Friday, May 21, 2021
In the 2021 primary election in Pennsylvania there were 2 constitutional amendments on the ballot to limit the Governors emergency powers in times of a pandemic or natural disaster. The first amendment empowers the state legislature to terminate or extend a disaster declaration with a simple majority without input by the governor. The second amendment places a 21 day limit on a disaster declaration with legislature approval needed for an extension. A fuller explanation of these amendments can be seen here.
These amendments have been approved with 53% of the vote apiece. In Cambria County, the first amendment received 62.7% of the vote and the second received 63.3%. These amendments could have major ramifications for how the state handles future crises such as natural or epidemiological disasters.
For example, in the not so distant future, natural disasters related to climate change could befall this and other states. A legislature with a majority of climate change deniers can block the governor from taking action beyond 21 days. There is no way of knowing how many lives Gov. Wolf's disaster declaration saved but it did save lives.
The graph above shows the daily death counts in Pennsylvania since the pandemic began. Restrictions were made in March the death counts rose until May and then leveled decreased as personal protective equipment and ventilators became more available. The restrictions were eased in June and deaths did not rise. The deaths began to rise after the November election due to mask-less rallies held by the Trump campaign in the state. Due to this restrictions were then tightened during the Christmas holidays and the deaths decreased in the state (though higher than it was before the election). Roughly 21% of the state's eligible voters voted in the primary.
The voters who went to the polls and voted yes on these ballot questions (10.8% of the electorate in Pennsylvania) are rebuking Gov. Wolf for listening to scientists such as Rachel Levine. Levine now works for the Biden Administration as the first transgender department head. The right has distributed images like the one above to demonize the governor and Dr, Levine. One has to wonder how much transphobia played a role in this primary.
Our county, Cambria County, still ranks 9th in the state in case mortality and 5th in deaths/100,000 while it voted 63% for both measures.