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Higher ed and the governor's race, Pa.'s unforgiven borrowers, and inside a bird flu 'nightmare'

Plus, a jail doctor's 'history of fraud and deception.'


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
October 6, 2022
College plans, paper trail, 'unlawful detention,' the unforgiven, flu farms, 'political pawn,' and mixing sports and politics. It's Thursday. 

The governor has wide power to propose higher education spending, serve on university boards, and appoint trustees to those critical panels.

To see where the top two candidates for the office — Republican Doug Mastriano and Democrat Josh Shapiro — stand on issues like college funding, transparency, and debt forgiveness ahead of next month's election, Spotlight PA reached out to the campaigns and reviewed relevant records.

Read the full report on higher education and the governor's race here.

THE CONTEXT: Mastriano's campaign did not respond to outreach from Spotlight PA, so our analysis was largely limited to statements and votes made in his role as a state senator representing Franklin County. 

Mastriano voted to send nearly $552.5 million to Pennsylvania's state-owned universities this summer. (His campaign website makes no mention of his plans for the school system, which is undergoing a redesign.)

Shapiro's campaign said he plans to increase investment in state-owned universities and will work to make community college more affordable.

On the issue of state funding for state-related universities — a different contingent of schools that became a partisan flashpoint in this year's budget talks, mostly due to Pitt's research using tissue from aborted fetuses — Mastriano voted against funding for the universities in July.

Shapiro, meanwhile, has said he supports more funding for state-related universities — Penn State, Pitt, Lincoln, and Temple — but also said those institutions should not raise tuition. (All four have in the past year.)

Both Mastriano and Shapiro support opening the state-related schools up to broader open records requirements. In fact, Shapiro says he supports a bill introduced by Mastriano that would rollback existing exemptions.


"Rest assured, this board is committed to vetting the next chief."

—Manor Township Supervisor Brandon Clark after this week's unexplained firing of the township's 15-year police chief, Todd Graeff

Read our complete coverage, plus key dates, campaign finance data, sample ballots & more at our Election Center 2022 website.

Spotlight on the Issues: Where Mastriano and Shapiro stand on:

»  College Funding & Student Debt
»  Energy & Environment
»  Crime & Justice
»  LGTBQ Rights

More issue analyses will be published in the coming weeks. 

A complete listing of Spotlight PA voter guides:  

»  Everything you need to know about mail ballots
»  Your complete guide to the candidates for governor
»  How to vet the candidates on your midterm ballot
»  No constitutional amendments on the ballot, but big ones loom
»  How to serve as a poll worker on Nov. 8
»  These Pa. voters haven't missed a Nov. election for 50+ years
»  How Spotlight PA will cover Pennsylvania's 2022 election

En Español:

»  Una guía básica para investigar a los candidatos
»  Cómo trabajar como trabajador electoral el 8 de noviembre
»  Todo lo que necesita saber para votar por correo
»  Su guía completa de los candidatos a gobernador

Support Spotlight PA's vital election coverage by making a gift now.
» CBC: Mastriano's doctorate is causing a stir at a Canadian university
» INSIDE CLIMATE: Climate activists reluctantly back John Fetterman
» NBC10: Fetterman camp to launch ‘Republicans for Fetterman' push
» TIMES LEADER: No mail-ballot drop box for southern Luzerne County
» TRIBLIVE: Candidate's name sows confusion in U.S. House race
Spotted in the wild by yours truly. Have a cool image to share? Send us your photos, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
TRACK RECORD: The Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism reports one of two medical doctors employed at the Allegheny County Jail has had his medical license "suspended, revoked, or denied in at least eight different states," a number of them citing misconduct, fraud, and deception. Minutes after the PINJ story published, the jail's contracted health care service provider announced that the doctor, Wilson Bernales, has been suspended pending further assessment.

CLASS ACTION: A federal lawsuit says scores of people are illegally held at Allegheny County Jail on probation detainers that delay a person's release until it can be determined if they've violated their probation. The plaintiffs include several incarcerated people who say because "probation detainers" keep people who would otherwise qualify for release in jail, it's a violation of their 14th Amendment rights, WESA reports. The lawsuit names local judges and jail officials. 

UNFORGIVEN: Not everyone in Pennsylvania with student debt is set to benefit from President Joe Biden's forgiveness program. For starters, Biden's relief plan only covers loans made by the federal government and has been updated to exclude government loans held by private lenders. PublicSource talked to people who are set to benefit from the effort to varying degrees and those who aren't.

FARM TROUBLE: The U.S. Department of Agriculture is reporting new cases of bird flu in Pennsylvania, where 18 commercial poultry flocks and three backyard flocks have tested positive in an ongoing outbreak. Farm and Dairy went inside a Washington County operation that culled 1,800 birds to "stop the spread of the highly contagious and fatal avian disease." The owner called it "a nightmare."

URGENT CALLS: The Pennsylvania man arrested in Russia for medical cannabis possession is set to be moved from a Moscow detention center to a hard-labor penal colony, TribLIVE reports, citing members of his family. The case of Marc Fogel, an Oakmont native and teacher, has parallels to that of WNBA star Brittney Griner. Fogel's family and lawmakers want the U.S. to do more to secure his release.

MISSING PERSON: Pennsylvania State Police say they've identified human remains found near Wilkes-Barre 10 years ago as those of a missing 14-year-old named Joan Marie Dymond, who went missing in 1969. A criminal investigation is active and tips are sought from the public, per CBS.

SMELL TESTS: Norwegian Township in Schuylkill County has banned smells from medical marijuana facilities after residents complained and said efforts by a local grower to stop the odor — likened to "100 dead skunks" — didn't work, the Republican Herald reports, via Yahoo! News. 

SPORTS TALK: A Twitter user directed a voter fraud missive at the Harrisburg Senators baseball team, apparently thinking they were addressing actual lawmakers. The team's viral response may soon get its own T-shirt.

PUMPKIN KING: Records were set at this year's Great Pumpkin Weigh-off, hosted by the Pennsylvania Giant Pumpkin Growers Association, including a 2,164.5-pound entry documented by PennLive.

GOOD VIEW: This photo from Lackawanna County reminds me of that Windows XP wallpaper image, which, I now know, was taken at an actual place in California's wine country. It's an image I can almost hear.

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.

Yesterday's answer: Tendency

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Irene R., Connie K., Michelle T., James S., Jody A., Patricia M., Starr B., Jill M., David S., Becky C., Barbara F., Ed M., Mike B., Marty M., Wendy A., Jane R., Joel S., Theresa T., Joanne P., Elaine C., Mark O., Ronnee G., John A., Greg V., Beth T., John F., Antoinette F., Karen W., Marsha B., Jodi R., Kim C., Don H., Ken S., Paul F., Steve D., Susan D., Daniel M., Doris T., George S., Kimberly D., Kevin M., Nancy S., Cynthia R., Tom O., Bill S., Steve H., Susan N.-Z., Dianne K., Leda W., Mark C., Cindy I., Warren D., David W., Ann E., Mary Jo J., Rick A., John P., James B., Al M., Chuck M., John H., Andrea S., John B., and John H.
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