With Pennsylvania voters headed to the polls Tuesday to choose the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor and U.S. Senate, it’s as if the primaries are occurring on two different planets.
On the Republican side there was a palpable shift, one that seems to have happened between the presidential election on Nov. 3, 2020, and the insurrection in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
It is no secret that this board, for decades, has leaned toward Democrats. And yet we have endorsed Republicans in past elections — including U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick for another term in 2020 and Kevin Brobson in the primary for the state Supreme Court in 2021.
Even when a candidate’s views didn’t exactly align with positions taken by this board, we’ve found points of agreement, sustained moments of mutual respect, and an appreciation of the kind of apolitical qualifications that are objectively deserving of praise.
Most fundamentally: We were all operating in the same reality.
That can’t be said in 2022.
When we sent a survey to Republican candidates in the Senate race to ascertain their positions on a range of issues, we learned that nearly everyone in the field felt our questions were biased and unfair.
In their view, among the most problematic queries that we asked was: Who won the 2020 presidential election? The only two options in the multiple-choice format were Joe Biden or Donald Trump. Only one candidate — Jeff Bartos — agreed to acknowledge reality.
If one of these Republicans wins the general election, they will represent Pennsylvania at the next State of the Union address. We guarantee that it will not be Donald Trump who walks into the U.S. Capitol to deliver the speech. The 2020 election is over. A candidate won, he lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and his name is Joe Biden.
How do you find points of agreement when you can’t reach common ground on facts so basic that they could be used in a field sobriety test?
We also reached out to each of the candidates in the Republican primary for governor. Three candidates who made it onto the ballot — Melissa Hart, Nche Zama, and Charlie Gerow — responded to our survey and acknowledged that Biden is president. In the current iteration of the Republican Party, that takes courage — and we applaud them for it.
But then we read the leaked draft opinion of the Supreme Court that would completely overturn Roe v. Wade. The next governor of Pennsylvania is likely to be the one to decide whether to sign or veto a ban on abortion.
This board has endorsed Roe from the day it was decided in 1973. None of the Republican candidates for governor supports abortion rights and all of them say they would implement statewide restrictions — some more rigid than others. For example, the leading candidate in the polls, State Sen. Doug Mastriano, is the prime cosponsor of a “fetal heartbeat” ban, which would make abortion illegal beginning at about six weeks of gestation. When this board asked Zama if he’d sign such a bill, he said no — not because he doesn’t support a ban, but because he felt doing so would incorrectly imply that he supports abortion before six weeks of pregnancy.
Given the Supreme Court’s apparent plans, the members of the board asked each other if we could bring ourselves to support a candidate who, if given the opportunity, was all but certain to use their pen as governor to ban abortion once the protections of Roe are no longer in place. We could not.
There is no pleasure in coming to this conclusion. In fact, it is a sad state of affairs.
There is no inherent virtue in supporting the policies that this board supports — but that’s not the point. The question isn’t how can more people agree with us, but how can this nation come to a place where we reach different conclusions and hold different opinions while operating from the same commonly shared set of facts? We don’t have an answer.
Here is what we do know: It is through discussion, debate, and the interrogation of ideas that we develop a shared story. We hold on to the words of Thomas Jefferson — one of this nation’s flawed but fundamental founders — that “truth is great and will prevail” unless “disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate.”
That is why we wanted to speak with all of the candidates this primary. That is why we will invite the Republican nominees in both races to endorsement meetings in the fall. That is why we wanted to help provide guidance to Inquirer readers with an endorsement in the Republican primaries this year — but we couldn’t. Nevertheless, we will not stop engaging in free argument and debate until truth prevails.