Monthly Archives: May 2014

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Beyond the races for governor and lieutenant governor, neither of which turned out to be close, there were some close and interesting primary contests for districts in the U.S. House and state House and Senate. While most of the U.S. House races to watch didn’t produce results that were all that interesting, there were a couple eyebrow-raising results in state Legislature contests. Top of the list was state Sen. Leanna Washington losing the Democratic primary in 4th Senatorial District. Washington was charged in March by state Attorney General Kathleen Kane with allegedly using her elected office for political and financial gain. While Washington hasn’t had her day in court regarding those charges, the court of public opinion issued its ruling Wednesday, with Washington, according to unofficial election results, getting 33.7 percent of the vote (13,440 votes) compared to Arthur Haywood III’s 39.8 percent (15,874) and Brian Gralnick’s 26.5 percent (10,590). Gralnick was considered to be a significant challenge to Washington, but it appears as though Haywood will be taking on Robin Matthew Gilchrist, who was unopposed in the district’s Republican primary, in the heavily Democratic district during the fall general election.
A nasty primary race involving incumbent state Sen. Tina Tartaglione in Philadelphia’s 2nd Senatorial District ended up not being all that close: unofficial results have Tartaglione pulling 50.7 percent of the vote (9,609 votes) in the three-way contest, with challengers Daniel Savage and Tomas Sanchez getting 29.3 percent (5,542) and 20 percent (3,790), respectively.
There were also a pair of races in the state House pitting incumbent Democrats against each other, thanks to the new legislative redistricting map now in effect … but only one produced anything resembling a close finish. In the 112th Legislative District, Rep. Frank Farina and Rep. Kevin Haggerty squared off, along with Robert Munley, with unofficial results showing Farina winning with 44.3 percent (5,573) to Haggerty’s 37.3 percent (4,843) and Munley’s 18.3 percent (2,379). The nastier of the two Democratic head-to-head contests – matching Rep. Harry Readshaw vs. Rep. Erin Molchany in the new 36th Legislative District – ended with unofficial results showing Readshaw easily defeating Molchany, 60.1 percent (3,904 votes) to 39.9 percent (2,593). A pair of open Senate seats prompted some interesting match-ups between Republicans, but neither produced interesting finishes. Proving that some endorsements matter, state Rep. Ryan Aument, who had the Lancaster County GOP’s endorsement, defeated state Rep. Gordon Denlinger for the 36th Senatorial District seat opened up by Sen. Mike Brubaker’s retirement announcement. Unofficial results indicate Aument got 61.6 percent of the vote (10,071) compared to Denlinger’s 38.4 percent (6,292). The fall general election will see Aument take on Gary Schreckengost, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary, in this heavily Republican district. And in the 50th Senatorial District, made open by the retirement announcement of Sen. Bob Robbins, state Rep. Michele Brooks appears to have easily outpaced both state Rep. Greg Lucas and businesswoman Jane MacPherson-Mrozek in the GOP primary. Unofficial results show Brooks, while she might not have been the favorite of outgoing Sen. Robbins’ staff, tallied 68.8 percent of the vote (10,368 votes), while Lucas got 23.5 percent (3,540) and MacPherson-Mrozek pulled 7.7 percent (1,157). Brooks will be matched up in the fall with Michael Muha, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary, in this fairly Republican district. And what some considered one of the more hotly-contested Democratic primaries not involving two sitting legislators, state Rep. Margo Davidson seems to have easily put to rest questions about her ability to hold the 164th Legislative District seat. Davidson, who made few progressive Democratic friends with her votes in favor of abortion-related and school choice-related bills, was, according to unofficial results, get 52.9 percent of the vote (2,675 votes) in the Delaware County district, compared to the 42.4 percent (2,143) received by Billy Smith (who was favored by some Democrats) and Dafan Zhang’s 4.8 percent (241 votes). However, state Rep. Mike Fleck, R-Huntingdon, who became the first openly gay member of the PA General Assembly after winning re-election in 2012 in the 81st Legislative District, could be paying the price for his announcement after the 2012 election. According to unofficial election results, Fleck is behind a write-in candidate – presumed to be Huntingdon County Treasurer Richard Irvin, who mounted a write-in candidacy when his name was removed from the ballot – by 306 votes (3,394 to 3,700), based on the tallies from the Centre County, Huntingdon County and Mifflin County portions of the district, although the whole situation remains fairly unclear at the moment.
Other races on the watch-list of many political observers: other lawmakers with allegations of wrongdoing hanging over their heads had mixed results, with state Rep. J.P. Mirada losing in the 197th Legislative District’s Democratic primary, while state Rep. Vanessa L. Brown easily won in the 190th Legislative District Democratic primary; and,state Rep. Jesse White, criticized by many for his social media attacks on constituents regarding natural gas drilling, won the Democratic primary in the 46th Legislative District; and a few other Allegheny County House incumbents who had primary opposition cruised to victory Tuesday, reports the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review; and, state Rep. Stan Saylor, R-York, was the only member of House GOP leadership to have a primary opponent, which he easily dispatched, writes The Patriot-News of Harrisburg. Four U.S. House races had been on the watch-lists of many politicos, but only one of those produced anything close to a photo finish. Unofficial results have Iraq and Afghan war veteran Kevin Strouse defeating chemist and small businesswoman Shaughnessy Naughton with 51.1 percent of the vote (18,428 votes) to 48.9 percent (17,610) in the Democratic primary for the 8th Congressional District in Bucks and Montgomery counties. Strouse will take on the incumbent, Republican Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, in the fall general election. The Strouse-Naughton race had been considered a toss-up by most observers, which led to some nastiness near the end of the primary campaign. Naughton – who wants a permanent moratorium on natural gas drilling in the Delaware River basin – trying to paint Strouse – who supports the current moratorium but would allow renewed drilling under certain circumstances – as a fracking supporter and enemy of clean water. Strouse attacked Naughton over a contract her family’s real estate publishing company has with a Georgia-based company, a company Strouse claimed opposes unionization. The much-discussed 13th Congressional District Democratic primary turned into a nasty four-way tug-of-war that ended in a relatively easy win for state Rep. Brendan Boyle. While the 13th District encompasses areas in both Montgomery and Philadelphia counties, it contains a much larger section of Philadelphia (Northeast Philadelphia), which happens to be the majority of Boyle’s current 170th House district. Unofficial results show Boyle winning with nearly 40.6 percent of the vote (24,476 vote), with more than 19,000 of those votes coming from the larger Philadelphia portion of the 13th District. The remaining sixty percent or so of the vote was divided by former Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies (27.3 percent, or 16,506 votes); state Sen. Daylin Leach (16.7 percent, 10,063 votes); and physician Val Arkoosh (15.4 percent, 9,299 votes). In the fall general election, Boyle will take on Carson Dee Adcock, who won the Republican primary over Beverly Plosa-Bowser, 65.8 percent (10,111 votes) to 34.2 percent (5,248); however, the district has a heavy Democratic registrations, so there is a presumption by many that the Democratic primary has already decided who will take the congressional seat being vacated by its current holder, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz.
In the 9th Congressional District, incumbent Republican Rep. Bill Shuster didn’t get the scare some thought he would from businessman Art Halvorson, with unofficial results showing Shuster getting nearly 52.8 percent of the vote (24,106 votes) compared to Halvorson’s 34.5 percent (15,761). However, Shuster’s road to victory could have been made a bit easier by the third candidate in the 9th’s GOP primary, U.S. Army veteran Travis Schooley, who pulled in 12.7 percent of the vote (5,802). Shuster will take on Franklin County mental health professional Allana Hartzock, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary. Hartzock previously challenged Shuster in a 2001 special election, then as a Green Party candidate, and both she (getting only 4.1 percent of the vote) and state Rep. Scott Conklin (who got 44 percent of the vote), the Democratic candidate, lost to Shuster. And in the contest to see who would take on incumbent Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus in western Pennsylvania’s fairly Republican 12th Congressional District, businesswoman Erin McClelland easily defeated John Hugya, the former chief of staff for longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Jack Murtha. Unofficial results show McClelland, who many considered to be a relative political novice despite her ability to raise as much money as her primary opponent, getting 68.1 percent of the vote (32,873 votes) compared to Hugya’s 31.9 percent (15,373).

