Monday May 21, 2018
Advocates are cautiously optimistic?
WRITTEN BY BY JOSEPH HAINTHALER
Is there still hope for a permanent solution to the partisan drawing of congressional and legislative districts in Pennsylvania?
A representative of Fair Districts PA, which has supported a proposed constitutional amendment that would create a citizens commission for redistricting, is a believer.
"If the Senate and the House want to do this, they can do it in a week," Arthur Naylor, coordinator of Fair Districts PA in Berks and Schuylkill counties, said Thursday. "So it's possible."
So far, the process has been slowed by an amendment that transformed a House bill supported by Naylor's group. The rewrite, done last month in the House State Government Committee, would create a process even more partisan than today's, according to reform advocates.
Naylor is pleased that House Majority Leader Dave Reed, an Indiana County Republican, has said Pennsylvania's redistricting system needs to change.
"That's really significant," Naylor said of Reed's promise to offer a reform proposal. "That's great."
Reed, who is retiring late this year, made the offer early this month.
"I've heard a lot of comments from a lot of folks across the state with frustrations with our current redistricting process, and you know to be honest, I agree," Reed said. "I don't think it's the greatest process in the world. It's served us for the last couple hundred years, but I think it could be better."
From what Reed has said, his proposal differs from Senate Bill 22, supported by Fair Districts PA.
Senate Bill 22, which is scheduled for consideration in the Senate State Government Committee today, calls for a citizens commission drawn randomly from people who apply to the Department of State to participate.
It includes requirements aimed at reflecting the state's demographics - with balance in gender, ethnicity and geography - and ensuring political balance, Naylor said. Members of the commission would have to have voted in two of the last three elections, he said.
Reed said he would prefer a more random system, one similar to jury selection, allowing people to bow out if they wish.
Naylor would prefer Senate Bill 22 but is open to Reed's proposal.
To change the system in time for the 2021 round of redistricting, a bill would have to pass both chambers of the state Legislature this year, again next year, and then be approved by the voters in 2020.
Naylor said his group considers June 30 the deadline for action in the House and Senate.
Contact Joseph Hainthaler: 610-371-5035 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is there hope for a permanent solution to gerrymandering?
Saturday May 19, 2018
We are well past the point of being surprised at low turnout for primary elections in years when the presidency isn't up for grabs, but that doesn't stop us from feeling disappointed.
If there were ever a year when there should have been plenty of interest in the spring campaign, it was this one. Voters throughout Berks County had the rare opportunity to nominate someone new for Congress, and Republican voters had to make a choice in a hotly contested gubernatorial race. Most local voters could have voted in at least one significant contested race. Yet only 18 percent of registered Democrats and Republicans - fewer than one in five eligible primary voters - bothered to come out.
County election officials said the turnout was a bit better than they expected, and that stormy weather might have discouraged some people from voting, but we remain troubled at the level of disinterest.
With so much attention focused on control of Congress this November, wouldn't members of the two major parties want to have a say in who is running? Did voters know enough about the new congressional districts and candidates? Did the barrage of negative ads in the Republican race for governor turn voters off?
Whatever the reasons, the situation is unfortunate.
Perhaps most disappointing is that local voters passed up the opportunity to let the candidates in their new districts know that Berks residents are politically engaged and demand strong representation despite maps drawn to our disadvantage.
It's particularly troublesome in the 9th District. When the state Supreme Court issued its new maps in February, we warned that much of Berks could well wind up being represented by someone from the far northern reaches of that vast district. That's exactly what happened. Nominees Denny Wolff and Dan Meuser both live about 100 miles away from Reading's eastern suburbs in the district, and neither was the top choice of Berks voters in their party. They're saying the right things to reassure voters in our area, but that matters little. We want to see them here regularly, and we expect them to display some knowledge of this area and the issues we're facing here.
Some argue that one way to get more people involved in the process and make it fairer would be to open up primaries to independent voters. We think it's well worth pursuing. State Rep. Dave Reed, an Indiana County Republican and House majority leader, is working on a bill that would allow Pennsylvania's 1.2 million independent voters to participate in primaries.
Candidates for school board and county judge can seek the nominations of both major parties. If they succeed under the current system, independent voters are given practically no say in who wins. And Reed acknowledged that inviting voters from outside the parties into the process would improve the chances of moderate candidates who often struggle to win over the partisans who come out in force for primary elections.
It's time to start having serious discussions about this idea. Independent-minded voters should not have to feel obligated to tie themselves to a party just to have a voice in determining the November ballot.
