The least innovative states of 2023

In his first official act after taking office, Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro waived the four-year degree requirement for most state jobs. He followed that up by announcing the creation of a new state office intended to speed the plow for businesses across the commonwealth.

“If you want to grow your business or invest in Pennsylvania, you’re not going to need to go to five different agencies anymore,” Shapiro said during a January press conference unveiling the Office of Transformation and Opportunity. “To get all your permits, your approvals, or your funding, the [office] and Ben Kirshner, who will lead it, will be your point-person in that endeavor”

And during his first budget address earlier this month, Shapiro pleased Republicans when he said he wanted to keep reducing Pennsylvania’s corporate net income tax.

If a new report by the financial literacy site WalletHub is any indication, those moves couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. Last week, analysts released their list of the most — and least — innovative states of 2023.

To reach their conclusions, WalletHub’s analysts weighed all 50 states and Washington D.C., looking at their “share of STEM professionals to R&D spending per capita to [their] tech-company density.”

Below, a look at the Top 5 most and least innovative states — and where Pennsylvania finished in the national firmament.

Source: WalletHub

The Top 5 Most Innovative States:

1. Washington D.C

2. Massachusetts

3. Washington State

4. Maryland

5. California

The Top 5 Least Innovative States:

1. Mississippi

2. Louisiana

3. North Dakota

4. West Virginia

5. Arkansas

Pennsylvania finished 26th among the 50 states and Washington D.C., smack dab in the middle of WalletHub’s ranking list, putting the state ahead of West Virginia, New York (No. 27) and Ohio (No. 28), but behind Delaware (No. 8), Maryland, and New Jersey (No. 10), according to WalletHub.

“First, policymakers must realize that encouraging and facilitating innovation is quite a long-term prospect, one that will extend well beyond regular election cycles,” Bachenheimer said. “It requires a deep understanding of what would actually make the state attractive, an honest assessment of the state’s shortcomings, and a real commitment to meaningful action.”

And when former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg realized that the city would “need to significantly strengthen its resources in the applied sciences to encourage substantial development in its innovation economy, he undertook a major program to create a new tech campus on Roosevelt Island by attracting Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. A project that would take nearly a decade to reach fruition,” he said.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Top Pennsylvania Republican dumps Trump

Back in 2016, you would have been hard pressed to find a more stalwart supporter of then-candidate Donald Trump than Lou Barletta.

Barletta, the former mayor of Hazleton, and then a Republican member of Congress from Pennsylvania, was one of Trump’s earliest Keystone State backers, and went to bat for him in the race against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

No more.

On Friday, Barletta took to Twitter, where he called on Trump’s current (and currently undeclared) rival for the GOP White House nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, to make it official and just jump into the race already.

“More than ever our country needs strong leadership, someone that gets things done & isn’t afraid to stand up for what’s right,” Barletta wrote, adding that he and former U.S. Rep. Tom Marino were “calling on our former colleague @RonDeSantisFL to run for president in 2024. Come on Ron, your country needs you! #NeverBackDown.”

More than ever our country needs strong leadership, someone that gets things done & isn’t afraid to stand up for what’s right. So Tom Marino & I are calling on our former colleague @RonDeSantisFL to run for president in 2024. Come on Ron, your country needs you! #NeverBackDown
— Lou Barletta (@RepLouBarletta) March 10, 2023

Politics always makes for odd alliances, but that’s still a pretty significant shift in tone from 2016, where Barletta publicly called on establishment Republicans to support Trump in the GOP nominating race that year.

“I wish that the establishment, instead of trying to stop Trump, you know, would look at why he’s so popular and coalesce around him so that it’s one team in November. Donald Trump is bringing a record amount of Democrats and independents…we should embrace that,” Barletta told Politico at the time. “I like that he is willing to stand up and fight for the American people, and as I did as mayor.”

Trump repaid Barletta’s loyalty with an endorsement during his 2018 U.S. Senate campaign, where he ended up getting stomped, 55%-42%, by incumbent U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.

Four years later, in 2022, Trump snubbed Barletta during his ill-starred 2022 GOP gubernatorial campaign, opting for election-denying state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin.

Given the former president’s public distaste for losing candidates his decision to back Mastriano, who took a historic drubbing at the hands of Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro last November, wasn’t a surprise.

And Barletta was pretty vocal in his dissatisfaction.

“There is no denying there was a big endorsement by President Trump, and I’m going to say this loud and clear,” Barletta said during a 2022 campaign rally, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “President Trump, you are dead wrong, and I’m going to prove it on Tuesday.”

Marino, of Lycoming County, who also was in attendance, piled on — and in no uncertain terms.

“I’m incredibly disappointed and disgusted with Trump, and actually hurt,” Marino said during that same rally, according to the Inquirer. “He didn’t even have the decency to call Lou and tell him he was endorsing someone else. … Fate is a funny thing, and we have a big surprise for him.”

Taken together, then, Barletta’s pivot to DeSantis, who is expected to declare pretty much any day now, also isn’t a shock.

Which isn’t to say that Barletta, who made national headlines for his hardline policies against undocumented people during his time as Hazleton’s mayor, has necessarily abandoned GOP extremism.

In 2022, after trying to rally mainstream Republicans, arguing he was best positioned to defeat Shapiro, Barletta turned around and endorsed Mastriano in October 2022.
— Lou Barletta (@RepLouBarletta) October 24, 2022

Still, Barletta’s defection may signal broader problems for Trump, who cannot win the nomination — or the White House — without winning Pennsylvania.

Speaking to PoliticsPA last week, onetime Trump adviser David Urban, a Pennsylvania native, said he believed “most people in Pennsylvania are open to somebody else” in 2024.

Even Trump loyalists on Urban’s home turf have told the GOP consultant “we like DeSantis a lot,” though they’ve stopped short of abandoning Trump, PoliticsPA reported.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Republican caught on video grabbing protester and forcibly moving him outside fundraiser

A Pennsylvania lawmaker forcibly removed, and then stepped over, a protester who was blocking his access to a pricey fundraiser held by a fellow lawmaker on Tuesday morning.

Sen. Mike Regan, R-York, declined to answer questions after he left the event, held on behalf of Sen. Scott Martin, R-Lancaster, at Rubicon, a restaurant just steps from the state Capitol in Harrisburg.

The protester, who identified himself as Michael Bagdes-Canning, of Butler County, told the Capital-Star that he was “in a bit of pain,” after his confrontation with Regan, a former U.S. Marshal, and was already contending with back issues.

The protesters, garbed in hazardous materials suits, blocked access to the event, forcing attendees who had been asked to pay up to $5,000, to wait across the street from the restaurant shortly after 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

Attendees of a fundraiser held on behalf of Sen. Scott Martin, R-Lancaster, wait to gain access to the event at Rubicon, a restaurant in Harrisburg, on Tuesday, 1/31/23 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek).