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Representative GodshallA House lawmaker worries two new regulations will further stall legislation that caps price increases on variable rate electricity contracts for residential customers to just 30 percent in one billing cycle. Without that rate cap, Rep. Robert Godshall, R-Montgomery, says his constituents won’t receive any relief from fluctuating electricity bills that can double and triple in just one month. “You’re still going to get burned,” he said. “The only thing that will stop this is a 30 percent rate cap.” The cap is in House Bill 2104, which Godshall introduced in March, six weeks after two polar vortexes spiked wholesale electricity prices and smacked customers signed onto variable rate contracts statewide with bills in excess of $1,000. Many of those residents, Godshall says, didn’t realize the terms of the contracts to which they committed — or worse, didn’t know their expired fixed rate agreements had been switched to variable terms. Consumers lodged close to 10,000 informal complaints with the Public Utility Commission,who responded with two regulations of their own designed to benefit both consumers and the retail electricity market lawmakers established more than a decade ago. But the regulations — passed unanimously Thursday by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission — don’t address the problems associated with variable rate contracts at all, Godshall says, which can inflate prices daily based on demand. The new regulations will require energy suppliers to provide customers with accelerated switching times between electricity contracts and provide beefed-up disclosure policies that alert customers to a change in terms at the end of a contract period.

