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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Pennsylvania Democrats criticize the new tax cuts for overwhelmingly benefiting the wealthy

Posted By on Wed, Feb 28, 2018 at 3:57 PM

Bob Casey at an event in Pittsburgh - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Bob Casey at an event in Pittsburgh
Political ads for the upcoming March 13 special election between former U.S. assistant Attorney Conor Lamb (D-Mount Lebanon) and state Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Elizabeth) have taken up the new tax cuts as a central issue. The National Republican Congressional Committee has put out attack ads stating that Lamb is aligned with U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who called the tax cuts “crumbs” for middle-class families. (Lamb has said the tax cuts are a “betrayal” to the middle class, but stated in January that he doesn’t support Pelosi.)

Since the bill's passage in December, headlines about the tax cuts have focused on some large corporations that have doled out $1,000 bonuses to workers and others that have slightly increased workers' wages. Also, according to nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, households making $60,000 a year will have their after-tax income inch up about 1.5 percent after 2018, but those will tax savings will tick down by 2025 and be eliminated in 2027.

And some Pennsylvania Democrats are starting to point out who they believe are the real winners of the tax-cut bill: the wealthy.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

A booster for gubernatorial candidate Paul Mango spouts anti-LGBTQ rhetoric on controversial podcast

Posted By on Tue, Feb 27, 2018 at 10:13 AM

Carla D'Addesi (left) with Paul Mango (center) at a Mango campaign event in February - PHOTO COURTESY OF FACEBOOK
  • Photo courtesy of Facebook
  • Carla D'Addesi (left) with Paul Mango (center) at a Mango campaign event in February
In January, business consultant and gubernatorial candidate Paul Mango (R-Pine Township) participated in a video interview with the controversial Rev. Hyung Jin Moon, the leader of a far-right Christian church in Northeastern Pennsylvania that worships AR-15 automatic rifles.

During the January interview, Moon said that public-school students were getting “indoctrinated into the homosexual political agenda” and a “transgender agenda.” Mango nodded along to Moon’s comments, and Pennsylvania Democratic Party officials criticized Mango for his appearance with Moon.

Mango spokesperson Matt Beynon told the TribLive in January that Mango doesn’t believe “that schools are indoctrinating our kids," but does “believe that our culture has eroded and has become more and more intolerant of traditional family values.”

But a month later, on Feb. 15, a volunteer and campaign booster for Mango made an appearance on Moon’s podcast, and she joined in with Moon on espousing some anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.

Carla D’Addesi is a conservative cable-news commentator and self-described faith-and-family-coalition leader for Mango’s 2018 gubernatorial run. She went on Moon’s podcast to discuss state Senator and gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner (R-York) and his support for the Pennsylvania Fairness Act, a bill that would provide LGBTQ Pennsylvanians the same civil-rights protections currently received by religious practitioners, minorities and immigrants. Wagner is a co-sponsor of the state senate's version of the Fairness Act.

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Monday, February 26, 2018

Anti-gerrymandering group holding Mount Lebanon meeting tonight in run-up to Pennsylvania redistricting decision

Posted By on Mon, Feb 26, 2018 at 3:49 PM

  • Image courtesy Facebook
When the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its new drawings of Pennsylvania's U.S. Congressional Districts on Feb. 19, state Republicans immediately criticized them and said they would challenge the maps in federal court. The state’s 18 congressional districts were redrawn earlier this month after the state Supreme Court ruled the original 2011 maps violated the Pennsylvania Constitution as a partisan gerrymander.

Federal judges have scheduled a March 9 hearing to listen to arguments concerning the new congressional district maps.

While the outcome of the federal district court's decision will undoubtedly have a big effect on how Pennsylvanians vote in upcoming elections, a grassroots group wants to remind people that having legislators draw maps and then battle in the courts is not the only way to reshape districts in Pennsylvania.

