Editorials from around Pennsylvania:
WHY DOES PA. MAKE IT SO HARD TO VOTE?, May 1
Congratulations. At least to half of you.
Early indications are that a little less than 50 percent of Delaware County’s eligible registered voters made their way to the polls Tuesday and exercised their basic constitutional right.
That’s what we’ve come to these days, getting excited when one of two citizens takes that privilege serious enough to actually take part in the democratic process.
So is the glass half-full or half empty?
One thing is certain. It’s a pretty fair bet that next spring, when the notion of Donald Trump moving into the White House is not on the ballot, when it is instead crammed with local municipal and school board seats, those voter turnout numbers will once again pale.
People will stay away in droves, despite the fact that these crucial jobs likely have a far greater effect on their everyday lives than The Donald ever will.
We give Trump credit for energizing voters this election cycle. Of course, that is a two-edged sword, depending on where you stand on the billionaire real estate mogul and reality TV star.
Trump has pushed voters’ buttons, and that has resulted in increased participation in the process across the country.
Here in Delaware County, 44 percent of the county’s 348,999 registered voters made it to the polls Tuesday.
And that is in a highly controversial presidential election year. No doubt come November we will see a repeat of the long lines that greeted voters at their local polling places on Tuesday. That’s a good thing. But what happens next? How can we avoid having voters go MIA for the next four years, until the next drive for the White House?
Part of that answer lies in the mirror. It’s called personal responsibility, and taking part in the process. Unfortunately, we’ve made that pitch before, and it is unlikely to halt the slide in civic engagement, a morass that sees as few as 15 percent of voters take part in the process in non-presidential years.
But there is blame elsewhere as well.
You can cite the gridlock that has enveloped Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., a partisan paralysis that has all but shut down government and made getting nearly anything done a stretch. It has turned off voters, leaving many feeling helpless. The result? Disenfranchised voters, who reject the whole process and skip the democratic process.
But there are other reasons as well, and once again they can be traced to the state capital in Harrisburg.
The bottom line is that Pennsylvania has lagged in making it easier for people to vote. Yes, you can make the argument that it should not be that easy to cast a ballot, that you should have to work — at least a little — to exercise that most valuable privilege.
How is that working out for you? It’s helping give us turnouts that fail to hit 20 percent. Turnouts that tells us something is wrong.
Actually, we should first credit our state legislators with doing something right. Last year the state became the 23rd in the nation to allow online voter registration. The result? More than 142,000 new names added to Pennsylvania’s voter registration rolls. No doubt many of those names were among those who rushed the polls Tuesday.
As you might expect, not everyone was — or is — a fan of making it easier for people to take part in the process. Instead they see only voter fraud.
It was that same kind of outdated partisan poppycock that was behind the push for Voter ID laws, which did little aside from putting impediments in the way of citizens’ basic constitutional right. It was struck down by the courts, and rightly so.
There is something else Harrisburg could do that would bring Pennsylvania out of the dark ages in terms of voting.
There is no good reason why this state restricts the election process to a single day — a Tuesday at that. In Pennsylvania unless you are using an absentee ballot you must get to your polling place between the designated hours of 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.
It’s an anachronism that’s not only outdated, it harms the process.
Much of the nation now allows early voting, or other measures to allow people to exercise their rights who for one reason or another might not be able to get to the polling place on a Tuesday.
Think ahead a few months. Unless you are planning to camp overnight, or at least get to your polling place at the break of dawn, there’s a pretty good chance you will be standing in a rather lengthy line to cast your vote for president.
For many people in today’s society, that creates serious problems. It does not need to be that way. Early voting is the norm in many states. It should be in Pennsylvania as well.
How about if the federal government took a page out of Delaware County’s playbook. For years the Delaware County Courthouse, that bastion of Republican patronage, has closed on election days. Many of those courthouse workers wind up working the polls. Why shouldn’t the rest of us have just as much flexibility when it comes to election day.
Three states, Washington, Oregon and Colorado have gone in a different direction. They’ve decided to eliminate on-site voting altogether. Instead voters cast ballots by mail with forms that have been mailed to them — with return envelopes — by state government.
We liked what we saw Tuesday, lots of people taking part in the democratic process. We’d like to see that trend continue. Our fear is that will not be the case, at least after this presidential election.
Government can make it easier to take part in the process. And it’s time they did just that.
— The Delaware County Daily Times
THE PROBLEM WITH DELEGATES, May 2
In a typical election year, a party’s front-runner — usually an establishment-sanctioned candidate — is promenaded onto the convention floor midsummer, where a rousing speech gives way to cheers and an anti-climactic nomination.
And states like ours rarely make a difference by the time the primary rolls around in a typical election year. It’s a done deal.