Opponents of the regulations — including House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney, and House Consumer Affairs Minority Chairman Peter Daley, D-Washington, who each sent letters to the IRRC — say accelerated switching times, while beneficial, will be costly for suppliers to implement in the next six months. That cost, Smith wrote, could be passed onto the consumer — a concern electric distribution companies, including PPL Electric Utilities, echoed in a letter to the IRRC. IRRC commissioners say the regulations will provide interim relief until lawmakers pass legislation that could give the PUC authority to implement rate caps — something Chairman Robert Powelson says he personally opposes. “We haven’t had an internal discussion about rate caps,” he told IRRC commissioners during Thursday’s meeting. “I’m personally opposed … I think the market will respond accordingly to these new regulations.” Powelson insists the regulations will provide a mechanical fix that “will go a long way” toward shielding customers from the volatility of the wholesale electricity market. Godshall remains unconvinced. “The disclosures and the transparency and the education is fine,” he told IRRC commissioners. “If you can get people to read.” IRRC Commissioner Lawrence Tabas said regulations shouldn’t be designed to free consumers of all responsibility and discourage them from reading their contracts. “These regulations don’t go far enough or address any of the issues,” Godshall said. “Consumers have no control. They are at the mercy of 355 companies licensed to sell variable rate contracts by the PUC … I’m not sure consumers are being protected.” Powelson rejected the notion that some companies take advantage of residents without consequence, saying that the PUC fines offending suppliers and continues to investigate the variable rate electricity market as a whole.“We have taken this issue very seriously,” he said. The House delayed a final vote on Godshall’s legislation two weeks ago. Smith said in a letter to the IRRC that the bill could come up for another vote next month.

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state forests Former Rendell-era conservation officials are set to testify in Commonwealth Court over the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation’s lawsuit seeking to halt Department of Conservation and Natural Resources-related budget transfers. Gov. Tom Corbett’s fiscal year 2014-15 budget proposal seeks to transfer $75 million from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund to the General Fund by allowing drilling underneath state forest and park land using adjacent private property or existing well pads. Corbett issued the order immediately allowing the additional drilling as long there are “no additional surface disturbance impacts on state forest or park lands.” In light of that order, the foundation is seeking a preliminary injunction and an expedited ruling because of the June 30 budget deadline. and an expedited ruling because of the June 30 budget deadline. The foundation’s lawsuit also seeks to halt two other Corbett budget proposals. One is the proposed transfer of about $118 million from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund to DCNR to pay for administrative expenses — a practice that started in the 2008-09 fiscal year under then-Gov. Ed Rendell. The cumulative transfers approved by Rendell totaled $383 million, and Corbett and the Legislature have continued to make transfers of various amounts. The PEDF says on its website that more than $400 million has been transferred since the 2008-09 fiscal year. The foundation argues that such transfers are unconstitutional as the fund’s monies were meant to be spent exclusively on conservation, recreation, dams and flood control.

