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Incumbents challenged in push to shape parties

Plus, mistrial declared in Philly councilman's bribery case.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
April 20, 2022
Political tests, mistrial declared, candidate criteria, quarantine zone, rent controls, and Three Mile Island on Netflix. It's Wednesday.
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Incumbent Pennsylvania lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are facing unusual headwinds in next month's primary. 

On the GOP side, a phalanx of upstart challengers is taking on some of the party's most powerful members in Harrisburg. 

Capital-Star reports the opposition numbers in the double digits and could yield a rightward shift for the party come November.  

On the Democratic side, several progressive female incumbents have been snubbed by the party's own machinery, as their local Democratic committees embraced the more conservative Democrats running against them.

One such incumbent, state Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler (D., Philadelphia), told WHYY a bolder brand of politics is being penalized.

THE CONTEXT: Leo Knepper of the Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, a conservative advocacy group, told Capital-Star there are two main motivators behind this wave of GOP primary challenges: the pandemic and mail voting. 

The state's no-excuse mail-voting law passed with support from the General Assembly's Republican majority in 2019. Many of those same members have since turned against it, but that initial support remains a political liability for them and a convenient cudgel for their primary opponents. 

Those same incumbents are also blamed for not doing enough to thwart pandemic restrictions or for moving too slowly when they did.

As for the Democratic incumbents facing intraparty resistance, those like Fiedler are in an unusual spot given that committees normally throw their support behind officeholders or stay out of primaries altogether. (Fiedler did secure Gov. Tom Wolf's endorsement on Monday.)

Michael Sullivan, a Philly ward leader who was instrumental in that committee backing Michael Giangiordano over Fiedler told WHYY "she's not engaged enough," while Giangiordano said she's too focused on "Twitter issues." 

Will losing such an endorsement sink a campaign? Not necessarily. 

In Allegheny County, three progressive female incumbents saw their primary opponents endorsed by the county's Democratic committee this year.

Two of them won office without that endorsement in 2020 and the third, state Rep. Summer Lee (D., Allegheny), is currently enjoying a comfortable lead in the race for Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle's open seat. 
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"His show covered controversial topics and having a guest discuss a side of an issue doesn't indicate [Oz] endorses that issue."

Brittany Yanick, a spokesperson for Mehmet Oz, on past statements being used against him in Pennsylvania's GOP U.S. Senate primary
» BROKEN RULES: Join us tonight at 6 p.m. EST via Zoom for a free discussion on Pa.'s medical release law for state prisoners, who the law impacts, and the strain it places on people in prison, their families, and taxpayers. Register here and submit questions to
» Your guide to the Democratic and GOP candidates for governor

» A guide to the overlooked race for Pa. lieutenant governor

» Big donations to GOP guv hopefuls: Who gave and how much?

» Tell Spotlight PA what election coverage matters the most to you
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DEADLOCKED JURY: The federal bribery trial of Democratic Philadelphia Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and his wife, Dawn Chavous, has ended in a mistrial. Jurors spent days trying to reach a verdict at the judge's urging, even receiving dark chocolate to improve brain function, per WHYY. After 25 hours of deliberations, the judge worried continuing under the impasse might be coercive.

BALLOT BUMP: A registered Democrat from Lycoming County has filed a longshot lawsuit that aims to have two prominent Republican lawmakers removed from the May primary ballot over their roles in the U.S. Capitol siege and efforts to overturn the 2020 election, per PennLive. The suit from Jeffrey D. Hill of Muncy argues state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin) and U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.) violated their oaths and are disqualified from seeking reelection.

AVIAN INFLUENZA: Over a million birds were euthanized on an East Donegal Township farm in Lancaster County due to an avian flu outbreak there, LNP reports. More than 160 nearby poultry operations will be subjected to increased scrutiny and testing requirements under a 10-kilometer-wide quarantine zone. Poultry and eggs are also banned from fairs and exhibitions statewide in response to the virus.

AIRBNB SHOOTING: Pittsburgh will try to rein in Airbnb rentals after a mass shooting at one on the North Side left two teens dead and eight other people with gunshot wounds, TribLIVE reports. In related news: Pittsburgh police responded to a noise complaint at the Airbnb 90 minutes before the shooting; and Airbnb is suing the person who booked the North Side home where the shooting occurred. 

CLEANUP GOALS: Pennsylvania is not on track to meet 2025 goals for reducing pollution in the ecologically integral Chesapeake Bay, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has noticed. WITF reports Pennsylvania has 90 days to submit an improved plan for hitting the benchmarks. The EPA says it will also redirect funds, increase permit oversight, and step up inspections of farms and stormwater systems here — both key sources of pollution in the bay.

TREASURE HUNT: A federal judge has ordered the FBI to turn over documents related to its 2018 dig for a fabled cache of Civil War gold in Elk County. A local band of treasure hunters that led the FBI to the site sued for access to information about the agency's resulting excavation. The FBI says no gold was found. The locals are skeptical.

GRUB HUB: The Inquirer has a guide to Philly's iconic Reading Terminal like few others. It is a complete roadmap of every vendor in the place, some 72 in all, organized by genre and with plenty of behind-the-scenes details. Turns out many of the restaurants and businesses are family owned.

FOOD FIGHT: The Pittsburgh Maulers are back with the resurrected United States Football League (Philadelphia also has a team). While the Maulers lost their season opener, everyone's still busy trying to figure out if a star player really got cut for ordering pizza instead of a chicken salad sandwich.

GOOSE CHASE: Bloomsburg chose violence. The town's council has voted to euthanize up to 40 local geese and not because of bird flu. The geese have been pooping all over a local park and officials aren't happy. WNEP reports the USDA is involved and some of the meat will be donated to food banks.

THREE MILE ISLAND: The trailer for a new Netflix documentary about the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979 has dropped. The four-part series, from the producers of Erin Brockovich, will debut on May 4. 

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