PoliticsPA’s Ups & Downs: 2011 Edition

It’s been an interesting year in the great state of Pennsylvania. State Republicans found out that being in charge of everything doesn’t necessarily make governing easier; new redistricting maps made most incumbents safer, and a Pa. institution was consumed by a sex abuse scandal of tragic proportion.

Here are the winners and losers of 2011.

Democrats. It’s going to be much harder the the party to get back into the majority in any capacity after redistricting this year. The taste is even more bitter for your average Joe Dem because of how many Democrats were complicit in the new state and congressional maps (see prior ‘Downs’ here and here). Plus they lost a dozen county courthouses net.

Bob Casey. The Senator’s re-election calculus has been solid so far: keep his chin down, talk about “jobs” every 5 minutes, and don’t pick fights. It’s paid off. He’ll likely announce around $4 mil cash on hand in a few days. Meanwhile, the GOP primary field is muddled and without a top tier general election candidate – including no sitting office holder.

Pat Toomey. It’s not every day that a freshman Senator makes the kind of national headlines that Toomey did this fall on the supercommittee. Though it failed, he was the only member to offer a credible proposal (that even increased revenues). He’d had the reputation of a deal broker between the conservative and moderate wings of the Senate GOP; now he has the credibility of a serious bipartisan negotiator.

Penn State. The sex-abuse scandal dominated state and national news for a month; even institution Joe Paterno couldn’t weather the storm.  The political climate already made it tough to increase PSU’s state funding or even keep it level – hence the budget cuts. It will be nearly impossible now.

Harrisburg. It’s been a rough yeah for the capital of the Keystone state. The legislature changed the rules mid-game with a state takeover, and the city’s creditors have far less incentive to compromise. Mayor Linda Thompson continues to be a less than inspiring figure, and after all that the city was shuffled and split by redistricting and reapportionment.

Josh Shapiro. Smart campaign and a good message. The soon-to-be majority Commissioner led the transition of Montgomery from Republican to Democrat for the first time in County history. PoliticsPA called Shapiro the Dem most likely to be Governor some day, and he’s well on his way.

Luke Ravenstahl. From pensions to parking meters, he has earned the reputation of a Mayor who isn’t showing up. His whole slate of contended Pittsburgh city council candidates lost. The broad consensus is that he would lose a two-way primary in 2013, and several strong candidates have already emerged.

Tom Corbett and the GOP state legislature. Dennis Owens got it right: there’s not much to show after a year of total GOP control of state government. Some very big ticket agenda items were left off the docket and look like long shots in the spring. The year’s biggest bragging point, an on-time budget with “no” tax increases, is less than impressive.

School Vouchers. Speaking of, this was one of the most ambitious GOP agenda items and an intense focus of donors and conservative activists all year. Enough Republicans defected at the end of fall session to defeat a vouchers proposal, as well as a plan to expand the EITC program and charter schools. Those aren’t going to get any easier in an election year.

Orie sisters. After a few years of ambiguous legal status, the corruption charges have finally caught up with the Orie clan. It’s looking rough for Janine and Senator Jane, and there is serious speculation that Pa. Supreme Court Justice Joan could be next.

Lou Barletta and Tom Marino. All incumbents got boosted by redistricting, but these were the two big winners. GOP map-drawers in Harrisburg went out of their way to shore up the NEPA congressmen, who may now have more to worry about from a primary than a general.

Smith Internal Poll: Smith Leads Senate Primary

By Keegan Gibson, Managing Editor

Tom Smith of Armstrong County is leading the field of Republicans hoping to take on Senator Bob Casey, according to an polling memo released by Smith’s campaign Tuesday.

The former coal company owner and former Tea Party leader boasts a 22 percent plurality in the crowded primary.

“Smith’s early lead is indicative of his strong biography and message that is resonating with Republican voters. The campaign’s ability to get that message out through paid media has been important to the lead,” Republican strategist and pollster John McLaughlin said in a press release.

The number breakdown is as follows: Smith, 22 percent; former State Rep. Sam Rohrer, 15 percent; businessman and 2010 congressional candidate Tim Burns, 11 percent; entrepreneur and 2010 congressional candidate Steve Welch, 10 percent; and attorney Marc Scaringi, 4 percent. 38 percent were undecided.

