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Josh Shapiro’s unusually opaque guv transition

Plus, court affirms Dem-chosen special election dates.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
Tuesday, January 17, 2023
Transition NDAs, election day, 2020 recount, amendment explainer, Rozzi's reticence, pardon record, and the lineup for Shapiro's inaugural bash. 

Democrat Josh Shapiro will be sworn in as Pennsylvania's 48th governor at noon. Watch the inauguration ceremony live here

Shapiro has spent recent weeks assembling his cabinet and working with advisors on his transition team to ensure a smooth changeover from attorney general to head of the nation's fifth-most populous state.

But that transition team's work has been unusually opaque, and so have its funders, with nondisclosure agreements and secretive money sources clouding insights.

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Secrecy has dominated Shapiro's transition to Pa. governor. It may be a sign of what's to come.

THE CONTEXT: More than 300 members of the transition were required to sign nondisclosure agreements that bar them from publicly sharing information about their activities under threat of a lawsuit. 

And because the team is organized under the federal tax code as a so-called "dark money" group, it does not have to disclose the private interests that may be underwriting its work. The inaugural team bankrolling swearing-in day events is similarly organized and also shielding donor details.

Spotlight PA adds: The tight grip on information suggests Shapiro is already running his administration differently than recent predecessors in at least one way: transparency. And there are signs that he may maintain a level of obscurity about his administration's inner workings.


“There's nothing in that new state law that compels a reversal of that policy."

University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris on Pittsburgh police resuming traffic stops for minor violations despite a local ordinance barring them; the bureau cites recent changes to state law as justification
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» BROKEN BOROUGHS: Join us Thursday, Jan. 26 at 6 p.m. EST on Zoom for a free panel on Pennsylvania’s local governments and how their oversight — or lack thereof — impacts residents and governance. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org

Winter sport, via @yatsko. Send us your pictures by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

A baseball field in Harrisburg covered in a dusting of snow.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.SPECIAL ELECTIONS: Special elections to fill Pennsylvania House seats vacated by Democrats should be held on Feb. 7, Commonwealth Court has ruled. On Friday, a three-judge panel ruled in favor of Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton's preference to hold all three Allegheny County elections on that date, Spotlight PA and Votebeat report. Republicans wanted two of the contests held in May.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.RECOUNT RESULTS: Lycoming County's recount of 2020 ballots in the races for president and state auditor did not find any major discrepancies or significant changes in results, via Spotlight PA and Votebeat. The hand-recount of roughly 60,000 ballots was initiated by county commissioners under pressure from a voter fraud conspiracy group and against the advice of the county's election chief. 

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.HOUSE CALL: Republicans want the state House called back into session so members can take up a constitutional amendment package that couples legal relief for survivors of childhood sexual abuse with GOP priorities, like heightened voter ID rules. Voters get the final say. Spotlight PA explains what it would take for this crop of amendments to reach them in May and why that seems unlikely.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.SILENT SPEAKER: State House Speaker Mark Rozzi (D., Berks) has kept a low profile since winning the title in a surprise deal engineered by Republicans. The Inquirer (paywall) says the secretive arrangement and his relative silence since fly in the face of his vows to end back-room deals and increase transparency in Harrisburg. The chamber, meanwhile, is wracked by partisan gridlock.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.PARDON POWER: In one of his last acts in office, outgoing Gov. Tom Wolf issued formal pardons of rapper Meek Mill and hundreds more last week. According to NBC10, the Democrat signed his final 369 pardons, bringing his total to 2,540 since taking office in 2015. That's more than twice as many as his predecessors granted. Wolf surpassed Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell’s record of 1,122 pardons.
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NEW HIRE: Several years after she resigned from office for taking bribes from a lobbyist, former state Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown (D., Philadelphia) has a new job with Philadelphia Register of Wills Tracey Gordon, who has her own checkered ethics history, The Inquirer (paywall) reports.

MISTAKEN ID: A Philadelphia woman and Ph.D. student spent a week in jail for a crime authorities now say she didn't commit, in a state she's never even been to. WPVI reports Julie Hudson was released on Wednesday. Philly DA Larry Krasner called the case "tragic," "sad," and "shameful."

INAUGURAL BASH: Smokey Robinson, Wiz Khalifa, and Mt. Joy will perform at Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro's inaugural bash at Rock Lititz today. "You'll find the future first lady is a crazy rap fan," Shapiro told PennLive. 

COMEBACK KID: Andrew McCutchen, now 36, is returning to the Pittsburgh Pirates on a one-year deal worth $5 million. McCutchen has remained a Pittsburgh fan favorite since his 2018 departure. 

SWAN SONG: Congrats to LNP's Brad Bumsted, dean of the Harrisburg press corps and a frequent Spotlight PA collaborator, on his retirement. LNP (paywall) has a lookback at Bumsted's history-spanning career.

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.

Friday's answer: Hegemonic

Congrats to our weekly winner: Hoss E.

Congrats to our daily winners: Michelle T., Susan D., Mike B., Barbara F., Don H., Vicki U., Jon W., Dave C., Wendy A., Susan N.-Z., Beth T., Stanley J., Myles M., Elaine C., Dennis M., Elizabeth W., George B., Dianne K., Bill S., Craig W., David S., Kimberly D., and Kim C.
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