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How White Supremacists Split a Quiet Rust Belt Town in PA


Outside the home of Daniel Burnside in Ulysses, Pa. Burnside is director of the National Socialist Movement. (Brett Carlsen/For The Washington Post)

 — The traffic sign that greets visitors on the south side of Ulysses, a tiny town in rural far north-central Pennsylvania, is suitably quaint — a silhouette of a horse-drawn cart reminding drivers that the Amish use the roads, too. But on the north side of town, along the main thoroughfare, is a far different display: a home dedicated to Adolf Hitler, where star-spangled banners and Nazi flags flutter side by side and wooden swastikas stand on poles.

White supremacy has had a continuous presence in Ulysses and surrounding Potter County since the Ku Klux Klan arrived a century ago, giving the town — with a population today of about 650 — improbable national significance. In the mid-2000s, it hosted the World Aryan Congress, a gathering of neo-Nazis, skinheads and Klan members.

This year, after a sting operation, federal prosecutors charged six members of an Aryan Strike Force cell with weapons and drug offenses, contending that they had plotted a suicide attack at an anti-racism protest. A terminally ill member was willing to hide a bomb in his oxygen tank and blow himself up, prosecutors said. The group had met and conducted weapons training in Ulysses.

Neo-Nazis and their opponents here say that white extremists have grown more confident — and confrontational — since the rise of Donald Trump. Two months before the 2016 presidential election, the KKK established a “24 hour Klan Line” and sent goody bags containing lollipops and fliers to hundreds of homes. “You can sleep tonight knowing the Klan is awake,” the message read. A regional newspaper ran Klan advertisements saying, “God bless the KKK.”

Local police said the group had not openly recruited in years.

Two weeks later, the area’s two neo-Nazi groups, the National Socialist Movement (NSM) and Aryan Strike Force, held a “white unity meeting” in Ulysses to discuss their response to Trump and plan joint action. One organizer would not say when the groups had last met, simply commenting: “It’s just a good time.”

How journalists should cover white nationalists and neo-Nazis

The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan examines how media organizations can effectively cover hate groups without promoting their ideas. 

Potter County is staunchly Republican and has voted Democratic once since 1888; Trump received 80 percent of the vote, tying with Herbert Hoover for the highest percentage won.

“I can tell you with certainty that since November 2016, activity has doubled, whether it’s feet on the street or money orders or people helping out,” said Daniel Burnside, 43, a woodcarver who owns the Nazi-themed home and directs the state chapter of the National Socialist Movement, a far-right group that was founded in Detroit in the mid-1970s. It has a presence in many states, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups, and the NSM was among the groups taking part in the violent August 2017 rally in defense of Confederate statues in Charlottesville.

“We have meetings every 30 days,” he said. “ There’s more collaboration.”


Daniel Burnside poses for a portrait on July 7, 2018, in Galeton, Pa. (Brett Carlsen/For The Washington Post)

Burnside, who declined to say how many local residents were involved in his group, was born in Ulysses and raised there by a grandfather who he said was a Nazi sympathizer who fought in the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II. Burnside said his beloved grandfather drank himself to death because of the war’s impact on him.

The younger Burnside said he joined the NSM four years ago but has long harbored anti-Semitic views and is a practicing Odinist — the pagan religion Odinism is popular among some neo-Nazis. Burnside does not see Trump as a leader of the NSM cause but as a politician who amplified long-standing white-nationalist views at the right time.

“Personally, I don’t know about Trump,” he said. “You won’t necessarily see MAGA hats at an NSM meeting. We’re anti-Semitic. Something’s off about Trump with the Jews. That said, we’re strategically aligned. When Trump says something that aligns with us — close the borders, build the wall, look after your own — that’s good: We’ve been saying this for 25 years, but he has made it mainstream.”

“We’re still a white nation, and I respect that he supports that,” Burnside added. “He’s also highlighted social problems. The kids who go to bed hungry, people who can’t pay their bills, the damage being done to society.”

Joe Leschner, 38, a white restaurant manager, fled the county this year because of what he said was abuse aimed at him and his wife, Sashena, who is black, after Trump’s election.

After he discovered a KKK leaflet outside their home, Leschner organized an anti-racism gathering in Ulysses. “And these guys drove by us and gave the gun signal, like they’re going to shoot us,” he said.