But this is no typical election year. And this unusual race, particularly on the GOP side, has the country wondering if the delegate count will go in Donald Trump’s favor or if he will fall shy of the necessary 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination.
“I think we’re going to win the 1,237. I think we’re not going to have the second ballot. I just tell you, though,” Trump told his supporters, “despite what I just said, it’s a corrupt system, and it’s a rigged system.”
We find it laughable that Donald Trump has been whining about this “corrupt” system because he has admittedly used such systems, such as corporate bankruptcy, which he declared four times, to his advantage. He has also given contributions to both parties in his role as developer/businessman and found that to be personally and professionally beneficial. He even used that as an example of political corruption as he campaigned across the country.
He’s just used to using the system to his advantage. But this time, he’s working within a system inherently designed to keep him out of power. It won’t benefit him in the least if the party brass has anything to say about it.
Trump cries foul over anything that doesn’t go his way — despite his considerable resources and egotistical view that somehow something as sacred as the democratic process should benefit him first and foremost.
He knew — or should have known — how the process worked when he started.
But that doesn’t mean the delegate system is without its faults, chief among them the fact that delegates are typically party functionaries — those with power to ensure the establishment isn’t upset by outsiders.
Trump and Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders from Vermont have brought to light the problem with a process that clearly benefits party establishment candidates over outsiders.
On the Republican side, in most states, delegates are bound to a candidate — at least through the first round of balloting at the GOP convention in July. Pennsylvania is not one of those states. The AP this past week polled the state’s 54 unbound GOP delegates and found 40 of them support Trump.
If Trump does well in the Indiana primary Tuesday, as he is expected to do, his path to winning the nomination becomes much clearer. And his party must decide whether it will back him or try to contest the nomination at the convention. It will only do so if he doesn’t get the full 1,237 delegates.
On the Democratic side, as Sanders told Dispatch political reporter Greg Gross during an interview before the April 26 primary, the Democratic superdelegate process has left him at what he believes is a disadvantage. Among those superdelegates is Gov. Tom Wolf — who is committed to former U.S. senator, secretary of state and first lady Hillary Clinton and has considerable sway within the party.
And as Sanders pointed out, the race isn’t over — technically. That’s why he thinks the process should be changed — so those other than the party’s No. 1 pick have until the end to sway superdelegates in their favor.
And love Trump or hate him, if he secures the 1,237 — or simply maintains his current and substantial lead over Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich — and the party establishment doesn’t get behind him, Trump supporters could view this as, excuse the pun, trumping the will of the people.
This is undoubtedly a unique election year. Still, we have no reason to believe that it isn’t foreshadowing the future of U.S. elections. Young voters energized by Sanders and working-class voters inspired by Trump are getting involved. They are shaking up the status quo.
And if this is the new normal, the delegate debate has likely just begun.
— York Dispatch
SENATE PUTS ENERGY INTO PANDERING, May 4
If pandering to narrow interests could be transferred into energy, the Pennsylvania Senate majority would be a powerhouse.
After Gov. Tom Wolf recently and correctly vetoed a Fiscal Code bill that improperly rolled back environmental laws and policy regarding power production and gas-drilling regulations, undaunted representatives of the fossil fuel industries in the Legislature introduced the rollbacks as separate legislation. The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee recently passed two such bills.
One would more than double the amount of time the Legislature would have to review the Clean Power Plan being developed by the Wolf administration.
The plan is required by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Although the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily has stayed nationwide implementation pending its review of a lower-court decision, the Wolf administration wisely has continued developing a plan because it is in Pennsylvania’s best interest.
Under the bill, lawmakers would give themselves an additional 80 legislative days, beyond the 100 calendar days they already have, to review the plan before its submission. Those 80 legislative days could stretch into more than half a year, an unnecessary delay that would preclude submission of a plan before 2018.
The bill also includes a bizarre and probably unconstitutional provision that would allow either legislative chamber, rather than the full General Assembly, to effectively veto the plan.
This exercise in obstruction is all the more curious because a sound plan suits Pennsylvania’s needs. The EPA regulation allows states to form their own plans to meet emission-reduction targets. Pennsylvania’s target is a 31 percent reduction in carbon pollution by 2030.
Although the state plan is in process, it likely will have four major components based on the federal goal of reducing carbon pollution nationwide by 550 million metric tons by 2030. It would rely on shifting more power generation from coal to natural gas — which already is well under way, giving gas-fired generation priority during peak demand, creating more renewable fuel power generation and pressing efficiency and conservation to reduce consumption.
The second measure would exempt conventional gas-drilling operations from new gas-drilling regulations that apply to the deep “fracked” wells across the Marcellus Shale.
These measures are classic narrow-interest bills to benefit particular enterprises at public expense. There is no need to delay the Clean Power Plan review. And best practices should apply to all drilling. Lawmakers should desist.
