Editorial Roundup: Pennsylvania

Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice. August 15, 2022.

Editorial: Urgent case for open primaries

More than 740,000 registered Pennsylvania voters are not affiliated with any party.

It always has been wrong, as a matter of principle, to disenfranchise unaffiliated voters in primary elections. And the current election environment demonstrates why doing so also is bad for the democratic process and governance.

There is little doubt that Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano is the most extreme fringe candidate to receive a major party nomination to high office in modern Pennsylvania history. He has claimed authority to invalidate the votes of millions of Pennsylvanians, has played footsie with an antisemitic internet site and campaigned under the banner of far-right Christian nationalism.

Mastriano’s overreaching on behalf of the far-right base is such that House Speaker Bryan Cutler, himself a Republican conservative, recently said that he would preclude Mastriano, if he becomes governor, from appointing false electors following the 2024 presidential election. Mastriano played a role in appointing false electors following the 2020 presidential election, in an attempt to invalidate the votes of 6.8 million Pennsylvanians.

To achieve the nomination, Mastriano appealed exclusively to the far-right base, easily defeating a field that was dominated by far-right candidates.

Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro did not have a primary opponent. He’s a progressive, but recognizing that Mastriano has abandoned the moderate elements of his own party, Shapiro has been campaigning on themes like reduced corporate taxation.

It’s worth pondering how the Republican primary race might have been different if state law allowed independent voters to cast ballots for candidates in primary elections.

According to the Committee of Seventy, a good-governance advocacy group that promotes open primaries, 52% of Pennsylvania’s unaffiliated voters identify themselves as “moderates.”

It is likely, then, that allowing them to participate in primaries would have a moderating effect on extremist candidates of either major party by forcing them to appeal to a broader electorate before the general election.

The House State Government Committee will conduct a hearing on open primaries Tuesday at Villanova University. It should be the first step toward open primaries, which would improve elections and, therefore, resulting governance.

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Scranton Times-Tribune. August 12, 2022.

Editorial: State’s rare opportunity in ‘rare earths’

In Pennsylvania, orange could be the new gold.

At a House Republican Policy Committee meeting this week, a Penn State professor raised the intriguing prospect that abandoned mines that spew heavy metals into streams across the state — often tinting the water orange — could be mined anew for high-value “rare earth” elements.

There are 17 rare earth elements, and many are crucial for high-tech manufacturing, electric vehicle and battery development, and national defense. Yet the United States imports almost all of the rare earth elements and other critical materials that it needs for those purposes.

China has been the dominant producer of rare-earth elements for more than a quarter century. The United States imports about 80% of the crucial materials from China, a problem that grows along with trade tensions, China’s belligerence toward Taiwan and related security issues.

Sarma Pisupati, a professor of energy and mineral engineering at Penn State and director of its Center for Critical Minerals, testified Tuesday that Pennsylvania has a major opportunity to develop a critical materials industry while cleaning up a great deal of lingering mine pollution.

“The only way to break this foreign reliance is to build a robust, domestic supply chain,” Pisupati said. “We need to explore secondary resources, including industry byproducts such as coal mining waste from abandoned coal mines, refuse piles, fly ash from coal-burning power plants. Pennsylvania is rich in these resources. Locked inside this waste are significant quantities of rare earth elements and other critical minerals. By modifying the existing treatment processes, we can address multiple problems, getting the material we need for national security and remediating long-standing environmental problems at the same time.”

Pisupati highlighted cobalt, manganese and lithium as rare earth elements that can be extracted from mine waste in Pennsylvania.

Other coal-industry states, including Wyoming and Kentucky, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy, have launched pilot projects to extract rare earth minerals from coal waste.

Pennsylvania has not only coal waste, but the academic and industrial expertise to try to make a valuable resource out of pollution. The state government should launch an industrial-scale pilot project.

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Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. August 11, 2022.