One of those who Leschner said made a pistol gesture had previously been jailed for 10 years for an aggravated assault on a black man. This year he was convicted of possession of firearms he was not legally allowed to own and intent to sell drugs.

Photographs of the Leschners were circulated on VK, a Russian-run social media site, with users posting death threats, he said.

“A guy came up to us in a restaurant and said, ‘You have got to be kidding me.’ I wanted to say something, but just couldn’t. This was where I grew up, at the restaurant where I got my first job. My wife was almost in tears,” he recalled.

“We had to leave,” said Leschner, who now runs a restaurant in Frederick, Md. “Most people aren’t racist, but there are enough that are and enough who let it happen.”

Kathleen Blee, a University of Pittsburgh sociology professor and expert on white extremism, said Ulysses came to be a nexus of such thinking as like-minded residents gravitated to one another.


Sashena and Joe Leschner fled Potter County this year because of what they said was abuse. (Joe Leschner)

“Modern white extremism is different to the KKK in the 1920s or Nazi Germany in that it is exclusively produced through small networks. It is not a mass movement,” she said. “It’s just one person recruiting another. Somebody knowing somebody. . . . You get an extremist in an area, they attract other extremists.”

Ulysses’s most famous resident may have been August Kreis III, 63, a neo-Nazi from New Jersey who moved to town in the 1990s and left about 10 years ago. Kreis made Ulysses the national headquarters of the Aryan Nations group and organized events such as the Aryan World Congress. In 2015, he was sentenced to 50 years in prison on a child-molestation conviction.

Pennsylvania has 36 racial hate groups, more than Alabama, Arkansas or Kansas, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“This area is well known for white supremacy. It’s got a rich history and the right conditions to thrive,” said Heidi Beirich of the SPLC. “It’s as significant as many areas in the South usually associated with white supremacy.”

Rural Appalachia, which includes Ulysses’s Potter County, has a wary attitude to outside forces — especially the state — that is often cited as a reason that anti-government militia groups and white extremists have prospered here. “There is also an extreme mind-your-own business approach and a belief in individual rights,” Blee said.

Months before the Leschners fled the area, another controversy erupted after a sheriff’s deputy from a neighboring county entered Burnside’s front yard and confiscated a Nazi flag. Burnside called his local police force, demanding that the deputy return the flag and record a video apology. When that did not happen, he went to state police and pursued a theft case. The 23-year-old deputy was forced to return the flag and pay damages. Local police confirmed that he was suspended and left his position shortly after the trial’s conclusion.

A chain saw at Daniel Burnside’s home with its logo modified to resemble the World War II lightning bolt insignia of the Nazi SS force. (Brett Carlsen/For The Washington Post)
Daniel Burnside carves a swastika, the ancient Eurasian religious icon that was adopted by the Nazis, into the bottom of items he makes. (Brett Carlsen/For The Washington Post)
Many locals suggested that they were more upset by the deputy’s actions than by the neo-Nazism. One man, an Army veteran who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of being branded a racist, said there was no comparison between World War II Nazis and Ulysses residents.

“World War II was a totally different time period. It’s part of history,” he said. “He can do what he wants. . . . Everyone has their own thing.”

One day recently, Burnside, accompanied by a reporter, drove around town dressed in a shirt featuring Hitler’s face as the main design. None of the locals he chatted with objected to his attire.

City council president Roy Hunt insisted that this reflected the town’s generous spirit.

“We’re a laid-back town, and we’re going to be nice to everybody,” Hunt said. “I’ve known Danny for 20 years. If you were in town and you walked around with him, you’re right, he’ll be welcome in every store. . . . If you’re nice, people will be nice to you 98 percent of the time.”

“If he were to put something up that said kill all members of a race, in my opinion that would be crossing the line, but he doesn’t have that sign up,” Hunt said.

He added that the town’s Nazi presence had been exaggerated by the news media and opposing groups.

Burnside said he serves the community. “I do fundraisers for American Legion with my artwork. Boys and Girls Clubs, regardless of race or ethnicity, I do fundraisers. . . . The only way I can help white people is by helping everyone.”

Other residents disagree about the impact of the white supremacists’ presence. As he shopped among Burnside’s carved wooden bears and eagle sculptures, some of them signed with a swastika, Tom Lee, a road construction manager, said that he supports the First Amendment and that the Nazi presence “ain’t nothing to do with me. It’s a free country.”

