Editorial Roundup: Pennsylvania

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Pennsylvania’s newspapers:

Please don’t use unreliable sources of information — especially in a crisis like the one Lancaster faces now

LNP

Sept. 15

Ricardo Miguel Muñoz, 27, was fatally shot by a Lancaster city police officer Sunday afternoon outside his parents’ city home. A video released by the Lancaster City Bureau of Police showed Muñoz brandishing a knife at the police officer before the officer fired his weapon several times at Muñoz. Rulennis Muñoz, sister of Ricardo Muñoz, told LNP ' LancasterOnline’s Dan Nephin on Monday that her brother was mentally ill and hadn’t been taking his medications. Rulennis Muñoz said she had called a crisis intervention organization and a Lancaster police nonemergency number Sunday afternoon to find out how she could get her brother involuntarily committed. Protests Sunday and early Monday morning devolved into rioting. Police attempted to disperse the crowd by using a chemical agent.

At a news conference Monday, Lancaster city officials urged people to get beyond the narrative of what happened Sunday and consider the bigger issues at play — chief among them the need for more mental health services in Lancaster County.

We will, but not today.

Today, we make a simple and direct plea: Please choose your sources of information wisely. In a crisis like the one our beautiful city now faces, it is essential that we rely on verified facts.

And you won’t get those from the malicious trolls that began swarming on Twitter on Sunday, latching onto the story of a diverse American city in turmoil like seagulls on a discarded sandwich.

Or from the ill-informed posts and comments that were shared on Facebook.

Or from the partisans who seized on this tragic story and its aftermath to score political points in a contest no one wins — least of all the people directly affected.

The consequences of relying on unreliable reports can be serious.

As Delia Sanchez, co-chair of Lancaster city’s Community & Police Working Group, put it at the Monday news conference, the “false narratives” that circulated on social media Sunday brought out a multitude of people, attracting “infiltrators” bent on sowing division and doing harm.

“This,” she said, “is not what we want for our city.”

This is not what any of us should want.

LNP ' LancasterOnline news reporters were on the scene of both Sunday’s shooting and the ensuing protests, long into the early hours of Monday, and if you followed their reports on Facebook Live, you might have noticed them saying, over and over again, words to the effect of, “This is what we know. This is what we’ve been able to confirm.”

As rumors swirled on social media, LNP ' LancasterOnline news reporters repeatedly made clear what they had not yet been able to learn and what they had not been able to verify. That kind of responsible journalism makes all the difference in a powder keg of a situation.

This is not meant to be a plug for this newspaper. This is a plea for relying on verified facts — a crucial practice always, but even more important when there are forces at work trying to divide us by spreading disinformation.

As Lancaster city Mayor Danene Sorace noted at the news conference Monday, there is a great deal of pain in our city right now — and it is “raw and it is real.”

Some of the very people experiencing that pain were protesters who, as city Council President Ismail Smith-Wade-El pointed out, worked Sunday night into Monday morning to keep agitators from setting fires and causing other kinds of harm. We appreciate their efforts.

As LNP ' LancasterOnline’s Claudia Esbenshade reported Sunday evening, some protesters were helping direct traffic on North Prince Street, so the gathering crowd outside the Lancaster City Bureau of Police on nearby West Chestnut Street didn’t clog the city streets.

Online: https://bit.ly/32yuXCV

___

State better be ready for Election Day

Altoona Mirror

Sept. 12

A short ballot will greet voters here and across Pennsylvania on Nov. 3.

Voters who go to the polls that day, as well as those who choose to make their selections by way of a mail-in or absentee ballot, will have little difficulty navigating the actual process of responsible decision-making.

The election’s biggest challenge will rest with the election officials tasked with counting and recording accurately the results of the balloting; Nov. 3 will be mail-in voting’s biggest test thus far in Pennsylvania and some other states, even though some others have allowed such voting for years.

The question of how to ensure the most efficient, quick and accurate ballot count in such an important election might in fact be causing some sleepless nights for officials responsible for ensuring the best election experience possible.

Unfortunately, with fewer than 60 days remaining before Election Day, the most logical and efficient means for making Pennsylvania shine on that important November day remains elusive because of procrastination and abject failure by the people whose responsibility it is to adopt the most workable, modern election rules within the spirit of bipartisanship.

Those people are the members of the Pennsylvania Legislature — lawmakers who routinely muddle some of the simplest tasks.

