“When people show you who they are, believe them.”
It’s time to believe what Pennsylvania Republicans have shown us they are.
Begin with what they have shown us they don’t care about:
Public health: They have opposed efforts to encourage—not mandate–people to wear masks and be vaccinated. They have not funded programs to make COVID tests available to all of us.
Relief from the burdens of the pandemic: Despite having huge sums of our tax money in the bank, they have provided insufficient housing assistance that was distributed unfairly. They have provided too little relief to small businesses and blocked a proposal to help the restaurant industry. Unlike other states, Pennsylvania has not used ARP money to provide paid family and medical leave or support for those with low incomes.
Wages: Pennsylvania’s minimum wage, which has been stuck at $7.25 for 14 years, keeps falling farther and farther behind neighboring states. A minimum wage of $15 would benefit over a million Pennsylvania workers and add billions to our economy. It would also create a wage floor that helps small businesses find the workers they need.
Education: Pennsylvania still has one of the most inequitably funded K-12 school systems. It is billions short in providing an adequate education to all of our kids. In response, Republicans say that is fine if some of our school districts prepare kids to work in McDonald’s while others prepare them to be doctors and lawyers. Pennsylvania is fourth from the bottom in funding higher education. The cost of our state colleges relative to the median income is also fourth from the bottom of all 50 states.
Fair Taxes: Pennsylvania still remains the only gas-producing state with no severance tax. 73% of corporations that do business in our state, all of them giant multi-national businesses—pay no corporate income taxes while PA-based businesses pay at high rates. The tax burden on low- and middle-income families remains twice that for the top 1%.
Polls show that the Republican position on all these issues is deeply unpopular even among a large minority of Republicans. So how does the Republican Party ignore them? Look at what they do care about.
Making voting harder: HB 1300 which was passed by the House and Senate creates new restrictions on voting, limits early voting and the number of ways mail ballots can be returned, and allows ballots with technical errors to be rejected.
Gerrymandering legislative elections: Republican leaders are complaining about legislative maps that reduce the enormous advantage they had for two decades to a small one. They have proposed a constitutional amendment to draw legislative districts that would enable them to hold power in the General Assembly forever, no matter what the people of Pennsylvania want.
Gerrymandering judicial elections: Republican leaders support a constitutional amendment to replace statewide election of appellate court judges and justices with elections in districts they would draw. This would enable them to ensure a Republican majority on the courts forever, too.
Reducing the power of the governor: The only elections the Republicans can’t fix are the ones for governor. So they have proposed constitutional amendments that take away many of the powers that have always resided with the executive in the federal and all state governments.
The common saying with which I started this piece has an antecedent written in the stately cadences of the 18th century. It is the Declaration of Independence and is borrowed from John Locke’s Second Treatise of government:
“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations…evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
The “design” of the Republicans in Harrisburg is obvious. They seek to make it harder for Democrats to vote and to ensure that the legislative and judicial elections are conducted in districts that guarantee Republican victories. Without judicial checks on their action, a Republican-dominated General Assembly will overwhelm a weakened governor. With absolute power, Republicans will ignore the demands of voters for government policies that provide opportunity and prosperity for all of us.
Who benefits from this design other than Republican officeholders? In the short term, it’s the corporate rich who fund them and who want them to block fair individual and corporate taxes. In the long term—no one. Businesses can’t do well if growing inequality robs them of their customers and inadequate education robs them of trained workers. Wherever democracy has been replaced by despotism we see growing inequality and economic decline for everyone.
The “design” of Republicans in Pennsylvania is obvious. The only question remaining is whether we can—to use Locke’s words—“rouse ourselves” to recognize and oppose it.