Editorial: Too much Super PAC money in Pa.’s U.S. Senate race

Money makes elections go around.

That’s nothing new. Political fundraisers are the only things more common in a campaign than stump speeches and kissing babies.

Like it or not, they make the rest of a campaign possible. They provide the capital to pay for ads on television and online, the buttons and yard signs that make the candidate’s name a household word, the travel from city to city and all of the other moving parts that keep a campaign machine on the road.

But some election money is hard to trust because it can be hard to follow.

When you are looking at the campaigns themselves, the breadcrumbs can be easier by design. You are supposed to know who is giving money to a candidate, either incumbent or challenger. There are rules to follow, forms to fill out and websites that post the data so anyone can track it. You can also track spending, so you can see not just where the money comes from, but also how much of it finds its way back to the same pocket.

Then there are the third parties. Political action committees always break out their checkbooks for election cycles, especially in midterm years. They exist to raise money and donate it to candidates and committees that support their objectives.

Super PACs came about after the 2010 Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, creating an entity with more spending power than a regular PAC and less association with the campaigns. Those taglines on ads about “I approve this message” don’t appear on Super PAC videos.

Why does this matter now? Because Pennsylvania is drowning in Super PAC money, specifically related to the U.S. Senate race between Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat, and his Republican counterpart, Dr. Mehmet Oz.

The Philadelphia Inquirer pointed to $34 million from the Senate Leadership Fund to the Oz campaign and $32 million from the Democratic Senate Majority PAC for Fetterman.

Is this legal? Yes. And by law, the campaigns aren’t even supposed to have any coordination with the Super PACs, so they can’t really be held responsible for anything the operations might do in favor of one candidate or in opposition of another.

But plenty of things are legal and not necessarily beneficial. Super PACs would fall into that category.

The Keystone State is already a playground for national political interests in this election more than the best interests of Pennsylvanians. The Senate race has become about a tug-of-war for power in the federal government, not what is happening for teachers in Pittsburgh, farmers in Greensburg or factory workers in New Kensington.

More than $60 million in outside money to sway Pennsylvanians’ votes just illustrates how much control Super PACs have in attempting to pull strings.

There’s nothing that can be done to stop it, but voters can do what they can by being active participants in the process. Push for answers over ad space and plans over politics, and maybe the influence of all that money can be mitigated.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. August 11, 2022.

Editorial: We need more electric vehicle charging stations now, before we really need them

While electric vehicle technology improves and becomes less expensive for consumers, now is the time to built out a robust network of charging stations. This network should be considered a public good, just like service plazas with gas stations on the interstate highways and the federal highway system itself. Charging stations are essential infrastructure.

Right now, though, electric vehicles are in a catch-22. Many people won’t buy them because there aren’t enough charging stations. But few businesses (especially outside cities) can afford to build charging stations until many more people have EVs.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $1.5 billion a year for five years to expand the country’s EV fast-charging station network. In Pennsylvania, that means $171.5 million and 150 charging stations across the state, filling gaps along major highways so drivers never have to go more than 50 miles to charge up. Fast-charging stations can get a battery to about 80% in half an hour.

This shouldn’t be considered an act of federal favoritism toward electric vehicles at the expense of gas-powered ones. Rather, it’s a boost to allow the two types of cars to compete on par by closing one of the main gaps between them: ease of filling up.

Right now, a third of Pennsylvania’s fast-charging stations, and two-thirds of the state’s fast-charging ports, are owned by Tesla and designed only for Tesla vehicles. The company has planned to update its Supercharger network so that all EVs can use them. The company should be considered a potential partner in expanding Pennsylvania’s network — both by upgrading current stations and building new ones.

A potential snag in PennDOT’s plan is whether federal funds can be used to install charging stations at Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission-owned service plazas. Especially in rural south-central Pennsylvania, these are the only suitable locations for fast-charging stations. State and federal officials should quickly work together to resolve the funding dilemma. If the state can’t use the federal funds, it should allocate funding from its surplus to the Turnpike Commission to install stations at service plazas.

