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

Ongoing GOP vote claims do real damage

The York Dispatch

Nov. 29

When the definitive story of the 2020 presidential election is written, it will honor the commitment to democracy demonstrated by state-level Republican officials like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who withstood withering political pressure — not to mention death threats — in refusing to tamper with election results.

It will be far less kind to the likes of Pennsylvania’s Rep. Mike Kelly and state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Adams, who instead sought to reverse the will of the people in a partisan effort to steal the election.

The pair are prominent among state Republicans who have called for Pennsylvania to dismiss its election results, which gave President-elect Joe Biden a clear, 80,000-plus vote majority. The state’s 20 electoral votes, they believe, should be decided not by the voting public but by the state’s Republican-controlled state Legislature.

That’s an insult to all Pennsylvanians — Republican and Democratic alike. Just because they want to anoint the Republican candidate doesn’t change the fact they would throw out Republican along with Democratic ballots to do so.

Still, they’ve been cheered on heartily by President Donald Trump and his backers.

Mastriano was among those hosting the president’s legal team during a dog-and-pony show last week with the state Senate Majority Policy Committee in Gettysburg, where, yet again, allegations of voting chicanery were groundlessly tossed about, along with calls to reverse the vote.

“It’s the state Legislature that controls this process,” Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told the all-Republican gathering in urging them to override the will of the public. “It’s your power. It’s your responsibility.”

It’s neither.

Fortunately, this type of overhyped hyperbole doesn’t play as well in the halls of justice as it does in the echo chambers of partisan politics:

On Friday, a three-judge panel for the Third U.S. Circuit of Court of Appeals rejected a Trump campaign lawsuit that sought to overturn Pennsylvania’s elections results, finding, as have numerous previous court rulings, no evidence of illegal voting or fraud. “Calling an election unfair does not make it so,” wrote Judge Stephanos Bibas, a Trump-appointed Republican. “Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.”

On Saturday night, the seven-member state Supreme Court unanimously threw out a suit led by Kelly that sought to block state certification of the vote and either dismiss all mail-in ballots or have the state Legislature appoint electors. Kelly & Co., wrote Justice David N. Wecht, “failed to allege that even a single mail-in ballot was fraudulently cast or counted.”

The dual defeats cap weeks of legal decisions in which GOP efforts to reverse elections have been alternately lambasted and laughed out of court.

These ongoing, fact-free allegations — Mastriano was at it again Saturday on Twitter — are not only becoming tiresome, they’re doing real damage. If GOP officials cared to pull their heads out of the president’s back pocket long enough, they’d find the ongoing coronavirus pandemic running rampant throughout York County, Pennsylvania and the nation. But the president, and the party faithful who do his bidding, have spent the past weeks focused instead on make-believe election fraud.

Mastriano, Kelly and like-minded lawmakers ought to think long and hard about how much further they want to fan the flames of controversy over an election that, frankly, wasn’t even close. Their actions undermine the foundation of our democracy, insult their own party’s hard-working elections officials, widen already alarming political divides and rain down shame and infamy upon the state.

But don’t take it from us, Republicans. Consider the warnings of one of your own:

“If Republicans don’t start condemning this stuff, then I think they’re really complicit in it,” Georgia’s Raffensperger told the Washington Post. “It’s time to stand up and be counted. Are you going to stand for righteousness? Are you going to stand for integrity? Or are you going to stand for the wild mob?”

Pennsylvania is awaiting an answer.



Find your way to Biden Way

The Scranton Times-Tribune

Nov. 29

A driver pulls up to a Scranton resident and calls out the window: “How do I get to Joe Biden Way?”

The Scrantonian replies: “Go straight for two blocks, take a left and go four blocks north. It’s the street sign that you can read. You can’t miss it.”

Recently, Mayor Paige Gebhardt Cognetti and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey presided at a ceremony unveiling a street sign along the 2400 block of North Washington Avenue, at Fisk Street, to honor the president-elect, who was born in that neighborhood.

The designation of Joe Biden Way is a fitting gesture. Biden spent his first 10 years in Scranton before moving in 1952 with his family to Wilmington, Delaware. He played baseball at the Green Ridge Little League, scrambled up and down smoldering culm dumps with friends in the city’s Marvine section and hopped on trolley car bumpers for free rides on the Scranton Transit Co.’s Green Ridge Suburban line.