The most logical and efficient asset for the election less than two months from now should be — but is not yet — freedom to pre-canvass or count mail-in and absentee ballots received prior to Election Day.

A time should be set aside for counting such early ballots just before Election Day under strict supervision, so those results can be added without delay to the totals emanating from the counting conducted election night after the polls close.

Properly administered, such an early count need not be the subject of suspicion or conspiracy theories. The way early ballots are received and counted should inspire utmost confidence, not some other responses less positive.

The cross-partisan coalition VoteSafe describes itself as an organization endorsing and defending the basic principle that every American has the right to vote safely amid the pandemic. Meanwhile, VoteSafe Pennsylvania, a part of the national VoteSafe organization, while pushing for the same things as the parent group, is taking the groups’ messages to the smallest of communities, hoping to garner voter support.

For Pennsylvania residents, there is a familiar name among the leaders of the national organization. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a co-chair, is urging the commonwealth and other states to lift the restriction on election officials from beginning to process mail-in and absentee ballots prior to the general election.

Regardless of the fate of mail-in voting over the long term, making this election work within the expectations of this year’s voters cannot be described as anything short of mandatory. Harrisburg should have had its proverbial homework done months ago, and no credit is deserved for having allowed partisanship to get in the way of quick agreement.

VoteSafe Pennsylvania is urging beefed-up negotiations on broad election reform in this state, and the Office of Attorney General and Department of State are issuing warnings about robocalls spreading disinformation to suppress Nov. 3 voting.

However, more important is that a swing state of Pennsylvania’s size does not prevent the presidential race from being decided for days or longer after Nov. 3. The remedy will be easy in this short-ballot year, if it is permitted to be.

Online: https://bit.ly/3hDndUm

___

Duquesne prof’s slur use was wrong choice

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Sept. 15

To say or not to say.

It isn’t a question. It’s a decision. And it’s not something new. It’s something very old.

Today’s political climate has a tendency to divide people sharply over everything, but language is a real sticking point. While some are calling out verbal offenses, others are bristling at politically correct policing.

The sides ebb and flow with the words. No one has cornered the market on being hurt or angry. And a word that was once OK can change in a heartbeat.

But while someone might be unaware of the impact of some words — crazy, moron, articulate — there is one that should require no explanation.

We won’t use it, but you know exactly what it is. It starts with an “N” and that’s all the description it ever needs.

The N-word is no microaggression. It has been scrawled across threatening graffiti and accompanied promises of death. It has undermined the lives of an entire population for generations. It is the very soul of aggressive language.

And that is why that unmistakable word has no business in a classroom.

A Duquesne University professor was placed on paid leave Friday after using that word in an educational psychology class last week. Not only did he use it, but he encouraged others to do so as well. Video clips of the virtual class were published to Twitter, and the reaction was swift.

“I’m giving you permission to use the word, OK, because we’re using the word in a pedagogical sense,” Professor Gary Shank is heard saying. Shank, who is white, cites examples of the word’s common use, back when he was young. “Could we do that nowadays?” he asked. “Absolutely not.” Ipso facto, he did.

The problem is, the use of the word, even in the classroom setting, isn’t Shank’s to license. A college professor shouldn’t have to have that explained. For a college lecture, whatever the purpose of the class was that day, simply referring to “the N-word” would suffice.

Any number of Black hip-hop artists and writers use the N-word and its variations liberally in their work. But that in no way gives license for a white writer, artist or professor to deploy the word, even in a clinical setting or with the best of pedagogical intentions.

“To be clear, I believe that there is never a time, pedagogically or otherwise, for a professor to create a hostile learning environment,” School of Education Dean Gretchen Generett said.

She is right.

Shank did not just say a forbidden word. It wasn’t an unplanned utterance, like a shout when stubbing a toe. It was an orchestration, complete with a presentation slide that said “Race (from a cultural sense).”

Saying the word was a decision. And it was the wrong one.

Online: https://bit.ly/3mvuZTU

___

Reject effort to kill state solar industry

The Scranton Times-Tribune

Sept. 15

Advocates of an innovative means to expand solar energy production while generating cash for farms apparently have forgotten that they are in Pennsylvania.

Weeks after the solar advocates testified at a hearing of the House Consumer Affairs Committee, Republican Sen. Gene Yaw of Lycoming County — the chief legislative guardian of gas interests and chairman of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee — said he would introduce a bill that is a thinly disguised poison pill to kill solar development.

