Gubernatorial Forum at Gershman Y

— by John Oliver Mason

Candidates for Governor of Pennsylvania were asked questions as a community forum held in the Elaine C. Levitt Auditorium of the Gershman Y on Sunday, March 23, 2014. The participants were:

Governor Tom Corbett and Democratic candidate Tom Wolff were invited but did not attend.

Synopsis after the jump.
Introductions

Gloria Gilman, Chair of Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks and Co-Coordinator of the Philadelphia Council of MoveOn, greeted the audience, saying,    

The coalition’s goal is to help educate voters (about) the upcoming primary, to be held May 20th-remember that date-and to recognize the importance of the role the Governor (of Pennsylvania) plays in our lives. We came together to look at the issues upon which the governor has influence that effect the grassroots of this city. We’re posing questions on issues that really matter to us, in which the candidates have not necessarily committed to their positions, or where we think it might be possible to differentiate their perspectives.

Tracy Gordon, Deputy City Commissioner of Philadelphia, spoke of a new effort of the City Commissioners’ office (which oversees voting in the city) for assuring voter turnout in the May primary.  Gordon read a letter from City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, who was in Harrisburg at the time:

While many Philadelphians vote in presidential elections, many fewer vote in midterm elections. This low turnout has far-reaching consequences. One in every eight registered voters in Pennsylvania (live in) Philadelphia. But candidates for statewide office spend less than one-eighth of their time campaigning in Philadelphia. They favor the counties with higher voter turnout, and who can blame them?

The result is statewide officials, such as governors, who don’t understand us or respond to our needs as well as they would if (voters) turned out to vote in large numbers…Every vote you cast is a vote not only for a candidate, but also for your neighborhood, and for your demographic group. Every vote you cast supports the work of local leaders who represent you. Every vote you cast  makes Philadelphia strong.

Gordon displayed a new handbook from Singer’s office for voters with questions about election procedures, and she directed voters to Singer’s office’s new website for more information. The book, said Gordon, explained how to vote by absentee ballot, how to write in a vote, and deadlines for registering to vote.

The moderators for the forum were Daniel Denvir, writer for Philadelphia City Paper, and Holly Otterbein, correspondent for WHYY-FM. “The gubernatorial election is in November,” started Denvir, “and there’s a lot at stake for our schools, the environment, and the welfare of our city’s people.” Otterbein described the format of the forum, saying, “We’re going to give each candidate one minute and thirty seconds to respond to each question.” The candidates gave brief introductory statements.

On Pennsylvania’s Refusal to Expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act

On health insurance, Otterbein said that Pennsylvania has not expanded its Medicaid rolls under the Affordable Care Act; Governor Corbett has asked for federal funds to pay for private coverage for residents.

Katie McGinty said,

You always have to look at a person’s track record… This is a governor who, as attorney general, fought tooth and nail to stop the availability of health care coverage. He’s not changed his stripes. This is a governor who has presided over ninety-seven thousand people being dropped from our health care and medical assistance rolls.

McGinty said the Corbett plan was a “voucher-izing” of  Medicaid, which means

there would be fewer people covered, it will cost more, and coverage will be less effective…We want to expand Medicaid, we want to say yes to the forty-billion dollars that should come to Pennsylvania as five hundred thousand people get that health care.

Allyson Schwartz said that the Medicaid plan the Corbett administration submitted to the federal government

creates obstacles, reduces benefits, and it hurts people who are on Medicaid or should be…As governor, one of the first things I would do is accept that Medicaid money…and we use it for our Pennsylvania residents.

Jack Wagner said,

I oppose Governor Corbett’s proposal, and I believe we need to (enroll) the five hundred thousand Pennsylvanians that need better health care…Even the very conservative governors across the country have adopted this proposal. It is federal tax dollars, that all of you have paid to the federal government, that will finance this proposal one hundred percent for several years…We are denying our own resources coming back to serve our own people.

Rob McCord called the governor’s health care proposal

immoral and inefficient… We’re depriving five hundred thousand people of coverage that’s already been paid for, with your taxpayer dollars…Medicaid is more efficient, not less efficient, than the short-term-oriented-profit-maximalizing firms in providing care to those who are currently not covered.

