Nuisance FOIA requests and Screaming Parents at North Penn School Board; Petition Signers Urgently Needed Due to Last-Minute GOP Challenges to New, Fairer PA Voting Maps
And more, oh my. We're not in sleepy Upper Gwynedd anymore.
Where to start? Democracy and public schools are both constantly under threat in our school district, and in our state. Both of them are in the crosshairs of Republican ire, since Democrats (for now) have leadership in both school board and the state.
Good news! We need your signatures on petitions to get a new Democratic co-committeeperson in Upper Gwynedd-6, Eileen Murphy, on the ballot in the primary on May 17th. I will still be the Democratic co-committeeperson in this area, but with constant threats to democracy both locally and in the state, I need help to get out the Democratic vote in Upper Gwynedd-6. Committed Democrat (and patriot) Eileen Murphy stepped up to help me! We will be knocking on your door on Monday or Tuesday night to request your signature on the petitions to get both of us on the ballot, among other politicians who also need signatures to get on the ballot.
The North Penn School Board urgently needs you to show up to their meetings and make a statement in favor of the School Board and its policies. The School Board members have requested a return to a virtual format to ensure the physical safety of the School Board members, who have received threatening emails. The in-person meetings had become a place for anti-maskers and critical race theory complainers to grandstand and yell at the School Board members. THIS IS A FIGHT FOR THE IDEA OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS, AND FOR DEMOCRACY ITSELF. DEMOCRACY ISN’T FREE UNLESS WE WORK AT IT. PLEASE BECOME A PART OF THE SOLUTION. You can help by requesting to make a public comment at email@example.com. If you feel uncomfortable at in-person meetings, (where they have stationed a policeman in case of conflict) also request a virtual meeting. But just know that it’s probably best if we have an in-person show of force, though the School Board members have asked us to request virtual, so please do as your best judgment suggests.
Here’s a note from Denise Hull, the Chair of the Upper Gwynedd Commissioners and a Democrat:
“We want to thank those of you who went to last Thursday's School Board Action meeting. Your presence was an important counterweight to the Mom's For Liberty and other extremists present in the audience as speaker after speaker attacked the School Board. In addition, following last week’s Action Meeting, the Board received several anonymous email threats. These local radical insurrectionists are using these tactics in an attempt to overturn the results of last year's Election, [which saw Democrats sweep the School Board.] Their goal is simple, make life for the School Board members such a living hell that they resign in disgust**. We can not let that happen.
The School Board has also received feedback from a number of people who would like to speak in favor of the Board, but are uncomfortable attending these meetings for a variety of reasons that include:
Concern about being around potentially large groups of unvaccinated people
Concern about being around people who refuse to mask or wear their masks improperly (e.g., below the nose or chin)
Physical safety concerns due to the aggressiveness of attendees who are speaking out against the board
These are all valid concerns, and we want parents and voters to feel safe in expressing their opinions. As a result of all of the above, the School Board is considering moving the March 17th Action Meeting to a virtual format in an effort to take down the temperature, as well as provide an opportunity to participate for those that do not feel safe attending in person.
In order to make this happen, we need those that support the Board to write emails and submit them to firstname.lastname@example.org:
Expressing their support for policies on COVID and DEI [Diversity, Ethnicity Inclusiveness] initiatives which are the biggest flashpoints at these meetings
[Supporting the idea of a return to virtual meetings by] expressing their concerns about their own physical safety when attending the in-person action meetings
A sampling of these emails will be read into the record at the next Work Session on March 8th, and the remainder will be counted as a part of the official record. School Board members will make a decision at that time as to whether or not the March 17th Action meeting will be in-person or, if there is enough support, virtual.”
Unfortunately, things have gone beyond just yelling at School Board meetings. As if the emails that threaten School Board members physically safety weren’t enough, these same parents have filed an abundance of Freedom of Information Act requests for frivolous things, overwhelming the North Penn School Board. As if that isn’t bad enough, it could get worse. Here’s an opinion piece in The Reporter about a Chester County suit against the school board there. We are worried that this may embolden far-right parents in the North Penn School District to follow suit (no pun intended!)
17 townhomes to be built off Sumneytown Pike and called “Wheatley Walk,” got the go-ahead after two years of back-and-forth with residents to make sure they were happy with the plans of the developer, W.B. Homes.
Construction vehicles have started knocking down the houses that are on the property, one of which was blighted and has been an eyesore for many years.
Here’s an article in The Reporter about the development, showing plans. W.B. Homes will begin construction in late March. Here are photos of the two houses, one of which is already half-demolished.
The Martin Tract. As you may know from previous newsletters, the Upper Gwynedd Commissioners, in response to a long survey of residents that said the number one concern was open space, decided to make exploratory plans to put a park on the last remaining large tract of land in the township, at the corner of Allentown Road and Broad Street. The man who owns the property lives in New Hampshire. He is not being displaced, as his emails insinuate. The Township will pay Mr. Martin market rates for the property. The township has $11 million rainy day fund, much larger than neighboring townships. So making the property into a park will not raise taxes, as Mr. Martin also insinuates. Mr. Martin has a plan to cram the same number of townhomes that he had planned to build into a smaller footprint, and then give half the property to the township for free, but it would require the township to give Mr. Martin a density variance, since the townhomes would then be too close together, and the proposed park would, of course, be reduced in size by half.
The Upper Gwynedd township commissioners have requested another appraisal at the request of Mr. Martin, who has filed a lawsuit against the township.
