Editorial Roundup: Pennsylvania

Philadelphia Inquirer. July 12,2021.

Editorial: As Pa. Republicans further the Big Lie, we’re trapped in a factless debate that won’t end

Nine months after the election and six months after the U.S. Capitol riot their rhetoric inspired, many Republicans are still clinging to the Big Lie, including in Pennsylvania.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano last week announced yet another attempt to relitigate the 2020 presidential election, arguing that somehow, through an additional audit, he will uncover evidence that election boards, the Pennsylvania Department of State, the FBI, the Attorney General’s Office, and former U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain have tried and failed to discover.

The proposed election audit, inspired by the chaotic undertakings in Arizona, asks for all election materials to be sent to State Sen. Mastriano for a “forensic audit” of the results. Not just ballots, but ballot applications, voter registration system terminals, voting machines, and poll books. It even goes as far as to request logins for the state’s voter registration database from employees. It would be expensive and time-consuming. Mastriano’s office currently doesn’t even have a plan for where to put all this paperwork and equipment if the counties comply.

This audit isn’t actually aimed at uncovering the truth about the 2020 election, nor is it capable of finding nonexistent fraud or proving that Donald Trump is the real winner of the election.

The point seems to be jockeying for position in next year’s crowded Republican gubernatorial primary. Even the supposed goal of delivering the audit, an unlikely prospect, takes a back seat to fighting for the audit, something that most of Mastriano’s competitors, who don’t have access to subpoena powers, can’t do.

This points to one of the most pernicious aspects of the Big Lie: the way that it traps our political debate in November forever. Constantly fighting for one more audit and one more batch of secret revelations means people never have to accept the truth — that President Joe Biden fairly won the election — because there’s always new revelations coming if you wait. The constant drumbeat also helps justify new and unnecessary restrictions on voting.

That’s why it is so important that this effort is rejected quickly and firmly. Not just by Democrats and the few Republicans who have consistently opposed this rhetoric from the start, but by senior Republicans in Harrisburg, and Mastriano’s colleagues on the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee. Harrisburg Republicans claim that their phones are ringing off the hook with constituents upset about the election and concerned about fraud, which they use to justify their support of wasteful audits. These calls will never end if Republicans continue to give them credence.

Instead of catering to voter fraud claims, Harrisburg Republicans need to stand up for the integrity of our elections, the work of our election administrators, and the rights of our voters. It is time for GOP leaders to finally deal with this decisively, and prove that they are still a political party with a vision for Pennsylvania — and not a tribute band obsessed with finding the unfindable — by rejecting this audit and any subpoenas meant to enable it.

American democracy cannot function if one party spends its energy on conspiracies instead of governing. It is up to Republicans to get their party back on track.

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Erie Times-News/GoErie. July 8, 2021.

Editorial: Wolf should have leveraged voter ID for election reforms

We don’t blame Governor Tom Wolf for vetoing Republican legislators’ bill to overhaul how Pennsylvania conducts its elections.

For every item in York County Republican Rep. Seth Grove’s House Bill 1300 that’d make elections better — like pre-canvassing, early in-person voting and pay increases for poll workers — there’s a corresponding measure that won’t — like heavily restricted drop boxes and smaller windows to register to vote and apply for mail-in ballots. Still, we believe both sides missed a chance to strike a meaningful compromise.

The controversial centerpiece of H.B. 1300 was its requirement that voters show ID every time they go to the polls. The American Civil Liberties Union and other progressive groups and voting rights organizations have long held that voter ID laws disenfranchise racial and ethnic minorities, those earning low incomes, the elderly and people with disabilities.

When Republican Tom Corbett was governor, he signed a voter photo ID bill that was later declared unconstitutional by a Commonwealth Court judge who ruled that it required specific forms of identification that weren’t feasible for segments of the population to obtain.

The Republicans’ latest push would have required counties to provide voters with registration cards that could be used to satisfy the ID requirements. Driver’s licenses, college IDs, a Pennsylvania care facility ID and any government-issued ID would also have sufficed.

Voters must present a photo ID when they cast their ballots in seven states, but the majority — 34 — have some form of identification requirement at the polls.

Opponents of voter ID laws say they’re a GOP ploy to win elections and frequently characterize them as “a solution in search of a problem” since voter fraud is rare.

The right-leaning Heritage Foundation, which tracks election fraud cases, lists only two documented cases in Pennsylvania since 2019. A former judge of elections and Democratic ward leader in Philadelphia was convicted of accepting bribes to inflate vote totals during the 2014, 2015 and 2016 primary elections, and a Delaware County man admitted casting a 2020 ballot for Donald Trump in the name of his dead mother.

Yet we don’t believe voter ID is “a solution in search of a problem” if the problem we’d like to tackle is a lack of faith in our elections.

A January Monmouth University poll found that 32% of the public incorrectly believed that Joe Biden only won the presidential election due to voter fraud. Among Republicans, the percentage jumped to 72%.

What chance do we have at truly being the “United” States of America when nearly three out of four members of one of its political parties believes a pillar of our democracy — the concept of “free and fair” elections — is a myth? That dangerous belief was a key ingredient in the toxic brew that led to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

We have to pause here to acknowledge that there would be no widespread concern about election integrity if Republicans in Pennsylvania and across the country had not fomented it with evidence-free claims that the election was stolen from Trump. To have Republicans now offering voter ID to restore election integrity is akin to them seeking payment for fixing the car they recklessly steered into a tree. But we digress.

If an ID requirement restores Republican voters’ all-important faith in our system for choosing our leaders, we’re for it, as long as Pennsylvania takes the best practices from the states that do it already and allays disenfranchisement fears by making it much easier for people without driver’s licenses to obtain an acceptable form of identification at no cost.

