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‘We have rights’: Renters protest ‘unlivable’ conditions at Aliquippa’s Towne Towers

Chrissy SuttlesBeaver County TimesView Comments

Tamika Lee with Beaver County United on Wednesday urged Towne Towers residents to start a claim with Neighborhood Legal Services and withhold their rent until property owners address 'unlivable conditions' at the 434 Franklin Ave. building.

ALIQUIPPA — Iris Jackson says she hasn’t had reliable heat in six days as frigid air continues to grip western Pennsylvania.

That’s par for the course at downtown Aliquippa’s Towne Towers, the longtime tenant said, as is rampant flooding, pests and mold. 

Jackson, using her walker for support, joined Beaver County United activists on Wednesday demanding property owners address “unlivable conditions” at the century-old 434 Franklin Ave. building.

Such conditions, Jackson said, include unpredictable heating in the winter, inadequate air conditioning in the summer, flooding due to unrepaired pipes, water-damaged ceilings, rodent infestations and broken elevators.

The rodent infestation has led to feces and urine in the halls and ceilings, residents reported at the rally. Mold and mildew are often spotted throughout the 60-unit building that houses a number of low-income renters, including older adults with disabilities. 

Iris Jackson, of Aliquippa, tells Aliquippa Code Enforcement Officer Jim Bologna about the “deplorable” state of Towne Towers at Wednesday’s rally.

Speaking outside of the Aliquippa City Building, Jackson said property managers are abusing their power and ignoring renters’ complaints.

“No one should have to go without heat in the middle of winter,” Jackson said. “As tenants, we have rights. Rats…I almost sat on one. I killed another in my kitchen; I have urine and feces coming down my ceiling from 2020 that’s still not fixed.”

Towne Towers is owned by Texas-based Eureka Multifamily Group, which also owns Valley Terrace Apartments in Aliquippa. The company on its website touts a range of amenities at both properties, including “individually controlled central air and heating.” Calls made to the building’s office and Eureka leadership were not immediately returned Wednesday. 

“I think tenants should withhold their rent until housing fixes their situation,” said Tamika Lee with Beaver County United, urging residents to start a claim with Neighborhood Legal Services. “If you are paying your rent, there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to access your building. Forcing tenants to pay rent in unlivable conditions like this is violent, and management needs to be held accountable for neglecting their tenants while taking their money.”

Property owners and landlords are facing widespread scrutiny throughout the region for their sluggish response to heating interruptions as temperatures plummet. 

More:The Cornerstone of Beaver County offering aid across Beaver County

Towne Towers, at 434 Franklin Ave. in Aliquippa, is over 100 years old.

State laws governing landlords are sometimes hard to enforce. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in the 1970s established the “implied warranty of habitability” that entitles renters to a safe, habitable home. This, in part, requires landlords to make non-cosmetic repairs that would otherwise put lives or welfare at risk, including lack of running water and inadequate heat in the winter. 

Landlords are also typically responsible for eliminating insect or rodent infestations and fixing substantial leaks. What’s considered “adequate” heat in a rental unit is often determined at the municipal level, according to the Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania.

The city “isn’t sitting idly by,” said Aliquippa Mayor Dwan Walker and Aliquippa Code Enforcement Officer Jim Bologna, but because the building is privately owned and receives Section 8 funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, their influence is “limited.”

“The city has been fighting,” Walker said. He and Bologna have met with HUD officials and property owners to work toward a solution, they said.

Western Pennsylvania Is Dying – Or Is It?

By Andrew Cuff

TribLive

Dec. 18, 2021 – To many Americans, the regions surrounding Pittsburgh have become a collection of “ghost towns” to avoid or a lost culture to elegize. Western Pennsylvania is now a socially acceptable target for stereotypes conjuring images of blighted vacant lots, shuttered mills and welfare recipients addicted to painkillers.

Even the familiar term “Rust Belt” lends itself to images of decline. Showtime’s new small-town Pennsylvania drama “American Rust,” which one reviewer called a “badly written chunk of misery porn,” subjects viewers to tropes like teen criminality, desperate and unemployed parents with starving kids, and cold, unloving neighbors. The show dramatizes every cherry-picked anecdote and caricature wielded by Politico in one 2017 report on the Trump voters of Johnstown.

But Johnstown community leaders responded brilliantly to Politico’s depiction of their neighborhoods. Their argument — that focusing only on the negative is disingenuous — holds true in 2021, too. While pessimists insist that 2020 census data herald demographic disaster in Pittsburgh’s outlying counties, including Johnstown’s Cambria County, a balanced look at the numbers tell a different story.

