Top Pa. House leader is right: elected officials shouldn’t be prioritized for vaccine; if only the messaging had always been this consistent | Tuesday Morning Coffee

January 12, 2021 7:28 am

House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, speaks during a Capitol news conference on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020 (Capital-Star photo).

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

The second-ranking Republican in the state House said Monday that he thinks lawmakers and other statewide elected officials shouldn’t be include in an expanded first round of COVID-19 vaccinations, instead arguing that constituents and taxpayers should be prioritized.

“Pennsylvania’s elected and administration officials are public servants. Good servants, be they public or otherwise, put their interests and well-being below those they serve,” House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, wrote in a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf and state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine. “We should not be advanced in line to receive this life-saving vaccine at a time when supplies remain limited.”

Last week, Wolf and Levine rolled out an updated and expanded vaccine schedule, that included a broader range of at-risk and high-priority populations. Lawmakers and elected officials were included in the newly created “Phase 1C” of the plan, which also included people “age 65-74 and people with high-risk conditions such as cancer, COPD, hearth conditions and pregnant women, and those essential workers not included in Phase 1A or B,” Levine’s office said in a statement.

(Getty Images/Maine Beacon)

Wolf and Levine said last week the state adopted the new vaccine plan, the state’s 4th iteration, to keep up with updates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

In his letter, Benninghoff said he understood the motivation, but “[t]he state plan goes beyond the CDC recommendation to allow state elected officials and administration cabinet officials to receive the COVID-19 vaccination at the same time as those who may be at-risk and before the general public. In my eyes, that is simply not acceptable.”

For the record, the media are included in the new Phase 1C. And while I can’t speak for fellow scribes, I don’t intend to line jump, either.

So on one level, Benninghoff’s note seems remarkably — and appropriately — public-spirited. It’s the kind of selflessness that you want to see out of your public officials when they’re at their best.

Until you remember, that is, that Benninghoff’s caucus spent most of 2020 launching a frontal assault against many of the administration’s pandemic management policies (whose consistency was questionable), and sought to override gubernatorial vetoes of bills intended to undo them. It’s also entirely fair to say that the GOP’s embrace of mask rules has been erratic at best.

In the photo above, taken last summer, Benninghoff is seen speaking without a mask. However, he wore one prior to speaking as he stood among his colleagues, and he wore one after while speaking to journalists, including this one.

Even so, that disdain for wearing masks and its subsequent messaging has undoubtedly filtered down to the local level, where polling shows that Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say they rarely wear a mask.

On Monday, the state Health Department announced 7,506 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday and 5,338 new cases on Monday. The state’s average daily caseload is still worryingly high, but it’s down for January, according to published reports.

Still, one can’t help but wonder what the average caseload would have been like during the peak of the pandemic (and now) if all of Harrisburg had been speaking with one voice on the importance of social distancing, mask-wearing and other containment measures that the rest of the industrialized world knows are key to fighting this plague.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller)

Our Stuff.
Stephen Caruso
 leads our coverage with news of the creation of a new progressive caucus within the General Assembly. The subcommittee of the House Democratic Policy Committee will be chaired by Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Philadelphia.

State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine says the state expects 138,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to be delivered this week, Cassie Miller reports.

Gov. Tom Wolf has decided against renominating Office of Open Records boss Erik Arneson to a second, six-year term. He’ll be replaced by Liz Gerloff Wagenseller, a top aide to outgoing Auditor General Eugene DePasqualeArneson is off to the office of state Treasurer-elect Stacy Garrity, reminding us that there are second, third, and fourth acts in public life.

With an armed march expected this weekend, and less than a week out from the violence that wracked Washington, the security presence has been upped around the state CapitolCassie Miller has the details on that as well.

U.S. House Democrats say they have the votes to impeach President Donald TrumpCapital-Star Washington Reporter Laura Olson writes in a piece that also includes the votes and public statements of the Democratic members of Pennsylvania’s House delegation.

On our Commentary Page this morning, six education experts offer their take on how schools should handle teaching the Capitol insurrection last week. Karen Dalton, a retired counsel to Republicans on the state House Judiciary Committee, says her congressman, U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R10th District, needs to explaining why he supported disenfranchising her — and tens of thousands of voters across the state.

Senator Jake Corman takes questions from reporters (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller).

Spotlight PA
 profiles new Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centrewho’s promised to be a reformer and to improve transparency in the upper chamber.
U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-16th District, has criticized the Capitol riots, even as he’s doubled-down on his objections to the election, the Post-Gazette reports.
A petition calls for the firing of a central Pennsylvania teacher caught on video last week rallying for President Donald TrumpPennLive reports. While the incident is under investigation by the school district, the petition’s organizers have acknowledged they lack any evidence of illegality.
The Associated Press profiles voters who are leaving the GOP after last week’s rally (via The Morning Call).
The Citizens-Voice answers readers’ questions about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:


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A program in Philadelphia that helps the families of murder victims has received a fresh infusion of funding, WHYY-FM reports.
The new COVID-19 relief package has brought more broadband funding to Pennsylvania, but it’s just scratching the surface of what’s needed, WESA-FM reports.
U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-10th District, has issued a one-word statement responding to calls for his resignation: ‘No,’ the York Daily Record reports. surveys security at state Capitols across the countryconcluding that they’re even more vulnerable than the U.S. Capitol.
Major corporations have cut off donations to high-profile D.C. pols after last week’s violence. But will it last? Roll Call takes up the question.

What Goes On.
The state House comes in at 11 a.m. this morning.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Is there a birthday — your own or someone else’s — you’d like noted in this space? Send us an email at [email protected], and we’ll get you on the calendar.

Heavy Rotation.
The days always seem slightly better when there is new music from The Hold Steady in the world. And here’s their latest tune, as if to prove it: ‘Heavy Covenant.’

Tuesday’s Gratuitous Soccer Link.
The Guardian runs down the draws in the 4th round of the FA Cup, which finds Manchester United facing Premier League defending champions Liverpool. And small fry Chorley face Wolves, setting up the potential for a major upset (or an epic blowout).

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.