Here’s where we believe Wolf misplayed the hand he was dealt. With the failure of H.B. 1300, Republicans will push for a constitutional amendment to require voter ID. The bill needs to pass in two consecutive legislative sessions to be placed on the ballot for approval in an upcoming election.

The bill has passed once and the leadership has the votes to pass it again in the next session.

When the measure gets to the voters, it’s likely to pass there, too. A recent poll out of Franklin & Marshall College found 74% of 444 Pennsylvania voters surveyed last month favor requiring photo identification at the polls. Based on that, and how Pennsylvanians voted on the governor’s emergency powers in May, we feel confident voter ID will become the law of the land within the next three years.

Had Governor Wolf sought our advice on H.B. 1300, we’d have suggested that he tell the Republican leadership that he’d accept voter ID — since it’s probably coming whether he likes it or not — in exchange for elimination of the drop box restrictions, and the earlier voter registration and mail-in ballot application deadlines.

If Republicans refused to play ball, Wolf could have said they turned their backs on a great compromise. If they agreed to the deal, Pennsylvanians would have gotten voter ID plus pre-canvassing, more money to conduct elections, early in-person voting and the preservation of current drop box and mail-in voting provisions.

Instead, we get voter ID.

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Scranton Times-Tribune. July 13, 2021.

Editorial: Sound idea to rename expressway

Few American cities have the distinction of being a U.S. president’s birthplace. Scranton would be foolish not to memorialize its place in history as President Joe Biden’s place of birth — on Nov. 20, 1942, in the former St. Mary’s Hospital — all the more so because the president wears his affinity for his native city on his sleeve.

Soon after Biden’s inauguration, an early proposal called for renaming Wyoming Avenue between downtown Scranton and Biden’s childhood neighborhood in Green Ridge.

City council appointed a committee to consider the matter and it has come up with a better recommendation: rename the Central Scranton Expressway and Spruce Street, in downtown Scranton, for Biden.

The change would be in keeping with recognition that the region has bestowed upon other major political figures, including the McDade Expressway for the late Rep. Joseph M. McDade, and the Casey Highway for the late Gov. Robert P. Casey.

It also would enhance recognition of Biden’s tie to Scranton, in that millions of people each year would see signage on Interstate 81 for the Joe Biden Expressway.

Some people objected to the Wyoming Avenue idea because it would require 20 blocks’ worth of residential and business address changes. But Spruce Street is just six blocks long, with several full blocks occupied by buildings that have addresses on cross-streets — for example the Lackawanna County Courthouse on North Washington Avenue and the Scranton Times Building on Penn Avenue.

The recommendation is well-considered. Council and the Cognetti administration should approve it and begin the process of formalizing the recognition for the 46th president’s deepest tie to Scranton.

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Altoona Mirror. July, 12, 2021.

Editorial: Sports law levels field for athletes

As the $40.8 billion state budget bill suddenly zoomed through the Capitol, lawmakers quietly passed a long-overdue bill that will create fair compensation opportunities for college athletes in Pennsylvania.

In terms of competition, Penn State, Pitt and Temple football fans, and basketball fans of those and other major programs in the state, can rest a bit easier because the bill is similar to laws that legislatures of six Southeast Conference states recently passed.

The Pennsylvania university sports programs will not be at a disadvantage, then, in recruiting star athletes.

But more than that is that the law will add to the pressure on the NCAA to devise a fair way for the young athletes to share some of the billions of dollars that they generate for their schools, conferences and the NCAA itself.

The measure, signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf,

- Authorizes college athletes to earn compensation for the use of their names or images.

-Prohibits universities and the NCAA from hindering athletes legally seeking compensation, and from using the prospect of compensation as a recruiting incentive.

-Requires entities selling college team merchandise to make a royalty payment to each athlete whose name, image or likeness is used on the merchandise.

The bill does provide universities with the ability to preclude licensing deals for athletes that conflict with its own, and it allows them to reject arrangements that conflict with the university’s values.

Even though it might have to be tweaked as practices develop on the ground, this bill is a good first step into the new world of compensation for college athletes.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. July 6, 2021.

Editorial: Stop feeding the birds. For now

At a time of year when great joy can be realized by watching our feathered friends splash in garden bird baths, peck at backyard feeders, sing from perches in the trees outside our windows, some bad news has landed.

A mysterious disease that is killing birds has raised some hackles among experts in our neck of the woods.

The advice from those experts: take down our bird feeders and drain the bird baths. In short, get rid of anything that is luring birds to our backyards and to our gardens and our decks. The goal is to stem the spread of the illness.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission last week issued an alert with the recommendations.

Experts are trying to discern the cause of the disease that is affecting songbirds in 10 states and parts of Pennsylvania. Among the threatened are starlings, blue jays, robins, cardinals and common grackles.

The disease, which causes erratic flight and swollen, crusty eyes, has been identified in states surrounding Pennsylvania, including Ohio, Maryland and West Virginia.

As of the time of the alert, it had not reached Western Pennsylvania.

The Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania has suggested removal and cleaning (with a 10% bleach solution) of bird feeders and bird baths.

And, of course, people and pets should stay away from sick and dead birds where possible.

While there is no evidence the disease can spread to humans, much is unknown at present.

To dispose of dead birds, people are advised to place (with gloved hands) the dead bodies of the birds in a sealable plastic bag then discard it with household trash.

There may be some connection to the cicadas that were in evidence recently or to the pesticides used to control the cicada, but nothing is definitive, and many groups and agencies are evaluating.

One thing seems certain at this juncture: It would be best for man and beast if our feathered friends would, for now, just fly, fly away.

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