Editorial Roundup: Pennsylvania

Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice. November 21, 2022.

Editorial: Democrats’ state House win significant

The surprising success of Democrats in capturing control of the Pennsylvania state House signals a change in direction and philosophy for state policymaking.

Democrats won 102 seats in the 203-member House in the Nov. 8 election and they will take control of the House for the first time since 2010. The shift resulted after a decade of population realignment and political maps were redrawn.

The state Senate will remain firmly in Republican control, but the election result still represents a major reversal for the GOP, which held a 23-seat edge in the House going into the election. In the state’s top race, Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro trounced Republican nominee Doug Mastriano.

A major aspect of Democratic House control rests in what it may halt, other than preventing constant political torment for Shapiro from both legislative houses.

Democrats will be able to block the recent Republican taste for bypassing the traditional legislative process and attempting to enact measures through amendments to the constitution, which could not be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. Republicans have proposed a torrent of amendments in recent years in order to evade the traditional process and they put the measures on primary election ballots during municipal elections, which draw sparse turnout.

The shift also represents an opportunity to press for popular Democratic priorities.

The top task should be an increase in the state’s dismal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which has been in place since 2008. Every state adjoining Pennsylvania has a higher base wage. There is no justification to maintain a poverty-level wage.

Education reforms should also be a priority, including fairer funding for school districts and a long overdue realignment of funding for the state’s charter schools.

Also, Democrats should press for improvements to the elections process, including approval of early counting of mailed ballots, assuring voter access to polls and providing adequate funding for county election operations.

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Scranton Times-Tribune. November 18, 2022.

Editorial: Mastriano case for open primaries

Pennsylvania Republicans craving the governorship after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s two terms were foiled this year by a superior candidate in Democratic Governor-elect Josh Shapiro, and by their own primary election system. It produced the disastrous Republican nominee, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who lost by 14 percentage points and probably hurt Republican candidates down the ballot.

Part of that walloping was because independent voters overwhelmingly chose Shapiro by more than 2-1.

There are 1.4 million independents among Pennsylvania’s 8.7 million registered voters, and they are the fastest-growing cohort. Yet state law does not allow them to vote in primary elections, leaving voters of each party alone to pick their candidates, or in Mastriano’s case, their poison.

The only issue in this year’s Republican gubernatorial primary was which candidate could express the greatest degree of fealty to former President Donald Trump.

Mastriano had credibility in that regard. He regurgitated Trump’s lie that the 2020 presidential election in Pennsylvania had been stolen from Trump. He introduced a Senate resolution to prevent the election’s certification. He funded bus trips to Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, to oppose Congress’ certification of the Electoral College vote and hung around the Capitol amid the insurrection. He participated in the effort to name false electors.

That primary cred, however, was fatal in the general election. That’s why Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz attempted to dive to the center during the general election campaign after courting Trump’s endorsement to beat David McCormick in the primary.

Mastriano didn’t even try to court voters beyond the Trump base, and got shellacked.

There is a ready means for parties to save themselves from bad candidates and improve governance in the process.

Pennsylvania should adopt open primaries, which would allow independents to vote for candidates in primaries. If this year’s primary had been open, independents who helped clock Mastriano in the general election might have beaten him in the primary instead.

Open primaries could go a long way toward limiting extremism in either major-party primary and producing better nominees. The Senate passed an open-primary bill in 2019 but it died in the House. The full Legislature should approve the change in the new session.

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Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. November 22, 2022.

Editorial: Is lieutenant governor question too important to be bundled?

When it comes to the U.S. government, no one is drafted to be vice president. It’s an honored invitation. Presidential candidates search for someone who is a complement, providing strengths where there are weaknesses while still having a similar overall direction. Sometimes that’s a real partnership. Other times, it’s a waiting game. Regardless, the vice presidential candidate knows who the top of the ticket is when signing on.

