Monday, May 16, 2005

KDKA's Delano, a staunch Dem, gives tingling endorsmen to the "L"

Diven v. Fontana v. Rauterkus:

I never knew that Michael Diven and Wayne Fontana were such horrible human beings until the Harrisburg aparatchiks for both political parties descended on this region to tell us all their faults. Voters in the 42nd senatorial district have been flooded with reams of ugly literature and all of us have been subjected to negative TV ads that depict these two nice guys (yes, they are both nice gentlemen) as the devil incarnate. It's the battle for a Senate seat between Diven, the Republican, and Fontana, the Democrat (and Mark Rauterkus, the Libertarian), and both political parties are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to win.

Fontana should win tomorrow, but Diven is the kind of Republican who can pull an upset. The Rs think their man is up by two points, while the Dems think Fontana is ahead by double digits. Sadly, the race has come down to trivial accusations that sometimes border on the laughable. Diven shows a picture with his fiancee and some kids (not his own), and somehow he's committed some campaign fraud. Fontana, one of 15 members of county council and the most outspoken against reassessments and former Allegheny County chief executive Jim Roddey (R), is somehow the author of every action in the county that raised property assessments. It's almost enough to make you vote Libertarian!

Behind the scenes, the battle is between Republican and Democratic state operatives. Having won a special state senate election back in Allentown on April 5, the GOP would like nothing better than to pick up another one, especially in a city-suburban district like this one. The Dems are throwing everything at it to keep that from happening. And one guy who has a lot riding on this race is Allegheny County chief executive Dan Onorato, the Democrat who does not need a political loss in his own neighborhood. Onorato has raised more than a $100,000 for the Fontana camp and tossed in some dollars of his own. If nothing else, after the rather bland mayor's race, this battle has been entertaining.

Jon Delano, always the gentlemen, tip toes around the race coverage in his email blast today. I could never hope for anything better than the above posting from Delano. To me, that is like hitting a grand-slam in the bottom of the ninth, with the other team ahead.

The entire posting, PSF, is in the comment section.

Yes, Delano is right in that there has been a lot of "operative" action in the race with Diven and Fontana. The opponents are close to puppet status, sadly. There are a lot of issues that I still don't understand, (like why the Ds would put so much money into a guy like Fontana who is so anti-choice), but I'm not going to air them out on the eve of the election. I'll get to the head-scratching elements later.

Finally, to the last word of his post, "entertaining." I wish that this race of ours was entertaining. We had ONE debate that was put on TV. One. I needed five, then the race would have been entertaining, really.

I was the clear victor in the lone TV debate. If we had a handful of public opportunities, such as should have happened with PUMP, AIA, Urban League, PIIN, within the Trib, Courier, The Front, CMU/Pitt/Carlow/Point Park/RMU, UJF, and on with WPTT, KDKA, TV 11, QED, DUQ, WTAE, PCTV and KQV -- then -- we'd ALL would be buying advertising. Furthermore, the race would be a three-way deadlock.

I know. I know. I shouldn't pick battles with those who buy ink by the barrel, nor with those who have big bandwidth, like Comcast. But, the journalist in me is again frustrated with the global efforts of voter education and media play in certain times in certain races.

This time, globally, I have little but praise for the Mayor's race coverage. Les, Hop, and Dan got enough buzz and got their message out. People and instituions went out of their way to be much more inclusive than in 2001 when I saw Josh, Leroy and Earl get skunked.

In the PA Senate race, I didn't get skunked everwhere. But, our race (and coverage from all three of us) did get zippo in certain quarters.

Finally, it is not like I'd never be satisfied. I am easy to please. I live in the city afterall. My driving theme, I want things to be better. They have improved in some sectors. More improvement is welcomed.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Email from Jon Delano, to his PSF:

Dear Politically Savvy Friends,

During the month of May, the French are afflicted with a tiny bug called les ephemeres, translated into English as May bugs. These little creatures are born, find mates, procreate, and die within a couple hours. The insect's whole life is over almost as soon as it begins. Some political stories are like that, too. The media jumps all over an issue, and forty-eight hours later moves on to something else. And just as often, a political person (or party) wishes the life of some stories lasted no longer than that of a May bug.

Tomorrow, Pennsylvanians go to the polls (well, a small percentage of us will do so) to nominate candidates for thousands of local municipal offices, school boards, judgeships, and sundry county positions. The only statewide contest is a referendum -- do we want to fund the "growing greener" environmental program that began under former Gov. Tom Ridge and has been embraced by current Gov. Ed Rendell? Because of the relative youth of our state judiciary, there are no vacancies this year on the state's Supreme Court, Superior Court, or Commonwealth Court.