It’s true that three of Pennsylvania’s eight western counties, the most rural ones, saw a significant decline in population from 2010 to 2020. This 6% average decline likely is due to aging, death or outmigration. The region as a whole grew, but only by 0.5% — a rate that lags the state and national averages (2.4% and 7.4%, respectively).

But comparing these numbers with the 2000 and 2010 census shows these statistics are well within the margin of natural fluctuation or at least remain on steady pace with trends that date to the 1950s. If anything, Western Pennsylvania is not experiencing any truly worrying trend of “population drain” — at worst, it is seeing merely plodding growth.

Besides, population explosions are not always a good thing. Outgoing Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto has spent six years furiously trying to reverse the city’s seven-decade trend of population loss, focusing on quantity at the expense of quality. Mayor-elect Ed Gainey, who defeated Democrat Peduto in May’s primary, emphasized the city’s strengths — hospitality, flexibility and culture — as a blueprint for reform. Pittsburghers don’t want to create an unlivable city just to meet an arbitrary population goal.

This outlook is even more prevalent in Western Pennsylvania’s small towns. Ask any resident of Greensburg or Irwin, for example, if their priority is flooding their towns with new residents. If such places were in demographic crisis, that goal might make sense. Instead, these small towns have focused on stability during and after covid, especially for their small business communities.

A localist philosophy was key to these towns’ resilience during the pandemic. According to the Pennsylvania Economic League of Greater Pittsburgh’s Business Conditions Survey, 65% of the region’s small businesses (100 or fewer employees) reported steady or increased demand for their goods and services by December 2020. And this September, 89% of small businesses reported staffing remained steady or increased quarter over quarter in 2021, while 40% of small businesses have raised wages since May.

That’s because small-town consumers made it a point to buy local during and after the pandemic, a trend evidenced early on by April 2020 survey results from the National Retail Federation. The success of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) co-ops also made an impact in Western Pennsylvania, where ubiquitous farmers markets constitute a genuine parallel grocery option.

One example of a business bolstered by loyal customers during the pandemic is Disobedient Spirits, a craft distiller in Indiana County’s Homer City. Manager Rachel Russell described the phenomenon as a “shutdown surge,” telling me that statewide pandemic restrictions lost them plenty of bar and table business, but individual sales shot up. “For a few weeks, orders were off the charts because we were the only place to buy liquor for miles in any direction,” she recalled. “It dropped some after the state-owned stores reopened, but we kept a lot of regulars.”

With this buy-in from the community, small-town leaders were able to invest in local initiatives spotlighting local distinctives. Forest County’s Marienville, for instance, has made the most of its unique snowmobiling trails, becoming a tourism and retirement destination with skyrocketing property values.

Downtown revitalization efforts like the Main Street beautification in my hometown of Latrobe generate unparalleled resilience and small business growth, according to the Brookings Institution.

Structural changes that will persist after the pandemic suggest that the region’s small towns are likely to get even stronger. Highly educated remote workers are exiting expensive cities in historic numbers, and small-town living is the best way to stretch their dollar — especially during the current hyperinflation and tight housing market. Others fleeing social unrest, politicized school districts or exorbitant covid restrictions will follow the same pattern.

Now is Pennsylvania’s moment to strengthen small towns by giving them room to be unique. Regulations, bureaucracy, and heavy taxes – whether imposed from Harrisburg or Washington — will only burden small towns with the same economic sluggishness as major cities. These places are a hedge against centralization and inequality, often representing the last sound option for millennials or minorities to own homes, start businesses and raise children.

Neither Showtime dramas nor census results capture the strength and resilience of western Pennsylvania. We don’t need an elegy — we need to stay the course of community, solidarity and commonsense policy.

Gov. Tom Wolf will appoint mail voting advocate Leigh M. Chapman to be Pa.’s new top elections official

By SEAN COLLINS WALSH Philadelphia Inquirer DECEMBER 28, 2021

Leigh M. Chapman will become acting secretary of the commonwealth on Jan. 8.
Leigh M. Chapman will become acting secretary of the commonwealth on Jan. 8.Read moreOffice of Gov.

Gov. Tom Wolf plans to appoint Leigh M. Chapman, a lawyer who leads a nonprofit that promotes mail voting, to be the state’s next top elections official, tasking her with overseeing a midterm election cycle that will bring national scrutiny to Pennsylvania while the state fends off continued GOP attacks stemming from the 2020 presidential election.

Chapman will become acting secretary of the commonwealth on Jan. 8, Wolf announced Monday. She previously served as policy director in the agency she will soon head, the Department of State, from 2015 to 2017.