And if that effort succeeds, we expect to see plenty of those independents out voting each spring and making their voices heard. There's no doubt we need more people taking advantage of that opportunity.
Berks County has disappointing day at polls
Friday May 18, 2018
Party serves billionaires at expense of ordinary Americans.
I'm writing regarding "Today's Republican Party all about selling access to power" (Reading Eagle, May 14). The hypocrisy of the Republican Party is astounding. Political parties have priorities, and the past 15 months have shown where Republican priorities lie. Health care reform and infrastructure improvements are not priorities, but cutting taxes for billionaires was the top priority.
During the past year the Republican-controlled Congress has passed only one major bill, the so-called Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and in the process created a projected deficit the likes of which the U.S. has not seen since the end of World War II.
Are these representatives working for the working class voters who sent them to Washington or for the billionaires? Elections have consequences.
Republicans show their true priorities
Tuesday May 15, 2018
Bill promises to address issue of death in childbirth or due to pregnancy-related causes.
The Pennsylvania House and Senate unanimously approved a bill sponsored by state Rep. Ryan Mackenzie that would create a statewide review committee to identify and investigate pregnancy-related deaths among expectant and new mothers.
The statistics on maternal death are staggering. Women in the United States are more likely to die from childbirth or pregnancy-related causes than other women in the developed world. Between 700 and 900 women die each year in the U.S. from causes related to pregnancy or childbirth, and the rate of life-threatening complications has soared in recent decades, impacting more than 50,000 women annually. The rate has more than doubled in Pennsylvania since 1994.
More evidence is needed to better understand the actual causes of death, but research suggests that half of these deaths may be preventable. Moreover, there are significant and widening racial disparities in maternal mortality.
As an organization dedicated to the health and well-being of mothers and their babies, we commend the Pennsylvania General Assembly and offer our sincere gratitude to Reps. Mackenzie and Flo Fabrizio, former Rep. Matt Baker and Sens. Judy Schwank and Lisa Baker for championing this critical piece of legislation.
With the recent observance of Mother's Day, we cannot think of a better way than legislation focused on improving maternal health.
Lynne M. Coslett-Charlton
Editor's note: Coslett-Charlton is chairwoman of the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists Pennsylvania section.
Legislation focuses on maternal health
Saturday May 12, 2018
Report on two individuals' plight offers readers valuable insight.
My compliments to Anthony Orozco of the Reading Eagle for writing the informative and compassionate article about the two ladies who immigrated here years ago escaping violence and hoping to be a part of our great country ("Their treacherous trip," Reading Eagle, May 9).
Orozco did a great job of letting these courageous women tell their story, which brings a very personal side to the hotly debated immigration issue. They have both been through so much, yet they didn't present any anger regarding the president and his actions and statements.
It's a shame that our elected lawmakers have had no success in developing a plan to improve legal immigration. Immigrants have always been a part of the fabric of our nation. It's who we are.
The devil is in the details of comprehensive immigration reform, but with the right kind of leadership there must be a way that immigrants can come to our country and be contributing members of our community. I hope that as we go to vote in the primary and general elections that we can elect fair-minded legislators that can help create a reasonable immigration process that will benefit our country.
Lower Heidelberg Township
Coverage sheds light on immigration issue
Wednesday May 9, 2018
People should stand up for those who don't have enough to eat.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is our country's most powerful tool in the fight against hunger. SNAP offers basic nutrition for people in need and provides 12 times as much food as food pantries and other charitable organizations like ours. I couldn't agree more with those who gathered in Pottstown ("Advocates attack proposed farm bill," Reading Eagle, May 2). The hurtful changes proposed in the House farm bill will impact hundreds of local families with children, older adults and persons with disabilities who receive SNAP.
Open four days per week, The Pottstown Cluster of Religious Communities' food pantry distributes 42,050 pounds of food each month to 575 households. The food we provide goes to families struggling to make ends meet, but those we serve also need SNAP.
We should be expanding SNAP to better fight hunger, not seeking ways to limit access to the program. As the farm bill advances, I urge readers to stand up for those without enough to eat. Call Rep. Ryan Costello and tell him to protect SNAP and vote against the farm bill.
Expand food program instead of cutting it
Tuesday May, 2018
Congress should oppose reducing essential program.
Millions of children in America live in families that struggle to put food on the table. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is one of the most powerful tools we have to end hunger and make sure children get the basic nutrition they need to learn, stay healthy and grow up strong.
The new farm bill recently released by the House Agriculture Committee would make it harder for families to access SNAP benefits. Instead of helping families get back on their feet, the policies in this bill would increase hunger and poverty in America.