The House bill would provide a state tax credit for residents who invest in solar generation other than at their own homes. The idea is to help farms install solar arrays on barns and in fields where the structures would provide shade for crops that favor it, or for animals. Leslie Elder, Mid-Atlantic regional director for the Coalition for Community Solar Access, testified that if the bill passes, 220 solar projects in 40 counties will be ready to proceed. Under leases that already have been negotiated, Elder said, farmers would receive between $3 million and $4 million.

aw, a cheerleader for more than $2 billion in state tax credits that have been awarded to businesses for using natural gas produced in Pennsylvania, plans to stifle the use of tax credits to expand solar generation.

His bill would require expensive bonds on solar and wind projects to cover the eventual costs of disposing of solar panels and wind turbines. He claimed similar bonds are required for other types of energy projects, but those bonds cover the potential public costs of pollution that those projects generate. Renewable generation does not produce pollution, and the pollution produced by manufacturing the components for solar panels and turbines is no greater than that created by the production of other energy-producing equipment.

The Legislature should reject Yaw’s bill. If it doesn’t, Gov. Tom Wolf should veto it.

Online: https://bit.ly/2FtXG3g

___

Pa., York County have a big say in ’20

The York Dispatch

Sept. 14

As the presidential candidates enter a final Election Day sprint unlike any in history, a number of aspects of this year’s race have become clear:

Mail-in balloting will rise to unprecedented levels.

Disinformation and partisan fog will blanket traditional and — especially — social media.

Pennsylvania is likely to once again play an outsize role in determining who runs the nation for the next four years.

And if Pennsylvania is among the influential swing states in this election, York County will again be among the influential counties.

That was certainly the case in 2016, when York County voters provided the difference in a razor-thin statewide win that helped propel the Republican candidate, who had been trailing in most polls, to a surprise election-night victory.

And it’s not likely to be any different in 2020.

The candidates certainly think so. President Donald Trump has made repeated visits to the Keystone State during his nearly four years in office, and both he and Democratic challenger Joe Biden had the memorial site at Shanksville on their Sept. 11 itineraries.

National media thinks so, too. Both The New York Times and The Washington Post did deep dives last week into voter preferences and likely trends. Both found that voter intensity may matter more in central Pennsylvania than the much-ballyhooed up-for-grabs suburbs. For instance, the state’s rural vote, while just 20% of the electorate, could make the difference in a close race, the Times determined.

“The suburbs get a lot of attention because you have those counties that used to be red, and now they’re blue. When you see that on a map on TV, it looks dramatic,” David Hopkins, a political writer and an associate professor of political science at Boston College told the Times. “But all these places that went from like 60-40 Republican to 80-20 for Trump are just as dramatic, and they were critical to the result.”

York County went 2-1 for Trump in 2016, giving him a 60,000-vote advantage and pushing him across the finish line in a race that saw him edge Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton by just slightly more than 44,000 votes. That puts York County voters — whether they widen the margin for Trump or line up in larger numbers for Biden — in the driver’s seat again this year as the state’s 20 electoral votes are decided.

It’s not just voters’ political leanings that are on the national radar. Also being watched is a lawsuit over voter access that could have national implications. The Pennsylvania NAACP is arguing that the state made inadequate provisions for the June primaries after numerous polling places were closed or consolidated amid the coronavirus outbreak. For the general election, it’s seeking state-mandated remedies including mailing every voter an application to cast ballots by mail, more numerous polling locations so wait times do not exceed 30 minutes, and expanding the number of drop boxes for ballots.

Republican opposition to such measures, up to and including the White House, is no surprise. The president has done everything in his power to sow chaos and confusion ahead of Nov. 3, including casting aspersions on the safety and accuracy of mail-in voting, making baseless allegations of voter fraud, threatening to send an army of poll-watchers to polling stations across the country and urging supporters to (illegally) vote twice.

He’s a mess, but Pennsylvania’s voting process needn’t be. Remember, regardless of the NAACP lawsuit, voters can already request an absentee ballot for any reason. Given the last-minute legal finagling and the persistence of the coronavirus pandemic, voters should avail themselves of this opportunity.

York County voters were a big part of the biggest political story of 2016. Regardless of how this year’s script plays out, they are poised to once again fill a leading role.

Online: https://bit.ly/2ZGJquU

___