Editorial Roundup: Pennsylvania

LNP/LancasterOnline. November 13, 2022.

Editorial: Thankfully, democracy prevailed in Pennsylvania in last week’s midterm elections. Now we await what lies ahead.

It was no surprise that mostly conservative Lancaster County voted for Doug Mastriano over Josh Shapiro. What was surprising — and heartening — was Mastriano’s narrow margin of victory in the county. Indeed, “Mastriano’s two-point lead over Shapiro here amounted to the worst showing for a Republican gubernatorial candidate in modern history,” LNP/LancasterOnline’s Lisi reported Thursday.

This was heartening not because of Mastriano’s affiliation with the Republican Party, but because of his affiliation with Christian nationalists and other right-wing zealots.

Longtime county Republicans told LNP/LancasterOnline that Mastriano was a weak, fringe candidate — too extreme for many Lancaster County voters. Shapiro, by contrast, is a moderate Democrat, who put his considerable political skills to use in winning over voters both in Lancaster County and the essential Philadelphia suburbs.

Mastriano, an election denier who was on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol when it was violently breached, spoke of decertifying voting machines and requiring registered voters to re-register. Shapiro spoke of protecting reproductive rights, health care and public education.

Mastriano declined interviews with mainstream journalists and courted the founder of a virulently anti-Semitic and racist social media platform. Shapiro was endorsed by numerous country-over-party Republicans who lauded his commitment to preserving democracy.

The members of this editorial board — and others, including Republican U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming — viewed Mastriano as a clear and present danger to democracy. We’re relieved that his power will be diluted as just one of 50 members of the Pennsylvania Senate, that he will be railing against truth from the sidelines rather than wreaking havoc from the governor’s residence in Harrisburg.

‘Trumpism died’

Both Mastriano and Oz were backed by former President Donald Trump, who drew criticism last week from some Republicans for endorsing lousy candidates.

“If anything should be taken away from this election, it’s that we should be over Trump. If you’re not a Never Trumper yet, you should be an Over-Trumper now,” Matthew Brouillette, the head of Commonwealth Partners, an influential conservative group in the state, told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Both Oz and Mastriano were “absolutely flawed,” Republican media consultant David LaTorre told Brad Bumsted, Harrisburg bureau chief of The Caucus, an LNP Media Group publication covering Pennsylvania politics and government. “Anybody with an ounce of political acumen could have seen what was coming in November.”

LaTorre asserted that “Trumpism died on Election Day.”

The former president — who instigated the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection and failed to quickly intervene to stop the violence that erupted at the U.S. Capitol — has indicated that he may announce another presidential run as soon as this week.

Hasn’t he done enough damage already? He refused to accept his defeat to President Joe Biden; he engineered the end of the long-revered American tradition of a peaceful transition of power; he has debased the party of Abraham Lincoln. On Thursday, he continued to undermine democracy by posting this on his social media platform Truth Social: “Pennsylvania is a very corrupt State with voting, but nobody ever wants to check that.” He added, appallingly, “How does Oz (smart guy!) lose to a guy who can’t string together two sentences?”

Even Ted Fabianski, a stalwart defender of Trump on the LNP/LancasterOnline Letters pages, urged the former president to retire from politics in a letter published Friday. “People are tired of all the noise,” he wrote.

Moving forward

We don’t know where the GOP will go in the wake of its relatively poor performance in the midterms. As Bumsted of The Caucus pointed out, Republicans in Pennsylvania missed a rare opportunity last week to win both an open U.S. Senate seat and an open governor’s seat in the same election.

We hope Republicans cease pandering to the most radical fringe members of their party. We hope that, moving forward, they choose candidates with the backbone to stand up for democracy and to rebuff antidemocratic groups that sow distrust in elections.

Most Lancaster County voters are conservative in the way the term used to be defined: as favoring moderation and adherence to norms. They are reasonable and pragmatic. They view patriotism as a genuine love of country; they don’t wield it as a political weapon. They believe in the Constitution and expect elected officials to honor the oath they take to uphold it.

One positive sign: While Mastriano refused to concede, other candidates — Republicans as well as Democrats — who lost last week acknowledged their defeats. This shouldn’t be remarkable, but we learned in 2020 that election losers don’t always graciously accept the truth.

In a statement issued Wednesday morning, Oz said he congratulated Fetterman and wished the senator-elect and his family well. “We are facing big problems as a country and we need everyone to put down their partisan swords and focus on getting the job done,” Oz said.

Oz’s fine statement stood in stark contrast to Mastriano’s conduct. Mastriano reacted angrily to Shapiro’s respectful Veterans Day post on Twitter on Friday.