Smith became the first 2012 U.S. Senate candidate on television this month, as his campaign launched a $300,000 ad buy (after doubling the initial $160K buy). It shows in his name ID: 31 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of Smith, compared to just 13 percent who had any opinion of him in a November Public Policy Polling survey.

Rohrer’s 15 percent in Smith’s survey compares to a much stronger 25 percent in the independent PPP poll, which was fueled by high named ID from Rohrer’s 2010 bid for governor. All other candidates were in single digits in the PPP, including Smith at 3 percent.

It’s a Smith-sponsored poll, so take it with a grain of salt. A campaign usually releases an internal poll for one of two reasons: fundraising or legitimacy.

The first, to boost fundraising prospects, probably doesn’t apply to him. Smith loaned three quarters of a million dollars to his campaign during the third quarter of 2011, and sources say he’ll show even more in Q4.

More likely his motive is the second: to show legitimacy. Most of the nine Republican candidates have their eyes on the GOP State Committee endorsement at the end of January. Smith, a first-time candidate, wants to show that he is the front-runner. This could help him win an endorsement, but just as valuable for a self-funder it could keep the party’s resources on the sidelines.

The campaign did not release full polling results, so the negatives for each candidate and the regional crosstabs are not available to the public.

The survey was conducted by the GOP polling firm McLaughlin & Associates. The accuracy of the sample of 400 likely general election voters is within +/- 4.9% at a 95% confidence interval. Respondents were selected based on their likeliness to vote in the 2012 primary, and the results were weighted based on demographics.

Here is the Smith campaign’s full release:

“Tom smith clearly has the momentum in this race.” – Republican Pollster John McLaughlin
(Pittsburgh) – The Tom Smith for Senate Campaign today released the results of a survey of 400 likely primary voters conducted by McLaughlin & Associates on December 21st:



“Smith’s early lead is indicative of his strong biography and message that is resonating with Republican voters. The campaign’s ability to get that message out through paid media has been important to the lead,” Republican strategist and pollster John McLaughlin said of the findings.

“We’re overjoyed by the positive response we continue to receive from voters across Pennsylvania,” said Campaign Manager Jim Conroy.  “Tom’s tireless work ethic, ability to connect with the electorate and commitment of resources demonstrates his seriousness about being the Republican to face Senator Casey.”

More voters have a “favorable” opinion of Tom Smith than of his opponents:

TOM SMITH 31% favorable


This survey of political attitudes was conducted among 400 likely Republican primary voters on December 21st, 2011, in Pennsylvania.

The survey was conducted using an established automated polling methodology. Calls were placed to randomly-selected phone numbers through a process that insures appropriate geographic representation based upon a likely Republican primary turnout model. All calls were placed to Republican primary voters from a list of past Republican primary voters. Voters were screened to be registered Republicans who are likely to vote in the 2012 Republican primary. After the calls are completed, the raw data is processed through a weighting program to insure that the sample reflects the overall population in terms of age, race, gender, political party, and other factors. The processing step is required because different segments of the population answer the phone in different ways. For example, women answer the phone more than men, older people are home more and answer more than younger people, and rural residents typically answer the phone more frequently than urban residents.

The population targets were based upon Republican primary data, a series of screening questions to determine subject knowledge, likely voters, and other factors. McLaughlin & Associates determines its partisan weighting targets through a dynamic weighting system that takes into account voting history, statewide trends, and recent polling. The accuracy of the sample of 400 likely general election voters is within +/- 4.9% at a 95% confidence interval.


With which political party are you registered?
-Republican  100%
-Democrat  0%
-Independent/Other  0%

Gender (by observation):
-Male 56%
-Female 44%

-18 – 39 19%
-40 – 64 57%
-65 and Over 24%

- Philadelphia MM 28%
—Montgomery County 6%
—Philadelphia County 2%
—Rest Philly MM 21%
- Wilke /. NY / Elmira 14%
- Johnstown – Altoona MM 9%
- Pittsburgh MM 23%
—Alleghany County 8%
—Rest Pittsburgh 15%
- Erie 4%
- Harrisburg 23%

Toomey, Schroder Get Philly Tea Party Honors

By Ali Carey, Contributing Writer

As the 2011 legislative year comes to an end, the Independence Hall Tea Party Association, the largest such group in the Philadelphia area, announced its selection of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and Pa. Rep. Curt Schroder (R-Chester) as its 2011 Federal and State Legislators of the year.