“Throughout my career, I have worked to ensure that voting rights are protected, and to improve access to the ballot box,” Chapman said. “I look forward to continuing that work in my new role, and to build on the tremendously successful election reforms in Pennsylvania over the last several years.”

Chapman will replace Veronica Degraffenreid, who received praise from Wolf for overseeing the office in an acting capacity following the February resignation of the last permanent secretary, Kathy Boockvar.

Wolf originally intended to elevate Degraffenreid to a permanent role in the office but withdrew the nomination after she clashed with Senate Republicans over their controversial review of the 2020 presidential election. She will become a special adviser to Wolf after Chapman takes over the department.

Wolf’s announcement Monday was silent on whether he intended Chapman to assume the secretary role on a permanent basis, which would require legislative confirmation.

“She will be acting secretary, where she will be able to perform the full duties and responsibilities of a confirmed secretary,” Wolf spokesperson Elizabeth Rementer said in a separate statement.

The chain of events leading to Chapman’s appointment began with Boockvar, who oversaw the implementation of Pennsylvania’s 2019 mail voting law, which was passed with bipartisan support and administered the presidential election cycle amid the coronavirus pandemic. Decisions she made around mail balloting became the target of GOP attacks on the integrity of the 2020 election in Pennsylvania, fueled by false statements by former President Donald Trump and his Republican supporters.

She resigned unexpectedly months later due to an unrelated issue when it was revealed that her office bungled the administration of a referendum to extend the statute of limitations for civil claims filed by child sex abuse victims against their abusers. The Department of State is required to advertise state constitutional amendments before they are placed on the ballot but failed to do so in time for the 2021 primary.

Chapman, 37, who earned her law degree from Howard University and her undergraduate from the University of Virginia, has previously worked for the law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf and for the nonprofits Let America Vote, the Advancement Project, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Chapman’s appointment may draw objections from Republicans because she will be rejoining state government after serving as executive director of Deliver My Vote, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that helps voters obtain mail ballots and researches the impact of voting by mail.

The group’s website lists Brian Dunn as a founder. He is a partner in a firm called Field Strategies, which on its website says it “has been instrumental in securing victories for Democratic Presidents, Governors, U.S. Senators, U.S. Representatives and statewide ballot initiatives” and runs voter registration and “vote-by-mail signup drives, helping to reshape the electorate favorably for Democratic causes.”

Although Republicans and Democrats worked together to pass the state’s mail balloting law before the pandemic, it became a partisan issue largely thanks to Trump baselessly questioning whether voting by mail allowed Democrats to steal the election from him. Trump’s lies about mail balloting have caused many GOP voters to abandon voting by mail despite using it in the past in roughly equal numbers as Democrats.

In 2020, more than 2.6 million Pennsylvanians voted by mail in the presidential election, while fewer than 300,000 voted by mail in 2016, before the law took effect. Most of the growth was in Democratic ballots, analysts say.

Further complicating matters for Chapman, the department she will soon lead is still facing attacks from Republicans over the 2020 election, with GOP lawmakers in the state Senate pursuing a controversial review of the results.

“I have full confidence that Leigh M. Chapman will continue the Department’s efforts to lead Pennsylvania through a smooth election process and ensure that Pennsylvania voters continue to experience free and fair elections, among many responsibilities,” Wolf, a Democrat, said in a statement.

That scrutiny is likely to increase next year, as Pennsylvania voters will pick a new governor and U.S. senator and play a key role in deciding control of Congress. Additionally, state leaders are hashing out new district maps for the legislature and U.S. House delegation.

Republican leaders in the General Assembly did not return requests for comment Monday.

What The Infrastructure Bill Could Mean For PA Amtrak Expansion

Amtrak train at Bryn Mawr, Pa. traveling westbound towards Pittsburgh
Wikimedia Commons photo by Tam0031

By Ryan Deto
Pittsburgh City Paper

President Joe Biden signed the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill on Nov. 15, which would funnel federal funds to a bevy of infrastructure projects across the country. Pennsylvania is due to get money for roads, bridges, public transit, broadband, and more. For Pittsburgh, it could mean funding busway extensions, new highway interchanges, and sewage and stormwater improvements.

But another big winner in the bill is Amtrak. The national train provider is set to receive $66 billion in funding that will go to fleet acquisition, state grants, rail projects, and improvements across the Amtrak system, says Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn in an interview with NBC News.

What that means for Pennsylvania is likely to be worked out over time, as agreements have to be reached with private rail companies and likely additional state funding should be allocated.

