February 5, 2018 — When you look back over a century’s worth of maps of congressional districts, you see a strange evolution. Back in the 1930s, Berks County more or less had its own congressional district. As the 20th century progressed, the geographic size of that district grew, mostly northward to include Schuylkill County and parts of other counties, but Berks County remained mostly in one piece.
And then came 2002. Suddenly, and without any input from local leaders, Berks County was divided into four congressional districts. The act was repeated once again in 2011 as part of a gerrymandering scheme that the state Supreme Court says “clearly, plainly and palpably violates the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania…..” The court has ordered a new map.
The action by the court represents a tremendous opportunity to repair a gross injustice that has been perpetrated on our community.
Let me say this as clearly as I can: It matters not one bit to Berks County Community Foundation whether the people who represent us in Congress are Democrats or Republicans. The issues on which we approach our congressional representatives are far more likely to have broad, bipartisan support and are usually about cutting through some kind of government bureaucracy.
The past 20 years, however, have been marked primarily by not having anyone in Congress who has a significant interest or influence in Berks County issues. The county has simply been too divided. Among the four members of Congress whose districts include part of Berks County, I’ve only met one. Generally, when I write to them, I don’t get a response. In one case, I can’t even use his website to communicate with him as my home isn’t in his district and neither is our office. As a result, I can’t even send him an email.
This stands in sharp contrast to my earlier days in Berks County when former Congressman Tim Holden’s district included all, or a major part, of Berks County. Tim and his team were more than accessible. If they saw something of interest to the county, they let me know about it. When a problem popped up that they thought the Community Foundation could help with, they called. If I was in Washington, I was expected to drop by and I was given all the time I needed to discuss the issues we faced. Without Tim, I’m not sure we ever would have cut through the red tape that we needed to get through to establish the Berks Community Health Center.
I don’t know that Tim was necessarily a better member of Congress than the four we have now. But I do know that he saw himself as representing “Berks County” and not just a part of the community. The lack of interest in our community isn’t the result of the incumbents being bad people, or necessarily even bad congressmen (they’re all men). It’s that none of them have a district where Berks County is a significant part, so they’re naturally more inclined to pay attention to the issues of Lancaster, Chester, Lehigh or Delaware Counties.
This is our chance to fix that.
The Supreme Court has ordered the state Legislature and the governor to agree to a new map by February 15.
Randy Peers, President and CEO of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, and I have written together to Governor Wolf and all members of our legislative delegation urging them to restore Berks County to a single congressional district. It’s time to put our community’s needs above partisan politics.
Kevin K. Murphy, President
Berks County Community Foundation