Pennsylvania Redistricting. The Trump animus that inspired occasional voters to turn out in an off-year election in 2017 gave us a Democratic majority on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Due to this PA Supreme Court majority, we got FAIR REDISTRICTED MAPS for the first time since the 1960s. YOUR VOTE MATTERS, ESPECIALLY IN OFF-YEAR ELECTIONS - VOTING IN 2017 GAVE US THESE FAIR MAPS. The new Pennsylvania voting district maps were determined by a bipartisan citizen commission headed by a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, the so-called “Carter map.” The Carter map, according to PlanScore, has a 1.6% efficiency gap, representing a slight GOP bias. The map approved by the GOP legislature, on the other hand, has a 6.6% efficiency gap favoring Republicans. Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a law professor who helped invent the efficiency gap metric, has said that he would consider a score of 7% or above indicative of gerrymandering. Here’s the full article about it in PA Spotlight.
The Republican legislature has thrown the maps back into court, claiming they have the will of the people, while really trying to gerrymander the map. Due to this, petitions to get the signatures required to get a candidate on the ballot are being circulated very late this year.
Here’s a great rundown of all the maps that have been suggested. Again the Carter map is the one that will stand if the Republican’s court challenges fail.
Under the new “Carter map” the only change to our area would be that Upper Gwynedd-6 would no longer be represented by State Senator Maria Collette, but instead would be put together with areas to the north of us that are more Republican-leaning. Instead of a reliably Democratic district, the new plan has our State Senate with a 1.6% voter registration advantage to the Republicans. Instead of being upset about this, we should be happy about this. This change gives Democrats an opportunity to win one more State Senate seat, since Senator Collette will likely stay in power. This is what the Carter map intended in “un-gerrymandering” Pennsylvania.
Speaking of petitions, either me, Faith Keiser, or Eileen Murphy (aforementioned committeeperson nominee) may be knocking on your door soon to get a signature on petitions for the candidates below, with links to their campaign websites.
PA Governor: I’ll be honest: I like Josh Shapiro, but he’s going to have an uphill battle for Governor against the Trumpist Republican candidates who are vying for that position. The only way Shapiro can win is if every Democrat gets out to vote in November to keep the Trumpers far away from the Pennsylvania Governorship. Unfortunately, Shapiro is the only choice on the Democratic side this year, so his primary nomination is unchallenged.
U.S. Senate: Democrats have two phenomenal candidates to choose from for U.S. Senator, Lt. Governor John Fetterman, a nationally known populist who, as mayor of Braddock, PA, reformed his rust belt hometown of and made it into a thriving place to work and live, garnering national media attention and the Lt. Governorship. The other U.S. Senate candidate is the military veteran and very electable centrist Democrat, U.S. Representative Conor Lamb.
Whoever wins the primary for the U.S. Senate position will most likely be facing Doctor Oz - the New Jersey resident who I guess is planning to live with his mother-in-law in Montgomery County for 30 days before the election in November. (Yes, ugh - what a celebrity interloper.) Since each Democratic voter can only sign one petition per open position, I would recommend signing for Fetterman, since I think he’ll be a more powerful contender for Dr. Oz than Conor Lamb (who should be running for Governor if the Democrats had a more efficient strategy for running candidates.)
U.S. House of Representatives: Madeleine Dean is up for re-election for her seat as U.S. House of Representatives. She’s running unopposed in the primary. She’s been doing Montgomery County proud as a member of the committee investigating the January 6th insurrection in the U.S. House, and she definitely deserves your vote.
Lt. Governor: Austin Davis is running for Lt. Governor. Pennsylvania’s idiosyncratic system has candidates running separately for Governor and Lt. Governor in the primary, but then the winners of each individual primary race form a joint ticket in November. Since Austin Davis is the only candidate for lieutenant governor in the primary, that makes him a super easy choice.
State Senator: We committee people are not yet allowed to circulate petitions for State Senator of State Representative. We’ll have to knock on your door twice this year, since most petitions are due next week, but these two seats will not even have their maps finalized until after the Republicans have had their day in court whining about the new, fairer maps and trying to return to the bad old days of gerrymandering in Pennsylvania. We’ll keep you posted. The seat is being vacated by Bob Mensch. The candidates for State Senate, if the Carter map stands, are Jill Dennin, a former member of the Boyertown School District, and Emmanuel Wilkerson, who is in his last year at Temple University and is a former Pottstown School Board member and also a former legislative aide in the U.S. House and the PA State Senate. Here’s an article from The Philadelphia Inquirer about him. Just fair warning: Wilkerson was registered as a Republican at the time of this Inquirer article, but he now says this was to help his candidacy for School Board in Pottstown, which makes sense. This guy seems unqualified due to his youth, until you hear him speak. He’s smart, a natural-born politician, and my guess is has a better shot at beating the opponent, who will likely be the Trump-backed current PA State Representative, Tracy Pennycuick.
State Representative: Incumbent Liz Hanbidge is running unopposed in the primary. We are not allowed to circulate her petitions until next week after the Republicans have their day in court with their crappy gerrymandered maps that they claim are the “will of the people.”
Ok, that’s a whirlwind tour of the important highlights of what’s going on right now in local Democratic politics. If you have any interest in volunteering to help get out the vote in November 2022, please email me at keiser[dot]faith[at]gmail[dot]com.
We are literally in a struggle for the idea of democracy itself. As a swing county in the great swing state of Pennsylvania, we in Upper Gwynedd-6 are at the epicenter of this struggle, with implications for not only the United States, but the world. Eileen and I are humbled and overwhelmed by the importance of what the vote here in Upper Gwynedd-6. Please help in this fight for our future as a free and fair democracy.