The awards will be presented at the Associations’ 3rd Annual Christmas Tea Party at an outdoor re-enactment of the original Philadelphia Tea Party of 1773 on Tuesday December 27 in Philadelphia.

According to Association President Terri Adams, the group chose Sen. Toomey as its Federal Legislator due to his “heroic efforts towards balancing the budget, lowering tax rates, and growing the economy to create private sector jobs.”

“We were amazed by his stellar performance as a freshman senator –whether he was rallying his fellow Republicans behind one Balanced Budget Amendment to the US Constitution, drafting his own version of a balanced budget, or serving so admirably on the Super Committee –encouraging the lowering of marginal tax rates and promoting reforms to spur deregulation and economic growth,” said Adams.

Other regional and national congressman which were considered for the esteemed Federal Legislator of the Year title included Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks) and Pat Meehan (R-Delaware).

In their announcement the group praised Rep. Schroder for sticking to his principles whether in the majority or minority opinion. They also applauded Schroder’s support of a school choice bill and his staunch opposition to ‘Obamacare.’

Schroder announced that he will retire at the end of this term, after 18 years in the legislature. During his career, he has been well known as a conservative thorn in the side of GOP leadership.

Other candidates considered for the State Legislator of the Year included Pa. Reps. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) and Steven Barrar (R-Delaware).

Chelsa Wagner Takes a 2nd New Job

By Brittany Foster, Contributing Writer

State Representative Chelsa Wagner, recently elected to Allegheny County Controller, has also taken a job with law firm Leech Tishman where she will be of counsel, the firm announced in an email.

“In her career that has spanned posts in business, law and elected office, Chelsa has distinguished herself as an effective advocate and strategist on behalf of both clients and constituents,” it said.

The firm

She will be joining the Corporate, Employment and Litigation Practice Groups with the firm. Before winning her seat in the House of Representatives in 2006, Wagner held a similar job as a Senior Business Analyst. Wagner served the 22nd District since 2006 and represented the South Side of Pittsburgh and neighboring suburbs.

She won the Allegheny County Controller seat handily in November with 61 percent of the vote. Her inauguration will be held on January 2nd. The special election to fill her House seat has not yet been scheduled; the 22nd District was moved from the Pittsburgh area to Allentown during redistricting.

Wagner isn’t the only Pittsburgh Dem to be entering the private sector this month. Outgoing County Exec Dan Onorato took a job with Highmark last week. Dan Onorato will join the company as Executive Vice President, Chief External Affairs and Communication Officer, effective January 3, 2012. He will be responsible for Corporate Communications and Public Relations; Community Affairs, including the Highmark Foundation; and the Highmark Caring Place in addition to Government Relations.

Santorum Fails to Make Virginia Primary Ballot

By Jared Edgerton, Contributing Writer

Rick Santorum’s campaign was dealt a blow Thursday when it failed to make the presidential primary ballot for his home state: Virginia.

The former Pennsylvania Senator was unable to acquire the 10,000 signatures required to compete in the state’s March 6 primary.

Santorum was born in Winchester, Virginia and moved to Butler County, Pa. as a child. He officially changed his residency to Virginia after leaving office.

During Santorum’s unsuccessful 2006 Senate re-election campaign, he was repeatedly criticized for the fact that his children used Pa. tax dollars to pay for a cyber school despite the fact that his family resided mostly in Virginia. It was an especially tough hit since Santorum himself used the residency issue to great effect when he defeated incumbent Rep. Doug Walgren in 1990.

Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman also missed the threshold in Va.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who also resides in Virginia, was also on the cusp of not meeting the Virginia primary requirements; however, he was able to pay volunteers to collect the final signatures.

