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Control of Pa. House comes down to these 3 races

Plus, more results and analysis after Tuesday's midterm election.

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This is The Investigator, a free weekly newsletter with the top news from across Pennsylvania.
A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.

November 10, 2022 | spotlightpa.org
Shapiro wins, Democratic majority, voter voices, formal discipline, surprising moments, Dimock delays, orphan wells, info void, and on video.

Democrat Josh Shapiro will be the next governor of Pennsylvania, after cruising to a decisive victory over far-right Republican Doug Mastriano.

Spotlight PA's Angela Couloumbis and Katie Meyer have a comprehensive look at Shapiro and the challenges he'll face in the position.

Democrats and those familiar with Shapiro’s career say he is not unbending as a leader and will make one of his first priorities engaging Republicans. The latter, in particular, is critical, said a one-time Rendell staffer: “Governing is not a philosophy. It’s a practice, and you have to be willing to engage, in a pretty sustained and aggressive way, the legislative branch."

Key to Shapiro's success will be whether the state House of Representatives flips to Democrats for the first time in more than a decade. The Associated Press hasn’t yet made a call on which party will control the chamber, and there could still be litigation over several close races.

But state House Democrats on Wednesday declared victory, citing a slew of unexpected victories and their own analysis of county results, Stephen Caruso and Kate Huangpu report. Control of the House now comes down to races in three districts — 142, 144, and 151, all in suburban Philadelphia.

Seven Spotlight PA reporters were on the ground on Election Day, alongside a reporter from Votebeat and six from the News Labs @ Penn State. They visited more than 30 locations and talked to more than 100 people: voters, poll workers, volunteers, and more. Read what those people told our Election Day crew. 

Finally this week, some non-election news. Ed Mahon has the story of the first physician to face formal discipline from the Pennsylvania Department of Health for allegedly violating the rules of the state’s medical marijuana program since it was created in 2016. Keep scrolling to read more from Mahon about what he's learned covering the program. 


"I took an oath to protect the citizens of the commonwealth as patients. And here I am as a patient not really liking or not really understanding how this whole medical marijuana process should work."

—Bette Grey, a member of the State Board of Osteopathic Medicine, who brought a complaint against a medical marijuana doctor in Pa.


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» A judge did not change Pennsylvania's ballot deadline for the 2022 election
» Former Pa. governors ask candidates Doug Mastriano, Josh Shapiro to accept results of Nov. 8 election
» How disputes over vote certification could play out in Pennsylvania counties after 2022 election
» The top 4 false or misleading claims pushed ahead of Pa.’s 2022 election
» Wolf signs hastily passed $2 billion tax package that encourages natural gas production in Pa.

3 surprising moments from a year of reporting on Pa.’s medical marijuana program

I’ve been covering Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program — and how well it’s working for hundreds of thousands of patients — for over a year. Here are three surprising moments from my reporting.

Unusual warnings: Earlier this year, I reached out to medical marijuana doctors who had been threatened by the Department of Health for allegedly breaking the state’s advertising rules.

Some were fine with talking, but they also had a question: How did I find out about the warnings?

I was happy to explain. I had filed requests under the state’s Right-to-Know Law to try to better understand what, if anything, the health department did to ensure medical marijuana companies and doctors operating in Pennsylvania make accurate medical claims on their own websites.

I didn’t find much oversight of medical claims. But as I sorted through hundreds of pages of documents, I came across the advertising warning letters. I was surprised to find them — and many physicians and policymakers I spoke to were surprised to learn the details of the department’s enforcement.

The result was “The Ad Block,” an investigation into an unequal system that gives an advantage to largely unregulated companies that court patients.

A rare victory: Todd Douglas reached out to me in November 2021 saying his job at Philadelphia Gas Works was in jeopardy because he was a medical marijuana patient.

He was one of several workers featured in a September story, “Unimpaired, Unemployed,” about the state’s murky employment protections for medical marijuana patients.

After several months of uncertainty, Douglas won a rare victory. A federal agency said people in his position weren’t covered by its drug testing rules and the company returned him to his regular job. 

