Politically Uncorrected: What Matters in 2014

PA-Governor-Mansion2Pennsylvania stands at the edge of an historical moment. For the first time in modern state history, a large-field of competitive gubernatorial candidates awaits an impending spring primary battle that will allow one of them to take on an incumbent governor next fall.

History making? Certainly. But otherwise, a gubernatorial primary like most others. The Democratic candidates running against incumbent Tom Corbett will face the same strategic factors candidates do in all competitive primaries.  Collectively, these five factors will determine what really matters in the May primary.

  • Money, lots of it – Pennsylvania is a quintessential electronic media state.  Social media, notwithstanding, no statewide presence can be achieved without raising prodigious amounts of cash. Governor Ed Rendell raised in total $42 million in 2002 and another $30 million for his reelection in 2006. Corbett spent $24 million in his initial election in 2010, while his losing opponent Dan Onorato spent $20 million. For the Democratic primary in 2014, the admission fee is minimally $5 million, and the winner will spend $10 million or more. Politics these days is many things – but one thing it is not, is cheap.
  • Political Geography – Geography, not demographics, has been destiny for many statewide elections in modern times.  Until recently, the geography that mattered was western Pennsylvania whose voters tended to vote disproportionately for western candidates.  More recently, the geography that matters has been growing southeastern Pennsylvania voters migrating from the Republican to the Democratic Party. But in the 2014 Democratic primary none of eight announced candidates hail from the western part of the state. Inevitably, then, the Democratic nominee will be a southeasterner running against a westerner, incumbent Tom Corbett, setting up a classic east versus west struggle.
  • Absence of Issues – The harmony among top-tier Democratic candidates on issues is striking. They probably agree on 85-90 percent of the issues likely to dominate the campaign. Mostly culturally liberal on fiscal matters, they advocate an aggressive economic development and job creation program, including extending long-term unemployment benefits.  On other policies, they make increased education funding a core issue, agree on strengthening environmental policies, but generally support fracking in the natural gas industry. Amid this universe of unanimity the contending candidates must somehow find a way to make salient distinctions between and among themselves. Ironically, this agreement on issues may produce a campaign less about issues and more about the personal traits and backgrounds of the candidates.
  • The Risks of Negative Advertising – With issue differences scarce, the personalities of the candidates will loom large. Voters will be looking for someone who looks and sounds “gubernatorial.” Candidate experience will count as voters decide if they want someone with a business background, legislative experience, private sector background, etc.  Most essential will be how candidates demonstrate the leadership skills necessary to lead the state during difficult times. The lack of issue differences will make ad hominemattacks on opponents both more likely and more dangerous. A nasty, negative and fractious Democratic primary could be a fatal blow to the party’s hopes to unseat incumbent Corbett in November.
  • Gender Politics – The dearth of female state officeholders proved a huge plus for Attorney General Kathleen Kane in her impressive 2012 victory. Pennsylvanians at long last seem ready to support women candidates in statewide races. Indeed, in the 2014 Democratic primary, it’s widely expected that gender will play a large role, with perhaps three women candidates on the ballot, two of them considered top-tier candidates by most.  How increased electoral support for women plays out is as crucial as it is difficult to forecast. On the one hand, the female vote is likely to be large. Conversely, multiple women candidates might divide much of it. The irony is palpable. For years, potential women candidates didn’t run because it seemed they couldn’t win; now that Kane has shown they can win, more women are running – and potentially could lose because of it.
  • The Rookie Factor – The intangible that may trump everything else is a piece of pedestrian politics that probably has won more statewide races than any other – the skills and organizational experience that come from running in earlier campaigns. Pennsylvania is a huge, diverse and complex state not noted for being kind to rookie candidates for governor. Most successful gubernatorial candidates have run (and lost) once, twice or more times at many levels. Bob Casey Sr. actually won the governorship on his fourth effort, Tom Ridge had long served in Congress and Ed Rendell had won four elections in Philadelphia before winning the governorship. The experience of running seems to provide an edge to most candidates.  Of the candidates, running this year Rob McCord has run twice statewide and Allyson Schwartz once.  Although some of the other candidates have run for office, none has run statewide campaigns.

