Thursday, March 23, 2017

President Trump’s budget proposal would make Sen. Toomey’s sanctuary-city bill ineffective

Posted By on Thu, Mar 23, 2017 at 12:04 PM

Republican Sen. Pat Toomey decrying sanctuary cities at a campaign event  in October 2016. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Republican Sen. Pat Toomey decrying sanctuary cities at a campaign event in October 2016.
The Republican Party got serious about eliminating so-called “sanctuary cities” (municipalities that limit communication between local law enforcement and federal immigration officers) in the fall of 2015. On the campaign trail, then-candidate Donald Trump had been decrying them, claiming they were leading to increased crime by undocumented immigrants, even though a recent study from the libertarian think tank Cato Institute says the “incarceration rate for [undocumented] immigrants is lower than the incarceration rate for native white Americans.”

Regardless, Republican senators, like Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, got on board the anti-sanctuary-city train soon after Trump raised the issue's profile. For example, Toomey co-sponsored legislation in October 2015 to strip federal funds from “sanctuary cities,” and to get them to increase communication between local police officers and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

Toomey continued carrying the anti-sanctuary-city torch by reintroducing legislation in July 2016. Though that legislation failed to garner enough votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster, Toomey still backs ending sanctuary cities and said so as recently as February, in one of his telephone town halls.

But now, President Trump seems to be at odds with Toomey, at least in the details of their policy proposals. This week, Trump released a budget proposal with massive cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture and many programs that help cities and towns address infrastructure and housing.

Toomey’s Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act (S. 3100) proposes withholding federal funding from the Economic Development Administration and Community Development Block Grants as a way to pressure sanctuary cities to communicate and cooperate fully with ICE. But Trump’s budget proposal eliminates those two departments, leaving Toomey’s bill without anything to withhold. It’s like punishing a child by saying "no video games for a week," when the child doesn’t have any video games to begin with.

Toomey issued this statement shortly after Trump released his budget proposal: "After years of overspending, I am encouraged that the President has proposed actual spending cuts and has committed to maintaining the overall cap on discretionary spending. I look forward to carefully examining each of the proposed reductions in this budget proposal." (It should be noted that Trump's proposal doesn't reduce overall federal spending; it mostly just reallocates billions of dollars to the military.)

Trump has been criticized for making policy proposals that aren’t well constructed and can’t actually be applied. (For example, his second attempt at a travel ban for several Muslim-majority counties was held up this week by federal courts; Trump withdrew his first attempt after it was blocked by courts.)

Representatives from Toomey’s office did not return a request for comment for this article.

Sundrop Carter, of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizen Coalition, says she is not surprised that Trump’s proposal would undermine Toomey’s bill. But she says that in the end, it doesn’t really matter, because most GOP leaders would rather issue rhetoric that emboldens xenophobia and scares immigrant communities, than pass effective laws.

“Toomey's bill, like most anti-immigrant bills, is more about the rhetoric and pushing forward an anti-immigrant agenda than it is about the specifics of the bill," says Carter. "And the current administration clearly values the xenophobic value of policies more than their actual legitimacy or constitutionality.”

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Monday, March 20, 2017

‘Yinzers Against Jagoffs’ PAC forms demanding more accessibility from U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus

Posted By on Mon, Mar 20, 2017 at 4:53 PM

Darwin Leuba (right) says U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus is a chicken for not holding a town hall. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Darwin Leuba (right) says U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus is a chicken for not holding a town hall.
Constituents of U.S. Congressman Keith Rothfus (R-Sewickley) are done politely requesting a town hall with their representative. Now, they are moving to draw attention to the fact Rothfus has never held a town hall during his entire six-year tenure representing Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional district.

And one constituent is gathering attention in a very unique way: by donning a chicken costume.

Darwin Leuba is an 18-year-old resident of O’Hara Township. On March 18, Leuba stood outside Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland in full fowl-garb, greeting visitors to the health-care-related town hall of Pittsburgh-area U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Forest Hills).

“Rothfus is definitely a chicken for never hosting a town hall,” says Leuba. “It would be a great thing so we can understand his opinion. He should hold a town hall like Doyle.”

Leuba says he has been able to attend one of Rothfus’ “Coffee with Keith” events in the past, but says that Rothfus hasn’t held one of these low-key meetings in several months. (The coffee events usually only attract a handful of constituents and are typically scheduled during the middle of the day during the week, which Leuba says makes it impossible for many of Rothfus’ constituents to attend.) Rothfus has traveled to events throughout his district during Congress’ recesses this year, like a meeting in Aspinwall with firefighters and a talk at Duquesne University's law school, but the events were not announced publicly.

