not interested in cleaning up our politics or opening up our government. The Progressive Democrats for Delaware now doubt these Democrats’ commitment to open and democratic government.”
Believe it or not, on this issue I agree with them.