Martin, a former Lancaster County commissioner, is the current chairperson of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and a member of the Senate’s Environmental Resources & Energy Committee. He did not respond to journalists’ questions as he entered the event.

Harrisburg police were soon called to the scene to try to peacefully break up the protest held by the environmental advocacy group, which identified itself as Pennsylvanians for Action on Climate.

“This is toxic stain on our government,” Bagdes-Canning told the Capital-Star. “Scott Martin is a reliable vote for the fossil fuel industry.” A veteran environmental activist, Bagdes-Canning sought the Green Party nomination for lieutenant governor in 2022.

Records filed with the Department of State show Martin receiving contributions from political action committees representing such major utilities as UGI, PPL and First Energy during the 2020 campaign cycle.

Political fundraisers such as Martin’s are common occurrence during the two-year legislative session, with several a day often taking place, starting early in the morning and running through the evening hours.

WATCH: Pa. lawmaker removes protester outside HBG fundraiser.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Botched executions reached ‘astonishing’ high in 2022: report

Two more death row prisoners were exonerated in 2022, even as society’s ultimate sanction became more geographically isolated, with only a handful of states carrying out executions in the last year, according to a new report.

The number of botched executions also reached an “astonishing” level, according to the resech by the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington D.C-based clearinghouse that tracks developments in capital law and executions nationwide.

Seven of the year’s 20 execution attempts, or 35 percent, were “visibly problematic,” according to the report, either as a result of executioner incompetence, a failure to follow execution protocols, or defects in the protocols themselves.

“After 40 years, the states have proven themselves unable to carry out lethal injections without the risk that it will be botched,” the center’s executive director, Robert Dunham, said in an email. “The families of victims and prisoners, other execution witnesses, and corrections personnel should not be subjected to the trauma of an execution gone bad.”

The report shows a drop in executions nationwide, with the 18 actually carried out this year being the fewest of any pre-pandemic year since 1991.

On Dec. 13, outgoing Oregon Gov. Kate Brown commuted the capital sentences of all 17 of the state’s death row prisoners, and instructed the department of corrections to begin dismantling the state’s execution chamber, the Oregon Capital Chronicle, a sibling site of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, reported.

Two sentencing decisions also are scheduled to be announced in San Bernardino County, Calif. on Friday. If death sentences were imposed in those two cases, 22 new death sentences will have been imposed in the U.S. in 2022, according to the report.

And with the exception of the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021, that total (four more than last year’s record low of 18) will be the fewest imposed in the United States in any year in the past half-century, according to the report.

The death penalty continued to be geographically isolated with only six states – Alabama, Arizona, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas – carrying out executions, according to the report.

Pennsylvania has not carried out an execution since 1999. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who leaves office in January, imposed a moratorium on executions in 2015 that remains in place seven years later. Wolf’s successor, Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro, the state’s current elected attorney general, opposes capital punishment, and has called for its abolition.

Legislation abolishing the death penalty has come before Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled General Assembly, but has never made it over the finish line.

Among the report’s other key findings:

“Two more former death-row prisoners were exonerated in 2022, including the third woman wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death in the U.S. With DPIC’s ongoing research discovering two additional unrecorded exonerations, the number of U.S. death-row exonerations since 1972 rose to 190. “The vast majority of those executed in 2022 were individuals with significant vulnerabilities. At least 13 of the people executed in 2022 had one or more of the following impairments: serious mental illness (8); brain injury, developmental brain damage, or an IQ in the intellectually disabled range (5); chronic serious childhood trauma, neglect, and/or abuse (12). Three prisoners were executed for crimes committed in their teens. At least four of the people executed this year were military veterans. “Public opinion polls in 2022 showed support for capital punishment remained near historic lows, even amid rising perceptions of crime. A poll released in February found that Americans’ support for the death penalty was even lower when asked about the classes of defendants who are most frequently subject to the punishment. Democrats, Republicans, and independents by margins of more than 30 percentage points opposed the use of the death penalty against people with severe mental illness, brain damage, or intellectual impairments, and against veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder,” the report’s authors wrote.

The report found ongoing racial and ethnic disparities in executions. Eight of the 18 people put to death were people of color. Five were Black people, one was Asian, one Native American, and one was Latino. And five of the eight were executed for killing white victims.

As executions slowed during pandemic, death penalty opposition continued to grow | Wednesday Morning Coffee

Officials in Missouri executed condemned inmate Kevin Johnson despite a special prosecutor’s request to vacate his sentence because of racially biased sentencing decisions by the original prosecutor, and the intentional exclusion of Black jurors, according to the report.

And while heated rhetoric over violent crime, and millions of dollars in advertising were deployed by Republicans who wanted voters to reject Democrats they painted as soft on crime, the opposite happened, according to the report.

“Candidates committed to criminal legal reform or who promised to continue a statewide moratoria on executions posted key election wins in the 2022 elections,” the report’s authors wrote. “Governors who promised to continue moratoria on executions in California, Oregon, and Pennsylvania were re-elected and elected. Incumbent district attorneys, including in Dallas, San Antonio, and Indianapolis, were reelected, despite opponents’ concerted efforts to attack their reform initiatives.”

Study: Republicans are abandoning the death penalty in record numbers | Friday Morning Coffee

In Pennsylvania, Republicans in the state House and Senate are pursuing the impeachment of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, a Democrat who was overwhelmingly re-elected by city voters in 2021, charging that his policies led to the surge in violent crime in the state’s largest city. A trial in the GOP-controlled state Senate is scheduled for mid-January.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Krasner impeachment is a ‘hold my beer’ moment for Pa. Republicans

Just a week ago, Pennsylvania voters stood up for democracy, rejecting an election-denier vying to become the state’s chief executive, and saying ‘no thanks’ to Denier-in-Chief Donald Trump’s handpicked candidate for U.S. Senate.

It was an echo of results around the country that saw election-deniers lose key races for offices in every 2020 battleground state, as the Washington Post reports, and as strong an affirmation as you were likely to get for the legitimacy of elections, and the sanctity of the ballot box.

The reaction from Pennsylvania House Republicans? Hold my beer.

On Tuesday, in the midst of a lame-duck session, and with the balance of power in the state House on the bubble, the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee voted to send articles of impeachment against Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner to the House floor for a vote that could come as soon as today.

An unprecedented Senate vote could happen in next year’s legislative session, making this tumble through the legislative looking glass complete.

It’s hard to count the things that are wrong with this picture, but we’ll start with this one: Republicans, who allegedly cherish local control, are actively working to thwart the will of Philadelphia voters who overwhelmingly re-elected the progressive-minded Krasner in 2021.

Keep in mind, Krasner didn’t win in a squeaker, he so thoroughly trounced Republican Chuck Peruto that his opponent paid tribute, telling 6ABC in Philadelphia that “I want to congratulate him. He beat my pants off.”

