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

Pa.’s GOP: Pro-Trump, anti voting

The York Dispatch

Dec. 13

The next time Rep. Scott Perry comes looking for your vote, ask him what the hell he wants it for.

Because as far as he and too many liked-minded partisan brethren are concerned, Pennsylvania’s ballot boxes might just as well be trash cans.

Perry was one of seven Pennsylvania Congress members — all Republicans — who signed off on an incredible lawsuit out of Texas last week asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn presidential election results in the key swings states of Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and … Pennsylvania!

That’s right: They sought to overturn the votes of their own constituents — Republicans included — in deference to the charade that President Donald Trump would have won reelection but for voting “irregularities.”

“Given the failure of Pennsylvania to address these inconsistencies and irregularities, and the violation of constitutional rights, action at the federal level must be considered,” Perry said in a prepared statement.

Inconsistencies? Irregularities? Violations? There’s a dictum in writing: Show, don’t tell. And neither Perry nor Trump’s celebrity lawyer Rudy Giuliani nor anyone else has shown any evidence to support these baseless allegations. There’s a string of 50-plus rejected lawsuits, many in Pennsylvania, many handed down by Republican and even Trump-appointed judges, that attest to this fact.

For the record, Trump, who has never won a popular vote, didn’t just lose to President-elect Joe Biden last month, he lost soundly: 306-232 in the Electoral College and by more than 7 million ballots in the popular vote.

Yet an unseemly, undemocratic exercise in fantasy has taken much of the Republican Party hostage. Nearly 120 other House Republicans joined Perry & Co. in support of the lawsuit by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — itself endorsed by GOP attorneys general in 17 other states — which asked the Supreme Court to demand the four swing states throw out the popular results and name presidential electors themselves because “the 2020 election suffered from significant and unconstitutional irregularities.”

Amazing how these “irregularities” only crop up in closely fought states that tipped Democratic, isn’t it?

The Supreme Court, despite a conservative majority and a third of its members being Trump appointees, tersely and summarily rejected the suit.

Left unaddressed by the court but worth noting is the distinct waft of racism emanating from an effort by Republican lawmakers to disenfranchise voters in states where cities like Philadelphia and Detroit, populated largely by people of color, accounted for the margins of victory. To paraphrase one social-media wag, the states that worked hardest to keep African-American citizens from voting tried to sue the states that counted their votes.

But it goes beyond even that in Pennsylvania. What do Perry and the state’s Republican lawmakers have against free and fair elections?

Recall, last week’s support of the Texas lawsuit was preceded by the equally antidemocratic spectacle of 64 Pennsylvania Republicans urging Congress to block their own state from casting electoral votes for Biden. To say nothing of the party’s pre-election efforts to suppress and complicate a pandemic-overshadowed election.

These weaselly maneuvers are especially disappointing given the courageous and patriotic stand taken by Republican state leaders elsewhere, including in Georgia and Arizona. Like Pennsylvania’s lawmakers, they’ve been leaned on by Trump. Unlike Pennsylvania’s lawmakers, they’ve stood up for their residents, the integrity of the election and the very tenets of democracy.

There have been few such profiles in courage among Pennsylvania’s Republican ranks.

The Electoral College is scheduled to formally cast its state-certified ballots Monday, going a long way to finalizing the results and bringing to a close the GOP’s sordid campaign to overturn a free, fair and well-run election. The fabric of the nation’s republic will have held, barely, but it will be no thanks to the Scott Perrys of the political world.

The next time he asks for something as valuable as your vote, remember how much he truly values it.



Eviction is the New Year’s gift that no one deserves but millions could get

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Dec. 16

Millions of households nationwide could find themselves evicted from their homes soon after New Year’s Day as one of the last safeguards from eviction during the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nationwide eviction moratorium, is set to expire.

In September, the CDC issued an order halting all evictions nationwide. The order was significant, and explicit about the importance of preventing evictions during a pandemic. Keeping people in their homes can ensure a space for quarantining, enhance their ability to comply with stay-at-home orders, and reduce pressure on homeless shelters.