Finally, there are some wild cards in play of uncertain impact. The most important of these may be the influence of union and party endorsements. In modern politics, endorsements are often disregarded by voters and devalued by campaigns. Nevertheless, they can still matter and could play a large role in this race with its large number of candidates. In a relatively low turnout primary, endorsements could in fact win it all.

Mourning The Loss of Pete DeCoursey

Pete DeCoursey

Pete DeCoursey

Pete DeCoursey, bureau chief of CapitolWire, died earlier this week.

He will be greatly missed by the entire Pennsylvania political community.

The following obituary, written by Charlie Thompson, was originally posted on PennLive.Com on January 1st.

Peter L. DeCoursey, an inveterate political junkie who turned a lifelong obsession into a colorful news career, died Wednesday at his parents’ home in Philadelphia after long battles against pancreatic and lung cancers.

DeCoursey, who worked in or covered Pennsylvania politics for most of three decades, served most recently as bureau chief for the online news service Capitolwire.com, where he published his last column this week.

The divorced father of two was 52.

DeCoursey made his biggest mark across Pennsylvania after getting his first assignment as a full-time Harrisburg-based political writer with The Patriot-News in 1997, and he spent the next 16 years painstakingly dissecting the work of four governors and the state Legislature.

As his career evolved, DeCoursey grew to be a mainstay on statewide talk shows and often popped up on pundits’ lists of “most influential” figures in state politics.

Junior lawmakers and state office wanna-bes considered it a big day if they were included in a DeCoursey piece.

But even as a rookie in the Pennsylvania Capitol’s newsroom, he was no novice to politics.

In fact, turning the typical career arc on its head, DeCoursey started his professional career on the political inside as an aide to former Philadephia City Councilwoman Ann Land, and later as a press secretary to former U.S. Rep. Bob Borski, D-Philadelphia.

Read more on PennLive.

Politically Uncorrected: Raising Kane in Pennsylvania

AG Kane

AG Kane

As one year ends and another begins, one thing is crystal clear: some particular Cain was raised in Keystone state politics this past year; and the particular Kane to which we refer was one Kathleen Kane, Pennsylvania’s new Attorney General. By any measure Attorney General Kane has become in less than a year Pennsylvania’s reigning political star. Interest in her is intense while speculation about her future political plans runs the gamut from a possible late entrance into the 2014 governor’s race to a future challenge to incumbent U.S. Senator Pat Toomey.

Kane’s ascendancy from virtual obscurity to the state’s biggest vote getter in 2012 continues to stun a still awestruck political community. Indeed, her meteoric rise has no contemporary parallel. She held no public office at the time of her election. In fact, she had never been elected to any office at any level of government. Her governmental background was more limited than any statewide elected official in modern history.

Few would have expected a former appointed assistant district attorney in Lackawanna County to become the incumbent state attorney general–an office once held by the current governor and previously held by two other gubernatorial candidates. When Kane first announced her candidacy many critics took her lightly, charging that she lacked both substance and experience. No Democrat or any woman had ever been elected attorney general in Pennsylvania.

When then explains Kane’s surge in 2013 to the most popular and arguably the most powerful Democratic politician in the state.

There are four reasons taken together that could provide an excellent political blueprint for any aspiring politico hoping to burst onto the state political landscape as Kane has done. While her rise has not been stumble free, Kane probably has produced the definitive road map to breathtakingly rapid success in statewide politics.

Gender Appeal – Kathleen Kane in 2012 was quintessentially the right woman at the right place and time.  Backlash against a male only political class had been growing for several cycles.  Shrewdly she ran against the “old boys in Harrisburg,” a charge that resonated well beyond the attorney general’s race. The gender appeal effectively reinforced the widely held perception that state politics was not exactly congenial to female candidates while it drew attention to Kane herself and her skills as a candidate.

Backlash against Corbett – Kane was a beneficiary of the backlash against Governor Tom Corbett for his prosecution in the Penn State-Sandusky scandal. She made that prosecution a major part of her campaign asserting that “Corbett probably played politics with the Sandusky investigation,” charging that he dragged out the investigation to avoid raising the ire of Penn State supporters.

Performance in Office – Kane’s first year has stamped her unique style as a careful cautious but aggressive prosecutor.  Early on she appointed a special prosecutor to review Corbett’s handling of the Sandusky case. Later she stopped Governor Corbett from carrying out an unpopular plan to privatize the Pennsylvania lottery. Among other things she refused to prosecute a Montgomery County official who issued marriage licenses to same sex couples and agreed to prosecute a woman who aided her father’s death in a nationally observed case involving the right of terminally ill patients to end their own lives.