However, Amtrak has already provided a plan for expansion in case the infrastructure bill was passed. And Amtrak officials have said the funding allocated should be enough to move forward with these plans.

And Pennsylvania is a clear winner in that Amtrak proposal. The Keystone State could see 15 new train round trips under Amtrak’s 2035 Vision Plan, and that includes three new routes serving cities in Eastern Pennsylvania, as well as additional trips to and from Pittsburgh.

The 15 additional train round trips in Pennsylvania as proposed by Amtrak are:


1 new round trip between Pittsburgh and New York City, which includes an extension to Cleveland
1 new round trip between Cleveland and Buffalo, that would travel through Erie
3 new round trips between Scranton and NYC
3 new round trips between Reading and Philadelphia
2 new round trips between Allentown and NYC
5 new round trips between Harrisburg and NYC on the Keystone Service

For Pittsburgh, this would add intercity service to Cleveland that leaves and arrives at a reasonable hour. Currently, rail travel between the two Rust Belt cities is done between midnight and 5 a.m.

Adding another round trip between Pittsburgh and New York City could also provide options for commuters in Westmoreland or Cambria counties to travel by rail into Pittsburgh. Currently, the Pennsylvanian train arrives in Pittsburgh at 8 p.m. and leaves towards Harrisburg at 7:30 a.m.

But Eastern Pennsylvania is the real winner in the Amtrak proposal. Three new lines have been proposed that would expand train service into Scranton, Allentown, and Reading.

Final alignments are not complete, but the proposal says the Scranton line will connect the Northeastern Pennsylvania city, which is the birthplace of President Biden, to New York City. The route includes stops in Tobyhanna, Mt. Pocono, and East Stroudsburg before entering New Jersey.

The proposed Allentown line would connect the Lehigh Valley city, now the third largest in the state, to New York City, and includes stops in Bethlehem and Easton before entering New Jersey.

A line from Reading is proposed to connect to Philadelphia (with eventual passage to New York City) and proposed stops include Pottstown, Phoenixville, King of Prussia, and Norristown.

Erie will see additional roundtrip traveling from Cleveland to Buffalo. This route doesn’t have any additional stops in Pennsylvania but does add stops in Ashtabula, Ohio, and Westfield, N.Y.

The proposal, which still has many details to work out, has garnered support from Pennsylvania politicians State Reps. Joe Ciresi (DMontgomery) and Manuel Guzman (DBerks). who represent areas that would get additional train service under the proposal. They praised the plan after the infrastructure bill passed the U.S. House on Nov. 10.

Gov. Tom Wolf met and spoke with Amtrak officials on Sept. 10 and he said the proposed expansion will “improve equity, accessibility, and reliability in transportation” for the commonwealth. He also called on the state government to match the federal response.

“We need statelevel transportation solutions to match this federal leadership so we can build and sustain this vision,” said Wolf in a September press release. “I am pleased to support this plan which would expand services to many more Pennsylvanians, strengthen local businesses, the regional economy, and the commonwealth as a whole.”

GOP State Lawmakers File Lawsuit to Have Mail-in Voting Tossed Out

By J D Prose

Beaver County Times

Sept 3, 2021 – Lawmakers argued in the suit filed late Tuesday in Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court that Act 77, under which no-excuse mail-in voting was allowed, violates the state and U.S. constitutions and should have been pursued through a state constitutional amendment, even though 11 of them voted for the legislation in 2019.

The GOP legislators on the lawsuit are: 

  • Timothy Bonner, Mercer County, who was not in office when Act 77 passed. 
  • Mike Jones, York County, who voted for Act 77. 
  • David Zimmerman, Lancaster County, who voted against Act 77. 
  • Barry Jozwiak, Berks County, who voted for Act 77. 
  • Kathy Rapp, Warren County, who voted for Act 77. 
  • David Maloney, Berks, who voted for Act 77. 
  • Barbara Gleim, Cumberland County, who voted for Act 77. 
  • Bob Brooks, Westmoreland County, who voted for Act 77. 
  • Aaron Bernstine, Lawrence County, who voted for Act 77. 
  • Timothy Twardzik, Schuylkill County, who was not in office when Act 77 passed. 
  • Dawn Keefer, York County, who voted for Act 77. 
  • Dan Moul, Adams County, who voted for Act 77. 
  • Frank Ryan, Lebanon County, who voted for Act 77. 
  • Bud Cook, Washington County, who voted for Act 77. 

“Last year, over 2.5 million Pennsylvanians embraced mail-in voting and other safe secure and modern forms of voting which Act 77 allowed for the first time in the commonwealth,” said Lyndsay Kensinger, a spokesperson for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. 

