Political Headlines

`Clean bill of health’ for Wolf after prostate cancer bout

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s office says the Democrat has a “clean bill of health” less than a year after he revealed he had a treatable form of prostate cancer.
His press secretary on Wednesday said the 68-year-old Wolf got the news from his doctor last week.
The spokesman, J.J. Abbott, says he has no other information about the doctor’s assessment of Wolf.
Wolf has kept a busy schedule while receiving treatment, traveling around the state and attending functions. Wolf also is planning to run for re-election in 2018 to a second four-year term. He took office in 2015.
On Tuesday, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton announced he has prostate cancer. The 69-year-old Democratic governor revealed the diagnosis after collapsing while delivering his State of the State address the night before.

Political Headlines

Gov. Wolf eliminating ‘thousands’ of unfilled state jobs

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration is moving to eliminate thousands of unfilled positions in state government as Pennsylvania faces a large budget deficit, officials said Friday.
The Wolf administration told cabinet agencies in a memo obtained by The Associated Press that it is effectively limiting the size of the state workforce to the number of positions now filled, and it will put money currently allocated to fill those positions into reserve.
Wolf’s press secretary, Jeff Sheridan, said the decision will affect thousands of positions. However, Sheridan said he was not authorized to give a more precise number of positions eliminated, how each agency would be affected or say how much money the move would save .
There are about 73,000 filled salaried positions under the governor’s jurisdiction, Sheridan said, and the administration’s move seems to ensure that a state workforce that has been shrinking steadily from about 80,000 a decade ago will continue to do so.
The memo went out two days after the Wolf administration warned of a $600 million shortfall in the budget year that ends June 30. Administration officials blame the current-year shortfall in the state’s $31.5 billion budget on underfunding of human services programs and lackluster tax collections.
That shortfall is compounded by a stubborn post-recession deficit that has dogged state government. The Legislature’s nonpartisan Independent Fiscal Office has projected a $1.7 billion deficit in the fiscal year starting July 1. Wolf, a Democrat, is due to deliver a budget proposal to the Legislature in February and has given little detail about how he will try to resolve the gap.
The repeated use of one-time stopgaps to plug the deficit has drawn five credit downgrades by the three major credit rating agencies since 2012, leaving Pennsylvania among the lowest-rated states and paying higher rates to borrow money.
On Wednesday, House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, said there is little appetite in the GOP-controlled Legislature to raise income or sales taxes, and he suggested that sweeping structural changes to state government could be the only way to solve the latest fiscal jam.
Officials from labor unions representing tens of thousands of state employees did not return calls seeking comment or declined comment, and legislative officials said they had not been briefed on the governor’s plans.
A spokesman for Reed welcomed the news of eliminating vacant positions.
“It is time to downsize,” spokesman Steve Miskin said. “There’s been a number of slots that have been vacant for years and don’t need to be filled. That’s what we’re looking to do in restructuring state government.”

Political Headlines

Attorney: Teen to plead guilty but mentally ill in stabbings

GREENSBURG, Pa. (AP) — A teen charged with slashing and stabbing 20 fellow students and a security guard at a Pennsylvania high school is guilty but was mentally ill during the April 2014 rampage, his defense attorney said again Monday.

Trouble is, a prosecutor insists the teen is just plain guilty and wasn’t unduly driven by mental illness. So a judge on Monday said he’ll digest testimony from psychological experts and gave attorneys more than 40 days to file written arguments about whether he should accept the teen’s proposed plea to 21 counts each of attempted homicide and aggravated assault, plus a school weapons violation.

Both sides agree Alex Hribal, 19, walked robotically through the hallways of Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, using two 8-inch kitchen knives to carve a bloody path though the hallways at the upper-middle class school about 15 miles east of Pittsburgh. Hribal was 16 years old when he attacked on April 9, 2014, purposely choosing the birthday of Eric Harris, one of two teens psychiatrists say Hribal “worshipped” for their attacks on Columbine High School near Denver on April 20, 1999.