On Pennsylvania’s Ban of Abortion Coverage under the Affordable Care Act

The next health question was about the Pennsylvania’s ban on abortion coverage in the health insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act. McCord said,

We need to make private, personal health care decisions that women and men make private. I’m as profoundly pro-choice as anybody in the country.” McCord called it “absurd that we are subsidizing the consumption of Viagra, and making it difficult for women to make their own procreative choices.

McGinty said she opposed such restrictions, adding,

I would aggressively and determinedly to overturn it.” The Corbett administration would suggest, she added, “that this is about taxpayer-funded abortions…This is about whether individuals, and women in particular, have the right to shop for and choose  the health care that is best for them. This is about private companies offering that health care that women want to choose and select.

Schwartz reminded the audience of her work in Congress

during the whole debate on the Affordable Care Act to make sure that women have access to the full range of reproductive health services that we need to use…Many of you know I am not new to this issue,

and she mentioned her work in establishing the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center in Philadelphia.

Wagner said,

I believe that a woman should have access to safe health care under the law…But I will be very frank with everyone, I’m a pro-life Democrat, I believe that a woman should have access to abortion for rape, incest, and (to save) the life of the mother.

On Restoring the State’s Social Safety Net

Daniel Denvir asked questions about taxes and economic issues. Denvir pointed out cuts to poor people in state cash assistance, and cuts by Congress in the Food Stamp program; he asked if elected governor, would they reinstate these programs, and what would they do to strengthen the state’s social safety net.

McGinty said this approach was “wrong headed, (and) as the leader of the Commonwealth you want to lift people up and give them the ability to prosper, and this has been the opposite direction.” She called the cuts in Food Stamps “terribly wrong, and I would have opposed them,” and the federal Food Stamp cuts came along with the governor cutting state food assistance, adding “those dollars need to be restored.” McGinty added that Pennsylvania is fourth in the country in states with a long-term unemployed population.; with “job training, apprenticeships, job assistance, I will invest in people.”

Schwartz spoke of her time in the Pennsylvania Senate when Governor Tom Ridge cut people from general assistance; “It’s been going on for a while,” she said, “and I opposed those cuts…it hurt a lot of people, and it made it harder for them to be successful.” Noting her work in the Senate to extend long-term unemployment, “To make sure people can get back on their feet,” Schwartz added, “we do need to make sure that people can support them selves and their families, and that they have support during tough times.”

Wagner said,

Food assistance is as basic and as important as any (other social) program…As Auditor-General I looked at a wide variety of programs within (the welfare system), and quite frankly fraud, waste and abuse exist. But we never found that in the food assistance program,” which he called “one in which we should strongly support. We can actually save money in certain programs if we do a good job managing it, and provide more of those resources that we save into food assistance.

McCord said, “Yes, of course, I will restore general assistance for those who need it…This is really personal for me,” and he recalled his mother attending college and graduate school, and said, “I never would have thought, looking back at that beginning, that she would ever suffer from economic insecurity, but she did, and that motivates me.” Noting that “good, hard-working people often touch the edge of poverty,” McCord said, “It’s important not to blame the victim.”  

The forum was organized by Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks and the Philadelphia Council of MoveOn.org. Several groups in coalition co-sponsored the event, including the Jewish Labor Committee, AFSCME District Council 47, the AIDS Law Project, Americans for Democratic Action, the Arab-American Community Development Corporation, Ceasefire PA, Coalition of Labor Union Women Philadelphia Chapter, Bread and Roses Community Fund, Decarcerate PA, Education Voters of PA, Friends of Farmworkers, National Lawyers Guild, Liberty City Democratic Club, Media Mobilizing Project, Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus, Philadelphia Jobs With Justice, PhillyCAM, and others. These sponsoring organizations submitted questions for the candidates to be asked.

Book Review: Jo Joe, a Black Bear, Pennsylvania Story

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Short books, available only by download, are a recent trend.

Sally Wiener Grotta’s Jo Joe, a Black Bear, Pennsylvania Stories was sent to me in this form, which worked well for it. It is also available in paperback and hardcover.

This volume, about a Jewish mixed-race woman raised by her Christian grandparents in a rural area, seems to be intentionally designed as a tool for provoking discussion about race, prejudice, interfaith encounters, the Jewish mourning practice of sitting shiva and saying Kaddish, and dysfunctional families.