“After a while, you’re not what you were anymore,” he added. “It is America out here, but not in the inner cities anymore.”

William Fish, a 72-year-old carpenter, recalled as a child accompanying his mother as she delivered blankets and shoes to the shacks where black field workers lived.

“We’re not a racist town, but there are people who will turn a blind eye when they see racism happening. That’s why we have this history,” he said. “I think it has got worse since Trump, I honestly do. I also think our young people do not today share the same rotten values as older people.”

Belinda Empson, 59, said it pained her that veterans in the Memorial Day parade had to march past Nazi signs.


Main Street in Ulysses, Pa. (Brett Carlsen/For The Washington Post)

“My grandson is 8 years old and he’s already asking about the Nazi flags,” said Empson, a retired waitress. “And I don’t want to explain to my grandson what it means, what they’re about. We should have settled this stuff years ago.”

Empson said Ulysses had been divided since Trump’s victory: “I think Trump has opened the gate and said, ‘It’s okay.’ It was not a license, but a subtle, ‘It’s okay.’ I think we are seeing that now.”

“It bothers me,” she added, “because we have good people in this town.”

Wanda Shirk, 68, an English teacher who worked at a Potter County school for 28 years, joked that the town had become LGBT — “Liberty, Guns, Bible, Trump.”

“I don’t think everyone here is racist, but I think a lot are racially insensitive,” she said, “and Trump has allowed that to grow.”

Continue reading How White Supremacists Split a Quiet Rust Belt Town in PA

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Debates Under the Dem Tent: An Interview With Nina Turner

June 15, 2018 – One of the principal projects that emerged from Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign was Our Revolution. Since its founding in 2016, OR has organized hundreds of local and statewide groups, endorsed scores of candidates in political races around the country, and supported a wide range of progressive campaigns. The organization could also provide key infrastructure for a Sanders 2020 run for president.

Jacobin spoke to OR President Nina Turner recently. In a wide-ranging interview, she discussed OR’s relationship with the Democratic Party, recent criticism the organization has faced, the meaning of “democratic socialism,” and the urgency of immigration reform. (Nina also spoke at the June 9 Human Rights Banquets here in Beaver County, where she received an award. It was sponsored by our Labor Council, and endorsed by PDA, Moral Monday Coalition, a number of local candidates and officials, and the Young Democrats, among others. Nearly 300 attended.

Jacobin Magazine

How does Our Revolution’s political and economic vision differ from that of the Democratic Party establishment?

Nina Turner

I can’t answer for them, but I can tell you that the mission of Our Revolution is to create a system in this country that is geared toward helping people live out their greatness. We continue to push that either through electing candidates or through issues — for example, the $15 minimum wage, and certainly Medicare For All, fit that vision for us. We need a living wage, people need tangible things in their lives to help them get closer to that and solving the medical crisis that we have in this country will go a long way.

We need to make sure we have policymakers who understand that men and women should be paid equally for the work that they do; that this [public] education system we have needs to be shored up; that we have to invest our tax dollars to ensure that a child will not be discriminated against or treated differently because of the zip code they live in. All these things are part of an economic package to lift folks in this country. Our Revolution is supporting candidates who are committed to pushing for just that.

JM

The Democratic Party establishment doesn’t necessarily share that vision. What do you think it stands for right now?

NT

At times, when people just look at the horse race, it’s “who wins.” We have two political parties in this country that just care whether their man or their woman wins, without regard for the types of policy positions they take or what they will stand up for. As for Our Revolution, any old blue just won’t do. We need people with a certain type of commitment, so that when they get these seats they will put people power towards that commitment.

If the only concern is that a Democrat wins over a Republican, without concern for what the core values are of the person who’s running under the Democratic banner, then people will get more of the same. They won’t get change.

We can use California as an example. In California, Democrats control every statewide office, they control the legislature — yet we can’t get Medicare for All passed. The nurses [union is] pushing to get this passed, along with other groups, but we can’t get it passed. That’s not a state controlled by Republicans, it’s a state that’s controlled by Democrats.

Or let’s take New York. In terms of voter access and voter rights, one of the worst states for voter rights in the country. Controlled by Democrats, but we can’t even get the legislature and the Governor and others to move policy that will create an environment where all voters matter.