The proposed legislation would hurt working families in low-wage jobs because it eliminates a provision that gives states flexibility to help working families avoid an abrupt reduction or loss of benefits. SNAP benefits are linked to certification for school meals, so this could also lead to tens of thousands of kids losing access to the free school lunch and breakfast they need.
While a good job is the best pathway out of hunger and poverty, the bill would impose new, punitive work requirements. A substantial number of low-income families would lose benefits as they struggle to find affordable child care, transportation or adequate work hours.
Missing work to care for a sick child or due to a broken transmission shouldn't mean losing your ability to eat.
I am urging Congress to oppose changes to SNAP that would make it harder for low-income children and families to get the nutrition they need.
Kathie E. Takush
SNAP changes would hurt working poor
Monday May 7, 2018
Setbacks won't deter determined group.
Our state House and Senate Government Committees have been stalling bills to improve the way our legislative districts are drawn. Committee Chairman Mike Folmer has held hearings in the Senate but has not scheduled a vote on SB 22.
But even worse than stalling, House committee Chairman Rep. Daryl Metcalfe has gutted and contaminated HB 722, amending the bill to make the district drawing process even more political.
Gerrymandering has become more evil over the years, dividing communities so legislators can maximize their influence and keep their seats secure. One of the best examples of the process gone awry is Berks County having been split into four congressional districts. The party in power uses the process to pick its voters rather than the reverse. This is not a Republican or Democratic issue, it is a democracy issue.
The original HB 722 and SB 22 would establish an independent commission to draw legislative district maps. The bills would take decisions for where the lines are drawn out of partisan, political hands and put them into the hands of an 11-member independent commission. The bills craft a method to avoid extreme gerrymandering when reapportionment and redistricting occur after the next census. Learn more at www.fairdistrictspa.com.
Gerrymandering foes aren't going to give up
Thursday May 3, 2018
Americans are being brainwashed by social media.
Mark Twain once said: "It ain't what you don't know that gets you in trouble, it's what you know for sure that just ain't so."
Cambridge Analytica, the brainchild of President Donald Trump's campaign chairman and political adviser Steve Bannon and financed by Trump supporter Robert Mercer, was created to build a psychological warfare tool, according to data analytics designer turned whistleblower Christopher Wylie.
He testified before a British parliamentary panel that for years they've used social media to identify patterns of behavior that can then be used to influence future behavior. Bannon specifically demanded messaging to depress Democratic voter turnout.
Research into persuasive technology reveals the activation of dopamine receptors, the reward centers, in the brain. "Diaper apps" are computer programs so addictive you don't want to stop even to use the bathroom. Stanford University research scientist B.J. Fogg warned years ago about computer programs' ability to alter behavior.
Wylie calls Cambridge Analytica a "full service propaganda machine" and an American shell branch of SCL Group, which used propaganda to sway elections in 32 countries by stirring up resentment towards minorities.
Wired magazine details how a Russian company, Internet Research Agency, ran "election management" propaganda through hundreds of fake Facebook accounts.
Persuasion is a legitimate sales technique. Brainwashing is not.
No foreigners messed with any voting machines in our election; they just messed with our minds. But too many "know for sure" it never happened.
Persuasive technology poses serious threat
Wednesday April 25, 2018
Behavior by Republican-led panel unacceptable.
It seems the Pennsylvania Constitution may not apply to Daryl Metcalfe, majority chairman of the House State Government Committee, who engineered a gutting of House Bill 722. The legislation originally sought to establish an independent, transparent citizens commission that would determine electoral districts without interference from politicians, political leaders and legislative operatives. HB 722 had co-sponsorship from more than half the state House.
According to our constitution, "No law shall be passed except by bill, and no bill shall be so altered or amended, on its passage through either House, as to change its original purpose."
In place of the original intention of HB 722, Metcalfe proposed a commission composed entirely of politicians, four from the majority party at the time of redistricting and two from the minority party, ensuring that gerrymandering would continue in Pennsylvania.
Metcalfe proposed his replacement without understanding it, as questions by committee members revealed; without sharing it with members of the committee; and with less than 24 hours' notice and only 30 minutes of discussion. It was passed by the members of the committee along party lines.
If anyone needs proof of the lack of accountability and representation that results from gerrymandering, look to Metcalfe, who was elected by a fraction of his gerrymandered district and has run roughshod over our state constitution and the interests of the people of Pennsylvania.
I urge readers to call, email or visit their state legislators and tell them this is unacceptable. We must end gerrymandering, now.
Lawmaker a symbol of corrupt system