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Friday, February 23, 2018

Candidates in Pittsburgh City Council District 8 special election talk gun violence, PWSA and wet basements

Posted By on Fri, Feb 23, 2018 at 2:47 PM

Sonja Finn, Marty Healey, Rennick Remley and Erika Strassburger
  • Sonja Finn, Marty Healey, Rennick Remley and Erika Strassburger
At a candidates' forum Thursday night for the upcoming Pittsburgh City Council special election for District 8, one Democrat, two independents and a Republican made their cases to district voters at Squirrel Hill’s Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.

Democrat Sonja Finn, independents Marty Healey and Erika Strassburger, and Republican Rennick Remley were pressed on issues ranging from the city's Amazon HQ2 bid to air quality. And while there were many things the four candidates didn't see eye to eye on, they all agreed the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, which has been plagued by a number of issues in recent years, is in need of serious overhaul.

"We all know what's happening with PWSA is a large problem," Finn said. "But we can't let it overwhelm us."

But concurring that PWSA needs fixing is where the agreement stopped. Healey and Remley said the city should consider public-private partnerships to help address issues at the ailing PWSA, while Finn and Strassburger stressed that the city's water authority should remain public.

This was a common thread throughout the night as candidates agreed on the city's problems, but disagreed on how best to address them.

In the wake of the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla. where 17 people were shot and killed, the topic of gun violence was quickly raised at the Feb. 22 forum.

Remley said one option Pittsburgh has is to ban guns in the city, though he didn't actually say whether he supported this option. Finn said the city should start by enforcing laws already on the books, such as Pittsburgh’s lost-and-stolen-gun ordinance that requires firearm owners to report if their guns are lost or stolen. The city passed the ordinance in 2008. Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto pledged to enforce it during his first mayoral campaign, but a few months into his second term, he has still failed to do so.

Strassburger says the city can’t enforce the legislation. At the forum, she said the city would face a lengthy, multi-million-dollar court battle. Conversely, Finn said, “I think it’s worth spending a million dollars to do it.” But Strassburger said, “It’s a different conversation once you’re in office,” and suggested the city spend its resources on improving gun-buyback programs.

All candidates said working with state government is integral to addressing this issue. And a positive working relationship with Harrisburg was a common thread throughout the night. But Remley said that due to the Republican majority in the state legislature, he would be the best candidate to secure funding from Harrisburg.

“I speak Republican,” Remley said. “Pittsburgh is left out all the time when funding is being spread around from Harrisburg.”

In addition to these big-picture issues, the forum also touched on issues that impact Pittsburgh residents more commonly, such as wet basements resulting from stormwater overflow. All of the candidates said they support incentives for building with permeable materials that soak up storm water. But Healy said the city should also solicit help from other municipalities that have proven success in addressing this problem.

Finn earned the Allegheny County Democratic Committee endorsement in January, prompting Healey and Strassberger, who also sought the endorsement, to run as independents. Finn won the endorsement over Strassburger by a vote of 27-20.

Strassburger has racked up a number of other endorsements, though. Just this week, environmental activism organization PennEnvironment endorsed her. And Strassburger has also been endorsed by the Pittsburgh Firefighters union, Clean Water Action, Iron Workers union, the Shadyside Chamber of Commerce, Service Employees International Union, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Mayor Peduto.

Remley was endorsed by the Pittsburgh Fraternal of Police. The other two candidates have not released official endorsement lists.

The special election is set for March 6.

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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Pennsylvania state House candidate Dan Smith calls out state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe for post insulting Parkland students

Posted By on Thu, Feb 22, 2018 at 11:23 AM

Dan Smith Jr. (left) and Daryl Metcalfe (rigth)
  • Dan Smith Jr. (left) and Daryl Metcalfe (rigth)
On Feb. 14, 17 students and teachers were killed in a mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla. In response, Florida students are organizing walkouts and protests, hoping to encourage legislators to pass more gun-control measures, and their efforts are being joined from high school students across the country.

