Editorial Roundup: Pennsylvania

Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice. May 17, 2022.

Editorial: GOP primary sets up fight for democracy

Primary election day dawned this morning with Pennsylvania Republicans doing their best imitation of Pennsylvania Democrats.

For months, they have watched multiple candidates for governor and Senate dice up the vote and fracture the party. Now, many Republicans worry that the nominees who emerge on the strength of appealing to a radical base won’t be able to generate the mainstream support necessary to win the general election.

That’s the formula that propelled Donald Trump to the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. He won early primaries with as little as 11% of the vote, but more moderate candidates stayed in the race rather than backing a single candidate, until it was too late.

In the closing days of the GOP gubernatorial race, several Republican candidates — Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman and former U.S. Rep Melissa Hart — who are alarmed by apparent front-runner Doug Mastriano’s extremism, withdrew from the race and endorsed former Hazleton mayor and U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta.

Barletta also is an extremist. He has a long record as an anti-immigration demagogue and has declined to repudiate the big lie that Trump won the 2020 presidential election in Pennsylvania. It’s a mark of the Republican Party’s disarray that other erstwhile candidates have made him the standard-bearer for moderation.

Mastriano, meanwhile, has doubled down on the extremism that has percolated him to the top of the crowded field. He and the surging candidate for the Senate GOP nomination, Kathy Barnette, barred journalists from a rally Friday in Warminster, Bucks County. That’s not far from Philadelphia, where the Founders in 1791 enshrined press freedom as one of the nation’s founding principles, by including it in the First Amendment.

Such attacks on fundamental democratic institutions and traditions are now commonplace. The Republican National Committee, for example, already has withdrawn from the Commission on Presidential Debates for 2024.

Such attacks on the free press and open debate indicate that in Pennsylvania this fall, and nationally in 2024, the contest will be between democracy and authoritarianism.

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Scranton Times-Tribune. May 16, 2022.

Editorial: ‘Emergencies’ often aren’t

Those numbered balls that you see bouncing around in televised Pennsylvania lottery drawings aren’t just painted ping-pong balls. They might make you a fortune but, as it turns out, they cost a small one.

As revealed by PennLive, each foam ball is designed and painted to be identifiable from any angle, and each contains a microchip to preclude tampering and ensure security and each drawing’s integrity. The state Lottery Commission recently purchased 30 sets of the custom-manufactured balls for $41,280 — $80 for each ball.

Remarkably, the commission purchased the balls through the state government’s emergency procurement process, even though replacing the balls is a matter of routine.

In the lottery case, officials said they had to invoke an emergency to keep warranty provisions intact. But they knew the warrant provisions long before they invoked an emergency.

Apparently, the state is beset by a wide array of emergencies. According to PennLive, agencies had used the emergency process 98 times this year as of Wednesday, about five times a week.

Republican state Rep. Jason Ortitay of Allegheny County has introduced a bill to better define emergencies for procurement purposes. They would include threats to safety, health and welfare, or when unforeseen circumstances relative to contracts hinders an agency’s ability to operate.

Routine lack of government transparency is an emergency of its own that lawmakers can help to resolve by passing Ortitay’s bill.

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Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. May 14, 2022.

Editorial: Pennsylvania should require meth house disclosure

Methamphetamines can kill.

The illegal drugs themselves can be lethal, but it doesn’t stop there. The labs are dangerous when they are operating. They give off gases. They can explode. They are a tinderbox that has to be handled like a time bomb, but people manufacturing illicit drugs aren’t notoriously careful.

The labs continue to be dangerous afterward. The manufacturing process is a ghost that haunts the property, causing health problems as simple as skin irritations or headaches or as life threatening, long-term cancer. This isn’t surprising, as meth labs make use of poisonous chemicals like pesticides and nail polish remover to mix up their product.

So are you sure that your house wasn’t a former meth lab? If you live in Pennsylvania, don’t be so sure.

A Spotlight PA story revealed the holes in the state’s requirements about disclosing meth activity when selling property — namely that there aren’t any. Landlords don’t have to tell their tenants that the apartment they are moving into was used to make illegal drugs.

That is a significant problem. It is all the worse when there is a housing crisis driving up sale and lease prices. It’s bad enough to live in a toxic drug den. It’s even worse when the state doesn’t require you be told about it. The absolute worst? Paying top dollar for the privilege.

The state needs to address this by protecting everyone concerned.

Requiring that a meth lab property be identified when it is being sold or rented helps the tenant or homeowner by keeping them from living unaware in a house that could make them sick.

At the same time, requiring a seller or landlord to make that disclosure can prevent them from losing a sale if the information is uncovered in another way. It can stop real estate agents from investing time and effort in a dangerous property.