As an educator always looking out for high-school-level stories that reveal family diversity, the story also raises important psycho-dynamic issues: that some people do change over time, and how projecting expectations onto others can lead to devastating cruelty.

The violence of the rape and trauma scenes seems quite accurate. Shiva scenes of the Jewish week of mourning after burial reflect the unfortunate and common practice of people giving advice to the primary mourners. Our tradition teaches us to listen to feelings, and not offer fixes. Even so, Kaddish works its magic:

For a few brief moments, I no longer feel like a stranger, but part of something larger, grander than myself. We were brought together by death, but we’re held together by the demands of life. That peace and comfort stays with me even as the circle breaks up.

But I have some issues with the work as a whole:

Continued after the jump.
First, during this quick read I kept hoping that the obvious conclusion would not be the actual one, but the end of the tale is truly inevitable.

Secondly, the main character, who is also the most affected by violence, seems almost wooden compared to rape victims this reviewer has counseled in her roles as a rabbi, and a long-time activist in the field of rape prevention and counseling. Overall, the main character seem to be reporting on her life more than fully experiencing it. The book’s author has written an essay on the malleability of memory — an interesting matter in and of itself.

Third, an aphorism says that between the liberal cities of Philadelphia and Harrisburg lies Appalachia, and the book proves this point. The characters seem caricatured; many of them would readily fit into an episode of Northern Exposure, or the townies of the recent film, Nebraska.

I kept wishing for brief film clips, rather than having to “get the picture” by reading the by-the-book style of writing:

“Hello Judith, don’t suppose you recollect me.”

A woman stands over me, but not too close, as though she’s hesitant to encroach.

About 65, she’s painfully thin, with that strained scrawny appearance of one who’s fought her way through a hard life and survived. Her face is rough and deeply lined; her nose and mouth twisted and papered with small scars. Her dull dark brown hair is streaked with yellowing gray swathes, but tightly groomed, not a strand escaping the bun at her neck. Though decades out of fashion, her flowered dress is starched and spotless…

For some contexts this form of writing can work well, especially for entry-level writing classes, and high school settings, where discussion of the powerful contemporary themes will be of great benefit.  

Voters Don’t Decide Who Wins; Map Drawers Do

Top: Republicans control 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 Congressional Districts. Bottom: Alternative map, drawn by State Senator Daylin Leach, gives Democrats control of 13 districts.

Top: Republicans control 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 Congressional Districts. Bottom: Alternative map, drawn by State Senator Daylin Leach, gives Democrats control of 13 districts.

As a democracy, we are proud of our electoral system: We assume that citizens, through their vote, wield the ultimate power over our government and determine who shall represent them.

However, this is not the case in reality. Rather, legislatures, through their redistricting authority, draw electoral maps specifically engineered to re-elect themselves and their colleagues.

In 2012, the majority of Pennsylvanians (50.24%) voted for Democratic candidates for Congress while 48.74% who voted for Republicans, and 1.02% who voted for other candidates.

However, Democratic candidates prevailed in only five of the 18 congressional districts: Bob Brady and Chaka Fattah in Philadelphia, Mike Doyle in Pittsburgh, Allyson Schwartz in the Philadelphia suburbs, and Matt Cartwright in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Was this simply a matter of luck?

Packing and Cracking

The district map was designed to pack as many democrats as possible into these five districts. Fattah, for example cruised to victory with 89.28% of the votes, versus 9.37% for Robert Mansfield and 1.35% for James Foster.

By forcing the Democratic voters to “waste” votes in districts where they are a super-majority, the Republican politicians are able to construct 13 districts with sensible Republican majorities.

Conversely, Democratic seats in other Democratic strongholds such as Harrisburg and the Pittsburgh suburbs were prevented by cracking those areas into pieces and diluting them with outlying areas that lean Republican.

In other words, voters do not choose the representatives who share their values; rather, the legislators wielding their pens choose the constituents whose support they can count on in the voting booth.

The rest of the article, and TED Talk by State Sen. Daylin Leach, follow the jump.
Since the redistricting process was controlled by Pennsylvania’s Republican governor, Tom Corbett, and the Republican majorities in the state House, State Senate and Legislative Reapportionment Commission, it is not surprising that the results are skewed in favor of the Republicans as far as mathematically and legally possible.

