Sen. John Yudichak of Luzerne County speaks with members of the media at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. The Democrat in Pennsylvania's state Senate from an area that shifted decisively to support Donald Trump in 2016's presidential election is switching his registration to become an independent and will caucus with the Republican majority.
Joseph Darius Jaafari was a staff writer for the PA Post. His work covering crime, the military and LGBTQ issues has been featured in The Marshall Project, Rolling Stone Magazine, The Atlantic and The New York Times. He is a graduate of the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, and an award-winning documentary filmmaker who has produced for VICE and The New York Post. He is a native Arizonan and infamous for his love of tacos.
Good morning Context readers! We’re one week away from Turkey Day (or Tofurkey Day, however you celebrate), and one of the things many of us dread is talking politics around the dinner table. And yet every year, a few news organizations publish nonsense guides to navigating those really, really awful waters. So, today PA Post is going to be a little different, and we’re going to discuss some of the state’s newest power players, politicians worth screaming/food-fighting over. Have someone else in mind that we should highlight? Tell us in our listening post, or e-mail me. Just leave your ‘OK Boomer’ clap-backs for Nov. 28. – Joseph Darius Jaafari, PA Post reporter.
Forget D vs. R when politics comes up at the dinner table
Matt Rourke / AP
Sen. John Yudichak of Luzerne County speaks with members of the media at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. Yudichak, who represents an area that shifted decisively to support Donald Trump in 2016’s presidential election is switching his registration to become an independent and will caucus with the Republican majority. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
This month’s off-year election in Pennsylvania was fascinating — not so much because of the electoral shakeups in once reliably red or blue counties, but mainly because of all the new parties and political faces that showed up on the ballot … and won!
In Berks County, for example, instead of a blue wave or red army, the Libertarians painted their color (gray, maybe?) on the map. Channeling Ron Swanson’s limited-government energy, close to a dozen different libertarians ran in uncontested races this past election. They won Birdsboro and Kenhorst borough council seats and five township auditor seats. “One mission is to show people that our ideology and methodology works, and that people can trust us to help run these governing units,” said the party’s county chairman, Jerry Geleff. Geleff conceded that it may seem out of place for the party of no government to be campaigning to run some government, but he was quick to note that most Libertarians believe a little government is necessary.
And while the greater Philly area saw a shakeup in historically Republican areas, arguably the largest upset (at least what most news organizations focused on) was Kendra Brooks’s election to the city council carrying the banner of the Working Families Party. Putting aside whether or not you agree with Brooks’s progressive platform, it will be interesting to see how the 14 council Democrats work with her and the two elected Republicans.
Finally, there was Paige Cognetti – an independent – who won the mayor’s race in Scranton. Cognetti, a Democrat, was spurned by the party machine in the city. So she switched her registration to independent and ran on boosting small business while also increasing funding for infrastructure (true middle of the road politics).
So if you’re looking to steer the dinner table political conversation away from the red vs. blue cliche, steer the topic to third party candidates and what their rise means in an increasingly polarized state and nation.
Speaking of shakeups: Capitol Bureau Chief Katie Meyer reported on how Democratic state Sen. John Yudichak is, well, no longer a Democrat. He’s now declaring himself an independent and will caucus with the Republican majority. The reason? Democrats are too pure, specifically on energy. (This is where progressive Millennials and Gen Zs might reply, “OK, Boomer.”) — Joseph Darius Jaafari
Best of the rest
North Schuylkill Spartans and Tamaqua Blue Raiders are in a pile at the end of a play during a Nov. 8, 2019, playoff game. (Brett Sholtis / WITF)
Is the game really worth it? Transforming Health published a compelling radio story by Brett Sholtis on the diehard fanaticism of football in Pa. In the wake of multiple studies that show how football increases health risks later in life, and even with the very recent head and spine injuries of high school athletes in the state, parents and coaches still advocate for the sport. I don’t know much about sports-ball, but I do know that a game is “only a game” until I physically can’t play it.
Rock, Paper, Voter. Are you a rocket scientist? Because after reading PA Post reporter Emily Previti’s most recent story, you may feel like you need to be to understand how the state wants to start auditing election results. Emily went to Mercer County to observe a test audit that involved rolling ten-sided dice and some fancy math.
Hands off! Corrections officers legally can’t have sex with inmates in Pa. But that doesn’t apply to police officers conducting arrests or transporting alleged criminals. A bill proposed Monday could change those rules by making it illegal to have sex with someone if they are in custody. The issue was brought up in the wake of a court case filed last month against a Lancaster City police detective who allegedly assaulted a woman during a drug bust.
So, so cold. At the Dauphin County Prison Board meeting yesterday, we finally got answers from prison officials on complaints from how cold it was in jail cells. Inmates are still calling me to talk about how cold it is, but Warden Brian Clark said the issue is being dealt with in a case-by-case basis. One of the plausible reasons why no heat is going into the cells he mentioned? Toothpaste. Read my Twitter thread on it here. Also, officials said the prison had three confirmed cases of MRSA — a highly contagious skin infection — last month, and two more possible cases. Another 28 people were diagnosed with HIV last month during intake into the prison.