The timing of the order’s expiration couldn’t be worse. New cases and deaths have reached an all time high as the nationwide death toll surpasses 300,000. If an eviction moratorium is an “effective public health measure,” as the CDC clearly states, the United States needs it now more than ever.

As the pandemic has gotten worse, so has the financial situation of many households. According to one estimate, 12 million renter households will owe an average of $5,000 in rent by the end of the year. A Census Bureau survey estimates that nearly 400,000 adults in Pennsylvania are either behind on rent or mortgages or have no confidence that they’ll be able to make payments in the coming weeks.

Black and Hispanic families with children, particularly those headed by a single woman, are at the highest risk of eviction.

It’s not that tenants aren’t trying to pay. The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia found a 70% increase in the number of people paying rent on a credit card — setting the stage for a future crisis in personal debt.

In Philadelphia, City Council failed to renew an eviction moratorium despite extending other critical measures, such as the Eviction Diversion Program. Gov. Tom Wolf claims he exhausted his ability to impose a moratorium. The Philadelphia Municipal Courts stepped in and halted the execution of evictions. That order also expires on Dec. 31.

The CDC’s ban on evictions does have loopholes, and it hasn’t stopped some people from losing their homes. But moratoriums make a difference. An analysis by Princeton’s Eviction Lab found that the number of eviction filings in cities increased after a moratorium was lifted. This board’s analysis of residential eviction filings in Philadelphia Municipal Court found that this fall, under the CDC moratorium, there were about 55 fewer daily filings compared with the months before the pandemic.

A study helmed by Kathryn Leifheit of UCLA found that states that allowed moratoriums to expire earlier experienced faster growth in coronavirus cases and deaths.

As the first Americans get the coronavirus vaccine, the end to this pandemic may be in sight. The question is how many people will survive the winter to get the vaccine. A critical part of the final push is maintaining people in their homes. The CDC must extend the order halting evictions — and Congress needs to step up and provide critical financial relief to tenants, landlords, and homeowners. An eviction avalanche leading to a surge in coronavirus and homelessness starting on New Year’s Day is no way to set 2021 as a year of recovery.



No raise is right move

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Dec. 14

State lawmakers and other top state officials will not get a cost-of-living salary increase in 2021 because legislators took the unusual step of passing a law to freeze salaries for the coming year.

It was the right move in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and economic upheaval ravaging the state. With the unemployment rate at 7.3% at the end of October — more than 465,000 people out of work — it would have sent the wrong signal for lawmakers and state officials to accept a pay raise, no matter how small it might have been.

Lawmakers and the governor recognized the need to set an example and unanimously approved a bill in October that halts a salary increase based on the Consumer Price Index for urban customers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. The annual cost-of-living adjustment has been in place since 1995 as a way to avoid having legislators vote themselves pay raises.

The increase of 1.9% last year went to the state’s legislative, judicial and top executive branch officials, including the governor, lieutenant governor, Cabinet members and elected row officers. The cost of the salary increases last year amounted to about $3.2 million and set lawmakers’ salaries at $90,335, although legislative leaders make considerably more.

Saving a similar amount this year won’t make a significant dent in the state’s overall budget of more than $35 billion for the fiscal year, but it was appropriate — and politically smart — for lawmakers to demonstrate some willingness to sacrifice.

Only twice before have state officials and lawmakers not received a COLA since the Public Official Compensation Act was approved in 1995; both times it was because the CPI showed no change or a negative one from the previous year.

Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon, who sponsored the bill to halt the COLA for 2021, said it was a matter of shared sacrifice during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is the very least we can do to make this small sacrifice when so many of the residents of Pennsylvania are having to make hard decisions because of the changes to their financial situation because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mr. Ryan said in a memo attached to his bill.

Forgoing a salary increase sends the right message to state residents that lawmakers are aware of their struggles.