If Democrats Drew the Map

To illustrate how easily the results can be skewed in the opposite direction, Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach drew a map, which shows Democratic majorities in 13 congressional districts, and Republican majorities in the remaining five districts.

In other words, if the map had been different, the congressional election could have been completely reversed — 13-5 instead of 5-13 — without a single Pennsylvanian changing his vote. What a farce our elections have become!

In fact, one could draw an even more skewed map, with more homogeneous districts, giving Democrats small majorities in every single district, and leaving the Republicans with no representation at all.

Could it be argued that the Republican-skewed map was dictated by the rules and the demographics, rather than by political interests?

Both Leach’s map and the actual map feature contiguous districts almost equal in population. However, Leach’s map has more “compact” districts, whereas the actual map has districts which meander across the state in search of pockets of Democrats or Republicans as the case may be.

Furthermore, the Pennsylvania State Constitution requires legislative districts to avoid splitting counties, cities, towns, boroughs, townships and wards “unless absolutely necessary.” Some splitting is necessary, because Philadelphia is too large to fit inside single district. However, Leach’s map has three fewer splits than the  map adopted by the state assembly.

Our state’s congressional delegation should be truly representative of the makeup of our state, and the Pennsylvania State Constitution should be amended to enshrine this principle into law.

Gubernatorial Candidates Face-Off


Forum starts at 18:00. Please skip first 18 minutes of video.

On November 21, 2013 Philly Speaks Out held a forum at Temple University for gubernatorial candidates.  Candidates attending:

Pennsylvania Governor Jon Corbett was invited to join the forum but did not respond to the invitation. The forum was a non-partisan event, not a debate.

The moderator was Rev. Mark Tyler of Mother Bethel AME Church — a founding member of POWER, one of the sponsoring organizations.

More after the jump.
In addition to POWER the event was sponsored by:  1199C/AFSCME, 32BJ SEIU, AFSCME DC 47, Action United, Fight for Philly, PA Working Families, PASNAP, PCAPS, and SEIU Healthcare PA

I did not attend in person but watched the webcast of the event. These are my rough notes from the forum. They not intended as a transcript. As always, I apologize in advance for any errors or misconceptions. Interested readers are encouraged to click on the candidates’ names above and visit their websites for further information on the candidates’ views and policies. A few personal observations are given at the end.

Rev. Mark Tyler introduced the candidates and instructed them to get right to the issues without taking time to thank the organizers. They had 3 minutes each to answer questions. (2 minutes for the final question.)

The forum covered four issues:

  1. Education.
  2. Retirement Security.
  3. Jobs.
  4. Health Care.

Each segment of the forum began with testimony from an audience member which was then framed with questions posed by the moderator Rev. Tyler. (See video.) The questions and candidate responses are outlined below.

First issue:  Education

Question:

  1. Reversing problems requires bold leadership and policy changes, “equitable” funding formula,
  2. increase revenue for public education and social services, cut corporate tax loopholes, drilling,
  3. charter school accountability,
  4. invest in schools not prisons, and
  5. abolish the School Reform Commission.

Will you support these items and what will your agenda be?

Schwartz: Pleased to be here, not pleased that Corbett is absent. Not a surprise; he has been absent on our values. Pennsylvania has great resources yet Corbett has led us to 49th place in job creation.  We cannot be a great state without leadership, vision, and a commitment to the state.  I have high goals, high expectations, and have always found a way to move forward.  We have to start with public education.  My mother was an immigrant.  She arrived here alone at age 16, and was sent to Philadelphia because the city had great public schools.  She graduated from Girls High and went to Temple but could not afford to finish.  My sons went to Central High School, a public school in Philadelphia.  As governor I would make public education a priority.  I would support your agenda, abolish the School Reform Commission, rein in charters, fair funding, pre-school and full-day kindergarten.  Invest in public education; invest in the future.

