Benninghoff talks state redistricting at town hall

State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, holds a town hall on Wednesday.
State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, holds a town hall on Wednesday. adrey@centredaily.com

State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, hosted a town hall Wednesday at the Ferguson Township Municipal Building to have a “family-style” discussion with about a dozen of his constituents.

Among the topics that generated significant dialogue was redistricting.

Two pieces of legislation, Senate Bill 22 and House Bill 722, have been introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature to reform the way legislative and congressional district lines are drawn, calling for a commission comprised solely of independent citizens.

The next round of redistricting is triggered in 2020.

The Electoral Integrity Project, an independent academic project based at Harvard University and the University of Sydney, gave Pennsylvania a score of 56 out 100 (based on 11 stages in the electoral cycle). It tied for fifth-worst in the United States, ahead of only Oklahoma, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Arizona.

“I’m in favor of fair districting,” Benninghoff said.

The challenge comes in how to design districts when having to factor in things such as population and topography, he said.

Legislative lines are drawn by a five-person commission — the four leaders from the state House and Senate and historically the fifth person is a retired judge, Benninghoff said. That commission also draws the congressional districts, and the legislature votes on them.

Debbie Trudeau, who is part of Fair Districts PA’s Centre County group, said an independent commission to draw the lines would help eliminate a lot of the bias.

“The districts look terrible,” she said.

Trudeau also brought up the issue of the commission having access to voter registration information when drawing the lines.

Jay Young, of Spring Mills, asked Benninghoff if he saw political motivations as acceptable in districting.

Everybody has a bias, Benninghoff said, and he asked what people would like to see in redistricting.

The goal of redistricting should be to see the “power of incumbency broken,” Young said.

He said he wants to see legislators who are sitting on their laurels and not fighting for their constituents gone.

Attendees also brought up that politicians can keep their seats more easily if they can pick their voters, and that it’s wrong whether Democrats or Republicans gerrymander districts.

Fair districts is a nonpartisan issue, Trudeau said.

Other topics of discussion included the state budget, organ donation legislation and renewable energy.

Benninghoff will host another Centre County town hall at 6:30 p.m. June 1 at the Old Gregg School Community Center, 106 School St. in Spring Mills.

Sarah Rafacz: 814-231-4619, @SarahRafacz