Santorum’s poll numbers in Iowa have ticked up, but his campaign has had its share of press troubles in the past two days, too.

Reports surfaced that prior to Bob Vandeer Plaats’ high profile endorsement of the Senator he asked for contributions to launch televisions ads on behalf of Santorum. Vandeer Plaats denied the allegations in a CNN interview saying, “absolutely not.”

In the same interview he explained:

“We would never ask a candidate [for funds] – and by the way, when you endorse Rick Santorum you probably should also know that you’re not asking for $1 million. We would never ask a campaign or a candidate for funds. Especially when you do a personal endorsement.”

After a campaign event in Iowa Santorum clarified Vandeer Plaats’ claims, stating:

“What he talked about was he needed money to promote the endorsement…There was never a direct ask for me to go out and raise money for it.”

12/23 Afternoon Buzz

Good afternoon politicos, and welcome to the Buzz. We know we said there wouldn’t be an email today, but we just can’t keep away. There have been some interesting developments this morning, plus we wanted you to know that this week’s Ups & Downs are posted.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, and have a good weekend. We’d say we’ll be on a limited schedule between now and the New Year, but you’d know better than to believe us.

Redistricting provides yet more fodder for this week’s Ups & Downs.

Casey & Schwartz Named Conferees
This morning, the United States Congress unanimously passed an extension of the payroll tax cut for another 2 months. Sen. Bob Casey and Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Montgomery) will be two of the conferees charged with making up the difference.

Serious Primary Challenger Emerges for Holden
The new congressional map is bringing to an end years of campaigning in a GOP-leaning district for Rep. Tim Holden (D-Schuylkill). It appears the Congressman is about to get a serious primary challenge from Matt Cartwright, a prominent attorney from Moosic.

Updated: Mike Fitzpatrick: Dems’ Newest Villain
Updated with more video, and Fitzpatrick responds to Democratic criticism of his gavel.

Dem AG Hopefuls Oppose Obama Mortgage Settlement Plan
The three Democrats running for Pa. Attorney General have come out against a plan – supported by President Obama’s administration – to pursue a cash settlement with some of the largest U.S. banks.

DCCC Sees Silver Lining in New Pa Map
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued a memo today outlining the innate swingy-ness of several Pa. congressional districts – despite successful efforts by Republican lawmakers to shore up incumbents via redistricting this year.

12/23 Ups & Downs

Democrats. Another week, another redistricting-themed Down for Democrats. 36 Pa. House Dems voted for the Republican-drawn congressional map – the one that makes it drastically less likely that their party will gain a seat in 2012. Was it a failure of vote whipping? Was it the influence of incumbent Dem congressmen who favored the map? Who knows. But the activist base of the party has every right to feel outraged.

Eugene DePasquale. The plucky York lawmaker racked up a ton of endorsements for his Auditor General bid this week; over 100 in total with more coming in. He has the inside track for state committee support. That said, party activists particularly in southeast Pa. are likely to be pretty upset with his vote in favor of the GOP’s redistricting plan.

Tim Holden. The Congressman will likely face his most serious challenge yet from the left in his new, more Democratic, more NEPA district. That’s the down. The up is because we hesitate to bet against the Congressman this time around. Why? PoliticsPA called Holden a loser of the redistricting process way back in 2001, and we were dead wrong. He ended up overcoming long-time GOP incumbent George Gekas and has cruised ever since. This is not his first rodeo.

Bob Casey and Allyson Schwartz. Democrats in Congress scored a win this week as the House GOP backed down from the payroll tax cut extension confrontation. The Senator and Congresswoman got a profile boost when they were chosen to join the conference committee to hammer out the details of the final product. Let’s hope this works out better than the supercommittee.

Jim Christiana. The Beaver County lawmaker announced this week that he will not run for Congress. At the end of the day, he enjoyed several weeks of good press, got his name out there for future runs, and left a clear path for anyone else who may want to run…

Casey & Schwartz Named Conferees

By Geoff Middleberg, Contributing Writer

This morning, the United States Congress unanimously passed an extension of the payroll tax cut for another 2 months.