The impeachment articles, brought forth by the lone Republican member of Philadelphia’s legislative delegation, Rep. Martina White, are the end product of a push by GOP lawmakers who live hours away from the state’s largest city: Reps. Josh Kail, of Beaver County, and Toren Ecker, of Adams County, as the Capital-Star’s Peter Hall reported on Tuesday.

The two are allegedly incensed by something that makes sense on its face: Rising crime and violence in the state’s largest city, and what they believe is Krasner’s refusal to adequately prosecute offenders.

But you don’t have to like or support Krasner to realize this premise is nonsense.

Blaming Krasner entirely for rising crime and gun violence in the city is the same, as the comedian Bobcat Goldthwait was wont to say, as blaming Ronald McDonald when you get a bad cheeseburger.

By the time the finished product gets to the table, too much already has gone wrong, and all you can do is clean up the mess made by those responsible for it.

House Democrats correctly point out that majority Republicans have done exactly nothing to stop the flood of illegal weapons into the city by refusing to pass an assault weapons ban, strengthen background check requirements, implement a red flag law, or ban the possession of high-capacity magazines.

Yes, full credit for the gun violence prevention money in this year’s state budget — but that’s a rear guard action. But it does not address the root causes of violence, or, again, take weapons off the streets.

To extend the clean-up metaphor a bit further: Krasner’s mop-up rate isn’t too shabby. His office said in a statement that it has a 87 percent conviction rate for all homicides and 83 percent for fatal shootings.

The prosecutor’s office, which also has employed unique ways to fight crime on the front end, also noted that police make arrests in only 30 percent of fatal shootings and 20 percent in non-fatal shootings, Hall reported on Tuesday.

To coin another phrase, you can only put away the bad guys you have, not the ones you wish you had.

But the GOP’s insistence on impeaching Krasner, which is the tail-end of a failed election year strategy to scare voters into submission and to target progressive prosecutors, thuds mindlessly onward nonetheless.

And that’s despite clear evidence that progressive prosecutors such as Krasner are not responsible for homicide spikes in their jurisdictions.

But the perhaps most offensive thing about this entire charade is that it’s happening in the lame duck session, where some of the votes to topple the results of a legitimate election and to thwart the will of the people of Philadelphia either will be cast by retiring legislators or vanquished lawmakers whose constituents decided to show them the door last week.

None of them will ever have to face the voters again or be brought to account for their actions.

As an added bonus, today’s likely vote comes with control of the House in doubt for next year’s legislative session, adding a further shoddiness to the already rushed proceedings.

” … When you consider that those leading this effort rushed to hold a vote even as the balance of power remains undecided in the state House is remarkably cynical,” Elizabeth Randol, of the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.

Control of the House will be determined by the outcome of a pair of legislative district races in Bucks and Montgomery counties that remained, as of Tuesday, too close to call. Vote counting will not be complete until Friday, the earliest, Hall reported.

It is difficult to imagine a scenario — outside of a star chamber — that is less democratic, and flies more in the face of the constitutional norms that Republicans swear they cherish.

Pennsylvania voters sent a clear message to Harrisburg and Washington last week on how they feel about democracy. Despite the obviously long odds, it’s still not too late for the GOP to listen.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Control of the US Senate is still up for grabs one week out

A week ago, at just about this time, political analysts and observers were asking themselves: Would voters punish or reward Pennsylvania Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman after an often-halting debate performance against Republican Mehmet Oz?

Fetterman, who is recovering from a stroke, and needs closed-captioning to compensate for auditory processing challenges, warned at the beginning of last Tuesday’s debate that he might mush together words or misspeak.

And now there’s an answer: A new New York Times/Siena College poll out Monday shows Fetterman with a 5-point lead, 49-44 percent, over Oz as the race heads into its final week.

The polls, which also show Democratic slight leads in the key states of Georgia and Nevada, come at a good time for Democrats, who are eyeing the 50-50 upper chamber as their best chance to retain a majority on Capitol Hill.

An analysis last week by the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia rated the race as leans Democratic, noting that the nationally watched contest remains “fluid.” Fetterman holds a slender 1.5-point lead in the RealClear Politics polling average.

The U.S. Capitol (Samuel Corum/Getty Images).

The University of Virginia analysis finds the overall fight for control of the upper chamber is a toss-up, with early voting already underway in two toss-up states: Nevada and Georgia, with “inconclusive results.”

“Democrats should be more worried about the races we have rated Leans Democratic than Republicans should be worried about those that we have rated Leans Republican,” analyst J. Miles Coleman wrote.

In Pennsylvania, Fetterman’s lead looks a lot like the similar advantage enjoyed by U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., who is leading Republican Blake Masters by 6 percentage points in the new poll, but holds an average lead of 2.4 percent, according to RealClear Politics.

The key difference, according to Coleman, is that “Republicans are throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Pennsylvania, but that is not happening in Arizona.”

Coleman goes on to observe that “there has been a lot of focus, justifiably we think, on questionable Republican Senate candidates this year. Oz is one of them — had Toomey run again or someone else been nominated, we doubt Fetterman ever would’ve seemed like a favorite to begin with.

“But if Fetterman loses to Oz, there will rightly be a lot of second-guessing in Democratic circles about the quality of Fetterman’s candidacy and whether the party should have gone with someone else (or whether Fetterman should have dropped out after his stroke, which he has been less than transparent about since it occurred),” Coleman concluded.

(Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

So where does that leave things overall?

The University of Virginia analysis has “Democrats and Republicans favored in 49 seats apiece, with Georgia and Nevada as Toss-ups.

But, if “Fetterman’s lead in Pennsylvania holds, Republicans will need to win both Toss-up races to reach an outright 51-seat majority — something they seem perfectly capable of doing,” Coleman wrote. “Democrats, who only need 50 seats, thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote, would only need to win one of the Toss-ups.”

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

The Oz-Fetterman debate got nasty fast — but what did we learn?

The soundbites have been bitten. The blows have been exchanged. And with that, the first (and most likely only) debate of Pennsylvania’s nationally watched U.S. Senate race is officially in the books.

According to RealClear Politics, Democrat John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s sitting lieutenant governor, went into the night with an average 1.3 percentage point lead over Republican Mehmet Oz, the celebrity surgeon with the Trump endorsement.

RealClear Politics has rated the race to replace retiring GOP U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, of Lehigh County, a toss-up. And with less than two weeks to go, the prognosticating website is projecting that Republicans will keep the seat in a year in which the winner likely will determine control of the 50-50 chamber.

Fetterman, who suffered a stroke in May, went into Tuesday night with much to prove — even as his campaign released a statement attempting to downplay expectations.

For Oz, a longtime New Jersey resident who has faced accusations of carpet-bagging, it was a chance to demonstrate his Pennsylvania bona fides and to show that he could tell his Perkasies from his Pittsburghs.