“The fact that members of the General Assembly who voted for Act 77 and were chosen for office in elections in which it was in effect are now suing to overturn it is hypocritical and a betrayal of voters,” Kensinger said. “We should continue to modernize our election system and make it more convenient for voters to make their voices heard. Instead these members are seeking to silence voters as they perpetuate false claims of a stolen election.”

However, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a likely Democratic candidate for governor in 2022, said Thursday on Twitter: “This lawsuit is not only the height of hypocrisy, but it also has real consequences and damages public trust in our elections.” 

After initially supporting mail-in voting, Republicans have followed former President Donald Trump’s calls against the practice and launched several legal attacks on the process, although none of them have been successful.  

Trump began baselessly warning about mail-in voting fraud last year before the November election when it became clear that Democrats were flocking to mailed ballots amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  

More:Wolf, Democrats say Pa. already had election audits — and Biden won

More:A bill overhauling Pa.’s election law could soon pass the House. What’s the fight over?

GOP election probe 

As Trump’s evidence-free claims continue, Republican lawmakers have repeatedly called into question the results of the presidential election, but not the races that they won. 

On Thursday, the state Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee announced that it has created a webpage for Pennsylvania voters to submit sworn testimony about their voting experiences and any irregularities they have witnessed.  

The effort is part of what committee Chairman Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson County, called an election integrity investigation. Testimony can be submitted at https://intergovernmental.pasenategop.com/electioninvestigation/.

Dush recently replaced state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin County, as committee chairman after Mastriano was removed amid bickering with Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman over the committee’s efforts to subpoena records from York, Tioga and Philadelphia counties.

Mastriano has been at the forefront of the movement questioning the 2020 election results and was part of a Republican group that visited Arizona to review the GOP-led election audit there.  

Dush also said that the committee will hold public hearings and request documents from counties and the Pennsylvania Department of State “to conduct a comprehensive election investigation – including potentially using the committee’s subpoena powers,” according to a statement. 

Governor Wolf Talks Revitalization During Aug 11 Visit to Aliquippa

Gov. Tom Wolf, right, stands beside Aliquippa Mayor Dwan Walker on Wednesday in Aliquippa. Wolf visited the city to discuss ways Aliquippa will use the $11 million in state grants it has received since 2015.
Aliquippa Mayor Dwan Walker with Gov Wolf

ALIQUIPPA — Gov. Tom Wolf visited Aliquippa Wednesday morning to take a closer look at what a several-million-dollar investment into the city will look like.

The city was awarded several state grants since 2015 reaching a little over $11 million. Each grant targets innovation and revitalization in the old mill town, which has struggled economically since the demise of the steel industry.

Talking Tykes:Aliquippa: Some of the greatest started here, but it wants to be more than a football town

“If you think about the history of Aliquippa, 51% of the population lived and worked in that mill,” Mayor Dwan Walker said Wednesday. “So why not us? Why not Aliquippa come back as a phoenix rising from the ashes, why not a renaissance in Aliquippa?”

Walker explained what the city has done, and plans to do in the future, with the grant money. 

Some of those projects include reconfiguration of the Route 51 interchange, manufacturing, updated housing and commercial buildings, updated zoning ordinances, pedestrian and vehicle safety measures, and other developments spearheaded by local committees, residents and officials, including the Aliquippa school board, city council and water authority, the city Economic Development Corporation, and others.

Wolf visited the East End Development Site in Aliquippa to see how state investments have helped the city to remove blighted properties and prepare the land near a Route 51 interchange for future business development and prepare to capitalize on the petrochemicals plant that Shell Chemicals is constructing a few miles from the city. 

Aliquippa Mayor Dwan Walker, right, answers questions from the press on Wednesday during a visit from Gov. Tom Wolf, left, to discuss ways the city will use the $11 million in state grants it has received since 2015.

More than $7.7 million of the $11 million will support the East End Development Site.

Some of the investments made in Aliquippa to date include:

  • Grant and low-interest loan financing to perform environmental site assessments and remediation work at former industrial sites through the Industrial Sites Reuse Program.
  • Funding through the Blight Remediation Program to assist with blight remediation.
  • $7 million to reconfigure the Route 51 interchange adjacent to the East End Development site through the TIIF program.
  • $72,500 in Act 47 funding to support Aliquippa in its redevelopment efforts.
  • $365,000 in Keystone Communities funding to demolish commercial buildings at the East End Development site.
  • $500,000 to make pedestrian and vehicular safety improvements to the main corridor on Fifth Avenue through the Multi-Modal Transportation Program
  • $140,233 to complete site preparation and clearance on the Bricks site project.
  • $25,000 through the Municipal Assistance Program to update land-use regulations including the zoning ordinance.
  • More than $2.4 million in Neighborhood Partnership Funding via a donation from BNY Mellon to fund the redevelopment of Aliquippa.

