February 5, 2021
Wolf vs. GOP on the budget address

The rancorous Republican reaction to Gov. Wolf’s budget address is only the latest indication of how toxic the relationship between Harrisburg Rs and Ds has become. Already this year, the Republican-dominated General Assembly has fast-tracked one Constitutional amendment that would take away some of the governor’s emergency powers and another that would break apart the judiciary into 31 election districts drawn by legislators, a proposal energized by Republican anger with the Democratic-controlled PA Supreme Court. Of course, the parties  are supposed to be different and their policy perspectives often won’t align. But the partisan conflicts are as intense and relentless as ever, with no end in sight. This is of no help to Pennsylvanians trying to survive this pandemic and its economic fallout.
  • So how to start fixing it? Politicians react to their voters—too many of whom, caught up in their social-media bubbles, believe what they see and think that “disinformation” is what the other side is saying. Part of the solution? “Audit the algorithms” to see what’s driving malicious misinformation, says New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose.
DOS error and the GOP pounces

The PA Department of State’s failure to advertise the Constitutional amendment regarding child sexual abuse last year was an awful error, but it was just that. A mistake with real consequences, but no motive. Still, it gave Harrisburg Republicans yet another opportunity to chastise (now departing) Secretary Kathy Boockvar for her handling of the 2020 elections. To be clear: the advertising error is unrelated to the election administration and voting procedure policies already being debated by the Legislature, local election officials, and voter advocates; and the 2020 elections were remarkably successful despite extraordinary challenges. So it’s critical that the statute of limitations issue facing survivors of sexual abuse be addressed as quickly as possible; lawmakers seem primed to do this. But election issues are a separate matter.
  • No piece of cake in 2021, either: There won’t be national scrutiny and turnout will be lower, The Inquirer reports, but election officials won’t have the resources or outside support they did last year in transforming their operations to accommodate widespread mail-in voting. Officials also worry about voter confusion surrounding the new Annual Mail-in Ballot List.
Life after the Legislature...

Longtime PA House Minority Leader Frank Dermody and PA Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati retired from the General Assembly in 2020 (Scarnati voluntarily; Dermody at the voters’ request) and both seem to have landed on their feet. Good for them, but it should be noted that…
  • Dermody’s soft landing: The Allegheny County Democrat was named a commissioner of the state Gaming Control Board by his successor as Minority Leader, Rep. Joanna McClinton (D-Phila.). It isn’t a full-time job, but it does pay $145,000 a year. And he can begin to collect his $110,000-a-year state pension, according to Pittsburgh’s TribLive. Dermody will join former lawmakers Sean Logan (D) and Mark Mustio (R) on the seven-member board.
  • Scarnati’s slush fund: The Jefferson County Republican recently joined Allegheny Strategy Partners, a new lobbying firm that controls a sizable campaign slush fund, The Caucus reports. Much of the PAC's money came from other accounts controlled by Scarnati, a prolific fundraiser. In 2019, Scarnati’s questionable spending of PAC money donated to his campaign war chest was featured in a Spotlight PA investigation.
Caught our eye
Why is reform hard in Pennsylvania? The lack of any initiative process to advance political reforms past politicians and directly to the ballot is one reason.
On our radar
More opposition to judicial gerrymandering: Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts CEO Deborah Gross and Philadelphia Bar Association chancellor Lauren P. McKenna ripped the proposed constitutional amendment as a threat to judicial independence.
Change the rules: In a GoErie op-ed, PA Sens. Katie Muth (D-Montgomery) and Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny) argue that the body’s top-down legislative rules “stymie good bills and stifle democracy.”
Coming up short? The Inquirer reports that a shortage of paper 2020 Census questionnaires hurt response rates in Philadelphia, where a large portion of residents don’t have reliable internet access, and likely means the Census Bureau will undercount residents.
Investigate with integrity: Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank, argues in a Washington Post column: “Factual investigations by Republican state legislatures can go a long way to rebuilding their trust in our elections.”
We’re No. 1: Harrisburg Republicans have already introduced more bills to restrict voting than legislators in any other state so far this year, according to NYU’s Brennan Center.
Get involved
Draw the Lines 2021 Competition
Deadline: June 1

This spring is the final Draw the Lines competition using old data and software before the process starts for real using data from the 2020 Census. The deadline for maps to the competition: Tues, June 1st. While we wait for that data, you can still win thousands of dollars by drawing a demonstration map, either congressional, state senate, or state house. Visit our Draw a Map page to get started. Once you've done the preparation steps, complete the embedded form and you'll then see a link to the mapping platform designed specifically for Draw the Lines. Questions? Let us know!
Redistricting State Legislative Boundaries: Drawing the Lines for the Next Decade
Wed., Feb. 17, 4-5:30 pm

The redistricting process will take place this year despite Census Bureau delays. Join Draw the Lines and Fair Districts PA for a virtual town hall on the obscure five-person group called the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, responsible for drawing PA House and Senate districts. Sign up.
For the first time in our 117-year history, Seventy has created a membership program to broaden, diversify and expand our community of local democracy-builders. Your membership also provides unique opportunities to meet civic leaders and policy experts, gain inside knowledge of the reform process, and connect with people who are passionate about our city and commonwealth.
Become a member today!