On Feb. 21, more than 100 students from the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School, Downtown, joined the effort by walking out and marching to Market Square.

But for Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Cranberry), those students are just left-wing agitators.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Pittsburgh City Council candidate Erika Strassburger endorsed by statewide environmental group PennEnvironment

Posted By on Tue, Feb 20, 2018 at 10:19 AM

  • Photo courtesy of the candidate
  • Erika Strassburger
Before Erika Strassburger worked as chief of staff for former Pittsburgh City Councilor Dan Gilman (D-Squirrel Hill), she worked as an environmental advocate in Pittsburgh and in New Hampshire. She told City Paper back in January that her environmental chops would be valuable on city council, especially considering the ongoing problems at the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA). Strassburger is running to replace Gilman’s former 8th City Council District seat in a special election that will take place March 6.

“I spent a decade fighting for clean water, and right now the PWSA has $4 billion in capital needs and a federal mandate to lower lead levels,” said Strassburger in January. “We have to keep water publicly owned, but make sure important changes are implemented. Green infrastructure needs to be a priority first, and I believe there are ways to raise money for that.”

And now one of the state’s biggest environmental-advocacy organizations, PennEnvironoment, has thrown its weight behind Strassburger.

“When it comes to protecting our environment, there’s no one better than Erika,” said PennEnvironment director David Masur in a press release. “For nearly a decade, Erika put her money where her mouth is when it comes to protecting our environment and health — now, and for our kids and future generations.”

Masur notes in the press release Strassburger’s focus on improving Pittsburgh water quality was a key factor in PennEnvironment providing its endorsement. According to samples taken in December 2017, more than 100 sites in Pittsburgh had lead levels in drinking water above the federal standards. The PWSA is looking to replace 2,100 lead service lines this year.

PennEnvironment deputy director Adam Garber said in a press release that he believes Strassburger will fight for clean water, as well as other environmental causes in the city.

“Erika has walked the walk in so many ways, and her priorities are clear. We know she will be an excellent ally and advocate for Pittsburghers who want clean air, clean water, and great open spaces when she is elected to City Council,” said Garber in a press release.

Strassburger, previously registered as a Democrat, is running as an independent against Democrat Sonja Finn, Republican Rennick Remley and Marty Healey, of the newly created Inclusion Party.

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Monday, February 19, 2018

Democratic Socialist Kareem Kandil seeking Pennsylvania state house seat in suburban Pittsburgh

Posted By on Mon, Feb 19, 2018 at 1:57 PM

  • Photo courtesy of the campaign
  • Kareem Kandil
Pennsylvania's 30th State House District isn’t the most conservative district in the region, but it still supports Republicans. State Rep. Hal English (R-Hampton) has represented the North Hills district since 2013, and though the district has become a bit more liberal over the years, voters there still supported President Donald Trump by a 7-point margin in the 2016 election.

But even with the district’s conservative leanings, a socialist candidate believes he can flip the district from red to blue. Kareem Kandil is a member of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, a progressive grassroots group that formed to push left-leaning, populist policies similar to those espoused by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont).

Kandil is running as a Democrat in the 30th District, which includes Fox Chapel, O’Hara Township, Hampton Township and Richland. Kandil believes policies like single-payer health care and stricter environmental regulations have support among voter in the 30th District.

“I want to talk to constituents about universal issues,” says Kandil. “Everybody wants good health care, good schools and clean air.”

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Pittsburgh Dreamers urge Sen. Bob Casey to fight for a clean Dream Act

Posted By on Wed, Feb 14, 2018 at 5:02 PM

Liz Fishback (left), of Sen. Bob Casey's office, with Dreamers Lesly Moran (center-left), Hortencia Ortiz (center-right) and Ana Alberto (right) - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Liz Fishback (left), of Sen. Bob Casey's office, with Dreamers Lesly Moran (center-left), Hortencia Ortiz (center-right) and Ana Alberto (right)
The immigration debate in the U.S. Senate has begun, and it already looks like a standalone bill to grant recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) a path to citizenship is off the table. DACA recipients, also called Dreamers, are undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, and have since been given temporary-protected status and are allowed to legally work in the country.

