Waxing optimistic and looking forward to spring | Five for the Weekend

By: - March 6, 2021 6:30 am

A butterfly in Michaux Forest. Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.

Happy Weekend, all.

With the current weather predictions showing highs in the 50s and 60s next week, I already feel a sense relief that better days are ahead (and certainly warmer ones).

While I am feeling slight relief, I’m not sure if it’s due to spring’s impending arrival, the conclusion of my spring semester of graduate school arriving or some optimism about this March being better than the last.

Last March, on the 9th to be exact, I traveled from my Lebanon County home to a meeting at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center where U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-10th District hosted a meeting about the yet-to-be-understood coronavirus and school and community administrators.

The pre-mask mandate meeting was intended to brief county officials in central Pennsylvania on the virus, with many of the school administrators in attendance asking for clearer guidance on next steps to mitigate the spread of the virus.

At the time, schools were still open and sporting events were still happening.

Dr. Catherine Paules, an expert in influenza with Penn State Hershey’s Division of Infectious Diseases said then, “This is no trivial virus.”

Little did we know then how right Paules’ words would be.

After the meeting, I returned home to write the story (linked above) since my house was closer than returning to our Harrisburg office.

I didn’t know then, but I wouldn’t be returning to our office for some time, as later that week Gov. Tom Wolf issued orders to close schools and businesses and cancel local events as the virus continued to spread.

It’s been a strange and trying year since then.

Last May, I lost my great grandmother to COVID-19, and by August l was watching as my sister battled stage 3 Ovarian Cancer during a pandemic. I’m certain I am not the only one with experiences such as these.

Despite the challenges, I remain optimistic that this year will be better.

In fact, earlier this week, my sister received a clean bill of health after numerous intense rounds of chemotherapy.

Here’s to a better March,

Cassie Miller, Associate Editor

1. Two maps collide as post-election purge overpowers GOP exodus | Analysis

The latest voter registration update is what happens when two separate trends collide.

On the one hand, we have an exodus of moderate Republicans from the party in reaction to the January 6th attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Reporters have charted this phenomenon for weeks now in multiple statesincluding Pennsylvania.

At the same time, the typical post-election purge of voter rolls is taking its usual toll on Democratic registrants. As you can see in the map above, this tends to hit Dems hardest in Pennsylvania’s most populous places.

The statewide numbers illustrate this well. Back in October, the Democratic margin was 700,853. Today, however, their margin is down to 624,315. Over that time period both parties lost ground, as 4,207,190 Democrats and 3,506,337 Republicans in October became 4,074,825 Democrats and 3,450,510 Republicans in February.

2. GOP lawmakers in 28 states, including Pa., have introduced more than 100 bills seeking to restrict ballot access | Analysis

The months after November’s presidential election have been filled with conspiracy theories, lies and myths about the security and integrity of U.S. elections, led by former President Donald Trump and many Republican leaders.

As a result, polls show that more than half of Republican voters wrongly believe that President Joe Biden and his supporters engaged in fraud to steal the election—a view backed by most congressional Republicans and scores of state and local GOP officials.

Pointing to their constituents’ doubts, GOP lawmakers in at least 28 states have introduced more than 100 bills to tighten voting rules, according to a recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. The bills would, for example, add new voter registration requirements and scale back or eliminate voting by mail, which voters flocked to during the pandemic. Supporters say these measures would restore public confidence in elections.

3. Ice cream shops, machine politics, and the unfinished struggle of Pa.’s first Black legislator

When Philadelphia attorney Harry Bass went to the Capitol in 1911 to be sworn in to the Pennsylvania General Assembly, he didn’t go alone.

According to the Harrisburg Star-Independent, 300 Black Philadelphians accompanied Bass to march as part of a parade welcoming a new governor — and the newly elected legislators such as Bass — to the capital city on Jan. 17.

They were also accompanied by the O. V. Catto marching band, named in honor of a Black Philadelphia abolitionist and civil rights activist killed by a white man in 1871 while on his way to vote.

So began the four-year career of the first Black lawmaker elected to the Legislature.

A product of Philadelphia’s winner-take-all machine politics, Bass served during the height of the American progressive era, when government expanded its reach and representation to check big business and party bosses alike.

4.  Wolf, legislative leaders tap the well-connected for big salaries as oversight board members

Three politically-connected individuals have been handed plush state jobs on key state oversight boards in the last month.

Picked by Pennsylvania’s top elected officials, a former legislative leader, a scion of a political family, and the wife of a sitting state senator all received fresh starts in state jobs since Jan. 28.

Guaranteed to hold office for the next two to six years, they will earn above-average salaries and will pad state pensions while overseeing casinos and public hirings in the commonwealth.

Such appointments certainly aren’t new. But reformers were quick to call the trend, at best, discouraging to citizens, and at worst, feeding widespread and record low distrust in all levels of government.

5. Pa.’s Levine endures transphobic tirade from Rand Paul during Senate confirmation hearing

WASHINGTON — Pennsylvania’s former top health official at her Senate confirmation hearing Thursday faced a tirade from a Republican senator about gender-affirmation surgery for minors, as well as criticism about the state’s response to the pandemic.

Dr. Rachel Levine, President Joe Biden’s pick to serve as assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, is a transgender woman who would become the highest-ranking openly transgender official in the federal government if confirmed.

At the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.,  attempted to draw a connection between female genital mutilation, a practice condemned as a human rights violation, with gender-affirmation surgery for transgender youth.

Paul, an ophthalmologist, repeatedly pressed.

And that’s the week. Enjoy the weekend and we’ll see you back here next

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.