Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
It’s no stretch to say that relations in this pandemic year between the Democratic Wolf administration and the Republican-controlled General Assembly have been less than smooth.
From last year’s still simmering transparency fights over the administration’s COVID-inspired shutdown orders and the ensuing veto override cage matches those orders inspired, to the barely settled squabbling over election reform and mail-in balloting, taxpayers could be forgiven for thinking they’d stumbled into the most poorly scripted WWE match ever.
And on Monday, just days before Wolf was to submit his 2021-22 budget plan to lawmakers, the Capitol was rocked by the news that Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar resigned after a blunder by her office set back a years-long effort to amend the state constitution to give child sex abuse victims their day in court.
As the Capital-Star’s Elizabeth Hardison and Stephen Caruso reported, Boockvar’s office failed to properly advertise the proposed amendment after it was approved by the General Assembly.
The error means that the amendment, which could have been on the statewide ballot as soon as this May’s primary election, now will not be handed over to voters until at least 2023. That’s because it must again go through the standard process of approval in two, consecutive legislative sessions.
And, just like that, a 2021 legislative session that threatened to be merely fractious and riddled with trust issues and mutual suspicion, now seems set to go supernova.
“It is disgraceful that Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar failed in her constitutional duty to advertise a proposed constitutional amendment for child sex abuse victims,” Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, said in a statement. “Her dereliction of duty has failed these victims, failed voters who would have had a voice this spring, and failed the Commonwealth.”
It didn’t take long for Boockvar’s own goal to get wrapped up in her agency’s decision to give counties more time to process ballots that arrived late, but were postmarked by election day. It’s a move Republicans have weaponized to buttress their false claims that election fraud and irregularities allowed President Joe Biden to carry the state, and with it, the White House.
“The situation that Ms. Boockvar has created certainly isn’t going to make an already bumpy road any smoother. Legislators of both parties are not pleased that what they believe is an important Constitutional Amendment has been derailed by incompetence,” Republican consultant Charlie Gerow, of Harrisburg, told the Capital-Star. “It’s tragic that Ms. Boockvar was too busy changing the rules of the election to do the job she was supposed to do.”
House State Government Committee Chairman Seth Grove, R-York, whose panel holds hearings like most of us eat Pringles, announced that he plans to hold his own inquest on the matter — in between the committee’s ongoing inquisition on election issues. It’s hard to imagine that there’s not going to be some overlap between the two.
“It’s hard to know how certain members of the Republican majority will respond — after all, dozens of them questioned whether Pennsylvania’s elections were fraudulent despite winning their own races,” said Dan Fee, a Democratic consultant from Philadelphia, who credited the administration for taking “immediate and significant action when they found out that it wasn’t properly advertised.
“It was a mistake, and hopefully the Legislature takes action to help the victims of abuse get justice,” Fee said.
In their own way, both Fee and Gerow put their respective fingers on what lawmakers should be doing in the days and weeks to come: Exercising their legitimate oversight authority so they can get to the bottom of what went wrong, and to move as swiftly as they can to provide justice to abuse survivors who have suffered for so long.
But they should resist any temptation to draw slender parallels to Boockvar’s management of election policy. What they have before them is earth-shattering enough.
In a statement, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, signaled that might be the approach her panel could take when it examines the tragic blunder.
“To attempt to call this a mistake is to mischaracterize the gravity of the offense,” Baker said. “Few Pennsylvanians are going to settle for any claim of isolated incompetence either. This warrants investigation by law enforcement and scrutiny through legislative hearings. There are many of us who want to know how and when this was uncovered, in addition to why it happened.”
And if lawmakers are tempted to take their eye off the ball to score partisan points, they needn’t look any further than two of their own, Reps. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, and Jim Gregory, R-Blair, both abuse survivors who shepherded the amendment through the House.
Rozzi told the Capital-Star that he “[feels] like I got up and should still be sleeping. That this is just a joke, a bad joke.”
Occasionally pausing to collect himself, Gregory told the Capital-Star that “we were so close to making history in Pennsylvania, now we’re going to make history in such an ugly, painful, inconsolable way.”
The Boockvar blow-up, inevitably, will cast a long shadow over the weeks of budget talks to come, with the administration and lawmakers eyeing each other warily across the negotiating table.
“The budget will be tough enough,” without the controversy, Millersville University political analyst Terry Madonna said, in what might be the understatement of this very young — but already seemingly endless — year.
The drama over Boockvar, who did the right thing by owning the mistake and stepping down, will make it even harder. But for the good of survivors, who have waited so long for justice, lawmakers and the administration are going to have to make a go of it.
Here’s our full story, from Elizabeth Hardison and Stephen Caruso, on Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar’s departure.
President Joe Biden’s pick to run the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, is battling skepticism from Black farmers ahead of his Tuesday confirmation hearing, Capital-Star Washington Reporter Ariana L. Figueroa writes.
On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Charles D. Allen brings you the story of Maj. Gen. Charles C. Rogers, a Black History Month hero. And a coalition of advocates say that, this budget season, Gov. Tom Wolf and Pa. lawmakers have to put the needs of underserved students first.
Pennsylvania Republicans tell the Inquirer that they’re stumped by ex-President Donald Trump’s decision to hire ex-MontCo DA Bruce Castor for his defense team.
If you noticed that the mail was still slow, you weren’t wrong. The U.S. Postal Service is still having issues, PennLive reports.
Allentown School District Superintendent Thomas Parker has announced his resignation, the Morning Call reports.
Officials in Luzerne County will continue their own inquest into the 2020 election this month, the Citizens-Voice reports.
With kids going to class remotely, snow days just aren’t what they used to be, the York Dispatch reports.
Here’s your #Philadelphia Inatagram of the Day:
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WITF-FM talks to sexual abuse survivors about the error that will delay justice for them by at least another two years.
Philadelphia’s Health Department is under investigation, even as it seeks new vaccine partners, WHYY-FM reports.
GoErie has five things for Erie residents to watch for in Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2021 budget proposal.
What’s the biggest obstacle standing between many Americans and the COVID-19 vaccine? A ride, Stateline.org reports.
Congressional Democrats are laying the groundwork to pass a new COVID-19 relief bill with or without Republican votes, Roll Call reports.
Talking Points Memo explains how the Trump administration’s efforts to rig the Census fell apart.
What Goes On.
Onnaccounta the snow, Gov. Tom Wolf has put off his annual budget address, which was supposed to be held today, until Wednesday.
Want to party like it’s 2005? Here’s a whole playlist of ‘Noughties indie pop, from MGMT and Phoenix to The Kooks and Bombay Bicycle Club, to power you through as you’re shoveling out the driveway on this very snowy Tuesday morning.
Tuesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau kept his point streak alive Monday, scoring the winning goal in a shootout over Winnipeg, handing the Flames a 4-3 win. The Jets’ Mark Scheifele kept his team alive, scoring the tying goal in the third period to force the bonus hockey.
And now you’re up to date.