So, if the calculus for the Democratic Party is only to have Democrats elected, without regard for what they stand for and what they’re going to fight for, then that’s a problem.

In 2016 we passed the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party. Now, what does that mean in 2018? We patted each other on the back, we were happy, we used it as a talking point — hell, I even used it as a talking point. OK, now what does that mean? Does that platform line up with how people are running? Once they win the seat, what are they doing?

Continue reading Debates Under the Dem Tent: An Interview With Nina Turner

It’s a Good Time to Review Our Tactics & History with ‘Blue Dogs’

Can the Democratic Party Survive the Blue Dogs?

Today it’s Lamb vs. Rothfus

A Case Study of PA 4th CD Representative Jason Altmire

Nov. 26, 2010

By Randy Shannon,

Treasurer, PA 4th CD Chapter, Progressive Democrats of America

Depressing the Vote – Depressing Democracy“The Money & Media Election Complex,” an article in The Nation magazine, discusses the unprecedented $4 billion spent on the 2010 election and its influence on voter turnout.

To those bankrolling the system, voter cynicism and apathy are welcome…Their interests are best served by narrowing the range of debate and participation, since that makes it easier to buy the government.

This article intends to show that the analysis quoted above is valid based on the role of Jason Altmire’s campaign in the PA 4th Congressional District.

Jason Altmire’s 2010 campaign organization was well funded by corporate donors. His message depressed voter turnout and helped defeat the Democratic ticket. Altmire’s recent 2010 victory prepared the ground for a stronger Republican challenge to the Democratic Party in 2011.
If the Democratic Party is to carry forward the legacy of the New Deal, it must work for unity around a message that aggressively fights for peace and prosperity for the working families of our district and against the Republican agenda of war and austerity.

Representative Jason Altmire Wins Close Race

Congressman Jason Altmire, a member of the Blue Dog caucus and the New Democrat coalition was returned to the new 112th Congress to represent the PA 4th Congressional District. He defeated Keith Rothfus, a Republican attorney supported by local tea party activists.
At the Beaver County Democratic Party banquet on Oct. 21st, Altmire stated that he was leading Rothfus by 16%. In a pre-election column in the Beaver County Times, J.D. Prose stated: “Anyway, various polls have shown Altmire up by 11 or 12 percent, but we expect Altmire to win 57 to 43 percent.”

As Election Day approached, Rothfus was gaining in the polls as Republicans sensed a possibility of victory. By Nov. 2nd his lead had almost evaporated and Altmire won 50.8 to 49.2 percent, a thin margin of4,025 votes.
Altmire trailed Rothfus in Allegheny, Butler, and Westmoreland Counties by 9,189 votes. But Altmire led by 13,214 votes in Beaver, Lawrence, and Mercer Counties.

Jason Altmire’s Stance: Democrat In Name Only (DINO)

In his Nov. 6th column “Are Democrats an endangered species in Beaver County?”, J.D. Prose stated: “Independent research…has shown that Republicans are turning the county into a political graveyard for Democrats up and down the ballot … except if you’re U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire.”

In an article in the Pittsburgh online examiner, Rachel Kowalick, a conservative commentator, highlighted Altmire’s political stance in this election.

Altmire’s campaign strategy at this point seems to be running like hell from the Democratic leadership and agenda, while reminding voters that he’s popular as well as moderate. His first campaign ad is all about his willingness to “stand up to the President… and Nancy Pelosi.” And in today’s Trib-Review, he’s quoted as saying, “I spent the summer in my district…and everywhere I went, people told me they were happy that I took a stance against Pelosi and Obama’s policies.”

Kowalick summarized Altmire’s campaign “as a Democrat who’s against the Democrats.”

Columnist J.D. Prose in the October 10, 2010 Beaver County Times wrote:

Over the last several weeks, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire has been dubbed a poster boy for Democratic incumbents running against the Democratic Party. Here are a few examples:

“Democrats running scared” trumpeted talkingpointsmemo.com in the headline for a story in which Altmire was Exhibit No. 4.
“Mr. Altmire is running away with it, by running away from the president,” wrote the Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Weisman.
Alison Harding wrote on CNN’s Political Ticker blog that “… many Democratic candidates facing tough races are distancing themselves from the national party …” and she then cited Altmire’s ad that “touts his independence from President Obama.”

