April 21, 2021
One of our polarized country’s most pronounced challenges is the growing divide between rural and urban America. It is a gap that includes significant variations in economic opportunities and what can be debilitating disparities in critical modern infrastructure, such as access to high-speed internet. It is a gap that also includes sometimes stark social and political differences. Understanding and effectively addressing this divide is essential for the wellbeing of our democracy.
Jen Giovannitti is the President of the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, a place-based funder dedicated to rural communities. It generally invests two-thirds of its grant dollars in West Virginia and one-third in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Prior to joining the Benedum Foundation, Ms. Giovannitti led community-based initiatives for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, working both regionally and nationally on issues facing low-income communities and advancing strategies for community investment. Earlier in her career, she lived in West Virginia for 11 years and led a succession of important economic development initiatives.
February 4, 2021
Pennsylvania’s historic election-reform law, which took effect on October 31, 2019, authorized no-excuse, mail-in voting and passed both houses of the legislature with strong bipartisan support. After the presidential election in 2020, then-President Trump and his allies, including some elected officials from Pennsylvania, unsuccessfully sought to overturn the results of our election in every available forum, including the courts and the Congressional session that was interrupted for several hours by the January 6 riot in the Capitol. David Thornburgh is the President and CEO of The Committee of Seventy, a non-partisan organization that was founded in Philadelphia in 1904 and is one of the country’s oldest good government groups. Its mission emphasizes strengthening democracy and protecting and improving the voting process in Pennsylvania. Mr. Thornburgh is considered by many to be Pennsylvania’s leading expert on elections. He will discuss the issues surrounding an election that has been relentlessly attacked as fraudulent by some but that most have concluded was free and fair.
December 1, 2020
Among the most troubling images of COVID-19’s impact are those capturing long lines of people, sometimes in cars and sometimes on foot, waiting for the food they need, for themselves and their families, to be provided by their local food bank. As a result of the pandemic, more than 50 million Americans, including one in every four children, are battling hunger. Food banks across the country have faced daunting challenges as demand has grown, food supplies have diminished, and social distancing has reduced volunteers. Lisa Scales, President and CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, which serves eleven counties and is one of the largest in the country, discusses how the Food Bank and its community partners have adapted to meet the needs of the Pittsburgh region though expanded service, innovative programming, and more holistic services. She also offers perspectives on the evolving mission of food banks and policy changes that will be required if current and anticipated challenges to our country’s food safety net are to be effectively met.
November 16, 2020
Since last spring, the United States has faced a series of cascading crises brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. An ongoing health crisis resulting in over 240,000 American deaths has quickly expanded into an economic downturn resulting in food and housing insecurity for millions of Americans. Throughout our communities our neighbors are suffering and organizations like the United Way have stepped up to help meet basic needs during these uniquely challenging times. Bobbi Watt Geer, President and CEO of the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, describes how the United Way has worked to address the problems arising from the pandemic within urban, suburban, and rural communities. She explains the importance of early planning and strong regional partnerships between governments, businesses, and nonprofits to overcome crises when they arise.
October 14, 2020
The checks and balances built into our federal system of government deliberately create a level of ongoing tension between its three branches. Among the main checks on executive power are congressional investigations and oversight, designed to ensure that our government is operating effectively and efficiently and in ways that meet the needs of the American people. In recent years, tensions related to congressional oversight have become more pronounced and more public, as investigations have been resisted, subpoenas have been ignored, inspectors general have been removed from office, and the President has been impeached. Susan Sachsman Grooms, Deputy Staff Director and Chief Counsel for the Democratic Staff of the Committee on Oversight and Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives, discusses the authority of Congress to investigate and the need for oversight of the executive branch. She also discusses how higher levels of partisanship have impacted oversight and the relationship between Congress and the Presidency.
October 6, 2020
In the wake of nationwide protests following the killing of George Floyd, armed right-wing extremist groups have responded with counter demonstrations, resulting most recently in the deaths of two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Harry Litman, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General, former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania and national syndicated columnist for the Los Angeles Times, critiques the president’s refusal to condemn right-wing violence and discusses actions taken by the administration that have eroded the rule of law. He also examines the tradition of peaceful transitions of power and the likelihood of election litigation during the 2020 general election.
September 28, 2020
The separation of politics and criminal law enforcement has long been viewed as a critical feature of our American system of governance. Beginning with the 2016 presidential campaign and its cries of “lock her up” directed at the opposing candidate, there have been questions about the extent to which the current administration would respect that separation or, instead, would move the country away from its fundamental commitment to the rule of law. Those concerns have grown in intensity because of actions by the President and Attorney General in characterizing the Mueller report before its release to the public; seeking the reduction of criminal penalties, supporting the withdrawal of guilty pleas, and exercising pardon and commutation powers to benefit friends and allies of the President; the launching of an investigation with the apparent intent to impact the upcoming election; and the labeling of certain communities as “anarchist cities” as a step toward cutting back on federal financial support. Building on his extraordinary career in federal law enforcement, Chuck Rosenberg, who has held a series of high-ranking positions in the U.S. Department of Justice, including the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration, and who is a widely respected legal analyst, offers his perspectives on this important issue.
September 22, 2020
On October 31, 2019, Governor Wolf signed into law an historic election reform bill that had moved through the legislature with bipartisan support. Among other reforms, it authorized no-excuse, mail-in voting in Pennsylvania for the first time. That reform faced its first practical test when the pandemic struck, and the volume of mailed ballots cast in the June primary election increased dramatically. Even larger numbers of mailed ballots are expected in the November presidential election, and the intervening months have brought questions about the reliability of the U.S. Postal Service, partisan skirmishing in Harrisburg, and a number of election-related lawsuits. David Thornburgh – the President and CEO of the Committee of Seventy, a good governance advocate, and perhaps Pennsylvania’s leading authority on elections and election reform – discusses these issues and offers practical guidance for those who will be voting in November. Sharing perspectives gained from his service as Chair of the Pennsylvania Redistricting Reform Commission and as Founder of Draw the Lines, he also looks ahead to offer insights into the redistricting processes that will follow the completion of the 2020 census.
September 15, 2020
As we move through a highly contentious campaign season, David Shribman, the Executive Editor Emeritus of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, examines democracy’s need for truthfulness from elected officials and accuracy from the media. Drawing upon his decades of work as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, as well as his extensive experience as an editor, Mr. Shribman reflects on the responsible practices that promote integrity in journalism. As one who has covered both Presidents and presidential campaigns, he also discusses the historical relationship between the press and the President and draws distinctions between various forms of “untruth” that have come from Presidents over time.
September 7, 2020
This fall more than 56 million students are getting ready to return for the new school year. Normally this is a time of excitement for schools and families, but this school year will be unlike any we have seen as school districts are presented with unique challenges related to fostering a safe and productive education environment during the pandemic. Robert Scherrer, executive director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, discusses the response of the 42 school districts within the boundaries of the intermediate unit as they develop in-person, hybrid, and remote learning opportunities for students and respond to challenges in public health, school funding, and access to technology.