Visiting Aliquippa reminded Wolf of his own town of York. Before getting into politics, the governor said he was involved in revitalizing that community.

“I got into politics because I was concerned about my own community, York,” Wolf said. “And I saw in Dwan the kind of leadership that every community really needs.

“It takes both state and local leadership to make projects like Aliquippa’s effective,” he said.

“There is an inside game and an outside game, and state is the outside game, and we need to do what we can do to help, but it really is a wonderful thing when you have leadership and the energy that you’re showing, Dwan, because Aliquippa early deserves to be back to where it was, and even better,” Wolf said. “And you’re doing that, and I’m proud to be a partner with you.”

Some during Wednesday’s briefing asked if gentrification could result from these revitalization efforts.

Wolf said having local people spearhead these projects will help keep the integrity of the community.

“Who’s in charge of this development? That’s going to make a really big difference,” he said. “They’re not just at the table, they are the table.”

Walker said as a life-long resident of Aliquippa, he and others committed to these projects will make sure gentrification doesn’t happen.

“Gentrification is not something we speak of,” he said. “Everybody in this city will have an equal opportunity to speak on anything that comes. We’re looking for partners, we’re not looking for bullies.

“So if you want to sit down and talk about how the future is going to be, we’re here to listen. But if you’re going to come in and take advantage of us, we’ve already had that happen,” Walker added. “I don’t know why our residents think gentrification is going to happen — it’s not.” 

He called the projects and initiatives in the city “a renaissance of Aliquippa,” built on partnership and collaboration, and hope and possibility.”

“The state programs have helped usher in a renaissance in the city of Aliquippa,” Walker said.

Gov. Tom Wolf stands with local leaders during his visit to Aliquippa on Wednesday. Leaders spoke with the governor about ways the city will use the $11 million in state grants it has received since 2015.

Stop Catastrophic Climate Change in Congress

By Randy Shannon

August 1, 2021

The US Congress is an important battleground in the campaign to slow, stop, and reverse global warming induced catastrophic climate change. The dumping of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels is overwhelming planet Earth.

The financial weight of the coal, oil, and gas industries and their Wall Street owners floods Capitol Hill with their thousands of lobbyists. They write legislation then lobby and threaten Congress to pass dozens of laws that transfer public funds to their industry. These funds are transferred in numerous ways – tax credits, depletion allowances, interest rebates, research funds, loan guarantees, amortization, foreign tax credits, oil spill deductions, income tax exemptions, credits for coal washing.

The carbon polluting industry’s control of Congress guarantees that taxpayers, and actually all citizens, directly subsidize global warming. And we are increasingly victimized by the effects of catastrophic climate change – increased hurricanes, floods, fires; rising ocean levels; melting arctic ice with consequent growing release of methane hydrates that accelerate global warming.

On July 28 Rep. Michael Doyle PA-18 introduced HR4758, co-sponsored by Rep. Conor Lamb PA-17, Mike Kelly PA-16, and Bill Huizenga MI-2. This bill “amends the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to extend and modify the section 45 credit for refined coal from steel industry fuel, and for other purposes.” This bill has not been printed yet, so the details are not yet available. (https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/117/hr4758)

Continue reading Stop Catastrophic Climate Change in Congress

Forget Pennsyltucky! Welcome to PArizona!

IF WE LET MASTRIANO GET HIS WAY

Mastriano at Jan 6 Attack on Congress

By Tony Norman

Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Opinion Columnist

July 16, 2021 – Somewhere in the multiverse of possibilities, there probably exists a place where state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin) isn’t the Lex Luthor of Pennsylvania politics. Alas, that place isn’t here.

In this universe, Mr. Mastriano, who is expected to run for governor next year, is second to none in a party that has made fealty to Donald Trump and his cult of eternal grievance over a “stolen” election part of its brand.

Unlike most of his rivals who will also be vying for Mr. Trump’s blessings going into the primary next year, Mr. Mastriano isn’t just another dim bulb cursed with more ambition than imagination. That’s not to say he towers over his fellow Republicans intellectually, but he does possess a Trumpian canniness and disregard for reality that most don’t.