How’d it go? Three takeaways below.

WHTM-TV anchor Dennis Owens (L) questions Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman during a debate aired statewide on Tuesday, 10/25/22 (Screen Capture).

1. It got nasty … fast.

It didn’t take long for Fetterman and Oz to start shouting over each other, particularly during exchanges over law and order issues, where Oz, thanks to a barrage of television advertising, has sought to paint Fetterman as soft on crime.

“Violence skyrocketed in Braddock. People kept leaving. The city was dangerous under your leadership,” Oz jabbed at one point, referring to Fetterman’s tenure as the mayor of the western Pennsylvania borough.

During a discussion on higher education, Oz poked Fetterman again in what appeared to be a reference to his ongoing recovery, “Obviously, I wasn’t clear enough for you to understand this,” USA Today noted.

During an exchange on abortion rights, Fetterman loudly interjected, “You roll with Doug Mastriano,” referring to the Republican gubernatorial nominee, who opposes abortion, and has said he would sign an exception-free bill banning it at early as six weeks.

During an exchange over the minimum wage, Fetterman said “He [Oz] really hasn’t had any answer. He doesn’t want to talk about someone having a living wage and being able to survive.”

Oz said he believed market forces would drive up the federal minimum, now $7.25 an hour, past the $15 an hour sought by reformers, including Fetterman.

Fetterman also repeatedly brought up what he referred to as “The Oz Rule.”

“If he’s on TV, he’s lying,” Fetterman asserted at the beginning of the debate, as he was asked to state his qualifications for running.

Oz also repeatedly accused Fetterman of obfuscating his own record, particularly during an exchange on whether he supported or opposed fracking.

When asked at first, Fetterman said he supported fracking, the shorthand for the chemical process of extracting natural gas from the ground. When he was confronted with a past public statement when he opposed it, Fetterman remained adamant: “I do support fracking,” he said.

2. There were soundbites, but the specifics were sometimes lacking.

Both candidates were asked how they’d reduce the cost of higher education, and how they’d support vocational and technical education. Neither offered much in the way of specifics.

Fetterman said he wanted to support vocational education, because “college isn’t for everybody.” Asked how he would do that, Fetterman said he supported partnerships with unions, and called for it to be “more affordable.”

Oz called for trimming middle management at colleges and universities and increased access to distance learning, but did not offer policy prescriptions on how he would make that a reality.

During an exchange on immigration, Fetterman called for a “bipartisan solution,” but did not describe what that would look like. Oz castigated the Biden White House for what he described as a “catastrophe” at the border, and called for an end to so-called “sanctuary cities,” but similarly did not offer a policy prescription.

Social media lit up during the exchange over abortion rights when Oz, who opposes abortion, but supports exceptions, said he believed abortion was a matter for “women, doctors, [and] local political leaders, letting the democracy that has always allowed our nation to thrive, to put the best ideas forward so states can decide for themselves.”

Fetterman, who supports abortion rights, reiterated his support for Roe v. Wade, saying he believes “that abortion is healthcare, and I believe that is a choice that belongs with each woman and their doctor.”

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mehmet Oz speaks during a televised debate on Tuesday, 10/25/22 (Screen Capture).

3. The Trump and Biden factors.

Both candidates were asked whether they’d support their respective standard-bearers in 2024.

Oz, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump during the May primary election, seemed to distance himself from the 45th president soon after securing the nomination.

On Tuesday night, Oz at first said he would support the eventual Republican nominee, and then when pressed again, said he would “support Donald Trump if he decides to run for president.”

But, he added, “this is bigger than one candidate. It’s about how we will build a bigger tent.” Oz skirted a question on whether he’d been paying attention to Trump’s recent legal travails, saying, “I haven’t followed them very carefully … They’ll work themselves out. And I have tremendous faith in the legal system.”

Fetterman, said it would be up to President Joe Biden if he chooses to stand for re-election in 2024. But if “he does choose to run, I would support him.”

Asked whether there were places where he broke with Biden, Fetterman said he believed Biden “does need to do more to fight inflation.” But, he added, “I do believe Joe Biden is a family man and stands for the union way of life.”

Election Day is Nov. 8 — now less than two weeks away.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Report: ‘No evidence’ progressive prosecutors are responsible for homicide spikes

Turn on the TV and scan the headlines, and you’re sure to see Republican candidates, from Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania to Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, blaming progressive prosecutors and liberal pols for skyrocketing crime nationwide.

On Monday, a Republican-led House committee that’s building the case for impeachment against progressive Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner issued an interim report concluding, among other things, that his office is effectively a revolving door that puts violent criminals back on the street.

But newly released research suggests that, while certain crimes are increasing, it’s an oversimplification to lay blame at the feet of Krasner or other progressive prosecutors.

In fact, the report released by the progressive Center for American Progress suggests the exact opposite.

There is “no evidence to support the claim that progressive prosecutors were responsible for the increase in homicide during the pandemic or before it,” researchers at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy at the University of Toronto wrote.

As The Atlantic’s Ronald Brownstein wrote in a story published last week, researchers found homicides “increased less rapidly in cities with progressive prosecutors than in those with more traditional district attorneys.”

Rep. John Lawrence, R-Chester, speaks after a hearing of the Select Committee on Restoring Law and Order on Sept. 29, 2022, in Philadelphia (Capital-Star photo by Peter Hall).

And as Brownstein points out, the new research buttresses previous work by the centrist Democratic group Third Way that found Red States have a “murder problem.”

That report found “per capita murder rates in 2020 were 40 percent higher in states that voted for Donald Trump than in those that voted for President Joe Biden,” Brownstein wrote. “The study found that eight of the 10 states with the highest per capita murder rates in 2020 have voted Republican in every presidential election in this century.”

On Monday, state Rep. John Lawrence, the Chester County Republican leading the House panel, rejected Krasner’s assertion that there is a statewide rise in crime, noting that while rural Adams County has seen a 300 percent rise in homicides since 2019, in real numbers it’s an increase from one to four murders.

“Any attempt to make that correlation is utterly ridiculous,” Lawrence said, as the Capital-Star’s Peter Hall reported.

Lawrence’s assertion is callous on its face.

The loss of one life is tragic enough, with its impacts rippling out across families, friend groups and communities.

And in tiny Adams County, whose population of 104,340 is more than five times smaller than Chester County, (pop. 541,519), an increase from one to three violent deaths represents an exponential increase in trauma.

Adams County’s elected district attorney, Brian Sinnett, is a Republican. Data show that Trump carried the county by comfortable margins in 2016 and 2020. It’s hard (and probably unfair) to draw an inference, but an uncharitable analysis points to Adams as a microcosm of the conclusions of the Third Way study.

The new report does not downplay the magnitude of the challenge that the spike in violent crime posed during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Nor does the Capital-Star’s analysis seek to downplay the gun violence in Philadelphia, which has seen 437 homicides so far this year, according to a citywide database. Through Oct. 23, there were 1,552 shootings in the city, 408 of which were fatal, the database indicates.