Charisma in a charisma starved state – Lastly but certainly not least, Kane has brought some style, poise and aplomb – in a word charisma – to a state not known for it. Her charisma together with an inclination to cautious rhetoric helped her in the attorney general’s race to overcome a lack of experience and familiarity in state politics. In office that same style has helped her navigate the sometimes treacherous shoals of state politics while giving her a distinctive persona among statewide politicians. It’s likely to continue to help her enormously in the years ahead–already building heady expectations that she will soon run for major state office.

Kane’s early success notwithstanding, she also has had her critics. Some have charged her with blatantly politicizing the attorney general’s office. She has also been accused of nepotism for promoting her sister to lead a new child predator office while many Corbett supporters believe she has been unnecessarily partisan and antagonistic toward the governor.

Probably her biggest challenge ahead is handling the findings of the special prosecutor now looking into how the Sandusky investigation was conducted. Both the findings and timing of this much awaited report could be explosive. Its actual findings with regard to Corbett and when it is delivered are critically important to Kane’s image and reputation. If the report seems politically motivated to hurt Corbett, especially in the timing of its release, Kane’s image for fairness and professionalism will suffer.

Critically for Kane there is a substantial question about how much control she exercises over either the timing or the content of the report. How Kathleen Kane manages this delicate moment for Tom Corbett may turn out to be an even more delicate moment for her.

Politically Uncorrected: Coming to Terms with America’s Interminable Problem

const conventionThere’s good news and bad news these days for the Obama administration. The bad news: President Obama’s anemic approval rating has plummeted to 40 percent; the good news, it probably can’t go much lower.

But, both the good news and the bad news for Obama isn’t news at all to students of the American presidency. In fact, Obama’s inexorable erosion of political support is a depressingly old pattern in modern American politics.

Since World War II, the phenomenon of re-elected presidents losing their support during their second term has become the norm. Obama’s decline is only the most recent example of a fate suffered by most two-term presidents.

Consider the record. The final two years of second termers has brought almost unrelieved woe for presidents since Dwight Eisenhower. Lyndon Johnson was elected overwhelmingly in 1964, but by 1968, the Vietnam quagmire forced him to withdraw as a presidential candidate. Nixon trounced his opponent in 1972, but by 1974, he resigned facing certain impeachment. Clinton won convincingly in 1996, only to be impeached in 1998. Bush, a 500,000 popular vote winner in 2004 ultimately rivaled Truman for claim to the most unpopular president in modern times. Even Reagan struggled with Iran Contra.

Each troubled president encountered unique problems: for LBJ, it was Vietnam; for Nixon, the Watergate cover-up; for Clinton, his personal behavior in office; for Bush, the Iraq War, and now for Obama, health care.

But underneath these surface differences lay the common denominator described by one scholar as “the six-year itch:” voters’ patience with the incumbent expires long before the second term does.

The causes of the six-year itch are well understood. One is simply time in office. The longer an administration holds power, the more it incurs the costs of governing: poor decisions, policy miscues, staffing changes, and bad behavior bear their bitterest fruit in second terms.

Another factor bearing down on ebbing presidencies is the absence of a substantial second term agenda. This lack of exciting proposals is almost endemic to second terms. The big ideas mostly come in first terms.

Yet another cause of the six-year itch is the toxic partisanship in contemporary politics. Second term presidents today almost inevitably work in a hostile political environment, even while rivals jockey for opportunities to embarrass or harass them.

Four years may not be enough for a successful president, but eight years is too much for most presidents. Is there not a happy compromise–a term long enough to be effective, but short enough to avoid painful death watches like the country now endures waiting for Obama’s term to end?

Such a compromise does exist and it’s the six-year term: a proposal that would amend the U.S. Constitution to provide a single six-year term for the president and vice president.

The six-year term is a good idea, but it’s not a new idea. It was originally proposed in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and has been advanced intermittently throughout American history. At least nine former presidents have endorsed it, including Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, Rutherford Hayes, William Harrison, and William Taft. In modern times, the six-year term has been advocated by Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter.