Leuba has grown so frustrated with Rothfus’ lack of accessibility that he created an official political-action committee, commonly referred to as a PAC, called the “Yinzers Against Jagoffs PAC” (Federal Election Commission ID is C00635169). He says the PAC is about increasing engagement in the 12th District, which spans six counties including Beaver, Allegheny and Cambria, with the ultimate goal of getting Rothfus to hold a town hall.

“It’s not just about buying more chicken suits,” says Leuba. “It is about outreach — bring a little hope that there will be more representation from our representative.”

Leuba's father, Sanford, was standing beside his son outside Soldiers & Sailors and is also concerned about how Rothfus will vote on the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. He says he would like to speak to Rothfus before a vote, which could come as early as March 23.

Leuba has been active in politics in the district and volunteered for Erin McClelland, Rothfus' political rival, last year. He says part of the reason Rothfus has continuously won re-election is because Rothfus stays relatively quiet, and voters don’t really understand his values and just support his incumbency.

“I think the way [Rothfus] does win, is that he lays low,” says Leuba. “I think when people actually know him and his stances, they will change their minds.”

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle defends the Affordable Care Act in two Congressional committees

Posted By on Thu, Mar 16, 2017 at 1:43 PM


Pittsburgh is a tiny island of blue surrounded by a sea of red. Pennsylvania’s 14th U.S. congressional district was won by Mike Doyle (D-Forest Hills) with 74 percent of the vote in 2016, but the next closest Pennsylvania Democratic-controlled U.S. House district is in Schuylkill County, more than 130 miles away.

But that isolation isn’t stopping Doyle from defending one of the Democrats' biggest accomplishments in the last decade, the passage of the Affordable Care Act. (Doyle will hold a town hall in Pittsburgh, on March 18, to listen to constituents' opinions on health care.)

Last week, Doyle spoke at two House committees, the Ways and Means Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee, where he staunchly defended the ACA, elevating his voice many times to make his point.

On March 8, speaking in the House Ways and Means Committee, Doyle said “there is a lot of amnesia on this committee” and reminded the representatives about the state of American health care before the implementation of the ACA.

“Insurance companies could discriminate against sick people,” said Doyle. “People had insurance, but had someone in the family with a chronic condition, and they would come up against their cap and people couldn’t get any more payment from their insurance company. They would hold fish frys to try to raise money for their kids, and eventually they went bankrupt and lost their homes. We put an end to that.”

Doyle then took issue with many Congressional Republicans who claim that the ACA is in “death spiral.” He said that House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wisconsin) bill, called the American Health Care Act, keeps many aspects that were created under the ACA, like allowing adults under 26 to stay on parents' health care and prohibiting insurance companies from charging higher prices to people with pre-existing conditions.

“Don’t call this failure, it's not a failure,” said Doyle. “If it was such a failure, why isn't that you haven’t just abolished all those things we did? You are keeping a lot of things. … Don’t cast the vote anyway and try to take credit that you have done something great for the American people. The only thing that is any good about what you are proposing, are the things that we did eight years ago in the Affordable Care Act.”

On March 9, in the Energy and Commerce Committee, which Doyle sits on, he continued his fiery defense of the ACA, even while recognizing the law needs adjusting.

“None of us think this bill is perfect,” said Doyle, of the ACA, on March 9. “I have never heard a single Democrat say that this bill is perfect. We knew that it needed work, and we wanted for the last seven years to work with Republicans to try and improve this bill. You guys weren't very interested in that.”

In 2010, the ACA passed the House by a vote of 219-212. All 178 House Republicans voted against the bill, a strategy orchestrated by then-House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Virginia). The day after the ACA cleared the house, House Republicans introduced a bill to repeal the law.

During the Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, some Republicans objected to the mandates in the ACA, and Doyle was confused by this objection.

“What mandate in the [ACA] bill does he take issue with?” asked Doyle. “Certainly not in the pre-existing conditions, or caps on benefits, or letting your child stay on the policy till 26. I am curious. What is it we are mandating?”

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Illinois) responded to Doyle’s question asking, “What about men having to purchase prenatal care? Is that not correct?”