As Mr. Trump’s biggest hype man in this state, Mr. Mastriano has proven that by echoing and amplifying the ex-president’s Big Lie, he displays the shamelessness that all but guarantees he’ll be the gubernatorial choice for a party that signed away its conscience a long time ago. The Associated PressAnother county raises objection to Sen. Doug Mastriano’s Pennsylvania election audit

To be an elected Republican official in Pennsylvania these days requires a declaration that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Mr. Trump and that massive election fraud took place in this state on Nov. 3, most likely in the form of mail-in ballots.

Though Republicans maintained their majority in the Legislature despite Biden winning the state, many of those who won reelection or took office for the first time are willing to cast doubt on the integrity of their own victories to bolster the wounded ego of ‘Dear Leader’ who, at a minimum, always demands a mindless parroting of the Big Lie that the entire election was illegitimate.

Mr. Mastriano’s history of enabling the former president’s paranoia and fear-mongering is particularly notorious for its indifference to reality ranging from criticism of the state’s COVID-19 mask and lockdown mandates at the height of the pandemic to the aftermath of the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6.

On Nov. 27, Mr. Mastriano was one of the architects of a resolution that would permit the Legislature to appoint a new slate of delegates to the Electoral College that would be pledged to support Mr. Trump instead of President-elect Joe Biden. (Continued)

Continue reading Forget Pennsyltucky! Welcome to PArizona!

EVEN CONOR LAMB IS DONE WITH THE FILIBUSTER

The moderate Democrat says the Capitol riot changed his mind. Who’s next?

BY MARY HARRISJUNE 10, 20211:12 PM

SLATE.COM

Lamb stands with his head bowed and hands clasped in front of him. One uniformed officer stands in front of him and one behind him.
Rep. Conor Lamb pays his respects to Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 3. Demetrius Freeman/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Some people call Democratic Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb a conservative. He prefers to think of himself as a compromiser, a moderate in a polarized political world. Because he was first elected as a Democrat in a district that also elected Donald Trump, he’s often seen as a bellwether, an object lesson in reaching the voters Democrats have lost ground with over the last few years. So it surprised me that Lamb recently got on Twitter to voice his support for blowing up the filibuster. After watching the bipartisan push for a Jan. 6 commission fail spectacularly, Lamb says he felt like he had no choice—“the filibuster has to go.” On Thursday’s episode of What Next, I spoke to Lamb about why he’s taking this stand now, and what compromise means when there are fewer and fewer people to compromise with. This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Mary Harris: Right now the project of democracy is being politicized. Reforms that will increase the democratic project are seen as progressive or left-wing. But you’re trying to separate that out from your stances on issues like the environment or the economy. Are your constituents separating them out too? When you talk to them about the democratic values that you clearly hold, do they see those as apolitical values?

Conor Lamb: I think it’s still a little early in this process. I’ve noticed Washington, D.C., always moves a lot faster in conversation than people back here in my district, and so I am now every day on high alert for what’s happening to our democracy and what’s happening in these different states, and I’m not sure that the average person in my district is yet, particularly because you’re in Pennsylvania. We more or less are at a stalemate because we have a Democratic governor who’s not going to allow the legislature to do all these crazy things they’re doing elsewhere.

Even though the legislature is Republican-controlled.

Yes. And they have tried. We just had a bunch of state legislators travel to Arizona to watch the phony recount. But I can say with a lot of confidence, having got to know my constituents over the last three years, that they would expect me to continue working for achievements and compromises on issues like infrastructure, even as we debate the fundamental issues of our democracy. And that actually makes sense to me

In infrastructure, just to give you a quick example, there’s a lock on the Ohio River that makes it possible for barges to carry construction equipment and coal and all the things that they move on the river. It’s so old that it’s literally at a 50 percent chance of cracking in half and falling into the river in the next two years. And if that happened, not only the whole river would be shut down, but construction sites along the river would be shut down. People would lose their job. Traffic on the roads would increase. I mean, that’s a real scenario. If that happened, I don’t think anyone in my district is going to look at me and go, “Well, yeah, Conor, that’s not your fault because you were fighting with the Republicans about democracy.” I mean, there’s some basic stuff that we really have to try to get done for our people no matter what.

So you’re trying to make the case to your constituents that we need to be able to get these things passed because otherwise your stuff is going to break, and then it’s too late for us to fix it.ADVERTISEMENT

I would actually reverse it. I think that’s the case my constituents make to me on a pretty regular basis. And I agree with them. I think that we have to be able to do multiple things at once. But I’ll also say that my view on the filibuster, on the commitment to democracy that we have to have and the intensity with which we have to have that debate—that has evolved in three years. So I’m learning on the job and I’m trying to achieve this balance right now of working with the Republicans. And when I say the Republicans, really I’m mostly working with Republicans who did not vote to overturn the election. Many of the ones I’m working with voted to impeach Trump the second time.