The overall increase was the “‘greatest annual increase in over 100 years,” according to the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention],” the report’s authors wrote. “It was also widespread. For instance, the number of homicides that year increased in 90 percent of the 65 cities in the Major Cities Chiefs Association, all with populations over 250,000.”

But “the increase in homicide in the United States was not a uniform or ‘national’ phenomenon, as some media organizations reported,” they continued. “Homicides decreased in several major cities, including ones served by progressive prosecutors.”

And in Philadelphia, which was included in the new report, “the uneven pattern of homicide does not support a claim that progressive prosecution causes homicide,” its authors wrote.

The “number of homicides fell in the 8 months following the election of Larry Krasner; it then rose suddenly in the third week of August 2018. Another sudden and short-lived surge in homicides in December yielded an overall increase of 8 percent for the year,” they wrote.

In 2019,”homicides increased less than 1 percent. In 2020, homicides rose 37 percent (just above the national average), and in 2021 they increased 12 percent,” the report’s authors concluded, adding that the “volatility in the incidence of homicide could not have been caused by the election of a new prosecutor nor a ‘consistent’ and ‘systematic’ policy of ‘de-prosecution.’

Rather, the data seems to buttress what gun violence advocates have been arguing for years: A flood of weapons, coupled with the Republican-controlled General Assembly’s utter reluctance to pass even the smallest of reforms, or to give municipalities broader latitude to fight gun crime within their borders, is helping to drive the violence.

The failure, it is more than fair to argue, is not one of prosecution. It is a profound failure of policy.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

At site of collapsed Pittsburgh bridge, Biden touts benefits of infrastructure law

Standing in front of the replacement for the collapsed Fern Hollow Bridge, President Joe Biden returned to Pittsburgh on Thursday, touting the benefits of federal infrastructure law, and proclaiming “the resurgence of American manufacturing.”

“Hello Pittsburgh!” Biden said, opening his remarks to a crowd of about 100 onlookers, that included Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who’s running for U.S. Senate, and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., as well as other local elected officials.

“This is going to be painfully short,” Biden said, referring to the day’s fall chill.

The rapid work to replace the bridge, which collapsed on a snowy January morning, was a demonstration that “America is the only country in the world that comes out of crises stronger than we went in. … And that’s the story I want to tell here,” Biden said, according to WESA-FM in Pittsburgh.

Biden reached the bridge site around 12:56 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, delivering a brief speech that lasted around 16 minutes, according to pool reports.

Biden signed the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill into law last November, about two months before the bridge collapsed on Jan. 28, just as the Democratic president was getting ready to visit the city.

And while the money to rebuild it did not come from the law, Biden said that with the money in the pipeline, state officials were able to move already-allocated money to fast-track repairs, WESA-FM reported.

The repair work, which might ordinarily have taken two to five years to complete, will be done in a year’s time, with the bridge due to reopen this winter, according to WESA-FM and the White House.

The bridge was one of about 45,000 in poor condition nationwide that needed to be repaired or replaced, Biden told the crowd, according to pool reports.

“Pittsburgh’s the city of bridges, but too many of them are in poor condition,” Biden said, according to WESA-FM. “This is just one of 2,400 bridges across this country that are being repaired just this year because of this law.”

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Pennsylvania Dems take ‘Don’t be Caught Naked’ campaign to the skies over Philly

When it comes to casting your mail-in ballot this midterm campaign season, Pennsylvania Democrats would really, really appreciate it if you didn’t go naked.

No, that’s not a reminder to wear pants to your local county elections office (you’d probably feel the draft anyway). Rather, it’s part of a recently launched campaign to remind voters to use their secrecy envelopes when they vote by mail this fall.

The ‘secrecy’ envelope, by the way, is that blank envelope your ballot has to go into before you put it into the larger envelope that you drop in your mailbox, deposit at your county elections office, or another drop-off point.

And on Tuesday, the campaign took to the skies over West Philadelphia for an hour or so, with a banner reading “COVER UP, PA! NO NAKED BALLOTS! VISIT IWILLVOTE.COM/PA” making a lap up and down the Schuylkill River, delivering a well-intentioned, if a tad distracting, civics lesson to commuters white-knuckling it down the Schuylkill Expressway.

“Pennsylvania is home to some of the most important races in the country and it’s crucial every voter knows how to make their voice heard and ensures that their vote is counted,” Jack Doyle, a spokesperson for the state Democratic Party, said in an email. “Voting by mail is a convenient and reliable way to vote – just remember to cover up your ballot using the secrecy envelope.”

The banner was paid for by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the state party said in its statement.

Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Austin Davis casts his mail-in ballot in Pittsburgh on Friday, 10/7/22 (Screen Capture).

Mail-in ballots that didn’t include the secrecy envelopes became something of a thing in the 2020 election, when then-Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar told county election officials to count them. As PennLive reports, the state Supreme Court eventually stepped in, and the ballots were not counted.

But with control of Congress and the Governor’s Office on the line, Democrats say they want to make sure people follow the right protocols as they cast their ballots, PennLive also reported.

With that in mind, voters casting mail-in ballots should:

Complete your ballot in black or blue ink.

Seal the ballot in the smaller secrecy envelope, then place it in the larger return envelope. If you do not place the ballot in the secrecy envelope, your vote won’t count.

Sign, date and complete the voters’ declaration on the outside of the larger return envelope.

Mail your ballot or return it in person to an official drop-off location. Check to find out where you can drop off your ballot.

Democrats have touted the campaign with events in Philadelphia, featuring U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Pittsburgh, featuring Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Austin Davis.

“Voting by mail is a convenient and reliable way for Pennsylvanians to fulfill their civic duty and make their voices heard,” Casey said in a statement provided to PennLive. “We need to ensure voters across the commonwealth are properly informed about the steps they need to take to make sure their vote is counted.”

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

All the election-deniers on the Pennsylvania ballot in 2022

When they head to the polls this fall, six in 10 American voters, including right here in Pennsylvania, will have an election-denier on their ballot, according to an analysis by the politics data website FiveThirtyEight.

In Pennsylvania, home to marquee fights for the governor’s office and U.S. Senate, 10 Republicans, including GOP gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano, and most of the Republican members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation have denied the validity of the 2020 election results that saw President Joe Biden beat former President Donald Trump, according to FiveThirtyEight’s analysis.

Mastriano, a state senator from Franklin County, has spread false claims of election fraud. He was at the U.S Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. He was called before the U.S. House committee investigating the insurrection, but cut his interview short. He has since sued the special panel, contesting its legitimacy and arguing that it cannot compel him to testify.

He faces Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro, whose office defended the state in alleged cases of voter fraud.

