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Did redistricting benefit Pa.'s nonwhite candidates?

Plus, meet our new state Capitol reporter.

A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA

June 9, 2022 | spotlightpa.org
Opportunity districts, stimulus spending, federal limits, cannabis event, meet Stephen, sedition charge, Mastriano probe, broken rentals, and gun pressure.
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During the redistricting process, the panel in charge of drawing new state House and Senate districts sought to reflect the rise in Pennsylvania's minority populations through opportunity districts — areas with enough people of color to sway an election.

Following the May 2022 primary, Spotlight PA's Kate Huangpu analyzed races in five opportunity districts to examine the initial effect of such seats on the representation of marginalized communities.

What she found: Only two of the six candidates of color won their primary, one of whom ran unopposed.

The candidates told Spotlight PA that the demographic composition of the district generally did not overcome a more deep-rooted disadvantage: running for office without resources or party support.

Also this week, Pennsylvania is sitting on $2.2 billion in remaining stimulus money, and at least $4.9 billion in surplus tax revenue. As the June 30 budget deadline approaches, it appears lawmakers from both major parties may actually agree to spend some of it, Capitol reporter Stephen Caruso reports.

Finally, Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents' Association intern Jaxon White reports on a push to add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would give state lawmakers the power to regulate outside spending on federal elections. 
"It’s literally the good old boys club."

—Enid Santiago, a two-time candidate for state House, on the barriers she faced challenging an incumbent in an opportunity district
» THE AD BLOCK: Join us Tuesday, June 14 at 6 p.m. ET, for a free Q&A on the uneven rules and flaws of the state's medical marijuana program. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
» Pennsylvania’s definition of broadband hasn’t changed in nearly 20 years

» Medical marijuana card company draws scrutiny for using unofficial Pa. doctor listing to attract patients

» Spotlight PA wants your help flagging school health hazards

Meet Spotlight PA’s new Capitol reporter

Hello everyone, I’m Stephen Caruso, Spotlight PA’s Capitol reporter.

While I am new to Spotlight, I am not new to reporting on Harrisburg. I’ve been chasing lawmakers around blind corners and down dimly lit hallways since 2018, first for The PLS Reporter, then for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. You might already follow me on Twitter, where I frequently post about the Yankees. (Oh, and Pennsylvania government.)

While I have learned to love the commonwealth, I am not a Pennsylvania native. As my baseball fandom suggests, I was born in Poughkeepsie, New York. Growing up, I didn’t picture journalism as a career, though I did write columns for my high school paper, which I eventually became editor-in-chief of.

Crossing the Appalachians to start college at the University of Pittsburgh to study economics, I figured I would join the college paper so my pen didn’t get rusty. Instead, The Pitt News, a daily print newspaper, hired me as an editor because I knew how to lay out pages.

That was the luckiest break of my career, because over the next four years I cycled through a half-dozen positions. I snapped photos at student protests, covered Pitt baseball, and attended rallies during the 2016 presidential race. I remained an economics major, but by the time I got my diploma, it was clear that my heart was in journalism.

After jumping through a few internships and odd jobs (including a brief stint as a bouncer), I moved to Harrisburg in March 2018, and have lived in the city ever since. In those years, I’ve attended hundreds of press conferences, protests, and floor debates, where I reported on everything from the crowning of the state amphibian to the outcome of the 2020 election. 

My reporting changed the travel policies at the state teacher’s pension fund, highlighted the rising share of bridge-naming legislation, and revealed how cryptocurrency miners were taking advantage of a big state tax break.

I aim to be your Capitol translator, separating fact from fiction and extracting the policy changes that will impact you from the noise of politics. 

If I do this job right, you will learn to see the Capitol as I do — as a whorl of competing priorities, personalities, and monied interests squabbling amongst themselves with the future of the state and its residents in the balance. 

Please don’t hesitate to send me an email at scaruso@spotlightpa.org with any questions.

SEDITION CHARGE: A rare "seditious conspiracy" charge has been leveled against Zachary Rehl of Philadelphia and other leaders of the far-right Proud Boys group for their role in 2021's U.S. Capitol attack, The Inquirer reports. It's the most serious charge brought against any of the more than 800 people charged in the riot. The U.S. House Select Committee investigating the attack will host a primetime hearing tonight.

J6 PROBE: Politico reports that GOP gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano is cooperating with the U.S. House committee investigating the U.S. Capitol attack. Mastriano agreed to an interview and turned over documents (found here) about his work transporting protesters to D.C. that day. Politico reports a "sizable carve-out" in his subpoena means much of what he produced was already publicly available.

BROKEN HOMES: Pittsburgh's plan to launch a registry of rental homes tied to regular inspections of such properties has stalled yet again in the face of opposition from landlords, the Post-Gazette reports. While a related court fight ramps up, the paper has a look at the deplorable conditions confronting some tenants — the very kind the legislation aims to address — and a "culture of illegality" that thrives in the blind spots. 

PARTY PRESSURE: Democratic state lawmakers have filed six discharge resolutions for anti-gun violence measures that have sat in committees under the legislature's Republican majority. The resolutions would fast-track related bills (listed here) for floor votes. All have stalled in the Senate's Judiciary Committee, one of two where Democrats say the GOP has mounted a gun law blockade, via Capital-Star.

FOCAL POINTS: GOP lawmakers pushing to amend Pennsylvania's Constitution — a means of avoiding the governor's veto pen on contentious issues — will soon decide which of their proposals will actually get floor votes on their way to potentially becoming ballot questions, the AP reports. The final list is expected before the legislature's summer recess. Spotlight PA tracks the full slate here.

» AP: House votes to erase ‘homosexuality’ from state crimes code

» BILLY PENN: Shake Shack declines to drop Martin’s over Mastriano ties

» MORNING CALL: Browne, a top Republican in Harrisburg, concedes

» SUN-GAZETTE: Group, voter services director at odds over audit

» WITF: Dauphin Co. jail cells were 'ice cold' before prisoner died

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org.

NAME GAME (Case No. 150): Rearrange the letters in "Dolly" to make a man's name.
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
Last week's answer: Two. (Find last week's clue here)
Congrats to David T., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Jon N., Susan N.-Z., Michael H., Joe S., George S., Dom A., Robert K., Fred O., and Mary B.
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