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Redistricting offers Pa. Latinos a crucial opening

Plus, Gov. Wolf vetoes GOP-led concealed carry bill.

A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA

December 2, 2021 | spotlightpa.org

Map quest, crisis of care, in the running, high society, abortion battlegrounds, crisis inaction, political divisions, 'triage mode,' and Dr. Oz goes off the air. 
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Pennsylvania's Latino population grew by 43% over the past decade to more than 1 million people, census data confirm, but proportionate political power and influence in state government hasn't followed — at least not yet. 

That's why advocates like Victor Martinez, an Allentown-based broadcaster, are focusing their attention on this year's pivotal redistricting process, Spotlight PA and Votebeat report. 

"There's zero [Latinos] in the [state] Senate,” he said, "and there are only four Latinos in the House of Representatives."

Redistricting, or the redrawing of political maps and boundaries, can have enormous implications for which groups have the most voting influence in a given area, and which party — Democrats or Republicans — have the advantage come Election Day. 

In total, a quarter of the state’s residents now identify as non-white. Yet just 10% of the General Assembly’s 253 members identify as people of color. In 2015, that number was 9%.

But while advocates like Martinez see redistricting as an opportunity for political maps and voting power to more equitably represent the growth of certain communities, experts say legal barriers and hurdles remain.

And finally, Ed Mahon details the high costs, low wages, closures, and staffing shortages behind a child care crisis in Pennsylvania

With a $2 trillion social spending plan now making its way through Congress, transformational change could be on the horizon. Until then, an industry pivotal to the state's economic recovery is facing severe constraints.

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA

"Now we have it on paper. Now we can go and express to governments that our community needs and deserves to have representation."

—Allentown broadcaster Victor Martinez on the push to turn Latino population gains in Pennsylvania into political gains

» LAWFUL VS. AWFUL: Join us Thursday, Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. EST via Zoom for a free panel discussion on why killings by police often are ruled justified and who oversees the process. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org

Pennsylvania's school mask mandate has been reinstated by the state's Supreme Court; the wife of a York County man is suing to force UPMC to treat him with ivermectin; and Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R., Bellefonte) is quarantined after testing positive for COVID-19. Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, or find where to get a vaccine.

» Pennsylvania’s 2022 race for governor: What we know so far

» Pennsylvania’s 2022 U.S. Senate race: What we know so far

PA Society gala: Vaunted tradition or outdated relic?

For years, Pennsylvania Society has been the marquee event for Pennsylvania politicians and the well-heeled special interests that want something from them: a long weekend in New York City featuring back-to-back swanky fundraisers, black-tie soirees, and after-hours parties.

Good-government groups have criticized the event as the epitome of garish largesse at best — and everything that’s wrong with politics at worst. But anyone who is anyone (or wants to be someone) in state political circles wouldn't dare miss the annual trek east for three days of backslapping, power-brokering, and, far less frequently, policy-making.

But this year, Pennsylvania Society (scheduled for this weekend) is expected to look and feel far different, organizers, attendees, and others say. Attendance is down, and long-standing events such as receptions thrown by law firms and business groups have been merged or canceled outright.

One reason for this year's scaled-down version, organizers say, is the pandemic, which has curbed interest in travel and crowded indoor gatherings. Another is the shift in the event's main location in recent years, from the storied ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria to the far more sober party rooms of the Midtown Hilton. Since the Waldorf closed for multi-year renovations, attendees have openly grumbled that Pennsylvania Society has lost its allure.

A larger, more existential question looms over the venue change and pandemic adjustments, though: Is Pennsylvania Society an anachronism?

Edward J. Sheehan Jr., The Pennsylvania Society's president, doesn't think so. In an interview, he said unity underpins the society's work and mission.

"We seek diversity and inclusion," said Sheehan, who also is president and CEO of Concurrent Technologies Corporation, an applied scientific research and development organization based in Johnstown. "One way to do that is to bring people together to talk … and exchange ideas."

Pennsylvania Society dates back to 1899, according to the organization's website. That year, Pennsylvanian James Barr Ferree, living in New York City at the time, invited 55 other transplants to dine at the Waldorf-Astoria. His goal: to unite Pennsylvanians "at home and away from home in bonds of friendship and devotion to their native or adopted state."

They met for dinner every year at the same time and place, and were initially known as The Pennsylvania Society of New York.

The gathering grew over the years, and saw big names join in, including Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In modern times, that dinner, while technically the centerpiece of the weekend, has been overtaken by invitation-only fundraisers, receptions, and other events that have sprung up around it, turning the gathering into a whirlwind, three-day schmooze fest — and earning the derision of good-government activists.

Eric Epstein, cofounder of the nonpartisan good-government group Rock the Capital, called the event a "glorified pay-to-play winter carnival."

A longer version of this story will appear at spotlightpa.org.

Angela Couloumbis, Spotlight PA

LEGAL PRECEDENT: Abortion rights advocates rallied in Harrisburg on Wednesday as the U.S. Supreme Court's conservative majority appeared poised to roll back abortion access. A final decision is likely months away, but advocates say it could make states like Pennsylvania prime battlegrounds in the fight over abortion rights, per Capital-Star.

CRISIS RESPONSE: Democrats and Republicans have yet to agree on a strategy to address Pennsylvania's overdose crisis following the forced expiration of Gov. Tom Wolf's opioid disaster declaration, the Morning Call reports. More than 5,000 people died of an overdose in Pennsylvania in 2020, and places like Philadelphia are on track to set new records this year.

STICKING POINTS: The public could get its first peek at Pennsylvania's redrawn congressional map in the coming weeks, but WHYY reports plenty of sticking points remain on the road to adoption, including what to do with "three smallish, liberal cities that sit amid more conservative suburbs and rural areas: Harrisburg, Lancaster, and York."

BLIND SPOTS: While school board meetings at the Central Bucks School District focused on mask mandates and teachings on race, employees tell The New York Times that shortages of staff, supplies, and support went overlooked, sometimes with dire consequences. "We are in triage mode," one teacher explained.

SENATE BIDS: Pennsylvania TV stations are taking The Dr. Oz Show off the air, as the namesake host is now a confirmed candidate for U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, The Inquirer reports. Elsewhere, The Hill says U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus (R., Pa.) is weighing a Senate run of his own

» AP: Lawsuit claims forced labor, punishment at church-backed Pa. farm

» CAPITAL-STAR: Gov. Wolf vetoes GOP-led concealed carry bill

» DAILY AMERICAN: DA charged with sexual assault loses $185K salary

» LNP: Landmark Pa. school funding trial set to enter a third week

» SHARON HERALD: Pa. drug task force leader enters prostitution plea
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