Electric vehicles may not replace gas-powered ones for a long time. But as EV technology improves moment by moment, the state must stay ahead by building out an EV infrastructure that’s ready for the future.

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Philadelphia Daily News/Inquirer. August 11, 2022.

Editorial: Where pot meets kettle: Oz’s flimsy attack on Fetterman’s finances

The Republican nominee for Pa.’s U.S. Senate seat has tried to paint his Democratic opponent as an out-of-touch trust fund baby. It’s a curious — if not hypocritical — tactic.

Mehmet Oz, the celebrity doctor turned Republican Senate nominee in Pennsylvania, owns mansions in Palm Beach, Fla., and North Jersey, along with a $1 million cattle farm in Florida and a $3.2 million estate he recently purchased in Montgomery County. Oz and his wife together are worth more than $100 million.

So, it is beyond absurd for Oz to try to paint his opponent, Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman, as some sort of out-of-touch trust-fund baby.

This is where the pot meets the kettle.

Oz called Fetterman a “pretend populist.” The TV show host thinks Fetterman is somehow misleading voters with his “just a dude” image because he wears hoodies and shorts — yet he grew up in a comfortable home and long received financial support from his parents. To be sure, Fetterman is not struggling to pay his bills, but he is nowhere near Oz’s financial cushion.

As lieutenant governor, Fetterman makes $271,610 a year. His financial disclosure form lists assets between $717,000 and $1.58 million, but up to $1 million is in bank accounts for his three children. That’s a portfolio most people would envy — but still dwarfed by Oz’s own.

Fetterman has never shied away from his affluent upbringing in York County. His parents married at age 19 and his dad became a successful insurance executive. They paid for Fetterman’s college education and supported him for many years as an adult. Their financial help enabled Fetterman to devote much of his life to public service.

Fetterman spent two years in the insurance industry but was moved to leave the private sector after a friend died in a car accident. He volunteered for Big Brothers, Big Sisters, mentored an 8-year-old boy who lost his parents to AIDS, and then joined AmeriCorps in Pittsburgh.

After earning a master’s in public policy at Harvard, Fetterman moved to Braddock to run a GED and life-skills program for high school dropouts. He said the job paid $33,000 a year. He then became mayor of Braddock, a borough about eight miles east of Pittsburgh.

Fetterman was mayor from 2006 to 2019. The job, which had few formal duties, paid $1,800 a year. During that time, Fetterman started a nonprofit, which focused on civic projects and charitable causes in Braddock, including a coat drive, a grant for surveillance cameras, and a headstone for a 2-year-old who was murdered.

It’s telling that Oz doesn’t get that Fetterman’s lived experience is actually an asset. Because Fetterman’s parents supported him financially, he could spend time in the trenches, providing an up-close understanding of the challenges Pennsylvania residents face. Despite a relatively meager legislative background, Fetterman has spent time in local and state government, which is something that’s missing from Oz’s resumé.

It’s also worth noting that Fetterman, who was reared in York, has deep roots in the commonwealth. Although Oz studied medicine and business at Penn and said that he moved to Pennsylvania in 2020, his ties to our state have been questioned.

Oz tries to connect with voters by talking derisively about “elites.” He blamed “elite thinkers” for mishandling the pandemic: “Elites with yards told those without yards to stay inside, where the virus was more likely to spread.”

This coming from an Ivy League-trained doctor with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame who posed for a photo spread in People magazine while giving a video tour of his 9,100-square-foot, six-bedroom, eight-bathroom hillside mansion with an indoor basketball court, wine cellar, pool, and cabana in New Jersey.

Oz’s lavish lifestyle has left him with a distorted perspective on how the other half live.

Rather than ginning up a flimsy attack on Fetterman, Oz would be better served making his case why voters in Pennsylvania should support a celebrity doctor from New Jersey.

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