And more than anything, it can encourage the appropriate and safe remediation of properties so that they are actually safe instead of just camera ready. This benefits the community at large by removing toxic material from the environment.

There is no reason this shouldn’t be done. There’s no reason it shouldn’t have been law already. Sellers are required to disclose “material defects.” Problems with things like termites or basement flooding or a leaky roof need to be revealed. Legal problems with the deed need to be noted.

A house that could cause cancer should definitely meet the level of mandatory disclosure.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. May 17, 2022.

Editorial: A new era of Pennsylvania politics

In the candidates who will represent their parties in November, and in those who came close, we can see a new political culture taking root in the commonwealth — a nationalized one that’s replacing Pennsylvania’s distinctive one.

For a state of its size, the fifth-biggest by population, the Keystone State’s political culture has remained remarkably parochial. The state’s voters tend to elevate homegrown candidates based on hometown concerns, through the typical political channels. State representatives become state senators; district attorneys become attorneys general; congressmen become senators.

That helps explain Pennsylvania’s habit of producing relatively moderate, or at least hard to pigeonhole, politicians. Bob Casey, Sr., was a pro-life Democrat. Tom Ridge was a pro-choice Republican. Arlen Specter was both.

In nominating state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, for governor, Republican voters haven’t only reached to their far right flank; they’ve elevated a freshman state legislator based almost entirely on ideological purity and loyalty to Mr. Trump. The race had little or nothing to do with the actual work of governing the state. That’s the nationalization of issues.

Meanwhile, none of the three front-runners for the GOP nomination for Senate had roots in state politics. None went through the usual channels to prominence. Mehmet Oz ran on his TV popularity. Dave McCormick, like Mr. Oz with shallow-at-best roots in the state, ran on his ads. And Kathy Barnette run as a bold tell-it-all pundit. That’s the nationalization of celebrity.

And like the race for governor, this wasn’t a race about Pennsylvania; it was a national race about national concerns that Pennsylvania only happened to host. The three could have run in Illinois or Arizona with minimal changes to the ads.

John Fetterman’s surge to the Democratic Senate bid also fits this pattern, if a little less clearly. He did none of the things candidates are supposed to do in order to curry favor with party leadership, cultivated a certain celebrity status with his wardrobe choices, and positioned himself unambiguously within a national progressive movement, headlined by Sen. Bernie Sanders. And in so doing, he has earned a mandate to be a leader of Pennsylvania Democrats for the foreseeable future.

Josh Shapiro is the only statewide candidate who did everything the Pennsylvania way. He rose through the ranks and cleared the field like a combine harvester, and now has positioned himself as the experienced, competent, moderately left-wing, safe choice for governor.

In short, Mr. Shapiro excepted, Pennsylvania politics is converging with national politics. And that loss of distinctiveness may come with a loss of agency, as the state is buffeted increasingly by national political power, rather than wielding its own.

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Lancaster Online/LNP. May 18, 2022.

Editorial: We must fully reject white nationalism and hatred before they take even deeper root here

THE ISSUE: “Last year, 284 hate crimes were reported in Pennsylvania — more than 2 1/2 times what was reported in 2020 and the highest since the Pennsylvania State Police began keeping track in the late 1990s,” LNP ' LancasterOnline investigative journalist Carter Walker reported Sunday. “Sixty-four hate crimes were reported in the first quarter of 2022. ...Very few cases result in a conviction, data from Pennsylvania courts and the state police’s hate crime database shows, and most counties are not reporting their crimes to the state police, highlighting problems with how statistics on the offense are tracked.” Reported hate crimes are rising across the United States.

Saturday’s racist mass shooting of 13 people in a Buffalo supermarket is a direct result of the poisonous belief in white supremacy.

Ten people, all Black, were shot fatally; half of them were senior citizens — beloved and respected elders.

To kill as many Black people as possible, at an hour when he knew many Black people were shopping at a Tops supermarket in a predominantly Black community, was the white gunman’s alleged goal.

Investigators believe the 18-year-old gunman was spurred by what is known as “the great replacement” rhetoric, the appalling conspiracy theory that purports that there is a concerted effort — often blamed on Jews — to replace and even extinguish white Americans with people of color through immigration, intermarriage and violence.

In October 2018, a white supremacist killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh; an online post was found in which he blamed Jews for bringing nonwhite immigrants and refugees to the United States. In August 2019, a white supremacist killed 23 people at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart; he referred to a “Hispanic invasion” and the “great replacement.”

That twisted ideology is planting roots right here, so as much we want might want to, we cannot keep these tragedies at arm’s length.

There is a reason we keep urging Lancaster County residents to strongly reject racist and anti-Semitic hatred.

Replacement theory

The white supremacist group Patriot Front is recruiting here and across Pennsylvania, Walker reported in February.