Restaurant aid justified

The Scranton Times-Tribune

Dec. 16

Lackawanna County’s creation of a program to aid restaurants that are being hammered by COVID-19 pandemic limitations represents a well-timed and justified measure.

The county commissioners this week approved a plan to provide 100 $10,000 grants to retail food outlets, bars, breweries, wineries and distilleries for expenses such as rent, utilities, payroll and operating costs. Eligible businesses are limited to fewer than 100 employees, must be locally owned and comply with other restrictions.

The local action follows a decision by Gov. Tom Wolf earlier this month to restrict all in-person dining, among other safety measures, to address Pennsylvania’s worsening pandemic situation. New cases in the state have topped 10,000 daily several times in December and total deaths are nearing 13,000.

Wolf has come under withering criticism from Republicans in the Legislature and business groups for the new restraints. But he took the latest step at the request of health care experts and medical professionals after less-restrictive constraints, including indoor capacity limits at bars and restaurants and a statewide mask mandate, failed to spare Pennsylvania from a national spike in COVID-19 cases. The restrictions will remain in effect until Jan. 4.

The hospitality field has been devastated by the economic effects of the pandemic and restaurants have suffered terribly. The National Restaurant Association, a trade group, reported in September that nearly 100,000 restaurants had closed nationally. Some 3 million people who work in the food service sector were jobless and the industry was on track to lose $240 billion in sales by the end of the year.

So, the move by the commissioners addresses an area of dire need for a business sector that has experienced a severe reversal from the pandemic. The move demonstrates their understanding of the severity of the situation, especially with a new round of state restrictions, and the continuing threat the pandemic poses to a critical segment of the local economy.



Kaufer, Boback and Toohil lacked the courage to protect your vote

The Citizens’ Voice

Dec. 16

Courage is hard to come by in today’s Republican Party.

Cowed by a lame duck president determined to cast doubt on the election that will remove him from office, many members of his party have entertained wild conspiracy theories and signed on to dubious legal actions aimed at robbing millions of their votes.

There are exceptions. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger resisted direct pressure from President Trump to subvert the will of voters there.

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield, summoned to the White House last month and lobbied to reject the certification of Joe Biden’s victory, did their duty this week as Biden’s electors confirmed the decision of that state’s voters.

And outgoing Michigan Congressman Paul Mitchell announced Monday he is leaving the Republican Party and chided the GOP and Trump for sowing doubt on the 2020 election.

“It is unacceptable for political candidates to treat our election system as though we are a third-world nation and incite distrust of something so basic as the sanctity of our vote,” he said.

Then there are Aaron Kaufer, Karen Boback and Tarah Toohil, Republican state representatives from Luzerne County who signed a legal brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to consider a complaint by the Texas attorney general seeking to nullify the presidential votes in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin. The court ultimately refused to allow Texas to proceed, finding it lacked legal standing.

In prepared statements, Kaufer and Toohil portrayed their actions as merely defending the powers of the state General Assembly, arguing that changes to voting procedures approved by the commonwealth’s Secretary of State and Supreme Court violated the Pennsylvania and U.S. constitutions, claims already firmly rejected in both state and federal courts. Boback was too timid to even respond to a request for comment.

Kaufer, in particular, claimed the amicus brief “did not seek to take sides in the decision, nor did it seek to overturn the election.”

But the Texas filing clearly stated its purpose: to “enjoin the use of unlawful election results” and “remand to the Defendant States’ respective legislatures to appoint Presidential Electors,” in effect to substitute the will of the Republican-controlled legislatures in those states for that of the voters, who favored the Democratic candidate.

The brief signed by Kaufer and the others sought to open the door to the disenfranchisement of millions to satisfy the bruised ego of a rejected president.

It is striking that Kaufer, Boback, Toohil and U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser, who signed a similar brief with his Republican colleagues in Congress, can find such fault with an election that returned each of them to office for two-year terms.

Their hypocrisy and willingness to go along with unfounded allegations that may do lasting damage to the public trust in our system of government should not be forgotten if they seek reelection in 2022.