New report: 36 officials in 22 Pa. counties could pose election threat | Five for the Weekend

Their ranks include county officials statewide

By: - April 22, 2023 6:30 am
A voting sign in Philadelphia

(Capital-Star photo by Michala Butler)

new report identifies 36 local officials in 22 counties across Pennsylvania who exhibited “anti-democratic” tendencies during the 2022 midterm cycle, and who could pose a similar threat in elections to come.

All told, the report by Informing Democracy, a new nonprofit group whose ranks include former staffers of President Joe Biden’sU.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s, and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker’s, D-N.J., presidential campaigns, and other “election professionals, researchers, and lawyers,” identifies 200 state and local election officials nationwide.

The Pennsylvania officials identified in the report include Allegheny County Councilor Sam DeMarco, whose name appeared on a fake slate of pro-Donald Trump electorsBerks County Commissioners Christian Leinbach and Michael RiveraBradford County Commissioner Doug McLinkoFulton County Commissioner Stuart Ulsh, and others.

“This report shines a floodlight on the wave of state and local officials counting our ballots and writing our election laws who harbor anti-democratic tendencies— and it shows just how big a threat they pose to future elections,” the group’s executive director, Jenna Lowenstein, said in a statement.

“While the vast majority of elections are well organized and well run by dedicated public servants, it’s critical that the public and the press see how this poisonous, anti-democratic trend is spreading across the country. This encyclopedia of election deniers is a warning and a must-use resource for those seeking to hold officials accountable for their previous attacks on our democracy and for those defending it from future threats,” Lowenstein, who managed U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy’s, D-Conn., 2018 re-election campaign, continued.

In Pennsylvania, the report puts county commissioners and county councilors under the microscope, notably singling out officials in Luzerne County, the site of a controversial ballot paper shortage on Election Day that attracted national attention.

“In the most recent elections of 2022, the Luzerne County Board of Elections voted against certification of the results,” the report’s authors noted. “After some delay, the board voted to certify the election in a 3-2 vote, with two Republican members in opposition.”

Pittsburgh Langley social worker Sarah Armenti shows the food supply kept at the school for students and families in need (Photo via The Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism).

1. There’s a social worker shortage. Pa.’s state system schools have a plan | Monday Morning Coffee 

Mirroring national trends, Pennsylvania is facing a social worker shortage that, if left unaddressed, could keep people from getting the support and care that they need.

To help close that gap, officials at the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education say they want to offer $10 million in direct financial aid to social services students — including aspiring social workers.

That money would provide an average savings of about $1,500 a year for each student, the agency said in an April 10 statement. Pell-eligible (high-need) students could receive about $5,000, for an average total of $6,500 per year, according to the state system.

“Social services workers relieve suffering and improve the lives of children, seniors and many other Pennsylvanians,” PASSHE said in its statement. “There’s already a shortage of these workers, and communities will need even more of them to support the state’s aging population and address the impacts of the opioid epidemic and COVID-19 pandemic, the rise in social isolation, and the increase in mental health challenges for students.”

Gerardo stands behind the bar at Italo’s (Capital-Star photo by Patrick Abdalla).
Gerardo Sanchez stands behind the bar at Italo’s (Capital-Star photo by Patrick Abdalla).

2. How Scranton’s Hispanic community is driving the rebirth of the city’s South Side

SCRANTON, Pa. – The sun shines down from a cold, gray April sky as customers make their way into the South Side Farmers Market. When the weather warms, the market will move outdoors and a block up Cedar Avenue. For now, the shoppers mingle with vendors inside a refurbished storefront.

Kati Beddow Brower, who makes a 20-mile drive from Gouldsboro each Saturday, shows off her art.

Customers admiring her work might notice shoppers heading into La Chingada, a Mexican restaurant across the street from the market that can be seen through the window behind her.

Beddow Browder appreciates the community she’s joined at the market, which is run by United Neighborhood Centers of Northeastern Pennsylvania, a nonprofit organization that serves low income families, seniors, young residents, and immigrants. The century-old organization works to bring house, economic opportunities and education, among other services, to those groups..

“Not only do I like the directors and the vendors, many times you see the same customers, and you get to know them,” she told the Capital-Star. “Every single person is nice.”

Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis at a news conference at Pinellas County schools, Aug. 11, 2021. (Credit: Gov. DeSantis Facebook/The Florida Phoenix).
Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis at a news conference at Pinellas County schools, Aug. 11, 2021. (Credit: Gov. DeSantis Facebook/The Florida Phoenix).

3. Beware Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ anti-worker agenda | Opinion

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis generates lots of buzz for his likely presidential run, but so far little attention has been paid to his record of supporting anti-worker policies.

This is a strange oversight given the unpopularity of these positions and the importance of working-class voters to any successful candidate. Indeed, many credit former President Donald Trump’s strong support with the White working class in part due to his attempts to distance himself from some typical Republican positions on economic issues.

DeSantis has a long history of trying to weaken unions and generally opposing pro-worker policies. He has fought minimum wage increases, sought to eliminate wage protections for construction workers, and supported numerous bills to limit the ability of workers – in both the public and private sector — to join a union and bargain collectively.

Currently, his big anti-worker fight is an effort to try to weaken union rights for Florida teachers and other public sector workers.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, of Texas, sided with the conservative Christian legal advocacy group, Alliance Defending Freedom, and issued an injunction on the Federal Drug Administration's 2000 approval of mifepristone(Phil Walter/Getty Images).
U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, of Texas, sided with the conservative Christian legal advocacy group, Alliance Defending Freedom, and issued an injunction on the Federal Drug Administration’s 2000 approval of mifepristone(Phil Walter/Getty Images).

4. Abortion pill ruling puts politics ahead of medical evidence | Opinion

American healthcare just took a backseat to American politics.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, of Texas, sided with the conservative Christian legal advocacy group, Alliance Defending Freedom, and issued an injunction on the Federal Drug Administration’s 2000 approval of mifepristone on the grounds that the FDA did not adequately evaluate its safety before approval. If this injunction is allowed to go into effect, mifepristone will no longer be available throughout the United States.

Safe and effective, in combination with misoprostol it is branded as Mifeprex, and is used for over 50% of abortions under 10 weeks gestation in the United States. This injunction has the potential to impact tens of thousands of pregnant people across our country.

After the ruling, Erik Baptist, senior legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, stated that “this is a significant victory for …. the health and safety of women and girls.”

Contrary to his statement, Mifeprex has been used safely and effectively for over 20 years.

Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, speaks at a joint session to honor the Tree of Life victims. (Courtesy Pa. House Democrats)

5. Pa. House Democrats mount new push to pass LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination bill

The Fairness Act — which seeks to amend Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity protections in housing, education, and public accommodations — was introduced in the state House on April 14.

The prime sponsors of  the bill, HB300, are state Reps. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia; Jessica Benham, Dan Frankel, and Latasha D. Mayes, all Allegheny County Democrats; Ismail Smith-Wade-El, D-Lancaster, and Greg Scott, D-Montgomery.

The bill is slated to go before the House State Government Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre. Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro has said thata passage of the Fairness Act as one of his priorities while in office.

Pennsylvania is the only state in the northeast without statewide nondiscrimination protections for the LGBTQ community. On the local level, around 73 municipalities in the commonwealth have passed nondiscrimination ordinances, but almost 2,500 — which include 65 percent of the population — have no protections for LGBTQ people.

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

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.