For governors, it can be different. In some states, it happens like the presidency. In others, the lieutenant governor is a separate job that runs independently, just like a legislator or mayor who happens to be on the ticket at the same time. A few have no lieutenant governor at all.

Then there’s Pennsylvania — and a handful of other states — where a candidate decides to run for lieutenant governor. When the primary narrows the field to one nominee from each major party, those people are politically handcuffed to their party’s gubernatorial nominee in a joint ticket.

The benefit here is that it avoids a situation like the presidency had in the early years when John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who hated each other, occupied the top two seats of government. On the other hand, it shackles people who never chose to work together and might not have a similar vision. See Gov. Tom Wolf and his first lieutenant governor, Mike Stack, for example.

In 2023, Pennsylvanians might have a chance to vote on a change that would make the state process function more like it does federally. It was part of Senate Bill 106, a joint resolution that would make a number of changes to the state constitution, including stating there is no right to abortion under state law, making it easier to evade a gubernatorial veto and allowing for election auditing.

That bill was challenged by Wolf in July on grounds that it throws too many issues into one confusing decision for voters. The state Supreme Court declined to expedite the issue, which could go before voters in the May primary.

It needs to clear the hurdle of another vote from the Legislature in a consecutive session to make it onto the ballot. With the state House of Representatives changing hands, there is no guarantee that will happen. That gives time for careful thought about the issue.

The question deserves to be considered on its own merits rather than being bundled with other complicated political and philosophical issues. It could change not only how lieutenant governors are selected in the future but also who steps forward and how. It could make the process more closed-door and private.

It’s an important distinction with good arguments either way. That means that if a decision about whether to change how the position is handled will go in front of the voters, the voters deserve the opportunity to focus on it without additional issues muddying the waters.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. November 21, 2022.

Editorial: Pa. GOP cynically torpedoed popular bike safety measure

Pennsylvania Republican legislators made another ill-advised attempt to undermine Philadelphia’s twice-elected district attorney, Larry Krasner. This time, they attached an unrelated provision regarding Philadelphia-area law enforcement to a bipartisan bill that would have bolstered bicycle safety.

Because the bike safety bill also included provisions for a special prosecutor in southeast Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf was forced to veto it, including the proposed bike lanes.

To save the bike lanes, legislators ought to reintroduce the original bill and return it to the governor’s desk as soon as possible. The bill would revise the state vehicle code to allow for bike lanes between the curb and parallel-parked cars, providing a buffer from moving traffic.

This commonsense bill stalled in the Senate Transportation Committee, where Republican legislators, with State Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R.-Cambria, running point, attached a measure to it covering law enforcement in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA).

The SEPTA plan called for appointing a special prosecutor to litigate criminal cases that arise from the SEPTA system, such as assaults on trains and buses, vandalism and drug offenses on SEPTA property. This imprudent proposal is based on the unsupported assumption that Mr. Krasner, the progressive Philadelphia DA, has allowed crime to go unchecked in the city, especially on SEPTA.

Mr. Krasner’s alleged lax policies on crime also drove the unlawful impeachment proceedings that culminated last week in a House impeachment vote of 107-85. For the General Assembly to remove an elected local official, without proper cause, would set a horrible precedent that effectively disenfranchises local voters.

The SEPTA plan also encroaches on the affairs of a local community. The transit authority covers five counties, and a supermajority of the representatives from those five counties opposed having a special prosecutor for SEPTA.

In both cases, legislative shenanigans and meddling in local affairs gave state politics a bad name. GOP leadership should consider whether self-defeating tactics that accomplish nothing for the people of Pennsylvania contributed to the party’s surprising and historic loss of its state House majority in the midterm elections.

Mr. Krasner was re-elected last year by a landslide. If the people of Philadelphia, who are also the lion’s share of SEPTA riders, disapprove of him, they can vote him out in three years.

In running the legislature unopposed for more than a decade, Republicans may have forgotten that they’re there to serve the people of Pennsylvania. Now the state House GOP will have at least two years in the minority to figure out a better way of governing.

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