Politics & Government

We cover politics and government with an eye to providing to voters clear, in-depth, nonpartisan information. 

Wolf Starting To Look Like A 'Two-Term Tom' As 2018 Approaches

2 hours ago
Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

He's starting to look like two-term Tom.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf likely has wrapped up his biggest first-term fights with the Legislature's huge Republican majorities and his record is largely set a year before voters decide whether to give him a second term. He now heads into the 2018 election year with political winds at his back.

An-Li Herring / WESA

Democrats have chosen former federal prosecutor Conor Lamb (D-Mt. Lebanon) to run in the March 13 special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District.

Matt Rourke / AP

Pennsylvania is already on track to have a significant budget gap to fill next year.

A study from the Independent Fiscal Office shows lawmakers will likely need to come up with about a billion dollars to keep the books balanced.

They only just finished this year’s budget, four months behind schedule.

It was mostly filled with borrowing, expected revenue from a gambling expansion and a number of internal fund transfers.

Much of the money isn’t recurring, and that’s a big reason why the IFO is predicting the state will have to find more cash next year.

Matt Rourke / AP

The state legislature has received its yearly audit, which looks at reserves lawmakers keep on hand in case their pay gets cut off during a budget impasse.

This year’s review showed a smaller surplus than last year’s, with overall legislative reserves decreasing from $118 million and change last year, to around $95 million as of this June.

However, the surplus could be significantly bigger than it appears in the report.

Lawmakers are often pressured to cut down on their excess cash, particularly in the face of the commonwealth’s recent budgeting woes.

Carolyn Kaster / AP

A Democratic state senator is introducing legislation to bar non-disclosure agreements in Pennsylvania from attempting to stop people from reporting claims of sexual misconduct.

The bill introduced Wednesday by Berks County Sen. Judith Schwank would also prohibit Pennsylvania courts from enforcing such agreements in civil lawsuits over sexual misconduct allegations.

It would void pre-existing agreements when a party to it entered it while under duress, impaired or a minor.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania is threatening to sue a Pittsburgh city councilwoman for blocking constituents on Facebook.

ACLU Legal Director Vic Walczak says City Councilwoman Darlene Harris is censoring critical comments from her Facebook page, and is thus violating the First Amendment. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports Walczak wrote a letter Tuesday asking Harris to unblock four residents from her Facebook page by Dec. 4.

Two Fast-Tracked Court Cases Could Change The Political Face Of Pennsylvania

Nov 15, 2017
Keystone Crossroads

With drastic changes to Pennsylvania’s political landscape hanging in the balance, two lawsuits challenging the state’s congressional map are moving forward at rapid speed — one in state courts, the other in federal.

Jeff Roberson / AP

Pennsylvania is going to borrow against its Tobacco Settlement Fund to fill in last year’s deficit and finish this year’s budget

The Wolf administration confirmed Tuesday that it will tap into the stream of money states have received from tobacco companies since the 1990s.

The borrowing will give the commonwealth money to balance its books up front, and will then be paid back over several decades.

The Commonwealth Financing Authority approved the plan Tuesday. However, Budget Secretary Randy Albright noted that it’s not finalized yet.

Matt Rourke / AP

After months of deliberation, state House Speaker Mike Turzai has announced he is running for the Republican nomination for Governor.

The Pittsburgh-area lawmaker is now the fourth GOP challenger to Democratic Governor Tom Wolf, who’s seeking a second term.

The field also includes conservative Republican state Senator Scott Wagner, lawyer Laura Ellsworth, and former health care systems consultant Paul Mango.

Turzai has served in the House since 2001, and became speaker two years ago.

Keith Srakocic / AP

The longtime mayor of the small southwestern Pennsylvania town of Braddock has announced his bid for lieutenant governor.

Katie Meyer / 90.5 WESA

Several activists were arrested Monday while blocking a hallway during a rally at the state Capitol.

Many had just finished a three-day walk from Lancaster to Harrisburg—the second one they’ve done this year.

The group’s goal is to call attention to stalled bills that would ban gifts to lawmakers and seek to make the redistricting process less partisan.

The walk to the Capitol was 36 miles, and temperatures fell below freezing at times.

But when the March on Harrisburg group reached the Capitol, their energy was high

Why Pennsylvania Is Home To Some Of The Worst Gerrymanderers

Nov 13, 2017
Katie Meyer

In most states, the legislature is in charge of designing Congressional and state voting districts.

Pennsylvania isn’t unique in that respect.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

State lawmakers are running into legal issues over a component of the budget plan they passed last month.

Some $200 million of the plan is slated to be appropriated from a group that insures healthcare providers against malpractice claims.

However, the group has sued to keep that money.

The state established the Joint Underwriting Association in the 1970s, so lawmakers say they have the authority to appropriate its funds as needed.

But the JUA contends its money are private, because it comes from investments and premiums from policyholders.

An-Li Herring / WESA

State Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Elizabeth), 59, will be the GOP’s nominee in the special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District. He won the nomination at a convention the Republican Party of Pennsylvania held in Canonsburg Saturday.

 

Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

On Saturday, 215 Republican delegates will vote for their nominee to serve the remaining months of former Congressman Tim Murphy's term.

Murphy, who championed anti-abortion legislation, resigned last month following reports he asked a woman with whom he had an extramarital affair to get an abortion.