In southwestern PA, the big battle (if you can call it that) is among Pittsburgh Democrats for a successor to Mayor Tom Murphy, but the most visible race this past week has been for a special State Senate seat in a city-suburban district. The Republicans have launched a full-scale attack to capture this traditionally Democratic position.

More interesting than tomorrow's local elections may be the ongoing set-up for 2006, where Pennsylvania's junior senator continues to slip in public polls and Democrats dare to think they can retake some House seats. All this and more in this PSF missive to you, my politically savvy friends. Read on.


BEYOND THE BELTWAY:

Lame Duck George:

Well, so much for the talk that President Bush would become an instant lame duck. Strikes me that the guy is more powerful than ever, aided by a Republican-controlled Congress that still gives him most of what he asks. I've seen some columnists opine that Bush is the most powerful president in American history, expanding the powers of the White House to near authoritarian levels. But that may be simply confusing Bush's laser focus on a given issue with power. What makes him 'powerful' is that this particular Congress does not provide the 'check and balance' that it did for President Clinton or that a Democratic Congress did for President Reagan.

The other amazing fact is that this president remains strong despite wide-spread disenchantment with his job performance. Bush's job approval has fallen (in the most recent Time poll) from 53% right before his inauguration to 46%. Some 47% disapprove of his work in the White House. None of that seems to disturb the guy or his supporters in the Congress.


The Filibuster Flap:

The battle over changing the rules in the middle of the game in the U.S. Senate is a classic example. The filibuster has been the traditional method of protecting minority rights for generations. Since the Senate is inherently undemocratic -- it represents states, not people -- a majority of senators from small states can force their will on the majority of Americans. Indeed, I did the calculations the other day, and the 55 majority Republican senators represent 4 million fewer people than the 44 minority Democrats and one Independent. When it comes to judges (like everything else in the Senate), the senator from California has no greater say than the senator from Alaska.

To protect against a wholesale trampling of rights, the filibuster rule was developed a long time ago. It allows 41 determined senators to 'block' action by the other 59. And it has been used (albeit sparingly) against judicial nominees for a long time -- President Johnson's nomination of Abe Fortas to be chief justice in 1968 was blocked by a filibuster.

Everybody concedes that filibusters have been used for both good and bad over the years, but the issue is whether a one-Party attempt to limit the filibuster puts the Senate (and the country) on a slippery slope wherein future majority parties simply pick and choose where to allow this protection of minority rights.

What makes this battle so surreal is that President Bush has had fantastic success in getting his judicial nominees confirmed by the Senate. While Democrats held Reagan to an 80% success rate in confirming judges and Republicans held Clinton to 71%, Bush has had 95% of his judges confirmed by the Senate. But not content with 95% of the marbles, the GOP wants 100% and seems headed to a showdown in the Senate to change the rules to get what it wants.

As for the American public, those tuned in to all this oppose the GOP efforts. According to the Time poll, ending the filibuster rule for judges is approved by just 28% of the public, while 59% oppose. But unless a last minute deal is cut or some traditionally-minded Republican senators (like U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter) step forward with courage, the public's view of all this won't count. This is about raw political power. If you want to read my column in the Pittsburgh Business Times on this issue, click http://www.bizjournals.com/pittsburgh/stories/2005/05/09/editorial4.html?t=printable.


Social Insecurity:

The only chink in the Republican juggernaut these days is Social Security. With President Bush's 60-day social security tour now over, and polls suggesting it was a flop, what was the prez doing at his press conference recommending that we cut the benefits of middle class and wealthier Americans, while increasing the benefits of the poor? Bush's embrace of the so-called Pozen Plan was a surprise. This plan, espoused by a Democratic economist, indexes future Social Security cost-of-living increases for middle income and upper income Americans to a lower index (based on prices) while maintaining the current index (based on wages) for the poor. This is standard social engineering (take from the rich, give to the poor) that Republicans traditionally decry when imposed by the government.

Whatever Bush was thinking, it won't save his Social Security plan. While the president gets credit, in my view, for focusing attention on what is clearly going to be a problem for us baby-boomers, his private personal accounts plan just won't fly so long as it takes dollars from Social Security. The stock market is making so many people nervous these days, that a retirement system based on the market has no resonance among average Americans.

I moderated a debate between local U.S. Reps. Melissa Hart (R) and Mike Doyle (D) the other day for the Pittsburgh chapter of the Certified Employee Benefit Specialists, and while both Hart and Doyle were exceptionally well-versed in the subject (and their party-line rhetoric), it was difficult to find much common ground on solutions. The audience, myself included, left the event thinking Congress is a long, long way from resolving the future security of Social Security.