Shimkus' objection was widely panned by pro-choice and women’s health groups, and picked up by almost every major news organization. Doyle was perplexed.

“There is no such thing as a la carte insurance, John,” said Doyle. Shimkus then said that health-insurance consumers should be able to “negotiate a plan that they want,” hinting that consumers should only have to pay for coverage they personally need.

However, individual health insurance did offer a la carte choices for maternity care before the ACA. But this system made it almost impossible for people to access maternity care through health insurance. The National Women’s Law Center reported in 2013 (before the ACA was fully implemented) that only 12 percent of individual market plans included maternity benefits, even as nine U.S. states mandated that maternity care be included in health coverage. Before the ACA, many maternity-care plans were actually more expensive than the cost of entire health-insurance plans.

Doyle’s public town hall will be held from 2-4 p.m. Sat., March 18, at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall, in Oakland.


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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Constituents and advocates protest anti-immigration stances of Pittsburgh-area state reps

Posted By on Tue, Mar 14, 2017 at 3:42 PM

Immigrant-rights advocates and constituents protest outside Dom Costa's office in Morningside. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Immigrant-rights advocates and constituents protest outside Dom Costa's office in Morningside.
In the aftermath of recent immigration stories like the deportation of Pittsburgh immigrant-rights advocate Martín Esquivel-Hernandez and President Donald Trump’s immigration executive orders, thousands of Pittsburgh residents have responded with a call to action. They are demanding local laws and policies that are sympathetic to immigrants, both documented and undocumented.

In contrast, many Pittsburgh-area Democratic state representatives have continued their support for bills that immigrant-rights activists say are harmful to law-abiding undocumented immigrants and their communities. Allegheny County Democratic state Reps. Dom Costa, Joe Markosek, Tony Deluca, Harry Readshaw and Bill Kortz all have a legislative history of supporting anti-immigrant legislation.

And a group of immigrant-rights advocates and constituents are not happy about it. On March 13, outside of Costa’s Morningside office, more than 30 people protested past and recent actions from Costa on immigration-related bills in the Pennsylvania legislature; 10 of the 30 people were Costa's constituents.

Costa and DeLuca (D-Penn Hills), for example, have recently co-sponsored HB 856 and HB 459, bills that would require Pennsylvania employers to use E-Verify to check if workers are legally authorized to work in U.S., and would impose penalties on business that hire undocumented workers.

On their faces, the bills appear to punish employers, not immigrants, but Guillermo Perez, of the Labor Council of Latin American Advancement, says the potential laws could further encourage employers to keep all workers off the books, thus exposing employees, including the undocumented, to sub-standard wages and working conditions. Additionally, mandatory E-Verify programs in other states have had mixed results, and penalties for hiring undocumented workers are already imposed by the federal government.

“This is not in place with our values,” said Perez at the protest. “Pittsburgh has a history of embracing working-class immigrants.”

Perez also called for Allegheny County Democratic state representatives to denounce HB 14, a bill encouraging college professors and administrators to tip off U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to undocumented immigrants, and SB 10, a bill that would strip funding from sanctuary municipalities.

“I am vehemently opposed to SB 10,” said Hannah Gerbe, a Costa constituent from Friendship. “It will only lead to increased racial profiling and deportations. I want Costa to pick the side of being welcoming and oppose these anti-immigrant bills.”

Representatives from Costa's office did not return a request for comment.

Costa was originally a co-sponsor on HB 14, and constituents and advocates protested in front of his office in February against his support. Costa later said he was incorrectly listed as a co-sponsor and vowed to vote against HB 14. Additionally, Costa, Markosek, Readshaw and Kortz all voted in favor of HB 1885 last year, which was a stricter anti-sanctuary-municipality bill than SB 10, since it required local police officers who have “reasonable cause” to believe an immigrant is undocumented to contact ICE.

Perez questions the intentions of these anti-immigrant bills. “How will any of this lead to economic growth and prosperity for workers and families?,” said Perez. “We need young, working-age people with families who want to make positive contributions to settle here in Pennsylvania.”

This idea has been echoed by both Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who both want to see an increase in immigrants moving to the area to fill soon-to-be vacated jobs and fight population decline. According to U.S. Census figures, from 2010-2015, the Pittsburgh metro area's population would have declined by thousands had 12,000 immigrants not moved in.