Following Damaging Reports, PA Congressman Marino Defends His Opioid Law

Nov 10, 2017
Susan Walsh / AP

Last month, The Washington Post and “60 Minutes” ran a damaging story about Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Tom Marino, (PA-10), which accused him of ushering a bill through Congress that tied the Drug Enforcement Agency’s hands in their effort to stop distributors from flooding the black market with opioid painkillers.

Whistleblowers in the DEA say the bill has directly interfered with their attempts to stem the nation’s opioid crisis.

Justices Order Pennsylvania Redistricting Lawsuit To Proceed

Nov 10, 2017
Googlemaps

A state-level challenge to how congressional districts were drawn by Republicans six years ago will proceed on a compressed schedule, a closely divided Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

The Supreme Court's 4-3 decision overturned a lower court judge's ruling last month that had put the dispute on hold.

Katie Meyer / 90.5 WESA

State Senator Scott Wagner is taking an unorthodox step in his campaign for governor.

The conservative York County Republican has named a running mate—real estate developer and political outsider Jeff Bartos.

In some ways, the decision is only symbolic.

Pennsylvania’s primary system requires candidates for lieutenant governor to campaign separately from gubernatorial hopefuls. The winners from each party are automatically paired together.

Pennsylvania Democrats See Anti-Trump Zeal In Election Wins

Nov 9, 2017
Lee Jin-man / AP

With Democrats stoking an anti-Trump furor, Pennsylvania's election brought good news for the party ahead of a big election in 2018 that will feature contests for governor and U.S. Senate.

Democrats scored big victories in county and municipal races across Philadelphia's suburbs, advancing a decadeslong shift in those one-time Republican bastions where President Donald Trump lost heavily last year. Just to the north, Democrats took control in Northampton County, won by Trump last year.

Keith Srakocic / AP

One candidate is leaving the Republican field seeking the nomination to challenge Pennsylvania's two-term Democrat Sen. Bob Casey, and one candidate is getting in.

Fourth-time candidate Joe Vodvarka said Thursday that he's running as a Republican, after losing three straight primaries as a Democrat.

Vodvarka is a semiretired owner of a Pittsburgh-area spring manufacturing shop. Also running are Republican U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, state Rep. Jim Christiana and Libertarian Dale Kerns.

Diego Torres Silvestre / flickr

A Moody’s credit rating agency report shows Pennsylvania’s recent gambling expansion may not be that great for casinos, and could run the risk of making the commonwealth less attractive to the industry. 

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Attorney Mik Pappas, who ran as an Independent, won Pennsylvania’s 31st Magisterial District race, unseating the incumbent who held the position for 24 years.

It was the first time in more than two decades that Ron Costa, Sr. faced an opponent.

Pappas was endorsed by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America and said that Donald Trump’s victory in last year’s presidential election energized his supporters.

Democrats Dominate Major Mayoral Races In Pennsylvania

Nov 8, 2017
Emily Previti / Keystone Crossroads

Democrats dominated municipal elections in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, securing the mayor’s offices in Pittsburgh, Allentown, Scranton, Lancaster, Erie, State College and Harrisburg.

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski won a fourth term despite being the target of a federal indictment accusing him of pay-to-play politics. Under Pawlowski’s oversight, the state’s 3rd largest city has undergone a significant revitalization, with major downtown development.

Gene J. Puskar / AP

The constitutional amendment that Pennsylvania voters approved Tuesday could eventually lead to reductions in the state's heavy dependence on property taxes, but it is only a tiny step in that direction.

The amendment gives the General Assembly the authority to pass a law authorizing local governments to exclude up to the full value of residents' homes that they own from taxation.

The new language does not by itself change anything, however.

Katie Meyer / 90.5 WESA

Tuesday night saw some big wins for Democrats around the country--but Pennsylvania's elections were mostly lower-profile, and ended with more of a political mixed bag.

Matt Rourke / AP

A Republican justice is keeping her seat on Pennsylvania's highest court, earning a 10-term after being appointed last year.

Justice Sallie Mundy held off Allegheny County Judge Dwayne Woodruff on Tuesday in what was the most closely watched race in the off-year election. Woodruff is a former Pittsburgh Steeler.

The result means the court's partisan balance remains five Democrats and two Republicans. Two other justices won up-or-down retention contests.

Allegheny County

Two Allegheny County races were very tight on Tuesday night, while the other two were easy victories for incumbent candidates.

Jake Savitz / 90.5 WESA

Mayor Bill Peduto will serve a second term for Pittsburgh after coasting to victory in an unopposed general election. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, he had taken 96 percent of the vote, with four percent going to write-in candidates.

 

Meg Kelly for NPR

On the first anniversary of President Trump’s election, NPR is looking back at his victory speech. NPR reporters across the newsroom have annotated his election night remarks, providing context and analysis to his policy promises and noting who among the people he thanked are still in the inner circle a year later.

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Carolyn Kaster / AP

Pennsylvania voters have judicial elections, a ballot question on taxes and a slew of local races to consider as they head to the polls.

The biggest statewide race Tuesday pits Democratic Allegheny County Judge Dwayne Woodruff against Republican Justice Sallie Mundy.

The result will leave the high court in Democratic hands, either 5 to 2 or 6 to 1.

Woodruff is a former Pittsburgh Steeler who handles family court. Mundy is a former Superior Court judge from Tioga County who was appointed to fill an unexpired term.

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