PENNSYLVANIA:

A Sinking Santorum?

When the latest Quinnipiac Poll came out a couple weeks ago, the cries of joys from Democratic circles could be heard 350 miles across the state. In late April, State Treasurer Bob Casey was beating U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum by a whopping 14 points, 49 to 35, in a match-up set for November 2006. More ominously for Rick, the senator's "deserves-to-be-reelected" number dropped from 53 in February to 44 in April. But I have one piece of advice for the Dems: don't count the dude out yet!

Santorum is still, in my view, the odds-on favorite to win reelection, and these early poll numbers are just wake-up calls for a guy whose political skills are very well honed. Casey benefits from the growing perception that Santorum is more caught up on national issues (like social security, filibusters, and Schiavo) than on the bread-and-butter issues of Pennsylvania. Indeed, his espousal of Bush's Social Security plan has hurt him in a state where 24% of those 65+ live solely off their Social Security check. The Quinnipiac Poll found Pennsylvanians oppose Bush on this issue, 55 to 37, and 38 percent say that Santorum's embrace of privatization makes them "less likely" to vote to reelect the senator.

Local Dems keep the waters churning against Santorum, too. The Democrat-controlled Allegheny County council called on the District Attorney to investigate Rick's use of a $15,000 homestead exemption on his county taxes, an exemption reserved for only those who claim their home as a principal residence. Obviously, the issue is whether Santorum's Penn Hills home is really his principal residence, as opposed to Leesburg, Virginia, where his wife and kids live. The county treasurer confirms that Santorum has received a tax deduction for his Penn Hills property, but the county has somehow been unable to put their hands on the specific application filed by the Santorums. The attack on his residence goes hand-in-hand with that other ongoing attack on the junior senator for making Penn Hills taxpayers pay for the cyber-schooling of his children. The school no longer bills the Penn Hills school district, but local Dems say Santor! um owes more than $100,000 for earlier payments.

Rick has plenty of time -- and millions of dollars -- to overcome all this. Republicans complain that the media doesn't hold Casey to the same scrutiny on issues, and that's a fair criticism to a point. But Casey is accessible and talkative -- and smart enough to know that his turn will come. In the meantime, Casey is moving to shore up one of his weaknesses in 2002 -- a somewhat disorganized campaign that failed to highlight his strengths. The appointment of Jay Reiff as his campaign manager is a start. Reiff, a 37-year old Lancaster native, returns home after stints with successful Democratic campaigns in North and South Carolina.

How quickly the "pro-life, pro-gun" Democrat Casey has become the darling of the Democratic establishment in Washington is testament to how much the Dems want to get rid of Santorum. No doubt about it. This race is going suck lots of money into Pennsylvania.


A Rising Rendell?

If Dems think they have Santorum on the ropes, Republicans are more optimistic than ever that Gov. Ed Rendell could become the first governor in modern times ever defeated for reelection.

While the Quinnipiac Poll gives Rendell a 13-point lead over ex-Steeler Lynn Swann and a 15-point lead over former Lt. Gov. Bill Scranton, the governor's vote-to-reelect numbers remain below 50%, stuck at 48%. More importantly, Rendell's ahead because he clobbers his opponents in Southeastern PA, especially Philadelphia, but he is not so strong elsewhere in the state. For example, in Democratic Allegheny County (greater Pittsburgh), both Swann and Scranton tie with Rendell. Rendell's approval ratings in Philly are 74 (approve) to 14 (disapprove), but in the Pittsburgh region the numbers are 36 (approve) to 44 (disapprove). In short, the governor has a lot of work to do in western PA!

Ironically, Rendell may have the opportunity to show delivery on one issue that lines up nicely with a need of Santorum's. The recent announcement of base closings in the Pittsburgh area (coupled with one back east in Willow Grove) gives Rendell and Santorum a chance to work together to "save jobs" for Pennsylvanians. Watch for it to happen, too. Rendell is an expert on the BRAC process, having saved thousands of jobs for Philly during the last round of base closings in 1995. And Santorum has the political clout with the White House. My guess is that the political needs of both mandate a close working relationship -- and success.


ALLEGHENY COUNTY:

A New Mayor for Pittsburgh:

Tomorrow, Pittsburgh Democrats are expected to pick Bob O'Connor as their nominee for mayor of Pittsburgh. The most recent poll numbers from the Tribune Review validate what all of us have been saying for months. You can't beat an heir-apparent with a divided opposition. While O'Connor gets 43% of the vote, opponents Bill Peduto and Michael Lamb split the opposition, 20% for Peduto and 19% for Lamb. Do the math, and you can see that a one-on-one race might have a different outcome, especially with a number of folks still undecided. As it has from the beginning, the race between Lamb and Peduto is for second place, bragging rights for a post-O'Connor future.