Immigrant-rights advocates understand the importance of attracting and keeping immigrants in the region too, and it appears they have many Allegheny County constituents on their side. Gabe McMorland, of the Thomas Merton Center, said last week that a group of advocates spent four days phone-banking constituents to inform them of their state representatives’ support for anti-immigrant legislation. McMorland said they contacted hundreds of constituents, and many were sympathetic to immigrant issues and unaware of their state representatives' support of the aforementioned bills.

McMorland said that advocates plan to rally more constituents and hold demonstrations outside the offices of Markosek, Readshaw, Kortz and DeLuca in the near future.


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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Pittsburgh candidates file election petitions for May primary

Posted By on Tue, Mar 7, 2017 at 1:48 PM

Mayor Peduto's election petitions - PHOTO COURTESY OF PEDUTO CAMPAIGN
  • Photo courtesy of Peduto campaign
  • Mayor Peduto's election petitions

Today, Mayor Bill Peduto's campaign submitted 3,939 election-petition signatures allowing him to stand for re-election in May's primary election.

According to Peduto's campaign, the number of signatures is nearly 16 times the minimum number required to qualify, and includes signatures of supporters from every neighborhood in the city. The signature count also exceeds the 2,500 petition signatures submitted by Peduto's 2013 campaign.

“The overwhelming support that we have seen over the past several weeks is a reflection of the enthusiasm that voters feeling about the direction of the city,” campaign manager Keyva Clark said in a statement. “We spoke with voters from Homewood to Banksville to Spring Hill and every other city neighborhood who were excited not only to sign on to support the Mayor’s re-election efforts, but also to give their time to volunteer to help the effort as well."

Today is the deadline to submit petitions for the May primary. We'll keep you apprised of any surprise filings.

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Monday, March 6, 2017

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey holds another last-minute social-media event

Posted By on Mon, Mar 6, 2017 at 5:49 PM

Screenshot from CBS 3 Philadelphia Facebook live feed of Pat Toomey's interview - IMAGE COURTESY OF WHAT'S PAT UP TO? TWITTER PAGE
  • Image courtesy of What's Pat Up To? Twitter page
  • Screenshot from CBS 3 Philadelphia Facebook live feed of Pat Toomey's interview
In the weeks following the large marches and protests at Pennsylvania offices of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, the Republican senator has taken some steps to meet with constituents who don’t approve of his agenda. He held a meeting on Feb. 24 with a few members of Pittsburgh’s Tuesdays with Toomey coalition, who have been organizing protests in Pittsburgh each week. And on Feb. 16, Toomey held a telephone town hall, where than 15,000 constituents listened in and 11 were allowed to ask questions.

On March 6, Toomey held another pseudo “talk to constituents” event, when he spoke to a Philadelphia TV reporter and answered some questions via social media. Toomey informed the public by tweeting 80 minutes before his TV appearance on CBS 3 Philadelphia.

During the 15-minute interview, Toomey answered questions about a few hot-button issues, including his opinion on U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has come under criticism for statements about meetings with the Russian ambassador during the presidential campaign. Last week, Sessions recused himself from a possible investigation into President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia during his campaign.

Toomey said he sees “absolutely no reason why [Sessions] needs to resign, in my view.” He also spoke about the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act and promised that health-care recipients would not be left without coverage. “We will not pull the rug out from anyone,” said Toomey.

Toomey said that a repeal vote from Congress would likely happen in March, but that the process to replace the ACA could take two to three years. To ensure that patients with pre-existing conditions still receive care, Toomey proposed a placing those patients in a government-subsidized pool, “where the insurance companies compete to cover them.”

However, when addressing the question of how to cover those who received coverage when some states expanded MediCaid through the ACA, Toomey was less specific and said “there is going to be a negotiation process.”

One question that came from social media suggested that Toomey was a rubber stamp for Trump’s agenda. Toomey rejected this notion and said that Trump has not proposed any legislation for him to support or reject. Toomey, who has voted in favor all of Trump’s cabinet picks, said that he voted to confirm three-fourths of Barack Obama's cabinet nominees.

“I am going to be an independent voice,” said Toomey. In the upcoming months, Toomey said he will be focusing on increasing national security and on growing the economy through pro-growth tax reform.

But some of Pittsburgh constituents are critical of the timing of Toomey’s social-media interview.
“I think given the timing of these so-called town-hall events, it's pretty clear that Senator Toomey is not interested in making himself accessible to working people,” says Mike Antonacci, of Pittsburgh.

