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What's in House GOP's Pa. redistricting proposal

Plus, how Pa. is revising its Confederate markers.

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December 9, 2021 | spotlightpa.org

Redistricting response, no relief, combat training, omicron explainer, Confederate markers, election deal, home hunts, and supreme review.
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The long-awaited first draft of Pennsylvania's new U.S. congressional map was released by House Republicans on Wednesday, drawing mixed reviews from redistricting observers, Spotlight PA and Votebeat report.

While the map — chosen from 19 citizen submissions — does not split voting precincts, fair district advocates have concerns about the way it divides some areas of the state, notably Philadelphia and the Harrisburg metropolitan area.

Others noted the map, which will apply to federal elections for the U.S. House of Representatives, seems fairly competitive, with seven districts leaning Republican, five leaning Democrat, and five up for grabs. 

But with layers of approval still left to go and the state Senate planning to release its own proposal, this draft is unlikely to be the final version.

Also this week, Charlotte Keith reports that some counties are running out of pandemic rent relief money, while others sit on millions in unused aid

Berks is the first county in the state that has been forced to turn renters away, but Philadelphia expects to exhaust its share of the funding in about a month. 

A spokesperson said the state is working on a plan to redistribute unspent money to where it's needed most, but it's not clear when that will happen, or how much counties running short on assistance might receive.

And finally, Ethan Edward Coston reports that residents of the Pennsylvania Wilds — a region prized for its wilderness, wildlife, and dark skies — are concerned about it becoming a training ground for fighter jets.

A Maryland Air National Guard plan would bring the jets as close as 100 feet above ground level, sparking concerns about noise and possible impacts on tourism, the state's wild elk herd, and more.

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA

"There are some areas that just are really, really troubling and would quickly make it onto the most ugly, ugly districts list." 

—Carol Kuniholm of Fair Districts PA, a grassroots advocacy group, on the new U.S. congressional map proposed by House Republicans this week
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» 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


» Updated data show the coronavirus was more common in Pennsylvania long-term care employees than previously believed and more deadly for residents, the Courier Times reports.

» COVID-19 cases have Geisinger, one of Pennsylvania's largest health systems, running at 110% capacity across nine state hospitals, per the AP.

» The nation's highest daily average number of coronavirus hospitalizations on Wednesday belonged to Pennsylvania, via The Inquirer.  

» Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, or find where to get a vaccine.


» Omicron variant detected in Pennsylvania. Here’s what you need to know.

» Los Latinos de Pensilvania trabajan para convertir los enormes avances de la población en un músculo político, pero aún se enfrentan con barreras

» How to weigh in on Pennsylvania’s next congressional map

How Pa. is revising its Confederate markers

After removing a trio of Confederate historical markers an hour west of Gettysburg, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission has decided to replace two with significant revisions that view Confederate milestones through a more critical lens.

The McConnellsburg, Fulton County, markers and plaques commemorate the first deaths of Confederate soldiers in Pennsylvania and the site of the southern army’s last encampment here. The state removed them in September of 2020, capping a review initiated by the state historical commission and Gov. Tom Wolf’s office following deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va., three years prior.

Two of the items have been revised to position the Union army more centrally in the historical narrative and to cast the Confederates as a destructive invading force. The items will be reinstalled in “the near future,” said Howard Pollman of the commission, which oversees the state’s historical marker program.

The third item — a bronze plaque dedicated by a neo-Confederate group before the commission gained oversight — will not be replaced.

“The administration recognizes that some markers may contain outdated cultural references that must be addressed,” Wolf’s office explained in an email to Spotlight PA, adding, “These decisions are not made lightly or hastily.”

The McConnellsburg changes are as follows: 

  • A plaque commemorating the final Confederate encampment in Pennsylvania will no longer be displayed by the state, having been “accessioned into PHMC’s collection for interpretive purposes.” The plaque was dedicated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a neo-Confederate group widely known for venerating the southern army and whitewashing Civil War history

  • A historical marker with similar text and the same subject has been updated to include mention of the Union “routing” that followed for “the last Confederates to camp on Pennsylvania soil.” It will be reinstalled at the same location.

  • A historical marker commemorating the first Confederate deaths in Pennsylvania has been edited to emphasize Confederate raids and property thefts. It also now mentions  the Confederate Army’s “invasion of Pennsylvania” and describes the Confederates as “enemy” soldiers. A prior version mentioned only a neutral-sounding “skirmish.” (A six-foot-tall roadside monument to the Confederate dead — erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy nearby — is not property of the state historical commission and was not part of the commission’s review, Pollman said.)

Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, the commission took down a United Daughters of the Confederacy-backed plaque it inherited, the removal coming roughly 90 years after the piece was first erected. The plaque recognized a 19th-century penitentiary that housed the city’s “only Confederate prisoners of war.” 

The Incline reported the plaque was placed by the united daughters in 1931 and later surrounded by the National Aviary. It spent its final years in a cage with a bald eagle, a symbol of the United States since 1787 and one adopted by Union troops.

Pollman said the Aviary asked that the plaque be removed “due to continual public inquiries expressing concern.” The state historical commission plans to relocate it to a nearby park with updated text.

Some critics questioned the sensitivity around what is at face value a neutral historical acknowledgement, but Kirk Savage, a University of Pittsburgh art history professor and expert on Confederate monuments, told The Incline: “If the UDC is behind it, they thought of it as honorific.”

The commission review of the state’s aging historical markers and plaques overlapped with a roiling national debate about the need for careful framing of Civil War and Confederate history.

In an open letter published earlier this year, state Rep. Parke Wentling (R., Crawford), a commission appointee, said revisions and removals of state historical markers, such as those in McConnellsburg and Pittsburgh, were being “driven by woke cancel culture,” adding: “Not all history needs to be celebrated, but it needs to be remembered.”

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

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA

DEAL DELVE: Capital-Star takes a look at the redacted contract between Republicans pushing a contested and, critics say, unnecessary review of Pennsylvania's 2020 election and the rookie vendor leading the charge. And Spotlight PA has background on the outfit, Envoy Sage.

STORM DAMAGE: Months after Hurricane Ida damaged some Philadelphia homes, a competitive housing market is keeping affected renters from finding new places to live. The Inquirer says hundreds are still in county-funded hotel stays, while many others are sleeping on couches.

HARD LOOK: It's almost impossible to find reliable information on Pennsylvania treatment centers for people with addiction, a mother who lost a son to an overdose told state lawmakers this week, via The Morning Call. Spotlight PA and KHN covered the issue earlier this year.

CLIMATE PLAN: The Attorney General's office has signed off on the legality of Gov. Tom Wolf's plan to include Pennsylvania in a regional program for curbing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, despite AG Shapiro's overall objections. StateImpact explains what comes next.

MASK TEST: Pennsylvania's Supreme Court on Wednesday heard oral arguments in an ongoing legal challenge of the Wolf administration's school mask mandate. TribLIVE reports the arguments defending the rule focused on disease control and the phrase "modified quarantine." 

» DAILY BEAST: U.S. Senate candidate Oz flip-flops on abortion

» LNP: No jail for Pa. nursing home manager blamed for deaths

» PATCH: Ex-state Rep. pleads guilty to stealing tax dollars

» POLITICO: 'Socialist,' 'centrist' cudgels wielded in Dem Senate race

» THE INQUIRER: SCOPA takes up pivotal police use-of-force case
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