Sign generates amusement

But the street sign ceremony struck more than a few local residents with a sense of amusement and incongruity. Scranton’s green and white street signs, taken as a whole, remain a continuing source of confusion, derision and frustration.

Hundreds of the signs are illegible after decades of exposure to rain, snow, sleet, wind and sun. City officials have listened for years as taxpayers vented complaints about missing and faded street signs.

In September 2018 city council authorized the administration to hire a Philadelphia engineering firm for $276,600 to use a vehicle with GPS cameras to catalog all street signs along Scranton’s 263 miles of roads and build a database of signs and intersections. Last month, council approved an application for $306,000 in state grant funding to install more than 2,000 street signs.

The city, finally, could be on the road to rectifying a problem that has angered and frustrated drivers for too long. Maybe it no longer will be a confusing challenge for people to find their way to Joe Biden Way.



Canceling the court

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Nov. 30

The Supreme Court has just issued a 5-4 opinion that seems perfectly reasonable, and to many will seem obviously correct.

But in the hyperpartisan moment that is now, it is being treated as a radical departure, and even — the new term of art in American politics — illegitimate.

The court put a hold on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s strict limits of the number of people who can attend religious services in high COVID-19 areas of New York City.

The matter is moot now as the order has expired for the areas where it applied.

But the order limited synagogue and church attendance to 10 people in places where increased cases of the virus are most severe and 25 in zones that were deemed second most severe.

The trouble was that the same level of restriction was not applied to businesses, ranging from acupuncture practices to small manufacturing.

The court said this amounted to infringement upon, by discrimination against, religion.

This would seem true on its face. The only real rebuttal is not the one of liberal justices — that health officials know best and should be able to trump the First Amendment — but Chief Justice John Roberts’ truly conservative warning that the court need not have intervened. That proved to be true.

In any case, the remedy is a no-brainer: Next time, governor, apply the restrictions equally to all. Do not discriminate against religion.

Yet much of the media treated this as a cold-hearted, right-wing intrusion of the Supreme Court’s new “conservative,” majority.

No, it was common sense.

Worse, Ben Rhodes, a former, minor aide to President Barack Obama called it a ruling that would “put more lives in danger” by “the new illegitimate 5-4 SCOTUS majority.”

Logic, please. The ruling would only be a killer if the governor was also wrong to lift the restrictions. There is zero evidence that more people will get sick because the court ruled as it did.

And “illegitimate”? Is that because three relatively new members of the court were appointed by Donald Trump? Or because Justice Brett Kavanaugh was accused, with zero evidence and almost as little due process, of assault at a high school party decades ago?

Who knows?

But the extension of the illegitimacy argument — from presidential politics to the courts — is very dangerous.

The argument is, very simply, I don’t like your ideas, so I cancel you. You are illegitimate, you don’t count.

Let’s not go there. Courts often make mistakes and have to correct them. They often do things that many of us think are inscrutable or illogical. But if we delegitimize them as opposed to disagreeing with them, we compromise our system and the rule of law itself.

Certainly, we ought not to cancel a court decision, or a Supreme Court, for taking freedom of religion and conscience seriously.



Philly’s bright art scene gets dimmer amid COVID-19 shutdowns

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Nov. 27

When Boot & Saddle, the legendary South Broad Street music venue, announced this month it was closing for good, the news hit like a dissonant guitar chord. If government relief for the region’s dozens of other small and midsized independent venues doesn’t come soon, many more will suffer the same fate, and a post-pandemic Philadelphia could be eerily quiet.

Independent music venues are our cultural lifeblood, and important economic drivers. Philadelphia’s creative economy has a $4.1 billion regional impact, and one recent study found that every dollar spent on a ticket has $12 in economic impact. Yet unlike restaurants, which have scraped by on takeout and limited seating, performance venues have had zero revenue since March, while hemorrhaging money for rents or mortgages, utilities, insurance and staff costs.

For an industry that doesn’t have an established lobbying apparatus in Harrisburg or Washington, calls for help have gone largely unanswered. Now Philly’s cherished independent venues fear a fate like Boot & Saddle’s could be weeks away.