Additionally, the interview proved difficult to access. City Paper waited for the video to load on CBS Philadelphia's website for several minutes without the video ever materializing. Eventually, CP was able to watch the interview through CBS Philadelphia's Facebook page, which filmed the interview via Facebook live, on a grainy and often shaky broadcast.

Twitter user Cathy Brennan, from Regent Square, also tried to watch the interview via the CBS Philadelphia website, but the video never loaded. Brennan’s tweet said “@SenToomey Link didn't even work on my computer! I had a blank screen @CBSPhilly from 2:00 sharp! Losers!”

Toomey said during his televised interview that he doesn’t know when he will hold an in-person town hall.

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Friday, March 3, 2017

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto releases first polling figures for 2017 mayoral race

Posted By on Fri, Mar 3, 2017 at 12:09 PM

IMAGE COURTESY OF BILLPEDUTO.COM
  • Image courtesy of billpeduto.com
After Nov. 8, 2016, Democrat-voting Americans learned that trusting political polling can be rife with heartbreak after the unlikely election of President Donald Trump. However, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, a Democrat, is hoping that trend doesn't continue into 2017, as he is up for re-election and has two challengers: the Rev. John Welch, of Homewood, and Pittsburgh City Councilor Darlene Harris (D-North Side).

On March 3, Peduto released the race’s first polling numbers and according to the poll, Peduto is leading the race with 57 percent support compared to 10 percent for Harris and 8 percent for Welch; 24 percent of voters are undecided. The poll, which surveyed 400 likely Democratic-primary voters from Feb. 27 to March 1, also asked Pittsburgh residents to assess Peduto’s performance in his first term. Peduto received a 63 percent approval rating, and 68 percent of pollsters said Pittsburgh was heading in the right direction versus 22 percent who disagreed.

City Paper reported in January 2016 that Peduto was receiving mostly high praise for his first term in office, with some critics wishing he was stronger in addressing the city’s affordable housing issues. Recently, Peduto has acted aggressively toward the developers of Penn Plaza, responding to the developer’s violations and taking them to court. He's also in the process of establishing new rules governing how city land is sold to ensure developers don’t take advantage of the city and its residents. This is a bit of swing for Peduto, who earlier in the Penn Plaza saga, offered a lighter touch and helped forged negotiations with the Penn Plaza developers and the tenants.

Welch has made increasing affordable housing one of his main campaign issues, and wants to see the city increase partnerships with nonprofits to do so. According to a Pittsburgh task force, the city is still in need of about 17,000 more affordable-housing units.

And again, CP wants to remind readers that polls consistently showed Trump trailing Hillary Clinton throughout 2016, but Trump still secured an electoral-college victory, propelled by about 77,000 combined votes that won him victories in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Polls are fun to read, but voting matters. Pennsylvania's 2017 primary elections occur on May 16 and the last day to register to vote in the primary elections in April 17.

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Pittsburgh South Hills constituents voice opposition to state Sen. Guy Reschenthaler’s legislation

Posted By on Wed, Mar 1, 2017 at 12:17 PM

State Sen. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Jefferson Hills) - PHOTO COURTESY OF WWW.SENATORRESCHENTHALER.COM
  • Photo courtesy of www.senatorreschenthaler.com
  • State Sen. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Jefferson Hills)
State Sen. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Jefferson Hills) is one of the most junior senators in Pennsylvania. He was first elected in a special election in 2015, defeating Democratic challenger Heather Arnet, and then won re-election in 2016. However, his short tenure hasn’t stopped him from proposing a wide-ranging set of bills, many of which are unfriendly to the environment, organized labor and immigrants. (His big splash into the state senate is what got him on City Paper’s Shit List in 2016.)

Now, in the new era of angry constituents demanding town halls from Republican lawmakers, Reschenthaler is catching some heat. On Feb. 27, a group of more than 50 constituents held a protest outside his Bethel Park office, and then went in to attend Reschenthaler’s open house to voice their opposition to the senator’s stances. Reschenthaler’s district encompasses most of southern and western Allegheny County, including Sewickley, Robinson and Mount Lebanon, as well as a small portion of Washington County.

Lynda Park, of Mount Lebanon, helped organize the event and took a day off work to attend. She said those who could not attend wrote letters, and she delivered more than 40 letters expressing criticisms to Reschenthaler's office. Park is a naturalized U.S. citizen from South Korea, and she takes offense to Reschanthaler’s introduction of SB 10, a bill to cut off funding to municipalities who limit communication and cooperation with federal immigration officials. “His policy on SB 10, I take that as an affront to all immigrants,” said Park. “He was not representing the views of all his constituents when supporting that bill.”

