Seat-Bleeding: A Side Effect of a Too-Small Congress

You can say we have a Congress that is too small. Just listen to them and you can hear how they talk to the half of the country who doesn’t buy into their set of opinions.

But it is too small in another way. The number of congressional seats is too small. (I have been writing on it for years and have a book partially done.) 435 seats cannot handle the growing American population.

As Pennsylvania gained population from the 2000 to 2010 censuses we lost seats. Think about what that means for a moment in terms of a functional Democracy. The moment you need more representatives, they are taken away.

The GOP was all too happy to do the 2014 Gerrymander. (Democrats here don’t run state rep. races well; so they do not get to play with the crayons when it comes time to color the maps.)

In Pennsylvania a perfect situation exists to illustrate an interesting side effect of not having enough congressional seats. I call it Seat-Bleed. You have too many qualified people who want to serve and not enough seats to fit them into; real-life musical chairs.

Because of a flaw in the law, you do not have to live in the congressional seat you wish to represent. There are a number of reasons candidates may be Seat-Bleeding: a district may have an established member of Congress, or a candidate may find their newly gerrymandered district too tough to run in or the political hacks just feel like playing games. In the Philly suburbs we have all three of these reasons in play. Democrats are bleeding from their home districts and attempting to run in seats where they do not live.

If you look at the 13th Congressional District, two of the four Democratic candidates do not live in the district. One seat-bleeder lives in a district that already has a Democratic congressman (Marjorie Margolies from the 2nd), the other seat-bleeder hails from a redrawn GOP district (Daylin Leach from the 7th). Forget the fact there are already 2 legit candidates (Val Arkoosh and Brendan Boyle) who live there. The smell of an open seat vacated by a long term Democrat is too attractive.

The situation in the 6th congressional district is even goofier as it has the fingerprints of political bosses all over it. This redrawn GOP district had two residents wanting to take a shot. First, John McGuigan steps up only to be told to sit down by the powers that be. They wanted recent convert from the GOP, Mike Parrish. Parrish was actually invited into the party expressly to run. But because he was a participating member of the GOP until last year, the rank and file committee had a conniption. The party ran hysterically outside the district to find Manan Trivedi, a two time loser for the post. He seat-bleeds in from the 7th District.

The 7th does actually have Democratic candidate, Mary Ellen Balchunis. Amazingly, she actually lives in the district.

So in theory, if Leach, Trivedi and Balchunis all won their primaries and general elections the 7th district would have three residents arriving in Washington. While there would be no resident from the 6th or 13th.

If the triad of Margolies, Trivedi and Balchunis got seats in DC the 2nd would have two reps, the 7th would have two reps and the 6th and 13 would again be shut out.

The incredibly simple solutions to this issue are to increase the number of congressional seats and to outlaw seat bleeding. Qualified people would have a place to participate. Even if you have gerrymandering, with more seats it gets tougher to gerrymander customized seats. Requiring candidates to be residents of a district 90 days before the primary insures the residents of a district that one of their own will be going to Washington to look out for them.

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