As Spotlight PA noted, Mastriano was otherwise “radio silent” for most of the week, “save a few cryptic posts to social media. One featured a photo of himself on horseback with the caption ‘Saddle up.’ Another included a photo of himself and his wife in front of a body of water and a sunset.”

We hope that’s a sunset into which he intends to ride — by vehicle or horse, it doesn’t matter to us.

Jason High, a senior associate at former Republican Gov. Tom Ridge’s government relations firm, told Spotlight PA that Mastriano’s resounding defeat demanded a concession. Mastriano finally conceded Sunday.

“I think it’s important to concede, acknowledge the campaign’s over, and particularly signal to your supporters that you’re going to move on,” High said. “It’s important for the process. It’s important for democracy.”

Indeed, it is.

A concession may feel like a gut punch to the losing candidate, but it’s a win for the democratic process. Doing what’s best for democracy ought to be a fundamental priority of anyone who seeks public office.

It seems that in this gubernatorial election, voters expected this to be a priority, too. Thank goodness.

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Philadelphia Daily News/Inquirer. November 9, 2022.

Editorial: A caustic election cycle ends with Pa. voters opting to preserve abortion rights and defend democracy

Voters understood the stakes. They picked decency over fringe in electing Josh Shapiro for governor and John Fetterman for Senate.

In the end, Pennsylvania voters picked common sense over scare tactics.

Most of those who went to the polls in the commonwealth saw through the creepy commercials, heated rhetoric, and disinformation. They opted instead to take a stand for abortion rights and democracy.

Voters understood the stakes. They decided they didn’t want a governor who marched with insurrectionists, trafficked in QAnon conspiracies, and promoted racist and antisemitic tropes. And they didn’t want an out-of-touch, celebrity doctor from New Jersey who votes in Turkey and thinks abortion is murder to be a U.S. senator in Pennsylvania.

Voters picked fitness over fringe in electing Josh Shapiro for governor and John Fetterman for Senate.

While the economy remains on voters’ minds, most understood the election was about more than gas and food prices that elected officials have little control over.

Basic rights regarding a woman’s ability to make choices about her own body and the future of free and fair elections were on the line. That trumped the Republican fearmongering regarding crime, inflation, and unfounded election fraud claims.

Voters were motivated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s wrongheaded decision to overturn a nearly 50-year-old precedent in Roe v. Wade. They don’t want elected officials, including local ones, banning all abortion with no exceptions. And they don’t want elected officials who undermine elections.

Gov.-elect Shapiro’s campaign was a triumph for decency and democracy. He appealed to a broad base of voters and stood up for women’s rights. Shapiro has a record of working across the aisle. He wants to lift all boats and not pit one group against another — goals that are at once refreshing and a model of how government should work.

By comparison, Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano ran a smug and loathsome campaign built on phony election fraud, bizarre conspiracies, racism, sexism, and antisemitism. Mastriano was essentially against everything and everyone except white male dominance.

Mastriano’s drag on the GOP was so great the Democrats are poised to take control of the House in Harrisburg for the first time in more than a decade.

Shapiro won handily, but it is beyond disturbing that 42% of voters backed such a vile and unfit candidate in Mastriano.

Likewise, Sen.-elect Fetterman’s campaign appealed to average citizens fighting for a living wage, decent health care, equality, and second chances. Along the way, he set an example of bravery by campaigning while recovering from a stroke.

Republican nominee Mehmet Oz mocked Fetterman’s speech and auditory issues. But Fetterman was an inspiration for others facing health care hurdles. In the long run, he could help change attitudes regarding disabilities in the workplace.

Meanwhile, most voters saw through Oz’s vanity campaign. He is a lightweight, television doctor with no political experience who promoted magic diet pills and dubious COVID-19 cures. He was for abortion rights and gun safety before he was against them, which further highlighted his deeply flawed candidacy. Oz’s opulent mansions in New Jersey, Palm Beach, Florida, and elsewhere underscored his total disconnect with everyday Pennsylvanians.

Mastriano and Oz were largely creatures of Donald Trump, whose endorsement helped them win their respective primaries. Their Election Day losses are Trump’s losses.

Several other Trump-backed candidates nationwide also struggled. That could dent Trump’s grip on the GOP as the twice impeached former president who incited a deadly insurrection appears ready to launch a third campaign for the White House.

Sadly, a number of Republican election deniers won races in Pennsylvania and across the country. But as a crucial swing state, the commonwealth continues to serve as a keystone for our democracy at a perilous time. For that, the country can largely thank voters in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs.

Several Senate races remain undecided, but Fetterman’s victory could help Democrats keep control of the upper chamber.

Meanwhile, the red wave that Republicans expected to sweep the country fizzled. It is a fitting setback for a GOP that was hijacked by Trump and remains focused on culture wars, conspiracies, autocracy, and bogus election fraud.

