Penn. Voting Technology Enters 21st Century

votePennsylvanians are now able to register to vote online, thanks to the efforts of Governor Tom Wolf’s administration. This is not a misprint!

The process is relatively straightforward, as the diagram to the right shows.

*October 5 is the registration deadline for the November 3, 2015 general election.*

This crucial election will determine not only control of city councils, county commissioners and school boards, but also the all-important Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The upcoming state redistricting will largely determine the balance of control in the state’s legislature and Congressional delegation, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will surely be called upon to settle disputes regarding this redistricting just as they have done in the past.

The new online process can be used by individuals registering for the first time, or for individuals who are already registered but have moved, changed their name, or want to change their party affiliation. Pennsylvanians can still use paper forms to register or change their registration info, if they prefer.

To register to vote for the first time in Pennsylvania, a person must be a U.S. citizen and a resident of the Pennsylvania district in which they want to vote for at least one month before the next election. They also must be at least 18 years of age on or before the day of the next primary, special, municipal, or general election.

DNC national director of voter expansion, Pratt Wiley, applauded Governor Wolf’s initiative:

Every day, Americans go online to pay bills, trade stocks, and even adjust the temperature in their homes – there’s no reason why Americans shouldn’t be able to use these tools to register to vote.

Democrats believe our nation and our democracy are stronger when more people participate, not less. That’s why we advocate for commonsense solutions like online voter registration and why we remain committed to ensuring that every eligible voter is able to register, every registered voter is able to vote, and every vote is counted.

Pennsylvania now joins 27 other states currently offering or implementing online voter registration.

Please share this information with others, particularly new residents in your neighborhood and younger people who will be turning 18 this fall. More details are available online.

Wolf Hosts Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony in State Capitol

Governor Tom Wolf (at mcrophone)hosted the annual Civic Commemoration of the Holocaust Ceremony in the Capitol on Monday, April 20, 2015.  Some of the dignitaries who also spoke included (shown here) Pastor Earl L. Harrris, President of the Interdenominationl Ministry Conference, and Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack.   photo by Bonnie Squires

Left to right: Governor Tom Wolf, Pastor Earl L. Harrris, President of the Interdenominationl Ministry Conference, and Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack. Photo by Bonnie Squires.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf  hosted the annual “Civic Commemoration of the Holocaust” ceremony in the Governor’s Reception Room on Monday, April 20.

Michael Sand, chairman of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalitions’ committee which helped plan the event, had assembled several Holocaust survivors and children of survivors from Harrisburg and York to be present to light candles in memory of the six million who had perished.  Lt. Governor Michael Stack was also one of the speakers.

 Before the ceremony began, Governor Tom Wolf greeted (left to right) Bonnie Squires, board president of the PHILADELPHIA JEWISH VOICE;  Laura Adler Princiotta, CEO of SpArc Philadelphia; and Tanya Regli, Executive Director of The Arc of Philadelphia.

Before the ceremony began, Governor Wolf greeted (left to right) Bonnie Squires, board president of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice; Laura Adler Princiotta, CEO of SpArc Philadelphia; and Tanya Regli, Executive Director of The Arc of Philadelphia.

There was standing-room only, with almost all of Governor Wolf’s Cabinet officials attending, including, among others, Leslie Richards, Secretary of Transportation, and Kathy Manderino, Secretary of Labor. Dozens of members of the House of Representatives and Senate were also in attendance, including Senators Andy Dinniman and Daylin Leach, and Representatives Tim Briggs, Frank Dermody, and Dan Frankel, who presented  the House resolution in observance of the Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Why Gov.-Elect Wolf Is Right About the Death Penalty

imageThe widow of a police officer who was murdered criticized both Governor-elect Tom Wolf and me for our opposition to the death penalty in a piece that appeared on PennLive last week.

Maureen Faulkner specifically asked why should a person who has taken the life of another “be allowed to keep their own life.” She has a unique standing to comment on this important issue of public policy: Obviously, the horrors she has endured give her a valuable perspective on many facets of the criminal justice system. She raised important points and deserves a response.

The death penalty, which has been eliminated throughout most of the civilized world and has recently been repealed in six states, including our neighbors New Jersey and Maryland, is an inappropriate punishment for many reasons.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for rejecting capital punishment is the inevitability of executing completely innocent people. Since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the death penalty to be reinstated, 149 people have been sent to death row and then released, after being fully exonerated of the crimes for which they were convicted, most through DNA evidence. Some of these people came within hours of being executed.

Counting all crimes, more than 2,000 people were found to have been wrongly convicted in the past 23 years. It is clear that our criminal justice system is imperfect. Considering all of the innocent people who were convicted but then freed by DNA, it is extremely disturbing that DNA evidence is available in only about 15% of all murder cases.