Wolf: I am from York County.  How can we allow this (references tweet from parent about no school librarian) to happen.  Tom Corbett has taken education off the front burner, off the stove.  I love learning, and have a PhD from MIT.  Daughters got a great education in York County.  We are all in this together.  Public education is a shared enterprise.  As governor if we are going to have a bright future we must have great schools.  We need fair and equitable funding, tax shale, universal Pre-K, charter accountability, good education equals good jobs, connect higher education with worlds of work.  As an employer I understand we must have an educated workforce.

McCord:   The most important thing for me to highlight is education, not just as policy but it is personal.  Think of a single parent who has a job but a bad job, mistreated by her employer but wants a good future for her kids — that is my mom’s story.  She went through a bad divorce when I was four.  I went from being a slow reader to a scholarship at Harvard.  Some have a poverty of purpose.  This is the #1 reason I am running.  Tom Corbett took $1 billion from the schools.  We need to review the funding system, fully fund higher education, repair the 529 plan, fund community colleges, allow unions to provide associates degrees, fully fund early childhood education.  Yield for decades.

Hanger:  Nothing wrong with public education but the governor is trying to privatize it.  I will stop this cold.  I arrived in the US at age 12 from Ireland.  Public schools prepared me.  We must attack poverty to prepare people for education.  As a law graduate I worked with low income families.  Start with charters, not preparing poor kids, stealing money from public education.  We need to shut down poorly performing charters, including almost all cyber charters.  It is an attack on unions to attack public schools.  I will abolish the School Reform Commission.  We need fair funding.  The real problem is the governor trying to privatize public schools.

McGinty:  One morning in September I was having coffee, reading the paper and saw the beautiful face of 12 year old LaPortia.  She died from asthma attack on a day when the school nurse wasn’t there.  She was the same age as one of my kids. This is not the best for our kids. Problem to solve.  Our kids deserve better. Put the spotlight on what is working. Pennsylvania is 4th in reading, 8th in math. Taking a wrecking ball to public education is not right. Put a tax in place to restore money to public education, fair formula, English language learning, property tax, reform charters so no double dipping. Start early Head Start, pre-day, full day kindergarten, small classes. Let teachers teach and students learn.

Second issue:  Retirement security.

Question: Pennsylvania has the fourth oldest population in the US.  There are fewer employer retirement plans.

  1. protecting pensions for public employees,
  2. retirement benefits available to all workers. California is offering plans all works can join. [blogger’s note, this is the Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program] Working Families plan.

Will you support these items and what will your agenda be?

McGinty: Yes I will support this. I am the 9th of 10 kids, dad was a Philadelphia police officer for 35 years. He died last year at 94, and never asked any of us for a penny. He had a pension.  No one gave him anything; he earned that pension. We must insist on these kinds of benefits, make retirement affordable, make health care affordable, can’t have property taxes go through the roof. The Commonwealth is not paying for public education, leaving it to be supported by property taxes.

Hanger: Anyone who has a pension has a legal guarantee that it will be paid. I will not let pension funds be raided. Many in the private sector are not organized or part of a union, and have no pension or retirement. As a legal services attorney I saw retired people living on social security. We need better jobs with higher income while working. Jobs don’t pay for bills today let alone retirement. Rich are getting a bigger piece; you are getting a smaller piece. Raise minimum wage, stand with unions, help people join unions, so we don’t have to choose between heat, food and medicine.

Schwartz: We need a Pennsylvania committed to hard work and achievement, that’s what built the great state we are. I hope to live to retire and reflect on a fulfilling job.  Retirement is under threat.  Pennsylvania does have one of the largest senior populations.  Social security and Medicare are under threat. In DC I have led the fight against privatizing social security.  Imagine if we invested in Wall Street in the recession. We have work to do and I will keep working towards that.  Need to meet our obligations to retirees.

McCord: If retirement and pensions are the issue I’m your guy.  No one in Pennsylvania has spent more time studying this than I have. Proud defender of defined benefit plans.  Unions defend defined benefits, not just for members but for all. Proud of how often I have fought back against Tom Corbett.  Defined benefits are more efficient that 401k’s. Defined contribution associations say otherwise.  We need to embrace the plan in California. It is a “pay me now or pay me later” world.  We can imitate the 529 plan. Retirement is a woman’s issue — women are three times more likely to drop into poverty in retirement. [He mentioned a woman in relation to the California plan but I can’t get the spelling right to find the correct person]

Wolf: I’m an FDR Democrat. We do not have a pension problem. This is something we share. In my company I work to make sure employees [missed this]. Lottery is part of the Department of Revenue, $1 million goes to help the elderly. I worked to improve the lottery.  It went to property tax rebates, prescription drugs.  We need to protect public pensions. Overall compensation issue. If we want good public employees we must compete with the private sector. Health care. I have a 90 year old mom and 91 year old dad. We need to ensure all is done to see that all Pennsylvanians have retirement.

