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Top Senator Pushes For Redistricting, Election Reforms

Mary Wilson
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati is throwing his weight behind a few measures that have, of late, been more commonly championed by Democrats.

The top Republican official, of Cameron County, said in a wide-ranging speech Monday that he wants to see the redistricting process overhauled, and also switch the commonwealth to open primaries.

Scarnati made it clear, his anger over the state Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate and redraw Pennsylvania’s congressional map hasn’t abated.

But in the midst of reproaching the justices for having “trampled, shredded, and burned” the constitution, he said he knows the process has to change—though he added, it’ll be a challenge.

“Taking politics out of drawing congressional boundaries is like taking salt out of the ocean,” he said.

Scarnati didn’t elaborate on potential reforms.

The Senate is expected to unveil a plan for some sort of independent citizens commission this week.

The Pro Tempore also said he thinks the commonwealth’s closed primaries—which only allow people to vote for the party they’re registered in, and in which independents can’t vote—are contributing to polarization.  

“I’m a conservative,” he said. “But I don’t know that I fit the new brand of conservative. And I’m not sure some of the Democrats fit the new brand of liberals.”

He added, “this is a very, very changing time in politics, and I don’t think it will end with good results.”

Scarnati said he plans to sponsor an open primary bill—which, in order to pass, would likely need a constitutional amendment.

House Majority Leader Dave Reed, also a Republican, has recently expressed interest in pursuing similar reforms to Scarnati. Scarnati said the two haven’t discussed potential plans, however.