This week, starting on Mon., Feb 12, the U.S. Senate opened up the floor to allow debate on a number of immigration issues. By and large, Democrats are looking to provide protections and a path to citizenship for Dreamers, and Republicans are looking to bolster border security and reduce the number of immigrants entering the U.S. through family reunification (in which immigrants can sponsor family members to join them in the U.S.).

But instead of starting with that debate, Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Lehigh) proposed an amendment to defund so-called “sanctuary cities,” municipalities that limit communication and cooperation with U.S. immigration officers. The Atlantic Monthly reported on Feb. 13 that Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) struck down Toomey’s amendment and complained it “does absolutely nothing to address DACA, does absolutely nothing to address border security.”

(It also should be noted that in 2016 when asked if he supported a path to citizenship in concert with ending sanctuary cities, Toomey told City Paper that those were “separate” issues.)

Although the Senate’s immigration debate is off to a rocky start, Pittsburgh-area Dreamers are still hopeful their needs will be met. On Feb. 14, three local Dreamers delivered letters to the Pittsburgh office of Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey (D-Scranton). Ana Alberto, Lesly Moran and Hortencia Ortiz are DACA recipients and are asking Casey to protect DACA and to pass a clean Dream Act, meaning a path to citizenship for Dreamers without any attachments like increased border security.

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Monday, February 12, 2018

Democratic state House candidate Emily Skopov gears up for race against House Speaker Mike Turzai

Posted By on Mon, Feb 12, 2018 at 2:54 PM

Emily Skopov (left) and Mike Tuzai
  • Emily Skopov (left) and Mike Tuzai
After failing to secure the endorsement of the Pennsylvania Republican Party this past weekend, Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Marshall) announced his withdrawal from the 2018 gubernatorial election. Turzai’s campaign strategist, Jeff Coleman of Churchill Strategies, told TribLive on Feb. 10 that Turzai will now focus his energy on preserving the state House's Republican-held majority.

“The House Republicans have a majority to defend and a number of competitive races. And at the highest level, there is really only one person with statewide ability to fundraise and preserve that majority, which is critical as a backstop to the Wolf agenda,” said Coleman in the TribLive article, referring to Turzai.

But Turzai’s Democratic challenger for Pennsylvania’s state House District 28 seat, Emily Skopov, of Marshall, says Turzai’s failure to pick up the GOP endorsement indicates he shouldn’t be the leader of the state House moving forward.

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Friday, February 2, 2018

Betsy Monroe, inspired by the Women’s March, is challenging state Rep. Hal English in Pittsburgh’s North Hills

Posted By on Fri, Feb 2, 2018 at 1:32 PM

  • Photo courtesy of campaign
  • Betsy Monroe
Like many left-leaning women in Western Pennsylvania, Betsy Monroe of Fox Chapel felt the need to do something in response to the election of President Donald Trump. Monroe attended the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C., and the presence of about 500,000 marchers inspired her to get more involved in her local politics.

“I went to the march on Washington and it was absolutely eye-opening. It was absolutely amazing,” says Monroe. “I came away from it knowing I was going to have to continue to take action.”

Monroe started by writing letters to her local elected representatives. She said she got mostly “lip service” from local Republicans, and “I’m here for you” messages from local Democrats. She wanted something more substantial.

Monroe started growing more frustrated with Pennsylvania state Rep. Hal English (R-Hampton) and his votes on women’s health and his stances on environmental protections. Then, when she realized that English had run unopposed in the last two elections, she decided to run against him herself. “When [elected officials] have no opponents, they get cozy, and they stop listening to the people,” says Monroe.

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