Third issue:  Jobs

Question: Good jobs, raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10, like slaves asking Pharaoh for straw to make bricks. End payday lending. Guaranteed sick days. All people receiving tax money must pay workers (including subcontractors) a living wage.  Shift from corporate benefits to public education

McCord:  Everything in the governor’s race relates to jobs.  If we end defined benefits we lose as 90% of that money is spent in Pennsylvania.  Of course we need to increase the minimum wage, increases the wealth of the middle class, need sick days, that an efficient thing to do, protect prevailing wage.  We can trust safety and quality of well-trained Pennsylvania workers paid prevailing wage.  End payday loans.  Everything is about true economic security.  Reasonable wage.  Good benefits.  Protected workplace.

Schwartz:  If we want to build a prosperous economy in Pennsylvania, steel, railroads, hard work and innovations, new cures the envy of the world.  Unions spread wages to workers, building industry, prosperity, innovation.  Rebuild Pennsylvania economy, rebuild and re-grow middle class, cannot succeed without a middle class.  Increase minimum wage, fair pay for women, prevailing wages, sick leave, use carrot and stick.  If public money is given to corporations we must push them to pay fair wages and benefits.  Use all natural resource to benefit all, use money for education, grow economic opportunities across the state.

McGinty:  Jobs.  I’m here to apply for a job.  As Secretary of Environmental Protection I wanted to create new good jobs.  We need clean energy and environment.  Let’s bring these jobs.  We were #1 in bringing solar and wind jobs, good jobs, pay, benefits.   Choosing between the environment and jobs is a false choice, as is saying wanting a good job risks your current job.  To grow the economy we have to put money in people’s pockets.  Living wage.  Increase minimum wage, index it to inflation.  Right to organize.  Invest in the US.  Job training and skills development programs.  These were cut and we need to restore them.  Families need to be able to afford education.  Colleges need to keep costs under control.  Public projects – jobs going to Pennsylvanians.

Wolf:  I’ve created good jobs.  Only PhD forklift operator in York County.  Bought my company, build it into one of the biggest in its field in the country.  Distributed 20 – 30% annually in profits to employees.  Sick days, living wages.  First thing we have to do is invest in education.  We need an educated workforce.  Recognize we can compete, even in manufacturing.  We can compete on price and quality.

Hanger:  More jobs and better jobs need community organization.  If we want paid sick days we need to mobilize.  It begins with education, 20,000 educators lost their jobs.  Expand Medicaid.  We could have four billion going to our hospitals, good paying jobs.  Green energy.  Create solar and wind jobs.  I know how to create these jobs.  People have trouble getting a job because of unfair convictions.  We are arresting too many people for having a joint in their pocket.  We should legalize marijuana.  Stop arresting African American men at  five times the rate we arrest whites.  That’s how we get schools to jails.

Fourth Issue:  Health care

Question:

  1. Expansion of Medicaid,
  2. Invest in family health care and maternity care,
  3. Stop corporatization of health care,
  4. Ensure quality care, and
  5. Ensure long term care.

Will you support these items and what will your agenda be?

Wolf:  This has become about politics and it shouldn’t be.  The governor is trying to destroy the president’s health care plan.  We absolutely need to expand Medicaid.  It is bad for the economy not to have universal health care.

McGinty:  Some issues are hard but when the federal government offers you $4 billion to give citizens health care the only answer is yes.   Increase availability and affordability yes.  All issues on human dignity.

Schwartz:  Hard to talk about health care in 2 minutes.     Personal to all of us.  The governor turned down opportunities, not federal money but our money.  Unacceptable.  Take the money and use it to benefit Pennsylvania.  We have great hospitals, medical schools and nurses.  If you doubt I can do this remember my work on CHIP which became a national mode.  Let’s get it done.