Ethnic purity is a requirement for membership in that group. An interviewee must claim “at least 75% European ethnic lineage, and be born within America to qualify,” a leaked document published by the left-leaning nonprofit news outlet Unicorn Riot revealed.

As Walker reported, “Unicorn Riot’s analysis of applicant’s interview notes found that every member who was accepted — including Pennsylvania applicants — stated there was an ‘ethnic component’ to being American and that ‘nationhood cannot be bestowed to those not of the founding stock.’ ”

In order to protect that “founding stock,” Patriot Front has taken part in anti-abortion marches — presumably to encourage the births of more white infants.

The group’s founder, Thomas Rousseau, said this in a speech at the University of Texas at Austin in 2017: “America our nation stands before an existential threat. ... A corrupt, rootless, global and tyrannical elite has usurped your democracy and turned it into a weapon, first to enslave and then to replace you.”

It’s utter nonsense, of course. But what happened in Buffalo is heartrending, terrible evidence that it’s deadly nonsense.

As national media have pointed out, popular Fox News host Tucker Carlson frequently has pushed “the great replacement” rhetoric. So, too, have members of the Republican Party.

U.S. Rep. Scott Perry of York County said this in April 2021, according to the York Dispatch: “For many Americans, what seems to be happening or what they believe right now is happening is, what appears to them is we’re replacing national-born Americans, native-born Americans to permanently transform the landscape of this very nation.”

That is replacement theory.

Some Republicans have spoken out against it. U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming put it plainly on Twitter on Monday: “The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-Semitism. History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse.”

She is right. It starts with words, which are easily dismissed but must not be.

As Walker reported for LNP ' LancasterOnline Sunday, the Anti-Defamation League’s “pyramid of hate” model argues that as bias-motivated language increases, so will bias-motivated violence.

“In the last few years, we see that people are more emboldened to talk about their hate,” said Andrew Goretsky, regional director for ADL Philadelphia. “I believe firmly one leads to the other.”

We do, too. Which is why we believe that whatever its source, we must not let hateful language go unchallenged. We’re not talking about shutting down a person’s First Amendment right to speech — we’re talking about countering anti-Semitic and racist speech and conduct, even when it’s uncomfortable to do so because it’s coming from a friend, a co-worker, a neighbor or a relative.

Likewise, we must not dismiss or minimize the significance of what Walker has reported.

As he noted Sunday, “The Anti-Defamation League recently released a report documenting more hateful propaganda in Pennsylvania in 2021 than any other state.”

ADL assistant regional director Santos Ramos told Walker that the organization “favors legislation first introduced by state Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny County, in 2019 that would increase penalties and extend protections to the LGBTQ community, enhance reporting of incidents in schools and require offenders to participate in community service or educational classes.”

In the current legislative session, a version of that package is being sponsored by state Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny County. It includes a provision to create a hate group database that could be used by law enforcement.

The prospects for these state reforms are dim, which is a shame because an improved hate group database seems to us to be a critical need. As Walker reported, the current database, maintained by the Pennsylvania State Police, appears to be marred by reporting discrepancies.

Consequences for hatred

As Walker reported, hate crime convictions remain rare, even as hate crimes increase. Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams told Walker that obtaining a conviction requires sufficient evidence that the underlying crime was committed with malicious intent based on race, color, religion or national origin.

So let’s take this seriously and speak out before crimes are committed. Let’s make it difficult for hatemongers to feel at home in Lancaster County.

We have no qualms at all, for instance, about the fact that pro-Putin Holocaust denier Charles Bausman — who hosted a white supremacist gathering at his historic Lancaster Township barn in August 2020 — withdrew his name last week from a zoning appeal of an affordable housing development at 213 College Ave. in Lancaster city.

His withdrawal came after LNP ' LancasterOnline asked the other six residents involved in the appeal about his inclusion.

As LNP ' LancasterOnline’s Tom Lisi reported, Bausman owns a home on West Chestnut Street near the proposed College Avenue development site — though he still may be in Russia, where he’s been living to avoid any legal repercussions of his illegal entrance into the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

Bausman may be entitled as a Lancaster city homeowner to participate in a zoning appeal. But that doesn’t mean he cannot be held accountable for his views, Kurt Braddock, a professor at American University who studies extremism and white supremacists, told Lisi.

“I think one of the ways that people can demonstrate their displeasure would be to refuse money from somebody like this,” Braddock said.

As Lisi reported, Bausman contributed money for legal expenses related to the zoning appeal. The remaining appellants ought to return that money — or, better, donate it to a Ukrainian charity or the Anti-Defamation League.

Because we agree with Braddock that there ought to be repercussions for antisemitism and racism.

Again, no matter the source.

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