Traditionally, whatever party controls the White House suffers big losses during midterm elections. Although President Joe Biden’s approval rating remains around 40%, Democrats have a chance to maintain control of the House. Even if Republicans ultimately win more House seats, it will be a slim majority.

When historians look back at the 2022 election, Pennsylvania will have played a starring role. Voters faced a crossroads and chose a bright future over a bleak past.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. November 14, 2022.

Editorial: Mastriano concession should end 2020 drama

State Sen. Doug Mastriano formally conceded the gubernatorial race to Attorney General Josh Shapiro on Sunday. That should end the fever of election suspicion, and of overwrought fears about the future of democracy, that has gripped many in Pennsylvania and around the country.

The Republican candidate’s statement demonstrates the irony of candidates who have questioned the legitimacy of the electoral process trying to seek office through that very process. Conceding was the right thing to do in the face of a convincing 15-point victory by Mr. Shapiro, even if it was about five days late. But it also raises the question: If Mr. Mastriano is willing to accept the results of this election — and, presumably, the much closer but still decisive election of John Fetterman to the U.S. Senate — what was so questionable about Donald Trump’s defeat in 2020?

Of course, refusing to concede would have inflicted considerable damage on Pennsylvania’s political culture. But it also would have been consistent with Mr. Mastriano’s apparent belief that Pennsylvania elections are subject to rampant fraud. He chose the better part, but it’s still a decision that casts doubt on the sincerity of his previous election claims.

This may seem to be an unfair assessment of Mr. Mastriano’s choices: a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t analysis. But it was he who decided to make questioning the security and legitimacy of the state’s elections a centerpiece of his own election campaign. He walked into this catch-22; no one forced him into it.

Now that he has resolved this tension by conceding — both his own race and, implicitly, the reality that Pennsylvania elections are trustworthy — it’s time for the most overheated rhetoric about American elections and democracy to cool. Around the country, candidates who denied Donald Trump’s defeat ran for office, and around the country they lost and largely accepted their defeats. They showed by their actions a greater faith in the system than they expressed with their words, and the American people should listen up.

Further, in races for top state elections officials, only in Indiana did a member of the 2020 election-denying “America First” slate win the office of secretary of state.

While many Americans continue to believe that elections can be run more smoothly — and we have agreed — in practice very few really believe the system is so compromised that it can’t be trusted. That’s a hopeful sign for a political system that had seemed more fragile than at any time in the recent past.

This also means that it’s time for Democrats to retire their claims that small-d democracy itself depends on electing capital-d Democrats to office. That rhetoric raises the temperature and the fear that they’re willing to use anti-democratic means to protect democracy. The system worked, and the threats to it have been shown to be mostly rhetorical.

The 2022 elections should close the book on the 2020 elections. Now it’s time to actually govern.

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Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. November 15, 2022.

Editorial: Will Pa. pay the price for colleges’ tuition border wars?

The State University of New York is making it plain that it sees Pennsylvania’s high school students as an interstate commodity.

“If your high schooler wants to go to college in New York, the State University of New York offers same in-state tuition as Penn State,” SUNY said in a tweet.

The ad is popping up frequently on social media for parents whose kids are facing the choice of where to apply.

SUNY isn’t alone. While most state universities charge one tuition rate for residents and another for those crossing the border, it isn’t unusual to have a different rate for a border state or to have a reciprocity agreement that lowers the tuition for students in a geographical area, a specific program or as part of an exchange.

What is worth noting is the specific target that Penn State has had placed on its back. It should also be realized that, while Penn State is spelled out in the ad, there are other schools unwritten between the lines.

The $19,286 that it costs to attend Penn State’s University Park campus is $1,000 less than the $20,362 it costs to attend the University of Pittsburgh. Temple University is close behind. Both are state-related universities in a similar category to Penn State, the state’s only land-grant university.

In 2017, then-Auditor General Eugene DePasquale audited Penn State and came back with a number of scathing findings, not the least of which was a caution about the university’s “tuition problem.”

The issue was not just the back-breaking cost of an education for a resident student but the increased reliance on subsidizing that cost with an even more crippling out-of-state or out-of-country tuition. That higher cost made those students even more attractive.

“In essence, the university can get more ‘bang for its buck’ by increasing the number of nonresident students,” DePasquale found.

Five years later, Penn State — and other Pennsylvania schools — are reaping the returns.

But SUNY and others are not doing it by gathering Keystone State students like wheat. They are treating them as valuable and equal.

Does it matter where the kids go to school? Yes. Pennsylvania’s colleges are top notch, but that doesn’t matter if they are left behind by students choosing to go to New York instead.