Can you tell me about that evolution? You’ve said, “I practice bipartisanship because it’s supposed to get results.” But I think a lot of people would say it hasn’t been getting results for a while.

I always challenge people to make sure we know what we’re talking about when we say we’re not getting results, because we actually have, even in the depth of the Trump era, we’ve gotten bipartisan results on important topics. The same week that we did impeachment in the House the first time, we did the USMCA [United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement], probably the most important trade agreement in the United States in the last almost 30 years, by a massive bipartisan vote. And there have been other examples like that. So it still does happen, even though people correctly perceive that we’re in much more partisan times.

“If we can’t agree to have a peaceful transition of power, the rest of it doesn’t really matter.”— Rep. Conor Lamb

But I think the last three years have taught me that the Republicans have really made this whole attack on the ease of voting, and more generally an attack on telling the truth and meaning what you say and basing your statements on facts and true observations about the world—they’ve really made it a core pillar of their party because they have tied themselves so tightly to Trump. I don’t think every Republican walking around thinks that way, but they have all made the decision basically that he’s the head of their party, and so now all that really matters is what he wants or what pleases him. And Jan. 6 really revealed just how dangerous and sinister of a development that that is. …CONTINUED

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Criminal Justice Reforms, Progressive Victories, and Other Takeaways From a Historic 2021 Pittsburgh Primary Election

Peduto, left, defeated by Gainey.

By Ryan Deto
Pittsburgh City Paper

History was made on May 18, 2021. Ed Gainey secured the Democratic nomination for Pittsburgh mayor, almost certain to become the city’s firstever Black mayor. He ran on progressive policies, and to the left of incumbent Mayor Bill Peduto on policing. He focused his campaign on racial and economic inequalities, promising to do more to address these glaring issues in the Steel City.

While this moment is truly historic for Pittsburgh — a city and region that are overwhelmingly white, and have many documented instances of racism against Black people — there are also several other impressive electoral wins that deserve recognition.

Criminal justice reforms

Pittsburgh voters overwhelmingly passed a ban on no-knock warrants for Pittsburgh Police officers. “Yes” on the ban secured more than 81% of the vote. This initiative was inspired by Breonna Taylor, who was shot five times and killed by police officers after police entered her apartment on a noknock warrant.

Allegheny County voters also approved a ballot initiative that would limit the use of solitary confinement at the Allegheny County Jail. A “yes” on that question received 69% of the vote.

Additionally, out of nine open seats for Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, voters selected five candidates who were endorsed by a coalition of criminaljustice reform groups. Common Pleas Judges are responsible for overseeing trials for criminal, civil, and family cases and delivering sentencing.

The coalition said back in March that electing these candidates would help move reforms like reducing the use of cash bail, increasing diversionary programs and alternatives to carceral punishment, and other mechanisms to combat mass incarceration and racial and other demographic disparities in the system.

There were also victories at the Magisterial District Judge level. The Magisterial District Judge court is directly below Common Pleas and is responsible for assigning bail conditions, deciding eviction cases, and is a defendant’s first introduction to the state’s criminal judicial system. In Lawrenceville, candidate Xander Orenstein narrowly defeated incumbent Anthony Ceoffe on a platform of being more compassionate in eviction cases and limiting cash bail. Orenstein, if they were to win the general election, would become the state’s first nonbinary magistrate judge.

Jehosha Wright also won his race for Magisterial District Judge in the North Side, after receiving the backing of some criminal justice reformminded politicians.

Progressive victories over incumbents

On top of celebrating Gainey’s victory, which many progressive advocates are boosting, there were a series of other wins in smaller races that portend more momentum for progressives in Pittsburgh.

In Mount Oliver, JoAnna Taylor ousted Mount Oliver Mayor Frank Bernardini, a conservative Democratic incumbent who was seen last year with Democratic Mount Oliver council member Nick Viglione, who was sporting a MAGA hat at a Allegheny County Democratic Committee meeting. State Rep. Jessica Benham (DSouth Side) also congratulated Lisa Pietrusza for winning a spot on Mount Oliver Council, and Jamie Piotrowski for winning her election for Pittsburgh Public Schools board member.

“I am so thrilled about the progressive movement we are building in South Pittsburgh JoAnna, Jamie, & Lisa represent the hard organizing work we are doing in areas that don’t get much progressive political attention,” tweeted Benham on May 19.

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