And there was more good news for him: Philadelphia Gas Works recently reached an agreement with union officials that offers new protections for workers in nearly 80 positions, including Douglas, according to records I obtained.

Medical marijuana is still off limits for many PGW positions, based on federal rules. But for other workers, a positive drug test for using marijuana alone shouldn’t lead to punishment as long as they had a medical marijuana card before they took the test, didn’t use the drug at work, and weren’t impaired.

In a letter to employees, a Philadelphia Gas Works official said the changes support the company’s “need to ensure a safe working environment and protect the rights of certain bargaining unit employees to receive bona fide medical treatment.” 

A new survey: When it comes to legalizing recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania, there have been a few surprising shifts in position and tone in recent years. But a recent survey by the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition underscores how much work remains to pass such a measure here.

The coalition says it surveyed candidates running in all 228 state legislative races on the ballot this year. The survey — based on candidate responses and legislative records — shows many candidates largely oppose or have not taken a stand on the issue. Only three Republicans and 56 Democrats expressed support for adult use legalization, the group’s website showed earlier this week.

“The biggest thing it indicates to us … is there’s a lot more education that needs to be done about the issue, and that there’s still a lot of stigma around the issue,” Meredith Buettner, executive director of the coalition, told me.

The ongoing debate over legalization is one reason I think it’s so important to continue digging into what’s working and what’s not with the state’s medical program. And after Tuesday’s election, Pennsylvania will soon have another neighbor (Maryland) where recreational cannabis is legal for adults 21 and older. It will join New York and New Jersey. Ed Mahon, Spotlight PA

This week's top news story in PennsylvaniaDIMOCK DELAYS: A town in Susquehanna County that became a symbol of fracking's pollutive potential has waited years for a resolution in a case brought against the company that fouled its water. It was Josh Shapiro, in his role as state Attorney General, who pressed the charges. But Capital & Main, in a report published before Election Day, found some residents doubting his commitment to the cause.

This week's second top news story in PennsylvaniaORPHAN WELLS: E&E News reports that as Pennsylvania prepares to tap millions of federal dollars to plug hundreds of abandoned oil and gas wells, a source of greenhouse gas emissions, drillers this year have already tried to walk away from hundreds more. The outlet says "this potential new wave of abandoned wells highlights the hydra-like nature of well abandonment in the state."

This week's third top news story in PennsylvaniaGOOD SAMARITAN: Witnesses say Kenneth Vinyard, 48, was helping the victim of a shooting outside a Walmart in Beaver County on Sunday when he was confronted by an off-duty police officer and fatally wrestled to the ground. A lawyer is calling it a deliberate "takedown." The Beaver County Times (paywall) reports State Police are investigating the incident and the unidentified Center Township officer's actions.

INFO VOID: WITF explains how a Pennsylvania assault case that wouldn't normally capture national attention became a right-wing cause célèbre. The case involves the arrest of a 47-year-old Bucks County anti-abortion activist named Mark Houck for an alleged attack on a 72-year-old Planned Parenthood volunteer. WITF reports that few confirmable facts presented ideal conditions for disinformation.

ON VIDEO: Mercer County Sheriff Bruce Rosa is defending the deputies seen in viral video disabling home security cameras before detaining someone in a residence over an arrest warrant, per The Herald. Rosa cited officer safety, but this tactic has raised First Amendment concerns around the right to film police and also their ability to interfere with home cameras without a specifying search warrant.

» AP: Late Pennsylvania rep was on ballot due to law, not fraud

» INQUIRER: Caseloads, wages drive out foster care workers (paywall)

» PENNLIVE: Toomey blames Trump for GOP’s election failures (paywall)

» STATEIMPACT: Climate change prompts Pa. farmers to adapt

» TRIVLIVE: Campuses vow to stay diverse amid Supreme Court case

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org.

CIRCLE OF LIFE (Case No. 172)What flies when it’s born, lies when it’s alive, and runs when it’s dead?
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
Last week's answer: Bumblebee. (Find last week's clue here.)
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