Hanger:  Wrong for people in our state not to have health care.  It is a human right.  Yes to Medicaid expansion but not enough.  We need single payer health care.  My wife is a physician, trained in Philadelphia, and opened a community practice.  We need to include mental health treatment and addiction treatment.  My son committed suicide at age 23 from depression.

McCord:  Human rights, social justice, human dignity, also about efficiency.  Ridiculous not to take Medicaid expansion.  Your movement is fighting a company town program.  [missed something here].  Use new technology, associates degrees, cut costs, seniors able to stay in their homes.  Repair middle class.

Personal observations:  The candidates were very gracious.  In my opinion far too much time was taken up with announcements from the sponsoring organizations and individual comments [“testimonies”] from the audience.  There were a few hecklers in the crowd and at one point two people got onstage with a banner offering their views on a political issue.  The forum stopped for a few minutes while they were escorted off stage.  Of the candidates Rob McCord was the only one to step away from the podium.  Each time he got up to answer the questions he would take the microphone and stand next to it instead of behind it.  He is clearly an experienced and enthusiastic speaker.

Bipartisan Pennsylvania Bill: Merit Selection of Appellate Judges

— by Kenneth R. Myers, Esq.

A bill to bring merit selection of appellate judges to Pennsylvania has been submitted in the State House of Representatives with a bipartisan sponsorship this week.

Pennsylvania State Representatives Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster County) and Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) introduced the bill, which received immediate support from Pennsylvania’s current governor Tom Corbett (R) and previous two governors, Ed Rendell (D) and Tom Ridge (R), as well as the League of Women Voters and Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts.

More after the jump.
The bill by Cutler and Sims would establish merit selection for appeal court judges only, while retaining the present method of judicial elections for all other courts and justices of the peace. Affected would be future judges of the Commonwealth Court, Superior Court and Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

A bipartisan merit selection panel of fifteen citizens, selected by the governor and legislature, would propose a list of judicial candidates for each vacancy. The candidate chosen by the governor and confirmed by the State Senate would serve as a judge for a short term, and then would face a retention election without opponents in order to hold his or her chair. Retention elections at ten-year intervals would continue to apply to all judges.

The bill proposes an amendment to the state Constitution, and so must pass the legislature in two consecutive sessions, and then go before the people in a public referendum before taking effect.

Pennsylvania has been electing its judges only since the state Constitutional Convention of 1968. Those seeking election to our appellate courts typically visit county political committees across the state, seeking endorsement by one party or the other. In order to advertise and travel they have to raise substantial funds, and the usual sources are lawyers and law firms, that are likely to have business before the same courts.  

In the most recent election for a seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, each side was reported to have spent over $2 million. The successful candidate, Joan Orie Melvin, was subsequently convicted of election law violations, and suspended from her position.  

“Judges are different from officials in the legislative and executive branches so it makes sense to select them differently,” the Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts executive director, Lynn Marks, said.

Judges must decide cases solely on the facts and the law, not based on political considerations, platforms or constituencies. It just doesn’t make sense to have a totally partisan process for a nonpartisan job. And the problem with money in judicial races is that most of the money comes from attorneys and special interests that often appear in state courts.

The Death of Democracy in the US

— article by State Senator Daylin Leach, reprinted from the Philadelphia Jewish Voice , 2006.

Voters no longer choose their politicians; instead, politicians choose their voters when they draw the district lines. I have been leading the fight to take the politics out of redistricting.

Redistricting has become a tool used by legislative leaders to ensure that elections are never competitive. As you know, the constitution requires that political boundaries are redrawn every 10 years to reflect population shifts. In recent years, politicians of both parties have become increasingly blatant about drawing these lines to ensure that there are as few genuinely competitive districts as possible. As a result, 95 percent of us live in districts where our vote essentially does not count because those who drew the lines have already decided which party will win.

More after the jump.


Current Pa. congressional districts by party.

Though gerrymandering has been a growing problem for centuries, new technology has made it increasingly effective. Let me explain how this works. Say there are two adjacent legislative districts, both of which typically divide their vote evenly between the Democratic and Republican parties. When the next redistricting comes around, the party leadership of both parties will make a deal to swap precincts so that instead of two 50-50 districts, the new map will have one district that is 70-30 Republican and the other that is 70-30 Democratic. People still walk to the polls on election day, but everyone knows who will win before the first vote is counted.