The prospect of federal assistance once looked promising. In July a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Save Our Stages Act, which would authorize $10 billion nationally — less than one half of one percent of the CARES Act that passed in March — to keep independent venues afloat. The measure was included in the HEROES Act that the House of Representatives passed last month, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to bring it up for a vote in the Senate. Meanwhile, the lauded Paycheck Protection Program does little for these venues, whose highest fixed costs are physical, not payroll.

State prospects appear even dimmer. Advocates were pushing for relief via the $1.3 billion leftover CARES Act money, which was intended for beleaguered industries like the performing arts, but the legislature just announced those funds would be used to fill holes in the state budget. Last month Allegheny County state Rep. Jake Wheatley introduced a bipartisan Pennsylvania Save Our Stages bill. But it has languished in the House Commerce Committee, where recalcitrant Republicans have rebuffed pleas for assistance, saying that instead, venue owners should lobby Gov. Tom Wolf to let them reopen. With COVID cases breaking records, this suggestion is the height of irresponsibility, and only the latest example of a legislature more interested in picking fights with the governor than in serving Pennsylvanians.

Other cities and states have figured out how to do this. Lawmakers in Oregon sent $9.7 million to support 78 venues. Nashville’s Metro Council approved $2 million in CARES Act funding to prop up that city’s independent venues. St. Paul, Minn., allocated $3.5 million. Indianapolis, $125,000. Pennsylvania and federal lawmakers should be jumping to approve the scant relief that will keep these venues from going under. It doesn’t take much, but the cost of forever losing these spaces is incalculable.

Concert venues were the first businesses to close in March, and they’ll be the last to reopen. It could take weeks or months of post-vaccine national coordination for performing artists to safely plan tour routes that bring them through Philly.

And that’s assuming there are any places left for them to play once they get here.



Kelly again picks the wrong fight

Erie Times-News

Dec. 1

Erie’s U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-16th Dist., cherishes fervent regard for outgoing, defeated President Donald J. Trump. But that is no justification for Kelly to play such a key role in the president’s corrosive, failed reelection strategy. Kelly not only championed Trump at crowded campaign rallies. He also has been a party in at least three state court actions targeting the elections process in Pennsylvania to boost Trump’s prospects.

His latest was perhaps the most audacious and potentially damaging: Kelly and others filed an action in Commonwealth Court that sought to undo the votes of millions of Pennsylvanians.

Kelly and his fellow petitioners argued that a popular, bipartisan 2019 law enabling no-excuse mail-in voting in Pennsylvania was unconstitutional. They wanted millions of mail-in ballots cast in the Nov. 3 general election suppressed. Alternately, they wanted all ballots cast tossed aside and the power to choose the state’s electors handed over to the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

This late-arriving and dubious attack on the law came after both the 2020 primary and general election had been held under it and just days before Pennsylvania certified President-elect Joe Biden as the clear winner with a more than 80,000-vote margin.

The opposition called the petition “an affront to democracy” and said it was incredible that a sitting congressman joined in it. Agreed.

The state Supreme Court rightly tossed the lawsuit on Saturday with an unsigned order in which all the justices, five Democrats and two Republicans, joined. In a ruling that added to Trump’s long list of court defeats nationwide, the court found Kelly and others waited too long to challenge the 2019 voting law.

Justice David Wecht wrote that the petitioners played a “dangerous game at the expense of every Pennsylvania voter.” The courts, Wecht said, are not meant to legitimize efforts to subvert the will of voters or decide outcomes “when the will of the voters is clear.”

Before filing the petition, Kelly put forward legislation asserting he wanted to restore confidence in our elections. Start by ceasing trust-eroding challenges to an election that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has declared the most secure in American history.

Trump’s torrent of lies about election fraud, failed lawsuits like Kelly’s, and others that make allegations of wrongdoing with no evidence attack the very act that makes American self-rule possible — the vote.

Millions of citizens now doubt the plain truth writ large in electronic voting machine tallies and the paper ballots that back them up nationwide: Trump lost, decisively. Their faith is not to be manipulated for political advantage in a country so dangerously divided.

Elected leaders still playing a part in Trump’s deeply damaging, baseless attacks on American democracy should focus instead on the very real crises citizens confront, starting with the pandemic.