Celebrity physician Mehmet Oz, the Republican contender for Pennsylvania’s nationally watched U.S. Senate race has “raised questions” about the results of the 2020 contest, according to FiveThirtyEight’s analysis.

Earlier this week, in an interview with Fox News, Oz, who has Trump’s endorsement, said he believes “lots more information” is needed to determine whether Trump won the 2020 election, Yahoo News reported.

Asked whether he believed the 2020 contest was stolen, Oz told Fox News that he’d been “asked that question many times.

“I’m a doctor, I’m very precise with the words I use,” Oz said, according to Yahoo News. “There’s lots more information we have to gather in order to determine that and I’d be very desirous of gathering some. I think it would improve the process in general.”

During an appearance with U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., in Philadelphia Oz said that if he were in office, he would have voted to certify Biden’s win — defying Trump’s push at the time, which later led to the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

“I would not have objected to it,” Oz said, according to Yahoo News.
“By the time the delegates and those reports are sent to the U.S. Senate, our job was to approve it. That’s what I would have done.”

Oz faces Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman in November.

The list of election deniers among the ranks of Pennsylvania’s GOP congressional delegation is a roster that will be familiar to political observers.

It includes U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-10th District, the chairman of the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus, whose cell phone was seized by the FBI as part of the agency’s investigation into “fake electors” in the 2020 election.

Like Mastriano, Perry also has elevated Trump’s false claims of election fraud, and he joined with unsuccessful legal efforts to try to overturn election results in his home state.

U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-16th District, who asked the U.S. Supreme Court to decertify Pennsylvania’s 2020 election results, also is listed as a “full denier” in the FiveThirtyEight analysis.

He’s joined by U.S. Reps. Dan Meuser, R-9th District, Lloyd Smucker, R-11th District; John Joyce, R-13th District; Guy Reschenthaler, R-14th District, and Glen ‘GT’ Thompson, R-15th District.

U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District, has accepted the results “with reservations,” according to FiveThirtyEight’s analysis.

GOP congressional hopefuls Aaron Bashir and Jim Bognet, respectively running in the 2nd and 8th Congressional Districts, are listed as full deniers. Christian Nascimento, who is running in the 4th District, has “accepted with reservations.”

GOP hopefuls David Galluch, Lisa Scheller, and Jeremy Shaffer, respectively running in the 5th, 7th, and 17th Districts, have declined to comment, according to FiveThirtyEight. Guy Ciarrocchi, who’s running in the 6th District, has “raised questions” about the results, according to FiveThirtyEight.

All told, of the 529 Republicans running this year, 196 candidates have fully denied the results of the 2020 contest, according to FiveThirtyEight. Those candidates either explicitly stated Trump won, or took legal action to overturn the results.

That compares to the 73 Republicans who have fully accepted the results, and the 87 who have accepted the results “with reservations,” according to FiveThirtyEight. The gulf further highlights how in thrall Republican incumbents and aspirants remain to Trump and the myth of the stolen election two years after Election Day.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Trump should be criminally charged for role in the Capitol insurrection: congresswoman

A Pennsylvania lawmaker who participated in former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial says the Republican should be “held responsible by the rule of law,” for inciting a crowd of his supporters to march on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 to disrupt the certification of the 2020 election results.

Trump “assembled the mob, lit the fuse, and sent them up Pennsylvania Avenue,” and did nothing to stop them for more than three hours as rioters battled with U.S. Capitol and Washington D.C. police and rampaged through the Capitol sending members of Congress, their staff, and former Vice President Mike Pence fleeing for their lives, U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean said Monday.

“What I want from Jan. 6 is the same thing as when I served in the second impeachment: I want the truth to come out,” Dean, D-4th District, told the Pennsylvania Press Club during its monthly luncheon in Harrisburg. ” … The former president cared only for himself … and he wanted to retain power.”

And apart from possible criminal charges, Trump also faces “high constitutional crimes” for failing to immediately stop the violence.

“… I can’t think of any higher crimes constitutionally than what President Trump is guilty of,” she said. “It’s proved. But on the criminal side, yes, absolutely. There’s conspiracies in here. There’s all kinds of corrupt criminal behavior. So yes, I hope he is held responsible to the rule of law. That’s what we are, how we are guided. We are men and women guided by the rule of law, not by a single autocrat, not by a single party.”

Dean, a former Pennsylvania lawmaker who first was elected to Congress in 2018, said that while she’s “respectful” of the challenge facing U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, she believes the nation’s top prosecutor should be moving more quickly to bring Trump, and others responsible for the day’s violence, to justice.

Garland has faced increased pressure to explain why his agency has seemingly done so little, even as prosecutors in Georgia have moved ahead with their own criminal probe, the New York Times reported.

“I’m respectful, because I’m not in their shoes. I’ve never been a prosecutor. I’ve never been in the Department of Justice. So I’m respectful of the pace they’re taking,” Dean told reporters after her speech. “But personally, I would love to have had it move along faster.

“I’m somebody who served on the impeachment trial. We saw enough evidence there,” she continued. “And that was just weeks after the coup, the attempted coup. But I do respect that we’re talking about the highest office in the land. If you’re going to go in for criminal conviction, you better have your facts straight. So I’m respectful. I’ll be watching and waiting and hopeful that soon we will see some indictments.”

Dean said she’s tried to attend as many of the meetings of the House committee investigating the riot as she can, so she could “bear witness to the truth.” But, she added, that has not come without its cost.

Dean said she went into the panel’s first hearing “thinking it’s been a year-and-a half. I’m good, we’re good here. And I wound up crying. Dean, like other lawmakers in the U.S. House chamber was told to don a gas mask, and was moved to a secure location while the violence raged.

“I was sad for how I made my children so afraid. Because I didn’t know where we were going,” she continued. “I [have] noticed that sounds are jarring to me … Because when we were up in the [House] gallery, and they were instructing us what to do first, ti kneel down get your gas mask on, and get ready to go out. We heard that pounding on the center doors down on the floor of the chamber, and then the breaking of the glass that I will never forget that pounding. So that, to me is is triggering.”

Dean said she’s since found it hard to work with the Republican members of Pennsylvania’s Capitol Hill delegation, eight of whom opposed the certification of President Joe Biden’s election, and joined in failed legal efforts to overturn Pennsylvania’s election results.

“It’s really difficult. In my first term, I worked with [U.S. Rep.] Guy Reschenthaler [R-14th District], and we got a bill passed and signed by Donald Trump … getting grants to police departments,” she said. “… I want to work with a Republican counterpart, but I made the decision, along with my team, that I won’t co-lead legislation with someone who voted not to certify the election. I just won’t do it. There’s got to be a line in the sand.”

Dean said she remains optimistic that Democrats will be able to retain control of the U.S. House this fall and will expand their numbers in the U.S. Senate — even amid gloomy predictions that the party is in for a midterm drubbing in November.