Steve Hvozdovich, of Whitehall, was upset with Reschenthaler’s sponsorship of SB 175, which would limit regulations the state could place on methane emissions from fracking sites.

“Senator Reschenthaler’s sponsorship of SB 175 shows he’s more pushing corporate polluters’ interests than his own constituents,” said Hvozdovich in a press release. “As the Trump administration moves to scale back environmental protections, it’s more important than ever that we ensure Pennsylvania has the ability to move forward with protections for our health and environment.”

Other constituents also expressed criticism of Reschenthaler's support of recent bills aimed at limiting organized labor and restricting abortion. Park says many constituents told very personal stories on how SB 3, a bill that Reschenthaler voted for which would ban abortions at 20 weeks into pregnancies, would hurt them.

A video posted by labor-organizing coalition Pittsburgh United shows Reschenthaler addressing some of the upset constituents, saying “democracy doesn’t work when you have one person making decisions and one point of view. We need everyone in this room with all different opinions, so I really appreciate it.”

But when City Paper reached out to Reschenthaler to ask if some of his positions might change because of input from constituents, his office didn’t respond.

Park said the senator didn’t give any indication he would change his stances, but added that she hopes he does.

“That is my hope,” said Park. “But I don't know if I am confident. My main thing is that we, as his constituents, will be watching him and the legislation he tries to pass.”

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Pittsburgh protesters continue to hound Senator Pat Toomey during recess

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2017 at 5:17 PM

CP PHOTO BY REBECCA ADDISON
  • CP photo by Rebecca Addison
Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego was a 1990s children's game show which tasked kids with tracking down the eponymous criminal mastermind. The show and educational computer game series of the same name taught kids about geography.

Today, supporters of Planned Parenthood engaged in a similar search in Pennsylvania. But instead of pursuing Carmen, this search party was for a similarly villianized missing person, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).

The local action was one of more than 300 events happening across the country during recess week, a time when legislators return to their districts. Planned Parenthood says that defunding their organization would block millions across the country and more than 90,000 Pennsylvanians from access to basic health care services such as cancer screenings, birth control and other exams.

"We are expecting a lot of the Planned Parenthood attacks to pick up in March," said Planned Parenthood organizer Liz Klie. "Recess is a time when representatives are supposed to hear from their constituents and we want Toomey to know that defunding Planned Parenthood will hurt his constituents."

In Pennsylvania, daylong actions were also held in Harrisburg, Allentown and Philadelphia. Patients and Planned Parenthood supporter entered Toomey's offices every 30 minutes throughout the day to request a meeting with Sen. Toomey. In Pittsburgh, Klie says staffers were sometimes hostile.

"We have been told to 'just give up; Sen. Toomey won the election; just get over it.' But we're not going to give up as long as health care is under attack," Klie said. "They're making decisions in Washington that affect us. This is supposed to a time for them to check in with their constituents."

Toomey's apparent unwillingness to meet with constituents isn't a new development. For months, hundreds of his constituents have been making weekly visits to the senator's office for "Tuesdays with Toomey".
CP PHOTO BY REBECCA ADDISON
  • CP photo by Rebecca Addison
The group was there this week talking about the first amendment. They said that since Toomey wouldn't hold a town hall meeting to meet with those he representatives, they'd hold one of their own. (Toomey held a town hall via telephone last week after giving the public just 90 minutes' notice).

Outside Toomey's Station Square office, they set up a mock podium and cardboard cut out of the senator. There they issued questions about President Donald Trump's Muslim ban, freedom of the press, immigration and workers rights.

"We decided to show Pat Toomey how easy it is to hold a town hall," said Jennifer McDowell, co-chair of the local Tuesdays with Toomey. "Look at all these friendly patriotic people here who just want to be heard."

On hand to answer the questions meant for Toomey were a group of legal experts who explained that a number of the actions being carried out by the federal government were not constitutional.

"The [Muslim ban] is a clear example of something that violates the first amendment because it favor one religion and harms another and that is why it's unconstitutional," said Melissa Harkes.

The fate of the weekly "Tuesdays with Toomey" is currently unclear in light of information that Toomey's office could be relocating to a building Downtown.