Hribal told psychiatric experts for the prosecution and the defense he first wanted to commit the attacks on the 15th anniversary of the Columbine attacks but couldn’t because school wasn’t in session that day.

But lingering questions about whether that and other evidence means Hribal was too mentally ill to have a “substantial capacity” to “appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the law,” are preventing Westmoreland County Judge Christopher Feliciani from determining whether Hribal is guilty but mentally ill.

If the judge eventually accepts that plea, Hribal will be sent to a mental hospital to begin serving what’s expected to be decades of incarceration and moved to prison only if doctors determine he’s no longer mentally ill. If the judge rejects the plea, defense attorney Patrick Thomassey said he’ll let a jury decide whether Hribal is guilty but mentally ill, guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity.

“I tried to settle this thing by pleading guilty but mentally ill, but the DA said àno,’” Thomassey said. “I think the general public has this idea that if it’s àguilty but mentally ill’ that when he’s well he gets to go home. He goes to prison. I’m not sure what we’re fighting over,” Thomassey said.

District Attorney John Peck acknowledged Hribal likely faces a long incarceration whether the judge accepts the plea or Hribal is convicted some other way.

“But in such a serious case, I don’t think we should just concede” that Hribal is mentally ill, Peck said. Four of Hribal’s victims were critically injured, including one who required a liver transplant, but all survived and have since recovered.

Peck said it’s not a foregone conclusion that Hribal was mentally ill, even if he was obsessed with the Columbine teens who killed 12 students and one teacher and wounded more than 20 others before taking their own lives.

Dr. Alan Axelson, one of three defense experts who testified Monday that Hribal was psychotic during the stabbing rampage, said the teen was depressed and had contemplated suicide since he was in the fourth grade and was hoping to be killed during the Franklin Regional High attacks.

But Dr. Bruce Wright, the DA’s expert, said although Hribal was depressed and mentally ill “in my opinion he had the capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions.”

“He chose not to,” Wright said.


Political Headlines

Gunman kills officer, self; woman found dead after fight

CANONSBURG, Pa. (AP) — A gunman with a history of domestic abuse fatally shot a police officer and wounded another on Thursday before he and a woman were found dead following a fight at their apartment, authorities said.

Officer Scott Bashioum and the other officer were responding separately to an emergency call from neighbors at around 3:15 a.m. when they were “ambushed upon their arrival” and immediately shot, state police Trooper Melinda Bondarenka said. The officers had arrived almost simultaneously, though authorities said other details of the initial confrontation were unclear.

Bashioum, a father of four, died less than an hour later at a hospital, a coroner said. The 52-year-old had been on the police force for seven years.

The wounded officer, whose name was not released, was hospitalized in Pittsburgh in stable condition after surgery.

The man found in the home, 47-year-old Michael Cwiklinski, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Washington County Coroner Timothy Warco ruled. Information on the woman hadn’t been released because authorities hadn’t contacted her relatives, who live overseas. Police haven’t said how they believe the woman died.

But defense attorney David Wolf identified the dead woman as Cwiklinski’s girlfriend, Dalia Sabae, though some investigators have been describing her as Cwiklinski’s wife and she listed herself as “married” on her Facebook page.

Wolf said he had known the couple since November 2015, when Cwiklinski was charged with simple assault and harassment for swinging a bag of merchandise and hitting Sabae in the eye. The case was resolved with the assault charge being dropped and Cwiklinski pleading guilty to harassment. He was sentenced to anger management classes and required to have a mental health evaluation, Wolf said.

Neighbors said police were called to the couple’s duplex frequently, and Canonsburg police Chief Al Coghill confirmed the gunman was known to authorities, without providing details.

Sabae obtained a protection-from-abuse order last month, after dropping one she had last year, Wolf said.

“She told me they were having trouble again,” said Wolf, who couldn’t represent Sabae because he represented Cwiklinski.

Wolf said he had encouraged Sabae to get another protection order and said Cwiklinski was there when he ran into the couple at the county courthouse.