Diven v. Fontana v. Rauterkus:

I never knew that Michael Diven and Wayne Fontana were such horrible human beings until the Harrisburg aparatchiks for both political parties descended on this region to tell us all their faults. Voters in the 42nd senatorial district have been flooded with reams of ugly literature and all of us have been subjected to negative TV ads that depict these two nice guys (yes, they are both nice gentlemen) as the devil incarnate. It's the battle for a Senate seat between Diven, the Republican, and Fontana, the Democrat (and Mark Rauterkus, the Libertarian), and both political parties are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to win.

Fontana should win tomorrow, but Diven is the kind of Republican who can pull an upset. The Rs think their man is up by two points, while the Dems think Fontana is ahead by double digits. Sadly, the race has come down to trivial
accusations that sometimes border on the laughable. Diven shows a picture with his fiancee and some kids (not his own), and somehow he's committed some campaign fraud. Fontana, one of 15 members of county council and the most outspoken against reassessments and former Allegheny County chief executive Jim Roddey (R), is somehow the author of every action in the county that raised property assessments. It's almost enough to make you vote Libertarian!

Behind the scenes, the battle is between Republican and Democratic state operatives. Having won a special state senate election back in Allentown on April 5, the GOP would like nothing better than to pick up another one, especially in a city-suburban district like this one. The Dems are throwing everything at it to keep that from happening. And one guy who has a lot riding on this race is Allegheny County chief executive Dan Onorato, the Democrat who does not need a political loss in his own neighborhood. Onorato has raised more than a $100,000 for the Fontana camp and tossed in some dollars of his own. If nothing else, after the rather bland mayor's race, this battle has been entertaining.


Row Office Reform and City Council Upsets?

Will Allegheny County voters eliminate six elected row offices, allowing the county exec to pick people to head up certain row offices? The conventional wisdom is that this referendum question will pass in a landslide. I'm not so sure. Voters around here are often reluctant to give up electoral power, but there has been no formal opposition to row office consolidation and several groups actually urging a VOTE YES. I sat down with former Gov. Dick Thornburgh the other day who is actively pushing the consolidation effort, an issue he has espoused since the 1960s. Thornburgh, by the way, was in town for a fund-raiser for Republican political consultant (and WPXI-TV analyst) Bill Green, now running for district magistrate in the North Hills. Green once worked for Thornburgh, and the former guv joked about who would have ever thought he'd some day attend a Bill Green fund raiser!

Insiders are also watching to see if any of the three incumbents running for city council are upset in tomorrow's Democratic primary? Will Harlan Stone defeat Bill Peduto, who is also running for reelection to city council? Will Tonya Payne knock off Sala Udin, the senior council member who always gets challenged? Will Anthony Coghill unseat Jim Motznik, the Democratic incumbent who was kicked off the Dem's slate card because he supports his former boss Michael Diven for state senate? And who will take Alan Hertzberg's seat on city council?


Judicial Crapshoot:

And, finally, who will win the seven Democratic (and Republican) nominations for judge in Allegheny County, and does anyone care? Well, we should care, but this contest is always several notches below the radar screen. The first question is whether any of the seven party endorsed Democrats are so weak as to lose to some of the non-endorsed candidates who have conducted vigorous campaigns via mail, lawn signs, radio, and television. In order on the ballot, the party endorsed candidates are Tom Flaherty, Michael McCarthy, Dwayne Woodruff, Edward Borkowski, Alan Hertzberg, Wrenna Watson, and Beth Lazarra. The non-endorsed Democratic candidates who have been the most visible are (in ballot order) Jon Pushinsky, Kelly Bigley, Kathryn Hens-Greco, Jacqueline Morrow, Frank Cecchetti, Chuck Evans, Anthony Mariani, Tony Basinski, and James Mahood. Republican candidates Dan Cusick, Patricia McCullough, and Roger Wi! se have also been visible. Former Congressman Doug Walgren is first on the Democratic ballot, but he is counting more on name recognition than advertisements. That may not be enough.


Well, that's enough for this latest PSF. As always, I enjoy hearing your off-the-record comments. I don't have to remind any PA PSF'ers to vote, although it would be nice if you could drag some young'uns to the polls. In this area, the average voter will be a 60+ white woman. Indeed, a third of the electorate could be 70+. Stay well, and in touch.

As always,
Jon

Jon Delano
Political Analayst
H. John Heinz School of Public Policy
Carnegie Mellon University

[As ever, these views are solely my own and not those of any of the great organizations with whom I am privileged to be associated].

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