At the same time, Congressional leaders also named conferees to the conference committee that will negotiate the additional 10 month extension that both parties want but disagree on how to pay for.

Two of the Democratic conferees are Sen. Bob Casey and Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Montgomery).

Sen. Casey sponsored the full year payroll extension bill in the senate which became the legislative vehicle in which the conference report will come to the floor of Congress.

Rep. Schwartz has a great deal of expertise with health care issues. Included in this legislation is the ‘doc fix,’ dealing with the rates Medicare pays doctors. A political ally of the medical community, she can be counted on to advocate for favorable reimbursement rates.

A spokeswoman said Schwartz will look to restructure the payment system to reward quality, value and efficiency, as opposed to the current system which incentivizes volume and drives up cost.

Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid’s other choices for conferees were Max Baucus of Montana, Benjamin Cardin of Maryland and Jack Reed of Rhode Island.

The other House Democratic Conferees are Xavier Becerra of California, Sander Levin of Michigan, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Henry Waxman of California.

Speaker of the House John Boehner named his conferees last week: Kevin Brady of Texas, Dave Camp of Michigan, Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, Nan Hayworth of New York, Tom Price of Georgia, Tom Reed of New York, Fred Upton of Michigan and Greg Walden of Oregon.

Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to name his conferees, but there is a decent chance that Sen. Pat Toomey will be included.

Sen. Casey’s office released a statement:

“At a time when almost 500,000 Pennsylvanians are out of work, I am grateful for the opportunity to continue my work to reach a bipartisan compromise that protects working families and provides more take-home pay for 160 million Americans by ensuring a full year extension of the payroll tax cut.  I thank Majority Leader Reid for the appointment and his leadership on this issue, and I look forward to working with Democrats and Republicans on an agreement that is in the best interest of Pennsylvania and the American people.”

Rep. Schwartz’s office also released a statement:

“I have always worked across the aisle to find common ground on the most important issues facing our nation. We need to put aside our differences in order to protect our economic recovery. I am honored to have been appointed to this joint committee and will work to prevent a tax increase on middle class families and preserve the quality health care America’s seniors deserve.”

Mike Fitzpatrick: Dems’ Newest Villain

By Keegan Gibson and Ali Carey

Fitzpatrick leaves the Speakers' podium

Update: The House Republicans largely conceded to President Obama and Senate Democrats – the extension was agreed to Thursday night.

On the matter of Congressman Fitzpatrick, he reiterated to PoliticsPA that Hoyer’s remarks were out of order Thursday afternoon.

“Former Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was on the House floor trying to violate the established rules and procedure, and I gaveled him out of order,” Fitzpatrick said.

“The way I see it, he’s the villian,” he quipped.

The scene made its way around Fox and CBS affiliates, and Fitzpatrick was skewered by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. Those videos are below, courtesy of the Pa Democrats.


Democrats pounced on Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks) Wednesday, as he ended session in the U.S. House over zealous efforts by Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer to bring a payroll tax cut extension measure to the floor.

Standing in for House Speaker John Boehner, Fitzpatrick ignored the latest Democratic effort to bring to vote a two-month extension of the tax cuts – a measure that met with strong bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate.

“You’re walking out, you’re walking away, just as so many Republicans have walked away from middle-class taxpayers,” Hoyer said.

“We regret, Mr. Speaker, that you have walked off the platform without addressing the issue of critical importance to this country.”

From a parliamentary perspective, Fitzpatrick was correct; Hoyer was speaking out of order. But the optics are terrible, especially given the way Democrats are framing the debate (i.e. the GOP is out of touch, and doesn’t appreciate how much the $40-per-paycheck tax cut helps working people).

Liberal blogs are lighting up, making Fitzpatrick that face of the House GOP which has thus far refrained from bringing the compromise to a vote. DailyKos,Think Progress, Talking Points Memo are some of the left-leaning sites circulating video of the congressional session. Raw Story further noted that Boehner’s office cut the off cameras as Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) began to speak.

Democrats in the real world are attacking, too. Pa. Democratic Party spokesman Mark Nicastre accused the Congressman of joining the “Tea Party fringe of his party and holding the middle-class hostage.