“The headwinds that we’re up against, particularly here in Pennsylvania … are real,” she said. “I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure we elect more pro-choice. anti-gun violence Democrats in both [chambers].”

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

GOP's abortion gambit in  Pennsylvania could blow up in their faces — here's why

What do you get when you combine the odious optics of a dead of night vote with one of the most politically potent issues of the last 50 years?

If you’re a Pennsylvania Republican, and you’re pushing a constitutional amendment declaring that there’s no right to abortion in the state’s foundational document, the answer might well be “more than you bargained for.”

On Friday, the GOP-controlled state Senate voted 28-22 to approve the amendment language, which also declares that there’s no right to public funding for the procedure.That vote came after a rare late-night session in which the Senate pushed the bill through committee over the objections of Democrats. The bill now goes to the state House.

Under state law, constitutional amendments must be approved in identical form in consecutive legislative sessions, and then by the voters at a statewide referendum. If the bill stays on its current track, it could end up on the spring 2023 primary ballot.

And with tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians already enraged, and public opinion polls continuing to show strong support for keeping abortion legal under all or most circumstances, the GOP just handed abortion-rights supporters a powerful motivating tool, one veteran consultant said.

“People were feeling helpless after Roe,” Mustafa Rashed, the president and CEO of Philadelphia-based Bellevue Strategies, said. “The Republicans just gave them something to do.”

Senate approves constitutional amendment package as reproductive rights advocates protest

In general, Pennsylvania’s ballot referenda, held in so-called “off-year” elections, tend to be low-turnout affairs, dealing with such wonky issues as the mandatory retirement age for judges.

That also means the ballot questions usually are decided by a minority of a minority of the commonwealth’s voters – and they usually are passed without much opposition.

But with abortion on the ballot, there is no such difficulty.

“People can get their heads around a woman’s right to choose,” Rashed said.

During Thursday’s committee meeting – and in the hours after it – activists and lawmakers already were drawing parallels to the infamous 2005 legislative pay raises, which similarly were passed late at night.

The raises provoked what was then an unprecedented public backlash, with senior lawmakers and one Pennsylvania Supreme court justice losing their jobs in a tidal wave of populist anger. Lawmakers repealed the raises months later.

While it’s unclear if such a perfect storm will repeat itself, there were hints of it on Friday afternoon, as pro-abortion rights protesters occupied a hallway in the Capitol after rallying on the building’s front steps.

“For extremists, the vote was about politics, but for the rest of us, it’s about removing access health care from abortion to contraception to [in vitro fertilization],” Signe Espinoza, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates said in a statement. “We’ve seen the far-right playbook in other states leading up to the fall of Roe, and this is another step on the path to an outright abortion ban.”

The potential referendum vote also will be prefaced this fall by a pair of high-stakes contests that will serve as test cases – the race for Pennsylvania governor and the state’s open U.S. Senate seat, where abortion rights already are on the ballot.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro, who supports abortion rights, has vowed to veto GOP-led attacks on the procedure, just as current Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has done for his two terms.

Shapiro, of Montgomery County, faces Republican Doug Mastriano, of Franklin County, an anti-abortion absolutist who opposes exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of a pregnant person.

The race is attracting national attention, and as it continues to heat up, it also is likely to attract millions of dollars in outside spending.

“A lot of money and attention will flow into Pennsylvania,” during a future referendum fight, Rashed told the Capital-Star because of the high-stakes nature of the debate, and because of its potential to impact surrounding states.

In addition, all 203 seats in the state House and half the 50-member Senate also are up for re-election, giving voters other places to focus their anger.

So instead of seeking to end an argument with ramming through constitutional boilerplate for short-term gain, Republicans may have just started one that could end up costing them in the long run.

“If you support the right to choose, this is a golden opportunity,” Rashed said.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Is Dr. Oz finally distancing himself from Trump?

We’ll turn our attention this Saturday morning to Pennsylvania’s nationally watched U.S. Senate campaign. After winning a close fight for the nomination, Republican Mehmet Oz apparently has now decided he can (mostly) live without one of the things that got him over the finish line.

Namely, a coveted endorsement from former President Donald Trump.

As Axios reports, Oz, a celebrity physician, has quietly ditched the Trumpian branding from his campaign website as he moves into the thick of the general election campaign against Democrat John Fetterman.


(Collage: Internet Archive/Axios)

According to Axios, Oz’s social media banners now say “Thank you, Pennsylvania,” and include a solo photo of him without Trump. His website also no longer has a pop-up fundraising pitch touting the endorsement. And, making it Twitter official, Oz’s bio on the social media site no longer mentions the endorsement, according to Axios.

But, also realizing on which side their bread is buttered, Oz’s campaign has not completely distanced itself from the former president.

“The endorsement is the first endorsement listed on our website and we changed the banner to thank Pennsylvanians after the recount [against primary challenger David McCormick] was completed,” campaign spokesperson Brittany Yanick told Axios.

Oz also spoke kindly of Trump during a June 10 appearance on conservative talker John Fredericks’ show, where the GOP Senate hopeful dunked on the work of the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

“I’m not happy with the fact that we’re dragging the president through the mud on this. It seems extremely partisan,” Oz said, according to a transcript obtained by the Capital-Star. “And I think the American people appreciate that. You don’t have a jury by your peers.”

” … We have shootings that make everybody wonder what is going on here. This could be a third world nation with the way we’re dealing with murderers in our streets,” Oz continued. “And all that’s happening and you know, and we’re being pulled to the side and distracted on primetime television, with hearings that are designed to do just one thing, which is to attack one half of the political spectrum.”

Oz’s perch between, as they say, two stools is the current GOP dilemma. He may want to appeal to moderates in the suburbs, but he can’t afford to ditch the base. We’ll see how the balancing act continues to play out during the campaign this summer and heading into the fall.

As ever, the rundown of this week’s top five most-read stories starts below.

(Image via The Philadelphia Tribune)

1. Juneteenth in Philadelphia: A list of events celebrating the holiday

Community events, concerts and a parade are just some of the activities that will be taking place Sunday [June 19] in Philadelphia to celebrate Juneteenth.

“Juneteenth is the celebration of freedom,” said Tamara Staley, president and CEO of The Philadelphia Juneteenth Family Inc. “The holiday was first celebrated in Texas with food, music and dance. Today, we continue with that tradition not just locally, but nationally.”

2. Trump’s fake electors: Here’s the full list

The 84 people who signed bogus documents claiming that Donald Trump won the 2020 election include dozens of local Republican Party leaders, seven current candidates for public office, eight current office holders and at least five previous state and federal office holders.

Groups from Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin all allegedly sent lists of so-called alternate electors to the National Archives after the 2020 election. The slate of fake electors includes Lou Barletta and Charlie Gerow, both candidates for governor in Pennsylvania; Burt Jones, a candidate for lieutenant governor in Georgia; James Lamon, a candidate for U.S. Senate from Arizona; and candidates for state legislative seats.

