Why Pennsylvania could become Ground Zero for a major constitutional crisis: journalist

Why Pennsylvania could become Ground Zero for a major constitutional crisis: journalist
Pennsylvania State Sen. Doug Mastriano, from Wikimedia Commons

A previous version of this article said that in Pennsylvania, governors choose the state attorney general. In Pennsylvania, governors choose the secretary of state, but state attorney general is an elected position. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro was elected to that position in 2016.

In the 2022 midterms, two of the most closely watched races will take place in Pennsylvania: a gubernatorial election to replace Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf (who is term-limited) and a U.S. Senate election to replace two-term Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who decided against seeking reelection. Polls have found State Sen. Doug Mastriano, a far-right MAGA extremist, surging in Pennsylvania’s GOP gubernatorial primary — and liberal Washington Post opinion writer Greg Sargent, in his May 11 column, warns that Pennsylvania could become Ground Zero for a major constitutional crisis if Mastriano becomes governor.

Politically, Mastriano is way beyond conservative; he’s extreme, and he has been campaigning on the Big Lie — falsely claiming that former President Donald Trump won Pennsylvania in 2020 and saying that the Keystone State’s electoral votes never should have been given to now-President Joe Biden.

“How should the media cover a candidate who is running for a position of control over our election machinery — and has also displayed an open eagerness to steal elections?” Sargent writes. “This question arises now that Doug Mastriano is surging in the GOP primary for Pennsylvania governor. As a state senator, Mastriano played a lead role in Donald Trump’s effort to overturn his 2020 presidential loss, and the state’s next governor could be pivotal to a 2024 coup rerun.”

Mastriano, Sargent warns, “poses” a “true threat to democracy.”

“Mastriano didn’t just try to help Trump overturn the election — at the time, he also essentially declared his support for the notion that the popular vote can be treated as non-binding when it comes to the certification of presidential electors,” Sargent explains. “Mastriano is now running for a position that exerts real control over the process of certifying electors. Republicans fear he could secure the nomination, because he might be a weak general-election candidate. But forecasters note that in a bad enough year, he could win.”

Sargent adds, “This is deeply worrisome: It means Mastriano could soon have the power to help execute a version of the scheme he endorsed — certifying electors in direct defiance of the state’s popular-vote outcome, based on bogus claims that this outcome was compromised.”

Politically, Pennsylvania is a complex state. Veteran Democratic strategist James Carville, in the late 1980s, famously described Pennsylvania as Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west and Alabama in between — and it is still a lot like that in 2022. Central Pennsylvania, jokingly called “Pennsyltucky” by some residents of the state, is very Republican-friendly, while densely populated Philadelphia is overwhelmingly Democratic and hasn’t had a GOP mayor since the early 1950s. Democratic candidates, if they’re smart, know that in order to win statewide races in Pennsylvania, they need to campaign hard in Philly and visit a lot of Black churches.

Sargent isn’t exaggerating when he warns that Mastriano is flat-out dangerous. Imagine Mastriano throwing out thousands of Democratic votes in Philly — a city that’s roughly 40% African-American — in 2024 simply because he doesn’t like the outcome. Mastriano, if elected, wouldn’t think twice about disenfranchising Black voters in big numbers.

In Pennsylvania, governors pick the secretary of state, which is one of the things that worries Mastriano's critics. As governor of Pennsylvania, Mastriano would be able to select a Pennsylvania secretary of state. And those who hold that position play an important role in the administration of elections. In 2019, Gov. Tom Wolf appointed Kathy Boockvar as Pennsylvania secretary of state; that position is presently held by Leigh M. Chapman, appointed by Wolf in January 2022.

“If the Democratic contender wins the popular vote in Pennsylvania in 2024,” Sargent writes, “and Gov. Mastriano declares widespread fraud, what’s to stop his handpicked secretary of state from certifying the GOP candidate as winner, after which, he could sign certification of that candidate’s electors? What’s to stop a House of Representatives controlled by Speaker Kevin McCarthy from counting those sham GOP electors?”

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