It also exacerbates the problem of brain drain — when a state loses its college students to another state for jobs. If they are already going to Albany for undergrad, why not stay there for work? That, in turn, impacts the state’s population shift, which already is skewing toward an aging demographic with fewer workers to support it.

Only time will tell how many of the students SUNY’s campaign will woo away from Penn State, Pitt and Temple. However, while this campaign is new, the problem is old, and all of Pennsylvania’s higher education institutions need to take it seriously.

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Scranton Times-Tribune. November 15, 2022.

Editorial: Don’t gamble with casino workers’ lives

Pennsylvania’s government went all-in on casino gambling nearly 20 years ago largely because so many state residents had been losing their money for years in Atlantic City. State government leaders wanted to transfer that take to Pennsylvania.

Now, with Pennsylvania generating more gambling tax revenue than any other state, state lawmakers once again should take a cue from New Jersey, secure in the knowledge that it will not upset the competitive landscape.

Like their Pennsylvania counterparts, New Jersey lawmakers rolled over for casinos over the past few decades while wisely imposing smoking bans on every other kind of indoor activity, and many outdoor activities. The rule now, generally, is smoke if you must but keep it to yourself. The smoking bans have had major positive impacts on public health, including reduction in cancer incidence and mortality.

Now, New Jersey casino workers have had enough of being exposed to deadly secondhand smoke. They have pressured state lawmakers to move a bill banning smoking in casinos. It has enough sponsors to pass if it gets to floor votes.

The organization the workers formed to drive the reform, Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects, now has several chapters in Pennsylvania and other states with casino gambling.

New Jersey and Pennsylvania suspended all smoking-ban exceptions amid the pandemic but then reinstated exceptions for casinos. In Pennsylvania, some casinos have maintained the bans, recognizing that smoking no longer is necessary to generate profit. As one New Jersey casino executive noted, smoking might keep away more potential customers than it attracts, given that the adult smoking rate has declined to about 11%.

There is no question that secondhand smoke is complicit in an array of deadly diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it still causes more than 33,000 deaths a year due to heart disease and another 7,000 due to cancer.

State lawmakers no longer can justify trading workers’ health for money. They should follow New Jersey’s lead in banning smoking at casinos or, better yet, take the lead.

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Uniontown Herald Standard. November 13, 2022.

Editorial: Maternal care ‘deserts’ a problem in rural communities

There’s a desert on our doorstep.

Of course, it’s not the desert where you would find lots of sand, snakes or cacti. What we’re talking about is a “maternal care desert,” where women of childbearing age do not have nearby access to obstetric care, birth centers, certified midwives or OB/GYNs. According to a report released in October by the March of Dimes, Greene County is one of six counties in Pennsylvania that is now classified as a maternal care desert, along with Cameron, Forest, Sullivan, Wyoming and Juniata counties.

In the report, Fayette County is classified as having moderate access to maternal care, while Washington, Allegheny and other counties in the Pittsburgh region have full access. Greene County was ranked as a maternal care desert in part because Washington Health System, which includes WHS Greene, has an outpatient obstetrics office in Waynesburg, but women have to journey to either Washington Hospital or over the state line to West Virginia to get to a birthing center.

All told, across Pennsylvania, 105,000 women between the ages of 18 and 44 live in communities that have a paucity of obstetric care or none at all. Across the United States, that number reaches 6.9 million, with the largest concentration of maternal care deserts in the center of country, stretching from the Dakotas to Texas. According to the March of Dimes report, there’s been a 2% increase in locations classified as maternal care deserts since 2020.

This is part of the reason the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate among industrialized nations.

Dr. Zsakeba Henderson, senior vice president and interim chief medical and health officer for the March of Dimes, told NPR, “Many people don’t know that we are in a maternal and infant health crisis in our country. Our country is currently the least safe to give birth and be born in among industrialized countries, and ... part of that problem is not having access to high-quality maternity care. We have failed moms and babies too long in our country, and we need to act now to improve this crisis.”

Part of the reason maternal care deserts have emerged is down to dollars and cents. Rural hospitals have closed as populations have declined, and some of the hospitals that have kept their doors open have dropped maternity care because it isn’t cost-effective due to low patient volumes. Some communities have also struggled to draw qualified medical personnel.

Some experts have suggested that telehealth can help fill the gaps, but some of the communities lacking maternal care also don’t have adequate broadband. They also say that Medicaid needs to be expanded and more midwives and doulas need to be available in communities off the beaten track.

The gridlock in Washington, D.C., makes it unlikely any meaningful changes in federal policy are in the offing that would help remedy this problem. In the absence of federal action, state and local officials should do what they can to make giving birth safer and healthier in their communities.

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