Free food was on the menu Thursday in Harrisburg for those who could stomach a little politics with their pizza.
Gerry’s Partisan Pizza, a traveling food truck developed by the national anti-corruption organization Represent Us, made a stop at the state Capitol on Thursday to serve misshapen, “gerrymandered” pizza slices as part of a nationwide campaign to advocate for political maps free from partisan influence.
“One of the big reasons why people don't trust our politicians to do the right thing is because they can do something like gerrymander [districts],” said Simon Radecki, the Pennsylvania organizing director for Represent Us.
Conversations around the practice of gerrymandering, or drawing districts for the purposes of political gain, have been a focus of elected officials and government reform advocates in recent years, both in Pennsylvania and across the nation. In 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out the state’s congressional maps after finding them to be in violation of the state constitution.
“When it comes to Gerry's Partisan Pizza, we serve pieces that are gerrymandered and cut up in all kinds of weird ways – kind of hard to navigate – but it can give you the immediate direct impression that if the guy behind the counter that's cutting your pizza is doing it however they want to do it, it's not exactly going to be to your appetite,” Radecki said. “It has real political implications when it happens to real people in Pennsylvania and elsewhere when the districts are drawn.”
Pennsylvania officials are currently in the midst of drawing both state legislative and congressional maps for the next 10 years now that the latest U.S. Census data is available. The Pennsylvania Constitution requires a Legislative Reapportionment Commission made up of five members to redraw state legislative maps every 10 years. Congressional districts, meanwhile, must be approved by both chambers of the General Assembly and signed by the governor.
Government reform advocates have long advocated for changes to how the state draws political maps in order to avoid partisan influence. Some, like those at Fair Districts PA, pushed for an independent citizens commission to draw legislative and congressional maps, though when that proposal faltered in the legislature, advocates shifted their attention to other reforms to the redistricting process.
Radecki said advocates now need to focus their attention on pressuring lawmakers to follow constitutional redistricting guidelines, and encouraging them not to divide municipalities of certain communities of interest.
“The biggest thing is that we really need our legislators to stand up – the LRC to stand up – in this process, and show that they can draw fair maps without partisan advantage that don't take advantage of communities of interest or break these important municipal lines,” Radecki said.
As for the pizza, Radecki and others said it’s an effective way to send a message about what can happen when particular pieces – be it of maps or pizza – are drawn with one’s own interests in mind.
For Osman Cabrera, the owner of Nico’s Pizza on Second Street in downtown Harrisburg, seeing misshapen pizza slices was a little jarring. But, he said, it certainly sent a message.
“It breaks my heart to see pizzas being cut in that way because it's not the way it should be – and the same goes for politicians. They shouldn’t be stretching out the maps and moving them this way and that way,” Cabrera said.