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 06: A pro-Trump mob breaks into the U.S. Capitol on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

3. What do about the emerging paramilitary wing of the GOP | J. Patrick Coolican

It’s campaign season, which means Republican candidates for office wielding weapons and threatening to use them.

J.R. Majewski, a Republican candidate for Congress in Ohio, ran an ad (since taken down for copyright issues) in which images of President Joe Biden, Minnesota U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and Colin Kaepernick (?!) are flashed on the screen, and then Majewski casually walks around with a rifle and says he’ll “do whatever it takes to return this country back to its former glory.”

Blake Masters, the Trump-endorsed U.S. Senate candidate in Arizona, builds his own guns and recently showed one off on social media with the caption: “I will remind everyone in Congress what ‘shall not be infringed’ means.”

It’s an especially sinister message, given that Masters’ potential opponent is U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly, whose wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, was badly injured in a 2011 mall shooting.

Members of the advocacy group, March on Harrisburg, carry a section of the ‘Wall of Corruption’ up a ramp outside the Pennsylvania Capitol’s East Wing on Tuesday, 6/21/22. The group has spent months pressing the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to pass a gift ban for state lawmakers (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek).

4. Pushing for a gift ban, activists tear down ‘Wall of Corruption’ outside Pa. Capitol

Members of the activist group MarchOnHarrisburg erected a metaphoric “Wall of Corruption” outside the Pennsylvania Capitol on Tuesday, as they renewed their call for passage of a legislative gift ban.

Advocates said the wall, which they argue was paid for lobbyists and special interests, kept everyday Pennsylvanians from having their voices heard in the halls of power.

“We’re here to bypass the House majority leaders and call for our own vote of 102 [lawmakers] to vote for the gift ban,” the group’s executive director, Rabbi Michael Pollack, said Tuesday.

Hundreds of protesters rally in Harrisburg on Saturday, May 14, 2022, to promote abortion access. (Capital-Star photo by Marley Parish)

(*Editor’s Note: On Friday, 6/24/22, the U.S. Supreme Court topped the constitutional right to abortion.)

5. Abortion is still legal in Pennsylvania. What to know about existing requirements, access

Pennsylvania does not have a trigger law on the books to outlaw abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, which guaranteed federal constitutional protections for abortion rights.

So if the nation’s highest court strikes down the 1973 decision, the commonwealth could become a sanctuary state for those seeking an abortion but whose home states have outlawed or heavily restricted the procedure.

But — should the high court overturn the ruling — the results of the governor’s and legislative races this November could drastically change how, when, and why someone can receive an abortion — if at all — in Pennsylvania. And some lawmakers in the Republican-controlled General Assembly have proposed limiting the procedure and restricting funds to health care centers that perform abortions, despite Pennsylvanians supporting keeping abortion legal under all or some circumstances.

For now, the Abortion Control Act, a 1982 state law, permits abortions with some restrictions and requirements.

And that’s the week. See you all back here on Monday.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards reminds us what heroism looks like

Every Republican who’s ever denied, or tried to minimize, the hideously destructive reality of the violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, should be required to sit and listen to the testimony of Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards.

And if it takes strapping them into a chair, and propping their eyelids open, “A Clockwork Orange” style, then so be it.

In riveting testimony on Thursday night, in a tone that never rose beyond calm professionalism, Edwards told the U.S. House Select Committee, and a nationwide television audience, that the violence was “something like I had seen out of the movies.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes, Edwards, 31, said, according to the Washington Post. “There were officers on the ground. They were bleeding. They were throwing up … I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people’s blood.”

Slipping in people’s blood. Let that sink in for a minute. That’s not hyperbole. That’s the horrifying reality that Edwards and other law enforcement officers who were defending the seat of American democracy faced on that tragic day; a day that cost some of her colleagues their lives.

The same Republicans who solemnly lectured the rest of us that Blue Lives mattered during our summer of civil rights unrest in 2020, should be required to answer, specifically, why these same blue lives do not matter now. They should be required to explain, in the well of the U.S. House and Senate, how they justified dismissing the marauding band behind the attempted coup on Jan. 6 2021, as “tourists.”

Pardons, Proud Boys, assault of a police officer: Pennsylvania’s ties to Jan. 6 committee findings

Because there is no explanation that justifies what happened that day.

In excruciating detail on Thursday night, the bipartisan U.S. House panel investigating the attack alleged that two groups supporting former President Donald Trump planned the riot to stop the transfer of presidential power, even as Trump tacitly endorsed the the insurrection, and turned a deaf ear to the murderous crowd’s calls to hang former Vice President Mike Pence.

In an opening statement, the panel’s chairman, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., explicitly stated that Trump was “at the center” of a “sprawling, multi-step conspiracy aimed at overturning the presidential election,” and that he and his GOP allies in Congress attempted to “[throw] out the votes of millions of Americans – your votes – your voice in our democracy – and [replace] the will of the American people with his will to remain in power after his term ended.”

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, of Wyoming, one of two Republicans on the committee, said GOP lawmakers close to Trump, including U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-10th District, sought presidential pardons after the attack. There is one only one reason someone seeks a pardon: Because they have committed a crime. In this case, illegally trying to topple the election.

Cheney, who has been ostracized by her own party, and who could very well lose her job during Wyoming’s primary election later this summer, condemned her Republican colleagues who have condoned the violence, and who have continued to spread the myth of a stolen election.

Jan. 6 panel says Trump, far-right groups responsible for insurrection

“Tonight, I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone,” she said, according to Capital-Star Washington Reporter Jacob Fischler. “Your dishonor will remain.”

New video footage the committee aired on Thursday night showed just how close we came to losing our democracy on Jan. 6, 2021, how close we came to sliding into the thuggish authoritarianism still embraced by Trump and far too many Republicans.

It was a reminder of how very fragile the American experiment continues to be, and of our ongoing responsibility to guard it, and to nurture it, so that it does not, as Abraham Lincoln warned on the fields of Gettysburg, “perish from the earth.”

Caroline Edwards, the granddaughter of a Korean War veteran, knew her duty and stepped up to do it, perhaps at a lifelong cost.

Her grandfather, who was wounded at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, “lived the rest of his days with bullets and shrapnel in his legs, but never once complained about his sacrifice,” she said.

“I would like to think that he would be proud of me,” Edwards continued. “Proud of his granddaughter that stood her ground that day, and continued fighting even though she was wounded, like he did many years ago.”

Long after Trump takes his place among history’s reviled strongmen, and his allies among their cowardly henchmen, the courage of Caroline Edwards, Liz Cheney, and others who stood up for the Constitution, will be celebrated and remembered.

It’s up to us to make sure our democracy endures so that can happen. Otherwise, those sacrifices will have been in vain. That’s the debt we owe them.

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