Wednesday, May 17, 2006

One Year Ago.... I was on the ballot for PA Senate. Lasting public anger boils more boldly. NewsFlash - Voter backlash continues in Pa. over legislative pay raise In a demonstration of lasting public anger over a legislative pay raise, Pennsylvania voters ended the political careers of two veteran state Senate Republican leaders and at least 12 House members in a major shake-up of the General Assembly.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jon Delano wrote in his email balst:

Dear Politically Savvy Friends,

Most voters chose to stay home yesterday, primary election day, but those 20 percent who turned out statewide certainly had a message to send to Harrisburg. If it wasn't exactly a "clean sweep" as some activists urged, it was clearly a good brushing. And, in my view, it's hardly over. The primary election sets the stage for November's election where, almost certainly now, some more incumbents will bite the dust.

This quick Wednesday morning PSF focuses solely on the state of Pennsylvania, although what happens here in November could clearly impact control of the U.S. Congress. Read on.


The defeat of not one, but two, Republican leaders in the state Senate by members of their own party has to send shudders up and down the spine of every long-time incumbent. Senate President Pro Tempore Bob Jubelirer of Altoona and Majority Leader David "Chip" Brightbill of Lebanon lost party nominations to John Eichelberger and Mike Folmer, respectively, and, make no mistake, chalk the defeat up to the pay raise catastrophe of last summer. All kinds of groups jumped on the bandwagon to defeat these two, and no doubt each will claim that the Eichelberger/Folmer victory was a 'mandate' for their particular issue. But, more likely, voters simply got tired of two old-time legislators who seemed more interested in boosting their salaries and the perks of their colleagues. I have known Jubelirer for many years, and I have always liked him. But even the nicest guy can get caught up in th! e ways of his institution, and these two Senate leaders said 'yes' when they should have said 'no' to the midnight pay grab.

Both Eichelberger and Folmer have to win the November election, probably likely in their G.O.P. districts, so unless Jubelirer and Brightbill resign their leadership positions now -- which might be a smart move -- not much will happen until late this Fall. That's when the Republican Senate Caucus will convene to pick new leadership. We will be able to tell whether the voter message was heard by whom G.O.P. senators pick. More on that later.


The House leadership fared a bit better. Republican House Speaker John Perzel of Philadelphia had no opposition, but Majority Leader Sam Smith of Punxatawney did. Smith won, but only because the opposition was split. Hard to believe, but a majority of Republicans (52 percent) voted against the majority leader. Democratic House Leader Bill DeWeese of Waynesburg and Minority Whip Mike Veon of Beaver Falls both survived (59 percent for DeWeese and 60 percent for Veon), although both had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to hang on. DeWeese ran a largely positive campaign, while Veon went negative on his opponent. Both tactics seemed to work for them. Both have Republican challengers in their largely Democratic districts this November.


While the defeat of Jubelirer and Brightbill will get all the headlines, what happened out in the trenches sent the loudest message to back-benchers who, after all, elect the leaders. Some 61 incumbents faced primary challenges this year, and it appears that 20 percent of incumbents were defeated, with some races still too close to call. Bottom line, with significant retirements this year, about one out of six legislators will be NEW in 2007. That number could grow considerably if more incumbents are defeated at the polls in the General Election.

In southwestern PA, four incumbent legislators appear to have lost. State Rep. Frank LaGrotta (D) of New Castle is down by 27 votes, unofficially, to a 25-year old law student named Jaret Gibbons. That may be too close to call. But three other incumbents clearly lost: State Rep. Frank Pistella of Bloomfield lost to Lisa Bennington, a 30-year old family law attorney from Morningside; State Rep. Ken Ruffing of West Mifflin lost to Bill Kortz, a 51-year old operations manager at the U.S. Steel Irvin Works; State Rep. Tom Stevenson of Mt. Lebanon lost to Mark Harris, a 21-year old college student who chaired Students for (Pat) Toomey in that U.S. Senate battle against Arlen Specter. All were PA Clean Sweep candidates. Bennington has no opposition in November, while Kortz will face Republican Daniel Davis in the largely Democratic district. Harris' district is ! one of those bell-weather districts, represented by Democrat Greg Fajt (now Secretary of Revenue), and he must defeat Democrat Matt Smith, a 33-year old Mt. Lebanon attorney and protoge of Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, before he advances to the House.

In other local races, state Rep. Joseph Preston of East Liberty is only 96 votes ahead of Edward Gainey, the endorsed Democrat, in unofficial returns. Similarly, state Rep. Joe Markosek of Monroeville is holding onto a 215-vote lead over Steve O'Donnell, who ran a late-minute aggressive TV campaign against the incumbent.

Many of the surviving incumbents live for another day because their opposition was hopelessly divided. Besides Preston and Markosek, who each appear to win with 47 percent of the vote, state Reps. Tom Petrone of Crafton Heights won with 49 percent and Vince Biancucci of Center won with 47 percent. The luckiest incumbent perhaps is state Rep. Don Walko of the North Side who won yesterday even though 57 percent of Democrats voted against him.


Perhaps the biggest unanswered question is whether the General Assembly "got the message" and what exactly was that message? I would argue that the pay raise rebellion came to represent general unhappiness with the way the legislature conducts business and even the fact that PA has the largest paid legislature in the country. A reform agenda should include, in my view, (a) a constitutional convention to restructure state government, including cutting the size of the House (from 203 to 120) and the Senate (from 50 to 30); (b) a "sunlight" provision that prevents sneaky middle-of-the night legislative action without full notice to the public; (c) a tough lobbyist law that limits perks to legislators and requires full disclosure on the internet of lobbyist activities; (d) limits on campaign contributions to end to the unlimited pay-or-play practices wherein special interest groups and wealthy individuals can make unlimited politi! cal contributions to legislators. That's a start -- you probably have more!