Proposals advocating the six-year term usually emphasize its public policy payoffs. Relieved of the need to run for re-election, presidents could tackle those complex national problems which seem so often to elude serious solutions. In short, the six-year term would take electoral politics out of public policy.

But an even stronger reason for the six-year term is that it fits the normal ebb and flow of presidential effectiveness over about six years. Undoubtedly, one of the reasons so many former U.S. presidents have advocated the six-year term was their personal experience with this inevitable erosion in effectiveness that marks the second term.

With so many arguments favoring a six-year term, why don’t we already have one? Sheer inertia is part of the answer. Major institutional change always triggers resistance. We muddle through painful periods like the present Obama interregnum until rescued by a new president and a new day. Then we promptly forget our angst until, almost without fail, it happens again.

Beyond inertia, familiarity with the present two-term system causes some to oppose the six-year term. It is the devil we know and some prefer it mainly for that reason.

This preference for the status quo carries an enormous cost incurred during the second term of most two termers. When an incumbent president loses the nation’s trust as Obama has done, they almost never regain it. Consequently, President Obama’s present loss of influence means meaningful effort to solve the nation’s most pressing problems must wait until we have a new president. Urgent problems like immigration reform, gun control or reaching a “grand bargain” on budget and debt policy probably can’t be resolved before 2017 at the earliest.

This state of affairs is sad and sobering; it is also avoidable.

As we hobble through the remaining days of the Obama Presidency, we have ample time to reflect on the costs of the six-year itch. Perhaps in an earlier and simpler time we could afford that cost. Few believe we still can.

12/13 Morning Buzz

400px-Manhattan_from_top_of_the_rockHappy PA Society weekend! The PA Chamber endorses Corbett, Rep. Murphy introduces his mental health reform bill and the Delco GOP have found their man. Good morning politicos, here’s the buzz.

ICYMI: The Full 2013 PA Society List of Events: It’s that time of year, politicos: Pennsylvania Society! Here’s a rundown of all the events at the weekend-long marathon of receptions and cocktails.

Entire PA Delegation Votes For Murray-Ryan: The recent cycle of government shutdowns is over – at least for the next two years.

One Year After Newtown, Murphy Unveils Mental Health Reform Bill: The Congressman and child psychiatrist introduced the legislation after a study of the nation’s mental health care system.

Delco GOP Taps McGarrigle for Erickson Seat: Republicans opted for the Council Council Chairman, a candidate without a Harrisburg pedigree – or links to Governor Corbett.

PA Chamber Endorses Corbett: The political action committee of the Pennsylvania business community endorsed Governor Tom Corbett for re-election.

Pawlowski Endorsed by Lehigh Valley Building Trades: The Democratic candidate for gov won the support of a trades council that includes 20 unions from his home area.

Legislative Election Update:

HD-74: In the newly created, heavily Democratic state house district, Chester County Republicans have come up with a candidate: Harry Lewis. Lewis is a retired principal from Coatesville Area Senior High School, track coach and PE teacher. He will face the winner of a primary between Downingtown Mayor Joshua Maxwell and Caln Township Commissioner Josh Young.

SD-26: Delco Republicans picked County Council Chairman Tom McGarrigle as their nominee for this Democratic leaning seat. The district comprises parts of Delaware and Chester counties and was made slightly more Republican in the latest round of redistricting, but its party registration is 49.5% Republican, 39.4% Democratic. The likely Democratic nominee is John Kane, 53, the business manager of the Plumbers Union Local 690 which serves the Philadelphia region.

Statewide
State House Sound Bites: Lawmakers leave cards on table, pledging a return in January
State Impact: PA DEP opens oil and gas rules for public comment
State Impact: ExxonMobil: natural gas to be fastest-growing major fuel through 2040
Capitolwire: The latest on the CHIP kids and their possible Medicaid move
Capitolwire: Commission issues special education funding formula recommendations

Philadelphia
Daily News: A younger version of PA Society
Inquirer: Protesters gather outside Phila. immigration office
Inquirer: Package of child-protection bills headed to Corbett
Inquirer: Teamsters look to organize local law enforcement and correctional officers
Philly.com: The Obamacare deadline no one is talking about
PhillyClout: Israel to keep consulate in Philly
PhillyClout: Council passes flurry of bills before holiday break
PhillyClout: Council members spar over community development regulations