Iowa has actually passed similar reform. As a result, four out of five of Iowa’s congressional districts are competitive. That is more competitive districts than there are in Pennsylvania, New York and California combined. That state’s legislative races are similarly competitive.

The powers that be in both parties oppose this bill because it takes power out of their hands. The only way that reform will ever happen is if there is a public outcry demanding it.

Philadelphia FIDF Gala to Honor Holocaust Survivors


Left to right: Lt. Gen. (Res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, executive director of the FIDF Pennsylvania & Southern N.J. region, Tzvia Wexler, and Ambassador Ron Prosor in last year’s national FIDF gala, New York.

Local Holocaust survivors and their families will be honored at this year’s Annual Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces (FIDF) Gala.

The gala will take place at 6 p.m. Monday, November 18, 2013 at Vie, 600 North Broad Street, Philadelphia. Tickets can be purchased at the gala’s website. Holocaust survivors who wish to take part may contact FIDF Pennsylvania and Southern N.J. executive director, Tzvia Wexler.

The theme of this year’s Gala is “From Holocaust to Independence,” and it will celebrate Israel’s 65 years of existence by saluting the survivors and remembering the struggles they overcame to build new lives, providing a future for the next generation.  

Former chief of the IDF general staff, Lt. General (Res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, will deliver an exclusive Keynote address.

More after the jump.
The FIDF was established in 1981 by a group of Holocaust survivors with the mission of providing and supporting educational, social, cultural, and recreational programs and facilities for the men and women of the IDF. Today, FIDF has more than 120,000 supporters, and 17 regional offices throughout the U.S. and Panama.

Prior to being appointed as the IDF’s chief of staff in 2007, Lt. General Ashkenazi has had an illustrious military career, that included:

  • Commander of Golani Brigade,
  • commander of liaison unit to Lebanon,
  • operations officer of Northern Command,
  • head of Israeli Northern Command, and
  • director general of Israeli Ministry of Defense.

In 2008, he was awarded the U.S. Legion of Merit by the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, on behalf of the President of the U.S. for enhancing U.S.-Israel relations.  

Creating a New Generation of Progressive Leaders

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice’s Networking Central column features different groups which make a difference in our community.

This year, I have been fortunate enough to participate in the Center for Progressive Leadership’s 2011 Pennsylvania Political Leaders Fellowship program. Over the coming months, I hope to share some of the lessons that I have learned, but first I would like to give you an opportunity to learn about CPL. [Read more…]

JSPAN Joins Brief In Voter ID Case

JSPAN and nine other non-profit agencies joined in brief amicus curiae to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court in the pending challenge to the “Photo ID Law” enacted in Pennsylvania earlier this year.

The case was launched by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Viviette Applewhite and other voters who will be burdened by the new law. Applewhite, a 93 year old voter who has never driven a car, cast her first vote for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. There appears to be no record of her at the Motor Vehicle Bureau. Because she was born in another state, there is no birth certificate on file in Pennsylvania either. Before she can vote again, the Photo ID Law would require her to produce a birth certificate or other specific documentation to an office of the Motor Vehicle Bureau to convince that agency to issue her photo identification.

Applewhite and thousands of others like her face serious difficulty under the Photo ID Law. For many elderly people, the need to travel to a motor vehicle bureau and document their entitlement to a photo ID is a significant burden. For many others, securing the necessary voter ID before election day will prove to be impractical or even impossible.

The amicus curiae brief reflects extensive research on the disparate impact of the law on several hundred thousand elder voters who do not have the specific current photo identification called for in order to vote. The right to vote, the amicus brief argues, is a sacred right and is the foundation of democracy, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has stated that free and equal elections, guaranteed by the state constitution, preclude registration requirements that are so difficult as to amount to a denial of the right to vote. By requiring a registered voter who has no driver’s license — or whose license has expired — to travel to a state office, provide a birth certificate or other specified documentation, and secure the specific photo ID — the law especially burdens and discriminates against the elderly.

For further perspective see The Los Angeles Times, and the amicus brief.