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U.S. Congressman Keith Rothfus dodges 130 constituents in first week back in district

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2017 at 1:43 PM

Keith Rothfus constituents holding up their ZIP codes at event in Beaver - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Keith Rothfus constituents holding up their ZIP codes at event in Beaver
There’s a common question among a group of Pennsylvania’s 12th U.S. congressional district constituents: “Where’s Keith?” City Paper has had trouble tracking down and speaking with the district’s congressman, Keith Rothfus (R-Sewickley), in the past, and now similar problems appear to be spreading to the people who put him office. On Feb. 21, a group of more than 100 constituents held a town-hall event to address Rothfus in the borough building in downtown Beaver. Even though this is his first week back in his district while U.S. Congress is on recess and he was invited, Rothfus didn’t show. But the group went on with the event anyway, with dozens of constituents sharing stories of how repealing the Affordable Care Act would affect them.

Dan Savini, of Center Township in Beaver County, told the crowd about how his wife, currently insured through the ACA, has been living with multiple sclerosis for years, and that she still has more than two years until she qualifies for Medicaid.

“Without [the ACA], she would not be able to get her medication,” said Savini.

Savini was not shy about his feelings about Republicans in Congress, like Rothfus, who want to repeal the ACA. “In 2018, we got to come out and vote and get these guys out of here,” said Savini.

Another speaker to address the increasingly rowdy crowd was Terri Miller of Beaver Falls. (Chants of “ACA, must stay!” broke out a few times throughout the event.) Miller is an ovarian-cancer survivor and has had four major surgeries in connection with eliminating her cancer. She’s also concerned about what will happen if her ACA coverage is eliminated.

“I am afraid that I will lose my health care,” said Miller, “because I have a pre-existing condition.”

As the event was about to close, the more than 100 in attendance posed for a picture while holding up green signs with their ZIP code. Many Republican legislators, including Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, have accused town-hall-goers of being outside protesters and not actually constituents.

Dan Savini (right) of Center Township address the crowd in Beaver. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Dan Savini (right) of Center Township address the crowd in Beaver.
Tina Shannon, the event's organizer, said she had attendees hold up their ZIP codes, in case Rothfus accused her of “shipping in a bunch of people by bus.”

On Feb.19, a few days before the Beaver event, another 30 constituents met at the Sewickley Public Library and invited Rothfus to discuss his stances on the ACA and a possible congressional investigation into Russia. CP also attended this event, and Rothfus never showed even though, according to Rothfus’ first statement of candidacy form, he lives less than one mile from the Sewickley Public Library.

The Sewickley event was organized by Chris Allen, who lives in the 15143 ZIP code, which includes Sewickley and its surroundings. She also started the group Quaker Valley for Common Goods in December 2016 to organize liberal-leaning voters in her area. Since Rothfus failed to show up, attendees, including Allen, spoke to an empty chair with a “Where’s Keith?” sign taped to it.

“My wife and I have been married since 1996, and I hear that you and the Republicans want to strip our rights,” said Allen. "I want you to look me in the face and tell me you are taking my rights. I am appalled that a child being able to use the bathroom is under attack. You need to show up and do your job.”

Ironically, Rothfus, whose office didn't respond to a request for comment on this story, penned an op-ed in Johnstown's Tribune-Democrat on Feb. 21, writing, "For decades, Washington has usurped the power and confiscated the wealth of ordinary Americans in ways our founders never envisioned. The founders established a limited government where sovereignty ... rests with the people. That is exactly what House Republicans are working to restore to our nation."  (On Feb. 20. Congressman Tim Murphy [R-Upper St. Clair] cancelled a Pittsburgh event because he caught wind that a small group of constituents planned to attend and ask face-to-face questions.)

Shannon, who also runs the 12th Congressional District chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America, said on Feb. 21 that Rothus’ absence is actually pretty typical behavior for the congressman. “He is not ever visible, and his positions are what we are against,” said Shannon. “We want to make him scared to do what he wants to do, to hang that bell around his neck.”

In fact, Rothfus’ political rival, Democratic congressional candidate Erin McClelland has been claiming that Rothfus has been absent for years, and he rarely, if ever, holds town halls. In response to Rothfus' actions, Shannon said she has been working extra hard since Rothfus’ re-election last November. And she said others are joining her.

“I have run out of sign-in sheets while canvassing,” said Shannon. “I can’t keep up. I had to form a data-entry team just to keep track of people wanting to join us.”

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