Cwiklinski and Sabae, an Egyptian citizen, had met online, the attorney said.

Authorities said the duplex may have been “booby-trapped” but declined to provide details. The bomb squad from neighboring Allegheny County was called to safeguard the scene before police entered and found the couple dead, police said.

Mayor David Rhome and Coghill said the shooting was unprecedented for Canonsburg, a borough of about 8,900 residents just southwest of Pittsburgh that is best known as the birthplace of crooners Bobby Vinton and Perry Como.

A military memorial outside the borough building, already decorated with flags for Friday’s Veterans’ Day observance, became a makeshift memorial for Bashioum, with residents dropping off flowers, candles and other mementos.

The Canon-McMillan School District canceled classes Thursday because of the heavy police presence.


National News Pennsylvania Headlines Political Headlines

GOP call for statewide Pennsylvania poll watchers is denied

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — In a scathing rebuke, a federal judge on Thursday denied the Pennsylvania Republican Party’s effort to allow poll watchers from anywhere in the state monitor precincts on Election Day.

Eastern District of Pennsylvania Judge Gerald J. Pappert said the state GOP’s request was “unreasonably delayed,” is not in the public interest and does not meet the standard for a last-minute intervention from the court.

“Any intervention at this point risks practical concerns including disruption, confusion or other unforeseen deleterious effects,” Pappert wrote. “Plaintiffs waited until eighteen days before the election to bring this case. … Were the Court to enter the requested injunction, poll watchers would be allowed to roam the Commonwealth on election day for the first time in the Election Code’s seventy-nine year history — giving the Commonwealth and county election officials all of five days’ notice to prepare for the change.”

Congressman Bob Brady, who is also chairman of the Philadelphia Democratic Party, said he was happy with the ruling.

“We don’t need out-of-county people,” Brady said. “They’re just trying to suppress the vote and cause confusion. It’s totally ridiculous.”

The state Republican Party filed for a temporary restraining order Oct. 21, claiming that the current Pennsylvania law regarding poll watchers is unconstitutional. State law allows poll watchers to monitor locations only within the county in which they are registered to vote.

The challenge came as polls showed a tight race between Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Trump has warned of “rigged elections” in “other communities” including cities like Philadelphia and has encouraged supporters to monitor the polls.

State Republican Party spokeswoman Megan Sweeney called the ruling “a blow to openness and transparency in our electoral system” and said the party would review its legal options.

In his ruling, Pappert said a decision to intervene could have disproportionately burdened Philadelphia election officials on the eve of the election.

“To the extent that the Party wishes to allocate newly available poll watchers on election day, it will of course send them to Philadelphia,” Pappert wrote. “The poll watchers will all need to be properly credentialed in Philadelphia County and they will all seek those credentials between now and election day. … As county workers focus on myriad critical tasks in the final days before the election, an injunction’s likely effect of increasing their workload (perhaps to the point of impossibility) weighs strongly against granting it.”

The lawsuit also claimed that the law violates voters’ free speech — an argument Pappert characterized as weak, adding that poll watching is not a fundamental right under the First Amendment.

“The content of a poll watcher’s statements cannot be characterized as political speech,” Pappert said. “Plaintiffs’ assertion that statements made in one’s capacity as a poll watcher constitute core political speech is meritless.”


Political Headlines

‘Self-funded’ Donald Trump preparing to seek big-donor money


LAS VEGAS (AP) — The billionaire presidential candidate who prides himself on paying his own way and bashed his competition for relying on political donors now wants their money — and lots of it.

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, recently hired a national finance chairman, scheduled his first fundraiser and is on the cusp of signing a deal with the Republican Party that would enable him to solicit donations of more than $300,000 apiece from supporters.

His money-raising begins right away.

The still-forming finance team is planning a dialing-for-dollars event on the fifth floor of Trump Tower in New York, and the campaign is at work on a fundraising website focused on small donations. In addition to a May 25 fundraiser at the Los Angeles home of real estate developer Tom Barrack, he’ll hold another soon thereafter in New York.