Even that other Times — the one in New York City — pointed to Altmire’s ad bragging about his vote against health-care reform for a story on Democratic woes.

As a leading politician in the 4th Congressional District, it is Jason Altmire’s political stance that is playing a major role in “turning the county into a political graveyard for Democrats up and down the ballot.” Continue reading It’s a Good Time to Review Our Tactics & History with ‘Blue Dogs’

What’s Changed in Western Pa after Trump’s First Year?

The state of our region 

PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE

JAN 27, 2018 – Just ahead of the State of the Union speech President Donald Trump gives Tuesday, Post-Gazette reporters have gathered information on the state of Western Pennsylvania and what people involved in politics, government, business, religious life, health care and environmental issues see in the months ahead.

Health Care

A year after the newly inaugurated president promised quick repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and despite efforts to replace Obamacare over the ensuing 12 months, the program is quite alive, with more than 8 million Americans signed up for 2018 plans including nearly 400,000 Pennsylvanians.

Locally, both UPMC Health Plan and Highmark say they remain committed to offering ACA plans locally, even as one expands and the other steps back. In 2017, UPMC offered ACA policies in all 29 Western Pennsylvania counties, including one of the lowest-cost Silver plans in the U.S., while Highmark withdrew from 17 of the 29 counties after suffering massive losses in the marketplace’s first years.

Still waiting for Congress to act, Pennsylvania community health centers begin cutbacks
For the current year, the Consumer Health Coalition on the North Side reports helping 1,248 people — including 784 who qualify for medical assistance — signed up for 2018 ACA plans, which “overshot our goals significantly,” said executive director Lou Ann Jeremko.

But attacks on the ACA nationally, such as eliminating the tax penalty in 2019 on those who do not obtain insurance, leaves the future stability of the marketplace still in question.

Taxes

While corporations stand to reap the biggest windfall from the Republican tax overhaul, average workers here and across the country are likely to see a slight increase in pay due to an adjustment in the federal income tax withholding tables.

Higher income workers will benefit more than lower income workers when the tax savings are considered dollar for dollar, although it is difficult to say exactly how much more because different taxpayers have different exemptions that contribute to the bottom line.

But in general, a worker earning about $2,000 a month may see a pay increase of about $10, whereas a taxpayer earning $200,000 a year could see a benefit of a couple thousand dollars.

With the top tax rate for corporations slashed from 35 percent to 21 percent, many corporations see an opportunity to increase employee salaries, said Alex Kindler, a partner at H2R CPA in Green Tree. “We’ve had tax cuts before, but this is the first time I’ve had so many corporate clients say they will pass the savings on by increasing pay to workers.”

Social Services

Advocates for the poor fear the president and congressional Republicans could enact major cuts to safety-net programs such as Medicaid, which provides health insurance for low-income and disabled people, or the food stamp program.

They also fear cuts to funds for affordable housing, money for heating assistance, legal help for the poor, or Supplemental Security Income, a program for people with disabilities.

“We are generally concerned that another year will go by without any real policies to address poverty and hunger,” said Emily Cleath, a spokeswoman for Pittsburgh anti-hunger advocacy group Just Harvest. “These should include passing HR 1276 so that SNAP [food stamps] benefit amounts better reflect the actual cost of a healthy diet, raising the federal minimum wage, mandating paid Family and Medical Leave, addressing the critical shortage of affordable housing, and funding universal high-quality childcare and preK. Imagine how great a nation we would be if we could provide those things. Instead, this administration and Republican leaders in Congress seem more interested in perpetuating the War on the Poor.” Continue reading What’s Changed in Western Pa after Trump’s First Year?

China Energy MOU Impact Paying Dividends for Northern Panhandle Properties

Frontier Weirton demo

 Crews from Frontier Industrial are demolishing old, unused steel-making properties in Weirton, preparing hundreds of acres for reuse. Staff photo by Linda Harris
By Linda Harris
WVA News

MOUNDSVILLE, Jan 2, 2018 — China Energy’s potential $84 billion investment in energy projects in the Mountain State has sparked an uptick in interest in available industrial properties throughout the Upper Ohio Valley, officials say.

