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A special Thanksgiving Riddler edition

Plus, why Democrats will be down 3 seats in the Pa. House in January. 

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 24, 2022 | spotlightpa.org
Happy Thanksgiving! Today we're sending a special Thanksgiving Riddler edition to share with family and friends. We'll see you next week.
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Colin Deppen
Spotlight PA, Newsletter Editor

“It was plainly unfair for the district attorney, the one bringing the charges, to exclusively have that authority.”

—Bradley Bridge of the Defender Association of Philadelphia on a state Supreme Court ruling that gives judges new leverage to dismiss charges against people deemed ‘incompetent’ to stand trial

» How Democrat Josh Shapiro won Pa.’s 2022 election for governor
» Dem takeover of Pa. House will be messy at start. Here’s why.
» High court weighs in on a flawed Pa. law that traps people in jail
» State College’s new police complaint process, explained
» Watch: How the winners of Pa.’s 2022 election plan to lead

Here’s why state House Democrats will be down 3 seats in January

Democrats won control of the Pennsylvania state House on Nov. 8, but their majority is going to disappear for at least a few weeks in the new year. 

Republicans will have a temporary 101-99 edge in the 203-seat chamber, in part because of the death of a longtime lawmaker whose seat must be filled in a special election.

But the Democratic majority will also take a hit because two state lawmakers ran for reelection while vying for a different elected office — a completely legal decision that some good-government advocates say shouldn’t be an option. 

The Pennsylvania Constitution specifically forbids General Assembly lawmakers from holding any other salaried local, state, or federal office. 

Despite this ban, nothing prohibits state lawmakers from running for reelection and another elected office at the same time, which state Reps. Austin Davis (D., Allegheny) and Summer Lee (D., Allegheny) both did. Davis will be the next lieutenant governor, while Lee won her race to become Pittsburgh’s next member of Congress.

What Davis and Lee did is not uncommon, and politicos said it provides an insurance policy: Even if the candidate loses their bid for a different elected office, they will likely hold onto their old seat.

But if a state lawmaker wins a different office, replacing them requires a special election that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to administer. The lawmaker’s constituents are also left without Harrisburg representation for months, said Pat Christmas, a policy analyst with the Philadelphia-based good-government group Committee of Seventy.

“Seeking higher office should still require taking a leap,” Christmas said in an email.

State law regarding vacancies during lawmakers’ terms also favors political parties instead of voters, Christmas noted. The law gives local leaders of major parties the ability to choose nominees, often in private meetings.

Normally, in a body as large as the Pennsylvania House, being down a member of two means little, and openings sometimes emerge as lawmakers pursue different opportunities mid-session. Department of State data show the state has averaged 4.5 legislative special elections each year for the past decade.

But because Democrats won just 102 seats in the state House — giving them a one-seat majority — every lawmaker matters as legislators prepare to pick a speaker to preside over the chamber and set the rules for the coming session. Stephen Caruso, Spotlight PA

Read the complete story on spotlightpa.org.

Support Spotlight PA's investigative journalism for Pennsylvania and for a limited time, your gift will be DOUBLED.
This week's top news story in PennsylvaniaIRON PIPELINE: TribLIVE reports that despite policing and intervention by outreach workers, there is no letup in the supply of firearms feeding violent crime rates in cities like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. A gun-safety group's report says 5% of firearm dealers are responsible for about 90% of recovered crime guns. Pennsylvania dealers responded.

This week's second top news story in PennsylvaniaLEAK PLUGGED: A massive natural gas leak at a storage facility in Cambria County has been plugged after two weeks, the well's owners report, via The Allegheny Front. The Equitrans Midstream well leaked huge quantities of natural gas and its main ingredient, the powerful greenhouse gas methane, into the atmosphere, as seen here.

This week's third top news story in PennsylvaniaFUND FIGHT: Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf says a last-minute GOP vote to oppose oil and gas air pollution rules is a "disgrace" with "extreme consequences," namely possible sanctions on up to $1 billion in federal highway funding for Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh Union Progress reports the party-line vote happened in a surprise committee meeting.

LONE VOTE: There was one state House Republican who voted no on impeaching Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner last week. Capital-Star reports state Rep. Mike Puskaric (R., Allegheny) broke ranks in the largely party-line 107-85 vote because he believed impeachment would set a disastrous precedent for the future

WARNING SIGN: Philly saw the greatest drop in voter turnout of any county in the state in this month's midterms, and the city's share of the state’s vote declined for the third election in a row. The Inquirer (paywall) reports the dip raises questions about the city’s future role in statewide races and both parties’ ability to connect with voters of color.

» AP: Dauphin Co. woman convicted for storming Pelosi office on Jan. 6

» DENVER POSTPa. native among victims of Colo. LGBTQ club killings

» PENNLIVE: Wolf vetoes bike safety bill over Krasner provision

» VOX: Struggling Pa. colleges brace for a looming enrollment cliff

» WPVI: GOP Texas guv sends another bus of migrants to Philly

Find this week's answers here.

NAME CHANGE (Case No. 174): What country name, when uncapitalized, becomes the name of a food?

DOING MATH (Case No. 175): What three single-digit numbers give the same result when multiplied and added together?

PING PONG (Case No. 176): Your last good ping-pong ball fell into a narrow metal pipe embedded in concrete one foot deep. All you have is a ping-pong paddle, shoe laces, and a bottle of water. How do you get it out? 
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
Last week's answer: They're both in the middle of water. (Find last week's clue here.)
Congrats to Dawn M., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Dom A., Annette I., George S., Ed M., Jeffrey F., Judy A., Mary B., Donna D., Peter S., Fred O., and Joseph M.
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Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and WITF Public Media.

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