The other budget proposal moves $35 million from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund to the Marcellus Legacy Fund, and then transfers that to the Environmental Stewardship Fund. That is a continuation of a transfer that was established by Act 13, the state law regulating Marcellus Shale development. The foundation said it would sue Rendell in 2010 but didn’t because he halted leasing of state forest and park land, said PEDF legal counsel John Childe. Rendell approved the leasing of about 130,000 acres of state forest and park land before he halted the practice shortly before leaving office in 2010. Childe said PEDF eventually filed the lawsuit in March 2012 because Corbett, while he continued Rendell practice of transferring Oil and Gas Lease Fund monies, did so to replace funding for DCNR’s operations. The lawsuit essentially is asking the court to get involved in state budget negotiations, since it is only seeking the stoppage of a proposal, which the courts have generally avoided. In the past, however, the courts have ruled on challenges to an enacted budget. Set to testify in Commonwealth Court is former DCNR secretary John Quigley, who helped write the Rendell moratorium. Michael DiBerardinis, who resigned in 2009 to serve as Philadelphia Deputy Mayor of Environmental and Community Resources, also was set to testify, but will not due to a scheduling conflict, foundation chair Ron Evans said.The foundation also lists two other former DCNR officials: former State Parks Director John Norbeck and former DCNR deputy secretary for conservation and technical service Cynthia Dunn. Both now work for environmental advocacy group PennFuture: Dunn is President and CEO, and Norbeck is Vice President and COO. Rendell’s forestry director James Grace also is listed among testifiers on the foundation’s website. The hearing is set to start at the Pennsylvania Judicial Center at 11 a.m. The injunction request claims Corbett ordered the budgetary transfers “without evaluating the direct and cumulative impacts to the more than 900,000 acres of State Park and State Forest land currently subject to oil and gas extraction, without determining the cost to mitigate these impacts; and without soliciting any public input on the people’s rights to these public natural resources, the proposed impacts to them, or the use of the Oil and Gas Lease Fund.” The foundation’s complaint relies heavily on the Pennsylvania Constitution’s “Environmental Rights Amendment,” which was given sharp teeth by the state Supreme Court’s ruling upended portions of Act 13, the state law regulating Marcellus Shale drilling. The lawsuit says that section of the constitution creates a public trust consisting of natural resources, including state parks and forest land, and the people of the commonwealth are the beneficiary. The foundation says a preliminary injunction is needed to prevent “irreparable harm.” “Without this injunction, the Respondents [Corbett, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania] will direct DCNR to execute leases of additional State Park and State Forest lands, committing these lands to oil and gas extraction for decades. These leases, once executed, cannot be rescinded and the commitment of these public natural resources to development will be irreversible. The natural gas, itself a nonrenewable public natural resource, cannot be replaced after it is extracted,” the injunction request states. Corbett’s DCNR officials have said “no additional surface impacts” means drilling horizontally underneath state forest land from an adjacent pad on private lands or from already leased state forest and park land. They acknowledge that additional drilling will mean more drilling rigs, truck traffic and noise, but they don’t consider those to be additional surface impacts. DCNR deputy secretary Dan Devlin said the proposal means “disturbing a surface that’s already been disturbed.” “This assertion misses the point that the commitment to extraction of the natural gas on these lands itself is an irreparable injury,” the lawsuit claims. “In addition, the contention that the surface impact from the shale gas development will be limited is speculative without identification of the specific tracts to be leased and an analysis of the direct and cumulative impacts to these tracts and the surrounding lands.”

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capwatch_header is seeking individuals with solid writing ability to work as interns and contribute to our news coverage throughout Pennsylvania. Political science majors and/or journalism majors are encouraged to apply.

Applicants need an excellent understanding of Pennsylvania politics and solid writing ability. Interns will have the opportunity to build a portfolio with published writing and bylines.

Openings are available for the Summer 2014 and/or Fall 2014 semesters. The position is flexible and interns work remotely, so applicants are welcome from anywhere in Pennsylvania. While the internship is unpaid, interns will have the chance to bid on assignments  that are paid. To apply, please send a resume and your best three (3) writing examples to: Dr. Jackie Goodwin, 917 Capital St., Harrisburg, PA 17102 or jgoodwin@capitalwatchpa.com