The political newcomer faces a gargantuan task: A general election campaign can easily run up a $1 billion tab. For the primary race, Trump spent a tiny fraction of that amount — he’s estimated $50 million of his own money, plus about $12 million from donors who sought his campaign out on their own.

Trump told The Associated Press in an interview this week that he will spend minimally on a data operation that can help identify and turn out voters. And he’s betting that the media’s coverage of his rallies and celebrity personality will reduce his need for pricey television advertising.

Yet he acknowledged that the general-election campaign may cost “a lot.” To help raise the needed money, he tapped Steven Mnuchin, a New York investor with ties in Hollywood and Las Vegas but no political fundraising experience.

“To me this is no different than building a business, and this is a business with a fabulous product: Donald Trump,” Mnuchin said in an interview at a financial industry conference in Las Vegas. Trump’s new national finance chairman said prospective donors are “coming out of the woodwork” and he’s been fielding emails and phone calls from people he hasn’t heard from in 20 years.

More experienced fundraisers are coming aboard, too, such as Eli Miller of Washington, Anthony Scaramucci of New York and Ray Washburn of Dallas. All three helped raise money for candidates Trump defeated in the primary.

To convey the amount of work needed to vacuum up money, Scaramucci, part of 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s finance team, recently shared Romney’s old fundraising calendar with Trump. He said Trump was receptive to a schedule that has 50 to 100 fundraisers over the summer.

Scaramucci said he didn’t expect Trump to grovel for donors. “But is he going to say thank you and be appreciative? Of course. He’s very good one-on-one. He’s a hard guy not to like.”

Trump’s dilemma: By asking for money, he could anger supporters who love his assertion that he’s different from most politicians because he isn’t beholden to donors.

He’s tried to navigate these tricky waters by saying he wants only to raise money to benefit the party and help elect other Republicans. But his planned joint fundraising agreement with Republican officials also provides a direct route to his own campaign coffers.

Such an arrangement could work like this: For each large contribution, the first $2,700 or $5,400 goes to Trump’s campaign, the next $33,400 goes to the Republican National Committee, similar amounts could go to national party accounts and the rest is divided evenly among various state parties the candidate selects.

Democrat Hillary Clinton set up such a victory committee in September, and it had collected $61 million by the end of March.

She also counts on several super PACs. They’ve landed million-dollar checks from her friends and supporters and already scheduled $130 million in TV, radio and internet ads leading up to Election Day.

Trump is only now beginning to turn his attention to this kind of big money. A decision on how fully to embrace outside groups is fraught with possible charges of hypocrisy, since he has called them “corrupt.”

Still, wealthy Trump supporters have several options.

On Thursday, Doug Watts, former communications director for Ben Carson’s 2016 bid, said he’d started a group called the Committee for American Sovereignty. Its advisers include former Trump resorts executive Nicholas Ribis Sr. and longtime GOP donor Kenneth Abramowitz. The group aims to raise $20 million before the GOP convention in July.

Another entity, Great America PAC, has struggled to get off the ground but hopes to raise $15 million to $20 million in the next few months, said its chief fundraiser, Eric Beach. The group recently brought on Ronald Reagan’s campaign manager Ed Rollins, whom Trump has praised.

The super PAC raised more than $450,000 last month, its fundraising reports due next week to the Federal Election Commission will show. But it had not yet generated enough cash to cover the more than $1 million in satellite TV ads it has booked.

In June, Rollins will go to the Texas ranch of billionaire oil investor T. Boone Pickens, who said Wednesday he intends to help finance Trump’s effort. While that meeting is not a fundraiser, it’s an opportunity for the super PAC to make a pitch to Pickens and his wealthy friends.

One Trump emissary to the world of major donors is billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who made calls to Pickens and others to gauge their interest in Trump.

Some are biting, either because of support for Trump or a desire to keep Clinton out of office. Among the latter group is Stanley Hubbard, a Minnesota broadcast billionaire who spent money trying to “stop Trump.”

Having failed in that quest, he said he’s prepared to write a check to stop Clinton.