SEPA
Bucks County Courier Times: Taxes up, trash fee down in final Northampton budget
The Intelligencer: Pennridge seeking applicants for vacant board seat
Bucks Local News: Outgoing Langhorne Mayor Blaydon feted by borough council, the community for 31 years of public service

Pittsburgh
Tribune-Review: Region receives state grants for transportation-related improvements
Tribune-Review: Lawyers argue over sharing information in upcoming Turnpike corruption cases
Tribune-Review: Peduto’s latest offer of early retirement to city employees could cost nearly $9M
Tribune-Review: Peduto among mayors-elect to meet with Obama on Friday
Early Returns: County council budget: Unanimous, for now
WTAE: Rougher transition: Mayor Luke Ravenstahl votes for pension change opposed by Mayor-Elect Bill Peduto
WTAE: Pa. House OKs bill to allow $25 bounty on coyotes
WTAE: Complete statewide Pa. school grade data released

Southwest
New Castle News: Gas tax increasing for road improvements
Indiana Gazette: County recognizes jail program
Indiana Gazette: Tax official faces audit
Indiana Gazette: Commissioners salute Wildcats football
Beaver County Times: Smith proposes bill as part of women’s health agenda
Beaver County Times: Matzie: Bill would protect health insurance consumers
Altoona Mirror: Mayor, councilman say their goodbyes
WTAJ: New Flood Maps Causing Concern

NEPA
AP: Pa. AG takes computer records from pension agency
Times Leader: More Pennsylvanians pick plan on insurance exchange
Times Leader: County manager faces public question time
Times Leader: New DEP chief catches heat for climate remarks
Times Leader: Casey wants vote on flood insurance bill
Citizens’ Voice: County council designates money transfer to fund secretary position
News Item: Commissioners appeal county row officers’ preliminary injunction
Pike County Courier: Activists decry gas companies’ exploitation of Pennsylvania and Pike
Pike County Courier: Auditor General DePasquale releases Pension Plan Audits for municipalities
News Eagle: Gun manufacturer buys business park
PA Homepage: Passing of Carbon Monoxide Bill is Bittersweet for Monroe County Woman
Republican Herald: Educators say goodbye to AYP, welcome new state grading system

South Central
Patriot-News: Midstate GOP congressmen rally behind two-year federal budget plan
Patriot-News: Former Hershey chocolate factory falls to make way for downtown development
Patriot-News: Papenfuse headed to Washington for meeting with Obama
Patriot-News: Harrisburg’s hope evident at Papenfuse’s first town hall
Lebanon Daily News: Tax hike on horizon in West Cornwall
Lebanon Daily News: South Londonderry board OKs $2.7M budget for 2014

Lehigh Valley
Morning Call: Moore Township plans to hold line on taxes
Morning Call: Williams Township supervisor wants to talk to Chrin; property tax rate to rise
Morning Call: Allentown schools projecting $10.6 million deficit
Reading Eagle: Berks County commissioners approve $460.6 million budget
Express-Times: Allentown School District facing $10.6 million shortfall
Express-Times: Bethlehem council approves salary increases, decreases
Express-Times: Northampton County Council approves $3.8 million deal to continue prison treatment programs

North by Northwest
Williamsport Sun-Gazette: Mansfield Borough passes no-tax-hike budget
Williamsport Sun-Gazette: High Steel expansion linked to NY bridge project
Centre Daily: Former Centre County district attorney giving up law career

Opinions
Post-Gazette: Jailhouse talk : The county must ensure proper inmate care
Altoona Mirror: President’s wind power allegiance hypocritical
Tribune-Democrat: It’s a crime; Somerset Co. taxes to rise | Unlawful activity blamed for spike
Bucks County Courier Times: One-time background check not enough
Daily News: DN Editorial: Cougar-ific
Williamsport Sun-Gazette: Ultimate verdict on road bill years away

Blogs
Keystone Politics: Philly should copy Pittsburgh’s 40 percent parking tax
Keystone Politics: The gas tax is better than VMT
Keystone State Education Coalition: PA Ed Policy Roundup for December 12, 2013: The state budget line for Special Education funding in Pennsylvania has been flat for 6 years running. However, mandated services provided by schools between 08-09 and 11-12 increased by $453 million.
Commonwealth Foundation: Outdated seniority rules harm Pittsburgh students
Above Average Jane: Pennsylvania agenda for women’s health
Down With Tyranny: Guest Post By Ed Pawlowski, Candidate To Replace Tom Corbett As Governor Of Pennsylvania

Can Pennsylvania Democrats Pick Up Any US House Seats with Corbett Loss?