The memorandum of understanding, or MOU, is not binding, meaning the Chinese company can still back out if it wants to.

“Everybody’s trying to figure out what it means,” said Bryce Custer, NAI spring real estate adviser, Energy Services.

Custer is working with New York’s Frontier Industrial Corp. to market vacant industrial properties in Marshall and Hancock counties.

“I think what it’s done is to create more of a sense of urgency for some companies.They realize if they want to have a facility in the area, they’d better speed up their game a bit,” Custer said. “So, yes, the MOU has had an impact; we are seeing a good bit more activity.”

Custer said he’s been busy fielding calls from clients “looking from Moundsville north to Monaca, Pennsylvania,” where Royal Dutch Shell has already begun building a $6 billion-plus ethane cracker. Frontier’s properties in the Upper Ohio Valley — a 58-acre parcel that once housed a power plant in Moundsville, as well as a thousand surplus acres that steel giant ArcelorMittal wants to unload in Weirton — are generating a tremendous amount of interest because of their river and rail access, he said.

“We’ve got a good bit of activity right now with (the Kammer) facility. We’re working with companies not only within the U.S., but also with some companies overseas. There’s a good bit of interest right now in properties that have rail and barge access for a variety of products. They’re diverse companies … petrochemical companies, straight chemical companies and also plastics and derivatives,” he said.

Continue reading China Energy MOU Impact Paying Dividends for Northern Panhandle Properties

We Are the Only Oil-and-Gas State Not Taxing Drilling

Strapped for cash, Pennsylvania may finally grant the governor a victory and enact a severance tax. But it’s an uphill battle.
Governing Magazine
DECEMBER 2017 – Hydraulic fracking has “brought back great-paying jobs,” says Steve Miskin, spokesman for Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai. (AP Photo/Ralph Wilson, File)

If your state is the only oil and gas producer in the nation that doesn’t have a severance tax, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on you to enact one. But given the amount of money involved, it’s easier to talk about creating such a tax than actually imposing it. In Pennsylvania, that talk has blossomed into a fight over more than just money; it now involves lobbying, environmental protection and the next campaign for governor.

Pennsylvania became the first place in the world to successfully drill for oil back in the 1850s. Over the past decade, however, natural gas has overtaken oil as the big game in the state. Pennsylvania is now the nation’s second-leading producer of natural gas, after Texas. Naturally, lawmakers are wary of tampering with the golden goose. “Right now, you have an industry that’s growing and not asking for state dollars, like others,” says Steve Miskin, a spokesman for state House Speaker Mike Turzai. “It has brought back great-paying jobs.”

The industry has spent more than $60 million on lobbying and campaign donations in the state over the past decade to ward off a severance tax on its profits. Industry officials like to point out that, even in the absence of a severance tax, Pennsylvania’s general business tax rates are often higher than those in other production states — notably Texas, which doesn’t tax corporate income. What’s more, Pennsylvania five years ago imposed an impact fee on drillers, which generated $173 million last year. “The comparison with other states shouldn’t stop and start just with the severance tax,” says Kevin Sunday, chief lobbyist with the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. “We have to look at the whole structure.”

But no one disputes that fiscally challenged Pennsylvania could use the money a severance tax would bring in — easily as much as $100 million a year. So quite a few legislators are determined to pass one. The state Senate actually approved a severance tax earlier this year.

It’s been a tough sell in the House, though, and not only because Turzai and other Republicans are largely opposed. State Rep. Greg Vitali, a Democrat who became the first legislator to propose a severance tax nearly a decade ago, came out against the Senate package, arguing it would also loosen state control of drilling permits and weaken environmental protection. “I find myself in the odd position during these budget negotiations to suddenly be opposing it,” he says. “The passage of a severance tax now is linked to some very bad provisions that in my view would cripple the Department of Environmental Protection’s ability to do its job.”

Meanwhile, the severance tax has become a sensitive campaign issue. A leaked tape captured Republican state Sen. Scott Wagner, a likely gubernatorial candidate next year, predicting that passage of the tax would guarantee a second term for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, a leading severance tax advocate, because he’d have a big victory to tout.

The specter of handing Wolf a win has become the final and perhaps the biggest hurdle for the severance tax to overcome. “Both the Democrats and the Republicans,” Vitali says, “are viewing the severance tax through the lens of the gubernatorial election.”

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