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Debate club, Roe v. Wade, and the 'Underground Pentagon'

Plus, DOJ to appeal public transit mask ruling.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
April 21, 2022
Guv guide, court choice, 'anti-woke,' federal case, debt limit, Pa.'s 'Underground Pentagon,' and Satan in school. It's Thursday.
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Aiming to stand out in a crowded field and in front of a largely undecided electorate, five of the nine Republicans running to be Pennsylvania's next governor gathered for a debate at Gettysburg College on Tuesday.

The event, hosted by Spotlight PA and its founding partners, covered the issues fueling the race as Republicans, who already control the General Assembly, look to secure the governor's office and a government trifecta, and Democrats look to hold onto the office and its powerful veto pen.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Centre), Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale, political strategist Charlie Gerow, former U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart (R., Pa.), and surgeon Nche Zama all participated. 

Here are the highlights:

  • All five candidates condemned Act 77, the state's no-excuse mail voting law that passed with bipartisan support in 2019 and is now the focus of Republican-led attempts to rollback or repeal the statute.
  • All of the candidates agreed on the importance of improving the state's roads and bridges but not on how to fund that work.
  • The candidates all said they support "school choice," which offers alternatives to public schools via tax credits or vouchers.
  • All of the candidates backed more fossil fuel production; Hart and Zama said the clean energy industry also needs to grow.
  • And all five oppose abortion and would sign legislation to curtail it, though they disagreed on how stringent the limits should be and what exceptions should be allowed, if any.

You can find more details here and full video of the debate here.

THE CONTEXT: The other four Republican candidates for governor — including two frontrunners: state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin) and ex-U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta (R., Pa.) — did not participate.

A spokesperson for Mastriano told Capital-Star he had a prior obligation. The other three — Barletta, former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, and former Delaware County Council Member Dave White — signed a pledge vowing not to participate in any debate without a moderator who is a registered Republican, hasn't spoken negatively about them before, and doesn't work for a media organization that has been critical of them before

The conditions continue to draw criticism, including from fellow candidates like Corman, who signed the same pledge but ultimately relented.

"Welcome to the be-not-afraid debate," Corman said on Tuesday. "I want to congratulate my other colleagues here for having the courage to actually face journalists and the public and answer questions."

At the national level, a protesting Republican National Committee has moved to bar GOP presidential candidates from debates sponsored by the nonpartisan commission that has hosted them for decades. 

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"The 400 square-foot micro [unit] for $1,000 a month? Is that what you're calling affordable?"

Pittsburgh Planning Commissioner Sabina Deitrick quizzing the developers of a new high-rise about rents as the city looks to grow affordable housing
» 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
The Maurice Stephens House at Valley Forge National Historic Park, courtesy of @mar_sees_life. Have a cool photo of your own? Send us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
COURT WATCH: The U.S. Supreme Court is set to weigh in on Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban by the end of June, potentially altering or ending Roe v. Wade in the process. In Pennsylvania, the issue is front and center in the governor's race as GOP legislators pursue new limits, including a change to the state Constitution that would declare no right to an abortion or abortion funding here. Some advocates worry the impacts would be much broader, via Capital-Star.

WOKE AT WORK: While GOP U.S. Senate candidate David McCormick says he's running an "anti-woke" campaign — meaning one contrary to the nation's social justice movement — Vice found a very different approach from his time as CEO of the world's largest hedge fund, where he denounced "structural bigotry" and championed diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. A related, paywalled story by Bloomberg says McCormick's Wall Street ties are proving crucial.

RETRIAL PLANNED: Soon after the federal bribery trial of Democratic Philadelphia Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and his wife, Dawn Chavous, ended with a hung jury on Tuesday, the government announced it plans to retry the case. Federal prosecutors allege that Johnson took nearly $67,000 from a city nonprofit in exchange for a pair of political favors involving valuable real estate, WHYY explains.

COLLEGE DEBT: Forty-thousand student loan recipients will be eligible to have that debt erased and 3.6 million more will move closer to joining them under a new Biden administration initiative. A recent NPR investigation found loan servicers, including The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, have failed to track payments in a meaningful way. That has left low-income borrowers, many seeking loan forgiveness, on the hook for far longer than necessary

DAILY BRIEFING: Here's what else happened on Wednesday: The NCAA said it will let merged Pennsylvania state universities keep their individual sports teams; the U.S. Justice Department will appeal a recent court decision striking down the nationwide public transportation mask rule at the urging of the CDC; and Pittsburgh's City Council pressed pause on new and expedited legislation aimed at reining in Airbnb rentals after a deadly mass shooting to allow more deliberation.

BUNKER BUST: A mountain near Gettysburg holds a bunker, dubbed the "Underground Pentagon," where a hand-picked government would shelter from a nuclear attack. A subscribers-only article by the York Daily Record says nearby doomsday preppers fear that puts them at greater risk.

POT PRISONER: In a matter of weeks Daniel Muessig, a Pittsburgh attorney famous for advertising his criminal intuition, will begin a federal prison sentence for large-scale cannabis trafficking. In a first-person piece for City Paper, Muessig reflects in his waning days of freedom.

LONG LANDING: A band of seven Ukrainian sailors, stranded on a ship in Philadelphia for months as Russia invaded their homeland, have finally been allowed to come ashore, The Inquirer reports. They hope to obtain temporary protective status, which would allow them to stay here in safety.

SATAN CLUB: An after-school Satan Club was voted down 8-to-1 by the Northern York County School Board this week. WGAL reports the club was proposed in response to an elementary school Bible study and to prove a point that no religious clubs should be allowed.

FACE/OFF: I'm not sure what to say about the image I just saw combining Democratic U.S. Senate candidates John Fetterman and Conor Lamb into a single person — Jonor Fetterlamb — so I'm just going to show you

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

*This week's theme: Let's dance!
Yesterday's answer: Glissade

Congrats to our daily winners: Mike B., Susan N.-Z., Craig W., John A., Judith D., Patricia M., Vicki U., Bonnie R., Kimberly S., Becky C., Roseanne M., Ann E., Don H., Beth T., Susan D., Kim C., Jude M., Starr B., Matt P., David S., Heidi B., Doris T., James B., George S., Elaine C., Alletta S., Dianne K., Marisa B., Bill S., David W., Pat B., Eddy Z., Elizabeth W., and Chris H.
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