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How Pennsylvania's many Republican gubernatorial candidates are trying to set themselves apart

On today’s episode of The Confluence: GOP candidates are attempting to set themselves apart in a crowded field for Pennsylvania’s governor; how proposed state legislation could affect the testing and production of self-driving cars; and we learn how the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center is helping organizations honor indigenous people with land acknowledgements.

The field of GOP candidates for governor is getting crowded, while only one serious Democratic contender has emerged
(0:00 - 7:21)

The race for Pennsylvania’s next governor is, by some estimates, getting a bit crowded.

Last weekend, Republican State Sen. Doug Mastriano added his name to the growing list of contenders for his party’s nomination.

So, where does the race for the top job in the commonwealth stand?

“We’re looking at 15 candidates as of this past weekend on the Republican side, and really only one serious contender on the democratic side,” says WESA Capitol bureau chief Sam Dunklau.

Amid a full slate, Dunklau says the GOP candidates are seeking to distinguish themselves, even though they all want fewer taxes and state regulations.

“Some of the folks that are trying to stand out at this moment are trying to kind of flex their conservative bonafides,” says Dunklau, referencing Mastriano’s Donald Trump-style insults to Democratic state leaders during his announcement.

“I’ve spoken to the GOP State party about this and some of their members have said, … they’re not necessarily looking for the ‘Trumpiest’ candidate. They’re looking for someone who can appeal to moderates, to independents, … to beat somebody like Josh Shapiro,” says Dunklau.

Josh Shapiro, the state attorney general, is currently running unopposed in the democratic primary for the governors’ race.

Dunklau says he’s positioning himself as the “pro-democracy” candidate, appealing to voters who believe Republicans are attacking the state’s voting infrastructure.

The primary is currently scheduled for May 17, and will determine which candidates will showdown in the November gubernatorial election.

State legislation seeks to expand driverless cars on the road
(7:26 - 16:22)

Legislation backed by supporters of the autonomous vehicles industry want to change Pennsylvania’s law regulating the industry.

Under current law, the autonomous vehicles must have a human driver behind the wheel in case of emergency. Proposed bipartisan legislation would eliminate that requirement.

“This legislation is critical from two different perspectives: One is a competitiveness angle, both internationally and domestically, and the other requires a particular nature where testing has to happen on public roads with real traffic,” says Raj Rajkumar, the co-director of General Motors-Carnegie Mellon Vehicular Information Technology Collaborative Research Lab.

Rajkumar says it’s much easier to test and work with developers when they’re all in the same state, so it would benefit Pennsylvania to create laws that are more friendly to autonomous vehicle testing.

“If it is being permitted in 39 states, but not in the brain and heart of autonomous vehicle technology development, that doesn’t make sense,” says Rajkumar.

He says as technology improves, it needs to be tested in real conditions.

“We will understand under what conditions driverless operations can be deemed to be safe, and by the same token, under what conditions they are not as reliable, and as time goes by, we expand that scope of that operational domain and at some point in time, it’s basically large enough that we can count on driverless vehicles to basically transport us safely, and to deliver our purchases on time.”

Land acknowledgements honoring Pittsburgh’s indigenous people are growing in popularity
(16:24 - 22:30)

In several countries, including the U.S., there is a growing interest to acknowledge the indigenous communities that lived on the land. That same interest is spreading to organizations in southwestern Pennsylvania.

“Since 2018, I’ve counted in the neighborhood of [helping develop] 30 land acknowledgements,” says Miguel Sague, a board member of the local Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center. Sague is also a member of the Taino Indigenous Nation of the Caribbean.

Sague says acknowledgements are both an expression of respect and a commitment to learning about the region’s indigenous residents.

“The idea is to create some sort of a statement, or some sort of an expression that acknowledges the original native, indigenous people that were or still are existing on a particular territory where something is going on,” says Sague. He says this expression can range from a permanent sign on a university campus, to a statement given before a convention.

Sague says moving forward, he hopes to build a relationship between the Council and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, which is home to the Alcoa Foundation Hall of American Indians.

“I feel that there has been an unfortunate disconnect between [the Carnegie Museum] and us that I wish that we could re-establish, because that’s one of the most important organizations that can help teach and promote the presence of indigenous people in this area to the wider public,” says Sague.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts. 

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