Bethlehem Press

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A ‘fake issue’

Tuesday, May 15, 2018 by The Press in Opinion

The candidates forum May 2 for the seventh Congressional District was the only one to which candidates of both parties were invited. This was in keeping with the mission of the League of Women Voters, which sponsored the forum, to provide information to voters on a non-partisan basis.

But Republican candidate Marty Nothstein apparently didn’t care. Instead, he refused the invitation to attend, claiming the League is biased. When you dug a little deeper into his rationale, it turned out he argued the fact that the League was among those challenging the current redistricting system was proof of their bias.

This only shows that Nothstein is either ignorant of the facts, or is simply playing politics.

The fact is, the effort to reform the way we redistrict has broad bipartisan support, with numerous Republican legislators signed on as co-sponsors. Ultimately, rank and file Republicans benefit less from the current system than the leaders of both parties, who have long used redistricting as a cudgel to keep members in line.

It may appear to those not paying attention that Democrats are behind the reform effort, particularly since the last redistricting effort egregiously favored Republicans, at both the state and Congressional level. That redistricting was so blatantly biased that Pennsylvania has become a poster child for all that is wrong with the system. Which is the point: the system is wrong. Republicans held all the branches of power when those districts were drawn up, and were armed with the most up-to-date computer technology to enable them to draw districts that heavily favored their party.

If the Democrats had been in power, and used the same technology, the results would have similarly favored them.

We’d like to think Nothstein’s refusal to participate in last week’s forum will hurt him at the polls. We give his sole opponent, Dean Browning, a lot of credit for coming in to what may have seemed to him like a den of hungry lions. Not only were there six Democratic candidates lined up next to him on the stage, the large audience seemed to skew heavily Democratic, either to support one of the candidates, or to learn more before making up their minds.

We’ve heard observers deride such forums as not really debates, since the candidates usually stick to their set talking points and don’t directly challenge each other’s statements. But I’m sure many in the audience hadn’t made up their minds, and found it helpful not only to hear what the candidates had to say, but to see how well prepared, how factual and how comfortable they were with the issues.

And it was a pleasant change to hear a friendly, civil exchange of views among them, in contrast to some of the negative advertising they’ve used in their mailings.

All in all, thanks to the League, and to an audience which for the most part refrained from outbursts of support or opposition, it was a pretty successful event. Too bad Marty Nothstein wasn’t part of it.