Pa. voters decided. But Republicans continue to mislead on the 2020 election | Opinion

In the Pennsylvania Legislature, there’s been no accountability from GOP leaders for their members involved, including a state senator who was photographed on the Capitol grounds on Jan 6

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin (R) and former state Rep. Rick Saccone at the U.S. Capitol on 1/6/21 (Facebook photo)

By J.J. Abbott

Hundreds of miles from the U.S. Capitol and well before Jan. 6, 2020, Pennsylvania was at the epicenter of the worst attack on democracy since The Civil War. And election lies that served as fuel for it continue to be used to justify unnecessary voting restrictions and sham voter investigations that benefit the same Republicans who used their control of PA’s legislature to stoke the fire of insurrection.

But will Pennsylvanians remember? Those responsible for inspiring this attack do not want accountability and want to erase our collective memory of the direct connection between the events of Jan. 6 and the voting restrictions and election attacks now being pursued relentlessly.

In the Pennsylvania Legislature, there’s been no accountability from GOP leaders for their members involved, including a state Senator who was photographed on the Capitol grounds on Jan 6.

Why? Because Republican leaders were central to it, and stand to benefit from the election restrictions rooted in their deception campaign. They blocked timely counting of mail-in ballots; held rallies, press conferences and hearings to push election lies; and organized letters urging Congress to throw out Pennsylvania’s votes on January 6th with the vast majority of their members signing on.

Republicans may want to “move on” but our civic institutionsA have an obligation to be forthright with the public and support democracy and accountability. That includes media coverage and public platforming of these politicians.

This Jan. 6th, Pennsylvanians across race, place, party, and background are coming together to say: in America, the voters decide the outcome of our elections.

Grassroots and public interest groups, mostly led by people of color, organized and sustained the fight to count every vote in 2020. And they continue to lead in holding politicians accountable who seek to make it harder for people to vote.

Elected officials such as Gov. Tom Wolf, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, and local legislators and officials have also been strong defenders of democracy.

WITF-FM, central Pennsylvania’s NPR affiliate, set a national standard in accountability for ‘Big Lie’ politicians and the Jan. 6 attack. There’s also been essential reporting on these lies and attacks by the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Caucus (LNP), and many more journalists and outlets.

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In its coverage of election-related matters, the Capital-Star routinely includes this disclaimer: “Now-President Joe Biden won the election in the commonwealth by 80,555 votes. Efforts to review the 2020 election come after a months-long campaign by former President Donald Trump, who made unsubstantiated claims that voter fraud and misconduct resulted in his loss. Legal challenges to the results failed in court, and two post-election audits carried out in Pennsylvania after the presidential election found no evidence of fraud.”

But across much of Pennsylvania’s media landscape and political environment, the consequences for those that pushed The Big Lie and fueled January 6th have waned. And the ongoing, affiliated GOP pursuit of ‘election integrity’ changes is less often couched as related despite ample evidence otherwise.

And while some corporations ceased donations to these Keystone State legislators, many bailed over time. And these politicians also continue to be given public platforms in the media and at community events without accountability.

Like the former president, Pennsylvania Republicans misled millions of their supporters about a stolen election, used those lies to urge Congress to throw out millions of votes, and directly and indirectly inspired a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol.

And they continue to use the same lies and phony outrage to abuse Pennsylvania’s electoral and legislative processes to appease the former president and help the Republican Party. These actions are all clearly linked.

While more Pennsylvanians than nearly any other state or commonwealth have been arrested in connection with the Jan. 6th insurrection, instead of facing any consequences, Republican legislators central to inspiring that attack were instead promoted to oversee election policy.

One Republican who organized the first letter in the nation urging Congress to dispute a state’s electors on January 6th then was quickly appointed chair of the committee that oversees election legislation in 2021. Also on the same committee are Republicans that spread a lie – about more votes than voters in Pennsylvania – that was then used by Trump and rioters to justify their actions on Jan. 6.

Unfortunately, no other Pennsylvania media outlet has met WITF-FM’s commitment. But it’s not too late for all of us, especially business, civic and media leaders, to recommit to both democracy and accountability, as the public radio station did in announcing its nation-leading standards:

“This was either knowingly spreading disinformation or outright lying by elected officials to overturn an election in an attempt to keep former President Trump in office. This was an unprecedented assault on the fabric of American democracy. To us, this is a matter of holding elected officials accountable for their actions.”

American democracy is centered on citizens’ ability to freely vote and hold their representatives accountable at the ballot box, in the press and in public spaces. The persistent lies and attacks on the freedom to vote in PA seek to undermine our democracy on the very ground it was founded.

Pennsylvania – citizens, journalists and institutions – should follow WITF-FM’s lead in standing for democracy and speak truth in continuing to hold those who seek to undermine it accountable.

J.J. Abbott, a former spokesperson for Gov. Tom Wolf, is the executive director of Commonwealth Communications, a Harrisburg-based progressive communications organization.

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Capital-Star Guest Contributor
Capital-Star Guest Contributor

The Pennsylvania Capital-Star welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation on how politics and public policy affects the day-to-day lives of people across the commonwealth.