“At a time when middle class families need their leaders to step up and find solutions, Congressman Fitzpatrick simply walked away from his duties. Pennsylvanians deserve tax relief and Mike Fitzpatrick and his fellow Tea Party Republicans are holding them hostage to appease the far right wing of their party.”

All three of Fitzpatrick’s prospective Democratic challengers (or people close to them) tweeted about the day’s event: Doylestown Borough President Det Ansinn, attorney and 2011 candidate for Pa. Commonwealth Court Kathryn Boockvar, and outgoing Doylestown Township Supervisor Cynthia Philo.

A spokesperson for Fitzpatrick did not respond to requests for comment.

CSPAN’s footage of the exchange was posted courtesy of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (embedded below).

CBS Affiliate:

Fox Affiliate:

Rachel Maddow Show:

Dem AG Hopefuls Oppose Obama Mortgage Settlement Plan

By Keegan Gibson, Managing Editor

The three Democrats running for Pa. Attorney General have come out against a plan – supported by President Obama’s administration – to pursue a cash settlement with some of the largest U.S. banks.

Obama and several attorneys general across the countries want those lenders to pay a lump sum of $19 to $25 billion in exchange for immunity from further action. They’re currently facing a myriad of investigations by different states and the U.S. Department of Justice for fraudulent lending practices, which has contributed to the country;s foreclosure crisis.

Several left-leaning community and labor groups say that penalty – which amounts to pennies on the dollar compared the financial impact of the alleged fraud – isn’t good enough. They’re joining several Democratic attorneys general, most notably New York AG Eric T. Schneiderman, in calling for continued investigations and higher penalties.

“We cannot accept a settlement without a full investigation and a commitment to ensuring that the terms are commensurate with the damage done to homeowners and workers across America” said Frank Snyder, Secretary-Treasurer of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO in a statement announcing the group’s formation. Supporters held a rally in Harrisburg last week.

The coalition includes Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, ACTION United, Keystone Progress, UFCW Local 23, Pittsburgh UNITED, Philadelphia Unemployment Project, Just Harvest, the Mon Valley Unemployed Committee, and UNITE HERE Local 247. This week, it enlisted all three Democratic Attorney General in Pa. hopefuls to its cause.

Pat Murphy, a former Congressman from Bucks County, penned a column on the subject for the Huffington Post.

“I am outraged by recent accounts of a settlement between state Attorneys General, in cooperation with the Justice Department, and the banks accused of perpetrating one of the largest frauds in the history of our country,” he wrote. “While the exact details have yet to be finalized, one thing seems certain — this will be a fabulous deal for the banks.”

Kathleen Kane, a former prosecutor from Lackawanna County, called the settlement morally wrong.

“Giving a get out if jail free card to those financial institutions that created the mortgage crisis by absolving them of criminal charges and civil penalties when we still are unclear on whether they illegally foreclosed on families is not only bad policy it is morally wrong. ”

Dan McCaffery, a former prosecutor from Philadelphia, agreed.

“It is simply a mockery of the rule of law to have an agreement on wrongdoing when no investigation has been conducted. The lack of investigation and prosecution of the breaking of untold number of laws in regards to massive fraud carried about some of our the largest and most powerful financial institutions is both a dereliction of duty and a miscarriage of justice unprecedented in this nation’s history.”

A spokesman for the NY AG’s office said an agreement wouldn’t prevent non-participating states from continuing their investigations, only those that buy into the deal. As it stands, say coalition organizers, Pa. is in the camp of states pursuing the settlement.

Nils Frederiksen of the Pa. AG’s office says Pa. is participating in the joint investigation with DOJ, but the Pa. Attorney General’s office policy is not to comment on an ongoing investigation so he did not comment on the possibility of a settlement.

A spokesperson for Republican hopeful John Rafferty noted that he supported legislation last session in the Pa. Senate to tighten mortgage rules in Pa.

“Sen. John Rafferty said that he would be open to a multi-state settlement the state AG’s are pursing but would wait to render a final decision until he read the details presented in the final settlement,” he said.

Cumberland County District Attorney Dave Freed did not respond to requests for comment.

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