Ask any legislator who opposes reducing the size of the General Assembly about the need for retaining all of that inefficiency and you will receive a standard response. The Legislature must remain at 203 House seats and 50 in the Senate to preserve representative democracy; anything less than that would produce districts too big for lawmakers to truly know their constitutents.
The argument is hooey to begin with, of course. Constituent contact never has been easier than in the digital age. And, in yet again adopting rules that mock the notion of representative democracy, the lawmakers have defeated their own argument.
Those rules vest far too much power in committee chairmen, who are able to thwart the will of Pennsylvanians and their representatives in favor of their own views.
Exhibit A: Republican state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe of Butler County. As chairman of the House State Government Committee in the last session, he posted on social media that his objective was to block “all substantive Democrat legislation.”
But he didn’t stop there. He belligerently blocked substantive democratic — with a small “d” — legislation that was broadly supported by Democrats and Republicans. As reported by The Caucus, a news organization that covers state government, Metcalfe made his committee the place where reform went to die.
Of 64 state government reform bills referred to Metcalfe’s committee, 59 died there. It’s a major reason that Pennsylvania clings to blatant gerrymandering of legislative districts and maintains a bloated, inefficient and needlessly expensive Legislature. It also helps to explain why the state government refuses to reform election rules that help to suppress, rather than increase voter participation.
He is not alone, and neither are Republicans in setting up committee chairpeople with unchecked power.
Rank-and-file legislators — especially in this year of record turnover with 43 new representatives and seven new senators — should demand rules that diminish the power of committee chairmanships so that their voices, and those of their supposedly well-represented constituents, finally can be heard.