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Open primaries, Act 77 agitators, Mastriano on-the-record, and bonfire of the crudités

Plus, Wolf moves to discourage conversion therapy.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
August 17, 2022
Primary push, executive action, Act 77, hardline positions, school money, Berwick updates, and Oz's grocery-gate. It's Wednesday.
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—Colin D., PA Postmaster

Pennsylvania lawmakers are weighing a bill that would let voters who aren't affiliated with a political party vote in primaries. 

Former elected officials and government experts told the House State Government Committee in a hearing on Tuesday that Pennsylvania’s current closed primary system is disenfranchising 1.3 million people.

Two bills with bipartisan support are currently awaiting consideration in the General Assembly. Each would change the rules and allow independent voters to choose one party's primary to participate in. 

Currently, voters unaffiliated with either of the two major parties can only vote on ballot questions that coincide with primary elections. 

Read Spotlight PA's full rundown here.

THE CONTEXT: Some critics of open primaries worry about "party raiding," wherein unaffiliated voters strategically use their vote to pick an unelectable candidate or one who doesn't represent a party's values. Evidence shows the practice is neither widespread nor particularly likely to succeed.

Open primary critics also argue, like state Rep. Paul Schemel (R., Franklin) did at Tuesday's hearing, that primaries are an internal party activity and should exclude anyone who isn't registered accordingly.

But David Thornburgh — chair of Ballot PA, a project of the good-government group Committee of 70 — said the constitutional right to vote overshadows any justification to exclude independents (many of whom have their officials chosen for them when general elections are uncontested).

Pennsylvania is one of nine states that has closed primary elections, meaning only registered Democrats and Republicans can vote for candidates from those parties and choose who will advance to the ballot in November.


"I think there's a fatigue factor setting in. I mean, we had some people who were spending hours a day squishing these things and recording them in the app. And, you know, after a year or two or a summer or two of doing that, you kind of say 'OK, well, I've probably got better things to do with my time.'" 

—Brad Line, creator of the Squishr app, a tracking tool for spotted lanternfly eradication efforts, on the waning activity seen in Pennsylvania
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On the ground with Don H. at Tuscarora State Park. Send us your photos or art, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
STATE STOP: Gov. Tom Wolf has signed an executive order to protect Pennsylvanians from conversion therapy by making sure state resources aren't used to support it, per ABC27. Conversion therapy is a widely discredited practice that aims to change a person's sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Some municipalities have adopted outright bans. Wolf said his executive order, signed on Tuesday, is the best he can do right now without legislation.

FAILED BID: The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania has opted against making the overturning of no-excuse mail-voting a legislative priority, The Daily Item reports, via Yahoo News. Two GOP Lancaster County commissioners, the same responsible for removing the county's only mail-ballot drop box in April, led the push, which failed at the association's annual gathering last week. Spotlight PA has the latest on GOP-led legal action against the state's mail-voting law.

RADIO CUT: In a 2018 radio station Q&A (listen here), GOP nominee for governor Doug Mastriano called global warming "fake science," said gay couples shouldn't be allowed to adopt, said Dreamers "shouldn't be here," and that Islam is "not compatible" with the U.S. Constitution, per Rolling Stone (paywalled). Mastriano has shifted his tone on issues like abortion of late, amid a backlash around June's Roe v. Wade ruling, but he hasn't backed off pledges to curb access as governor.

SCHOOL PLAN: Doug Mastriano, currently a state senator from Franklin County, supports alternatives to public schools, eliminating property taxes (a key source of public education dollars), and lowering per-pupil spending. The state's largest teachers union, which endorsed his Democratic rival, says the results would be disastrous. Conservatives say the union's analysis can't be trusted. Here are the union's projected impacts by district, including in the area Mastriano now represents.

CASE UPDATE: Four people remained in critical condition on Tuesday following Saturday's deadly crash at a Berwick fundraiser for fire victims, the AP reports. The 24-year-old charged with intentionally plowing his vehicle into the crowd is also charged with killing his mother in Nescopek minutes later. Adrian Oswaldo Sura Reyes told police he was mad after fighting with his mom over money and more.

GROCERY-GATE: Months after GOP U.S. Senate hopeful Mehmet Oz walked into a "Wegners" to make a point about inflation, video of the visit has gone viral — and not for the reasons he'd hoped. New York magazine has 11 questions about the crudités clip, mostly who signed off on it

DEBATE CLUB: Doug Mastriano has challenged Democrat Josh Shapiro to two 90-minute gubernatorial debates in the month of October. Each would have two moderators, one picked by each campaign. Shapiro quickly dismissed the offer as an "obvious stunt to avoid real questions."

TRIPLE DIGITS: Peggy Koller, 99, of Blue Bell, has welcomed her 100th great-grandchild into the world. Koller has 11 children of her own, 56 grandchildren, and now great-grandkids in the triple digits. "I wanted to have a big family," Koller, a one-time aspiring nun, told 6ABC.

HUB TOWN: What might be Pennsylvania's first Honduran restaurant outside of Philadelphia is now open in a "sleepy river town" called Coraopolis, a hub for Pittsburgh’s growing Latino population, per City Paper.

TAKE FIVE: Take a few minutes today to chase an invisible cow across your laptop, tablet, or cellphone screen with Find the Invisible Cow. Or, if you're feeling pent up, type your feelings out and Scream Into the Void.

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. Answers submitted by 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

*Note: Instead of listing this week's theme here, we're going to ask you all to guess it at the end of the week for an extra chance to win Spotlight PA swag.
Yesterday's answer: Lunchrooms

Congrats to our daily winners: Becky C., Craig W., Suzanne O., Susan D., Susan N.-Z., Ted W., Charlotte B., Patricia M., Michelle T., Elaine C., Wendy A., Stephen G., David S., Warren D., Margaret Mary H., Doris T., Mark O., Karen W., Don H., Mike B., George S., Tish M., Dianne K., Kimberly D., David W., Chuck M., Bill S., Jude M., Starr B., Stanley J., Kim C., John P., and Ana G.
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