Most murders are committed by guns, leaving no DNA evidence. Thus, considering the scores of death row inmates whose innocence was proven by DNA out of the 15% of cases where it is available, how many innocent people are among the 85% of cases in which DNA evidence is not available? Assuming that the proportion of innocent people is the same in both groups, we have sent to death row many hundreds of people who are innocent, but unable to prove that innocence.

Faulkner said that in no case it was “proved” that an innocent person has been executed. That is misleading.

First, in most cases, once a person is dead, people stop looking. There is generally no funding source for the hundreds of thousands of dollars it would take to continue investigating a case after the defendant has been executed.

Even if funding was available in a given case, in no forum a person’s innocence can be “proved.” The state does not conduct posthumous retrials of dead defendants. That said, in a number of cases there is very strong evidence that an innocent person was executed.

Another compelling reason to eliminate the death penalty is that we simply cannot afford it. Recent studies in California and Maryland have shown that a death-penalty case costs between $2 million and $3 million more to process, try and carry out than a non-capital murder case.

Given that we have processed hundreds of death penalty cases since reinstatement, simple math tells us that we are spending billions of dollars just to have a death penalty. Think of what that money could be used for instead: more effective forms of crime reduction, education, or even tax cuts.

Other reasons to eliminate the death penalty relate to:

  • the unfair, arbitrary, and racially disparate way it is administered;
  • all of the ancillary costs of litigating issues related to capital punishment, such as what chemicals may be used for the execution; and
  • the significant moral problems with giving a government, that many people do not think can deliver the mail efficiently, the power to decide when to kill its own citizens.

I can certainly understand Faulkner’s rage and desire for revenge against the man who killed her husband. I am sure I would feel the same way if I were ever in similar circumstances.

One of my heroes, the former New York governor, Mario Cuomo, who opposed the death penalty in all circumstances, was frequently asked what he would do if someone he cared about was murdered. I will paraphrase his typical answer:

I would pick up a baseball bat to bash the killer’s brains in myself. But before I reached him, what I hope I would do is ask myself if this would bring my loved-one back, and if I am acting in a way consistent with my religious and moral principles, and if I would want my family to see me acting this way. And I hope that before I got to the killer, I would put the baseball bat down.

That is what we as a society must do. We must put the baseball bat down.

Originally published in PennLive.

Wolf Names Katie McGinty Incoming Chief of Staff

kmcginty

Kathleen (Katie) McGinty will become chief of staff following Governor-elect Tom Wolf’s inauguration on January 20, 2015.

Governor-elect Tom Wolf announced Kathleen (Katie) McGinty as the incoming chief of staff in his administration.

McGinty has more than 25 years of experience in public service, and has also spent time in the private sector.

McGinty began her career in the office of then-Senator Al Gore, where she worked on initiatives to strengthen patent protections, encourage manufacturing, and support science education. She also contributed to the re-authorization of the Clean Air Act.

Following her time in Gore’s office, McGinty served President Bill Clinton as his deputy assistant and then as chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She was the first woman to head the office. In this capacity, McGinty worked with Republicans and Democrats to pass environmental legislation while leading a number of initiatives to redevelop brown fields, restore and preserve key ecosystems, and improve environmental protection.

In 2003, McGinty was nominated by Governor Edward G. Rendell to become the first woman to lead the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, where she worked on clean water and mercury reduction initiatives and encouraged job growth in the energy sector, including solar and wind jobs.

Since 2008, McGinty has been a leader in the clean energy and environmental engineering space. She has led a global business cleaning up and redeveloping contaminated properties and developing renewable energy, and she has served on the boards of directors of publicly traded and privately held corporations.

McGinty will become chief of staff following Wolf’s inauguration on January 20, 2015. Until then, she will assist Wolf as he builds his administration.

Obama: Tom Wolf “Knows How to Create Jobs”

President Obama spoke at a rally for Pennsylvania’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Tom Wolf, at The Liacouras Center at Temple University in Philadelphia:

Tom knows how to create jobs here in Pennsylvania… He’s a practical person who just wants to make it work for the people of Pennsylvania. He’s not going to run on an agenda of slashing budgets for our schools or laying off thousands of teachers. He’s not running to serve special interests.

The President said that Wolf is “a sincere person. He’s not a professional politician. He’s in it for the right reasons.”

Obama said that voters will be “making a choice about two different visions for America.” He said that “Republicans are patriots too,” but added, “There are a lot of people in my family that I really love, but I wouldn’t put them in charge. They’ve got bad ideas.”

The event manager of The Liacouras Center, Michael Tischler, said that the crowd count was 5,500.

Wolf was secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue between April 2007 and November 2008. He is the chairman of his family-owned business, The Wolf Organization Inc., a building-product company.

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.