My testimony on the preliminary map for NW Philly

The following comments come from my virtual testimony in front of the LRC on Friday, January 7, 2022. Subsequent to delivering those remarks, it also has come to my attention that the testimony of my colleague, Rep. Pam DeLissio highlighted concerns I raised when I testified, including how the Fair Districts PA “People’s Map” while appropriately separating the current 194th and 200th districts still unnecessarily includes residents from the east side of the Wissahickon gorge with constituents to the west of it. (It also divides Germantown in a manner better addressed by the map proposed in the link below.) Lastly, it is also worth mentioning that it appears that many community stakeholders from the 194th & 200th district concur around keeping these districts separate and reconfiguring the map for northwest Philadelphia in a manner that upholds the LRC’s commitment to honoring communities of interest. In addition to the various letters submitted to this commission, the following link takes you to the latest online petition that offers a specific solution to issues I raised that I was not aware of at the time of my own testimony. —- Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission. It’s an honor to testify before you today. I am State Representative Chris Rabb, and I am in my third term in office. My current legislative district covers upper northwest Philadelphia. Here, I emphasize the word current because should the preliminary maps you voted on last month be implemented andshould I choose to run for re-election this May, I will no longer be able to run in the 200th legislative district. Instead, based on my home address, where I have lived for 20 years, I will be eligible to run in the 194th legislative district long represented by my colleague, Representative Pam DeLissio. I hasten to add that despite this preface, I am not testifying to bemoan the distinct misfortune of running against a fellow Democratic colleague. In fact, I’m here to raise two, inter-related points for this commission’s consideration. First, that despite the anomalous and unenviable situation in which I find myself at present, I am here to publicly affirm the process led by the chairman in drafting these legislative maps. As a rank-and-file member on the outside of the reapportionment process, I have found it to be inclusive, rigorous and transparent. Over my five years in elective office, I have heard many stories about the bad ole days with horse-trading in smoke-filled rooms; where there were caucus leaders drawing up maps for themselves and their allies; where incumbents could request carving the homes of their nemeses out of their districts; where constituents and community stakeholders who sought information and a voice around the redistricting process were sidelined, ignored or deceived. This has not been my experience as an observer of the methods of this commission, and I am heartened by the openness and inventiveness of both the process and the resources made available to Pennsylvanians regardless of social status. As a self-proclaimed map nerd, the online tools the average netizen can use to build their own maps has been inspiring and a wee bit addicting. However, despite this professed cartographic addiction, I have refrained from redrawing and promoting a legislative map for my own current district because, frankly, I trust the people and the process. Admittedly, at times over the years, I have thought to myself, “Ooooh, I’d love that park or historic site to be in my district”. But the simple fact is: the 200th legislative district isn’t “mine”; I am just a public servant who every two years has to re-earn the privilege of representing whatever district in which I may live. Irrespective of my own opinions and desires as an incumbent deeply committed to my constituents, the people should choose their public servants, not the other way around. Which leads me to my second and final point. The people whose voices should be loudest and most affirmed in this process are not incumbents, politicos, lobbyists or other self-interested parties, but engaged members of communities of interest. The neighborhood that I call home is Mt. Airy, in the center of the current district. It is a rare gem, being one of only a handful of long-standing racially integrated communities in the nation. The preliminary House maps for northwest Philadelphia divide this community along political ward lines that few residents know or care about. While I do not oppose an outcome where I am forced to run against another incumbent, I do, however, strongly urge this commission to keep Mt. Airy in tact. The proposed redistricting combines a small portion of Mt. Airy with communities located on the other side of the Wissahickon Gorge. I also firmly believe that Mt. Airy should maintain its legislative connection to the adjacent community of Chestnut Hill in the final map. This readjustment would honor the historical and cultural ties between the two neighborhoods. I have seen proposed reconfigurations of this part of northwest Philadelphia that respect the bulk of the work this commission has done in this area that also maintains the aforementioned cohesion. Alas, we must not make the excellent the enemy of the good. And I acknowledge that perfection is not an option in your arduous mission. Nevertheless, I implore you to find not the perfect solution — just a better way to create maps in this area to ensure that they are culturally congruous. I thank you all for you time and consideration.