As is usually the case with political progress in Pennsylvania, we are moving incrementally and imperfectly forward with the proposed new map for the Pennsylvania state House elections.
This proposal is fairer and less rigged than the maps we have contended with for the past several decades. It represents real improvement in the process, in spite of GOP attempts to attack and derail the effort. The new map is better by all good-government and constitutional standards, improving representation for growing suburbs and smaller cities where communities of color are expanding and driving population growth across Pennsylvania.
For too long, smaller municipalities and suburbs have had to fight for a single seat. Now, many cities will have multiple opportunities for new representation in the House, which means more and different voices will be heard in Harrisburg, many for the first time. Competitive, meaningful races up and down the ballot allow for diversity not just of race, but of values.
Pennsylvania Republicans have spent decades controlling redistricting with the sole purpose of protecting their incumbents and their party power. This has meant growing Asian American communities in places like State College, Cumberland County, and across the Philadelphia suburbs have been stuck with representatives who do not always share their values or backgrounds.
The trope of suburban and rural Pennsylvania as conservative and white has never been less true – Asian American communities are a vital part of every county in this commonwealth. The myth that Asian American communities aren’t a part of rural and suburban Pennsylvania allows anti-Asian rhetoric to flourish and emboldens racists – as recently demonstrated by Penn Law professor Amy Wax’s despicable comments.
The Republican legislative majority’s increasingly anti-democratic attempts to keep power through gerrymandering and voter restrictions are entirely driven by a lack of another option. They know that they are the minority party by voter registration, and that young people and people of color have no interest in their policies or agenda. They see increased representation and participation in our democratic process as a threat to their power.
The new map expands the playing field for Asian American voters across the commonwealth – it makes sense there are factions across Pennsylvania that want to roll that back. These same factions see population growth and movement by communities of color as something to be defended against, not welcomed with open arms, including the immigrants and refugees who have revitalized communities across the commonwealth for generations and who also stand to benefit from better representation with the new House map.
Regardless of what politicians who are placing themselves in opposition to our communities and our voices may believe, we know that Pennsylvania must be a commonwealth that welcomes, represents, and works for all of us – and that starts with fair maps, voting rights, and the other core tenets of our democracy.
Voters should pick our leaders, not the other way around. Now more than ever, Asian American representation in our districts and communities is necessary for our people to thrive. The new map is progress toward that goal. It’s time for the LRC to finish the job.
Mohan Seshadri (they/he) is the executive director of the Asian Pacific Islander Political Alliance and is currently serving as the co-chair of the Asian American Power Network.