On his first day in Washington, newly elected Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick introduced a package of government reform bills that unfortunately remain in limbo. Still, the new congressman quickly asserted his desire to affect change as well as his devotion to good government, strong ethics and bipartisanship. It was a gutsy move that demonstrated his eagerness to lead by example.
He did us proud.
Now into his second year, the congressman once again has demonstrated gutsy leadership. As reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Fitzpatrick is the only GOP congressman in the state running for re-election who did not sign on to a GOP-driven federal lawsuit trying to block Pennsylvania’s new congressional map.
That map is the controversial product of a legal case that ultimately brought before the state Supreme Court the issue of gerrymandering, which is what happens to the constitutionally mandated redistricting process when one political party is in control.
Briefly, redistricting is the practice of redrawing a state’s congressional map in keeping with population shifts as determined by the census. Following the 2010 recount, Republicans held the majority in the state Legislature. And so the map legislative leaders produced gave Republican congressional candidates the edge by virtue of boundary lines that divided blocs of registered Democrats into multiple districts neutralizing the impact of their vote.
This led to a dramatic turnabout. Previously, the Democratic Party, which has a significant voter registration edge across the state, held 12 of the state’s then 19 congressional seats. After redistricting, which included reducing the number of districts to 18, Republicans won 13 seats to the Democrats’ five. The gerrymandered map clearly worked to Republicans’ advantage by disenfranchising many Democrats.
The state Supreme Court agreed and produced a new map after Republicans, kicking and screaming, failed to meet the court’s deadline for drawing a new map. Meanwhile, Republican legislative leaders appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. They did so without backing from Fitzpatrick, who believes elected officials should not draw congressional maps.
“The process is broken,” he says. “Gerrymandering attacks the bedrock right of every American to fair representation.”
How rare and refreshing to encounter an elected official with the courage of his convictions. That said, Fitzpatrick is not a fan of the new contested map either. Unfortunately, judges are elected in Pennsylvania and the state Supreme Court has a majority of Democrats. Some believe this compromises the integrity of the court’s decision as well as its map, though the map is in keeping with constitutional parameters and was drawn by an expert.
Still, Fitzpatrick believes neither elected legislators nor elected judges should draw the lines. Again, he evidenced those convictions by signing a bipartisan amicus brief last fall that argued against partisan gerrymandering in a case out of Wisconsin now before the U.S. Supreme Court. He says those convictions were formed during his tenure as an FBI agent fighting political corruption.
“During the course of my career arresting politicians,” he said. “I developed theories about the brokenness of the system”: that campaign fund-raising, the rarity of term limits, and gerrymandering have together damaged the integrity of government. Getting back to a “true citizen legislature with moderate representation and independent thinking,” he says, requires placing the redistricting process in the hands of an independent, non-partisan citizen commission.
We couldn’t agree more. We’re pleased and proud that our rookie congressman has demonstrated in short order the sort of scruples many of his veteran colleagues never have and, tragically for our nation, never will.