— The (Scranton) Times-Tribune
EYES ON CLEVELAND POLICE: GOP CONVENTION CITY IN SPOTLIGHT AFTER RICE CASE, April 28
Cleveland’s proposed $6 million settlement with the family of Tamir Rice is a reminder that its Police Division needs to get its house in order for the Republican National Convention, to be held there in late July.
Tamir Rice was the black 12-year-old fatally shot in 2014 by a white police officer while holding a pellet gun outside a recreation center. His death was one in a string of incidents damaging police-community relations in Cleveland. Two weeks after Tamir’s death, the U.S. Justice Department released a report — in the works well before the youth’s shooting — concluding that the Police Division “engages in a pattern or practice of the use of excessive force.” Last year, Cleveland agreed to take corrective action.
The $6 million settlement with Tamir’s family, which is pending court approval, would include no admission of wrongdoing by the city. That itself is a crime. But lessons learned from Tamir’s death and other incidents should be ingrained in officers in time for the GOP convention, which is expected to draw tens of thousands of visitors. Those numbers likely will include protesters of various stripes, and the risk of more violence in a campaign season already punctuated by it is very real.
Managing a political convention would be a mighty challenge even for the most respected police department, let alone a troubled one that plans to supplement its ranks with hundreds of officers rented from other communities. (Recall that the Pittsburgh Police Bureau’s embarrassing handling of the G-20 protests here in 2009 included the use of out-of-town officers who forced a person they arrested to pose for a humiliating “trophy photo.”)
Political conventions are quadrennial celebrations of our political system, and that system guarantees the right to free speech and other civil rights. If protesters are violent, police must restrain them while showing restraint themselves. Cleveland police can regain a measure of public trust by demonstrating professionalism no matter what the Republican convention throws at them. The nation — and much of the world — will be watching.
— The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
PENNSYLVANIA MUST HELP VICTIMS, PUBLIC OBTAIN CLOSURE, April 30
Justice delayed is justice denied, goes the well-known expression.
The point: Someone accused of a crime is entitled to his or her day in court as quickly as possible. Conversely, someone harmed or wronged likewise deserves timely legal redress. Unstated but implicit: There is also a public interest in bringing high-profile cases to a satisfactory conclusion.
Case in point: The sudden possibility that the lion’s share of charges in the criminal corruption case against former Harrisburg Mayor Stephen R. Reed could be dismissed.
As PennLive/The Patriot-News’ Matt Miller reported last week, Reed’s lawyers are seeking dismissal of 305 of the 449 counts against him in a wide-ranging bribery and financial mismanagement case. They’re arguing that the state attorney general’s office waited too long to file the charges, during which time the statute of limitations — in this case, five years after Reed left office — expired.
While a decision is forthcoming, Miller reported that the presiding judge appeared sympathetic to the arguments during court proceedings last week.
Such a decision would be unfortunate.
Recall, Harrisburg’s former mayor of nearly three decades faces a litany of charges related to manipulating fellow city officials with bribes, and orchestrating borrowing by the city and other bodies to provide money to buy historic artifacts for a series of museums he envisioned.
Public money and lots of it — millions of dollars — was involved. That gives the public, particularly Harrisburg taxpayers, no small incentive for wanting to see the case pursued and resolved.
But should the judge agree with Reed’s lawyers that charges were filed belatedly, the public will be denied the type of closure such a high-profile case demands.
Unfortunately, that result is not unheard of.
The most heart-breaking examples involve sexually abused children and young teens, particularly the thousands across the state who have been victimized by members of the clergy. Although professionals say such victims are seldom ready to disclose their experiences publicly until they are in their 40s, state law requires charges to be filed before they turn 30.
Intentionally or not, that tight window has abetted abusers. Just last month, state Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced that a grand determined that hundreds of children were sexually abused over a period of 40 years in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. Dozens of religious leaders were involved, she said, and leaders were complicit in helping to keep the abuse under wraps.
The accusations were so heinous they may have finally broken a longtime legislative logjam.
After repeatedly failing to reform Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations law over the past decade, lawmakers earlier this month passed a bill that would do just that.
The House approved, 180-15, a measure that would eliminate criminal statute of limitations on future child sex abuse crimes and extend civil statutes to age 50. The long-overdue action would also retroactively raise the age by which victims of past child sexual abuse can bring civil action against their abusers — again to age 50.
Even amid current budget negotiations, the Senate — particularly the Judiciary Committee, before which the bill now sits — must make the measure a priority.
It is bad enough that the delayed filing of charges — as in the Stephen Reed case — could result in a lack of public closure on such a high-profile (and high-cost) issue. Worse would be failing to reform the state’s statute of limitations, which would continue to limit countless victims in their efforts to obtain not only closure but a deeply personal modicum of justice.
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