Will legislative leaders get moving on this kind of reform agenda that cuts across political party lines? Stay tuned.


It's now official. Republican Rick Santorum must defeat Democrat Bob Casey in the November election to hold his seat in the U.S. Senate and keep the Republicans in control of that body. Casey won an impressive victory with 85 percent of the Democratic vote. Liberals Chuck Pennacchio (9 percent) and Alan Sandals (6 percent) got some votes, but it's clear that Democrats have bought the notion that the best way to sent Santorum home to Penn Hills, PA -- or Leesburg, VA -- is to unite behind a socially conservative Democrat.

Always trying to set the agenda, Santorum immediately challenged Casey to 10 debates, four on national TV and six in the state. Now I don't understand why Casey would accept national TV debates -- after all, one of his complaints against Santorum is that the Republican is too focused on national politics, not state issues -- but the six TV debates across PA is a good idea. Casey will probably accept if only to show he is not afraid of Santorum. Ironically, no one thinks Casey can out-debate Santorum, who is a slick verbalist, but I would argue that Casey's soft-spoken, laid-back style, coupled with carefully crafted soundbites on where Santorum has gone wrong, just might help Casey.

In any case, this race is now joined. If Democrats have any hope of winning the six Senate seats they need to take control of the U.S. Senate during the last two years of the Bush administration, it begins right here in Pennsylvania.


The Democrats must win 15 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives to take back that body after 12 years of Republican control, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has its eyes set on Pennsylvania for many of those 15 seats.

Yesterday's primary has cleared the decks for two-way reasons in a number of key PA districts. In the west, Democrat Jason Altmire, a 38-year old former health executive at UPMC and one-time congressional aide, will take on the inimitable Republican U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart in the 4th CD. Altmire defeated Georgia Berner, arguably the more liberal Democrat in the race, and must now unite Democrats of all stripes behind his candidacy. For Altmire, he wins in November if he just keeps Democrats from voting for Hart like they usually do. Altmire has the strong support of U.S. Rep. Jack Murtha of Johnstown, who appears to be lending his advice and financial contact list to the Democrat. Can Hart be defeated? Yes, but it won't be easy. She is a hard worker, tireless campaigner, and good strategist, positioning herself as an independent at home while lining up solidly with her party in Washington! .

In the 18th CD, Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy kept the stronger Democratic opponents out of the race when big names like former state treasurer Barbara Hafer, state Sen. Sean Logan, and sports broadcaster Stan Savran decided not to run, largely because Murphy seems like such a tough candidate to beat. But DCCC chair U.S. Rep. Rahm Emmanuel and local U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle of Pittsburgh just won't let Murphy go unchallenged. The numbers certainly argue that Murphy can be defeated, as Democrats outnumber Republicans in this district by some 75,000 votes. But Murphy works hard, and has not really had a strong challenger since first winning in 2000. This year, Democrats gave their nomination to Chad Kluko of Monroeville, a 44-year former telecommunications executive once upon a time with, get this, FOX Television. Kluko was recruited by Doyle and Emmanuel, and he defeated Tom Kovach! of Peters by six points. Kluko is a pro-business Democrat but a political novice who could get crushed by Murphy. On the other hand (isn't there always one), if Dems really want to toss out the Republicans in November and Murphy gets caught up in a national earthquake, Kluko is certainly a respectable alternative. But, right now, Kluko has no money, no name recognition, and no visible campaign organization to speak of.

Some political pundits think the more likely pick-up territory for Democrats in PA is back east, particularly in suburban Philadelphia. In the 6th CD, Democrat Lois Murphy easily won her primary, setting up a rematch against Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach. Murphy never stopped campaigning after losing narrowly in 2004, and this year she feels the wind is at her back. In the 7th CD, Democrat Joe Sestak will take on Republican U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon. Neither one had a primary battle. Democrats think Sestak has precisely the right kind of profile (Afghanistan; national security) to knock off Weldon. In the 8th CD, Democrats chose Patrick Murphy, an Iraqi war vet, over Republican-turned-Democrat Andrew Warren. Can Murphy beat Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick? Again, if Democrats (led by Gov. Ed Rendell) sweep the suburban counties of Philadelphia, the answer i! s yes.

Can Republican U.S. Rep. Don Sherwood in the northeast/central part of PA lose in November? Sherwood has been the subject of some personal scandal (allegations of choking a mistress in his DC apartment), but most pundits thought he would have a clear sail this year. Turns out he nearly lost his Republican primary. A former guidance counselor (yeah, Sherwood needs guidance) held the congressman to just 56 percent of Republican votes. In November, Sherwood faces Democrat Chris Carney, a Penn State professor and former intelligence officer. If Carney beats Sherwood in that very Republican district, the House has gone Democratic.

That's my very quick Wednesday morning debriefing. I'll no doubt have more. As always, I welcome your insights. Keep 'em coming. And, remember, Campaign '06 has really only just begun! Oh, yes, if you get PCN (Pennsylvania Cable Network), I'll be on statewide TV Thursday evening at 7 pm with Pete DeCoursey of Capitol Wire, answering call-in questions about this exciting election year in Pennsylvania.


Jon Delano
Political Analyst
H. John Heinz School of Public Policy & Management
Carnegie Mellon University

[As always, these views are my own and not those of the great organizations with whom I am privileged to work].