PA-US-Congressional-Districts-All1The reelection prospects of embattled Republican Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett have been journalistic catnip over the last year, with storylines ranging from failed whispers within the GOP to persuade the governor to retire, to speculation he could be knocked out in a Republican primary, to the very long line of Democratic contenders itching to get a chance at facing the nation’s most vulnerable GOP governor in the general election.

But Pennsylvania Democrats are facing their own struggles – including their attempt to win back a few of the seven U.S. House seats lost between the 2008 and 2012 cycles when the party’s delegation decreased from 12 members to just five.

(Smart Politics previously reported on how redistricting has produced a historically undersized Democratic U.S. House delegation in the 113th Congress vis-à-vis the state’s presidential vote).

At the moment, however, most of the 13 GOP congressional districts seem safe, with Mike Fitzpatrick’s 8th CD seat perhaps the most likely to flip.

That means Democrats in Washington are counting on a very strong performance by their gubernatorial nominee at the top of the ticket (with U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz the early favorite) to give some of the party’s down the ballot U.S. House hopefuls a chance at victory.

For, as it stands now, a Democratic gubernatorial pick-up in 2014 without the party netting at least two congressional seats would make electoral history in the Keystone State.

A Smart Politics review of Pennsylvania election data finds that the lowest percentage of U.S. House seats elected alongside the party of the state’s winning gubernatorial candidate is 36 percent, set in 1890.

Democrats won the governor’s mansion that cycle with Robert Pattison but carried just 10 of 28 congressional seats.

Since the birth of the modern two-party system in 1828, there have been 42 gubernatorial elections conducted in Pennsylvania that coincided with elections to the U.S. House.

Overall, 765 of the 1,177 congressional seats on the ballot in such cycles during this 185-year span were carried by the winning gubernatorial candidate, or an average of 65 percent.

In 32 of these cycles, the party of the victorious gubernatorial candidate carried at least half of the congressional seats – peaking at over 80 percent nine times:

· 1872 (Republicans): 82 percent, 22 of 27 seats (Governor John Hartranft)

· 1894 (Republicans): 93 percent, 28 of 30 seats (Daniel Hastings)

· 1902 (Republicans): 88 percent, 28 of 32 seats (Samuel Pennypacker)

· 1914 (Republicans): 83 percent, 30 of 36 seats (Martin Brumbaugh)

· 1918 (Republicans): 81 percent, 29 of 36 seats (William Sprout)

· 1922 (Republicans): 83 percent, 30 of 36 seats (Gifford Pinchot)

· 1926 (Republicans): 94 percent, 34 of 36 seats (John Fisher)

· 1930 (Republicans): 92 percent, 33 of 36 seats (Giffort Pinchot)

· 1946 (Republicans): 85 percent, 28 of 33 seats (Jim Duff)

Over the last 15 cycles since 1954, the only time a gubernatorial candidate has been elected along with at least 60 percent of his party’s U.S. House seats was in 2010 when Corbett and 12 of 19 Republican U.S. House nominees were victorious (63 percent).

In 10 cycles during the two-party era, less than half of the state’s congressional seats – but no less than 36 percent – came from the party of the elected governor, with seven of these cycles taking place during the last 50 years:

· 1882 (Democrats): 43 percent, 12 of 28 seats (Governor Robert Pattison)

· 1890 (Democrats): 36 percent, 10 of 28 seats (Robert Pattison)

· 1954 (Democrats): 47 percent, 14 of 30 seats (George Leader)

· 1966 (Republicans): 48 percent, 13 of 27 seats (Raymond Shafer)

· 1978 (Republicans): 40 percent, 10 of 25 seats (Dick Thornburgh)

· 1982 (Republicans): 44 percent, 10 of 23 seats (Dick Thornburgh)

· 1990 (Democrats): 48 percent, 11 of 23 seats (Bob Casey)

· 1994 (Republicans): 48 percent, 10 of 21 seats (Tom Ridge)

· 1998 (Republicans): 48 percent, 10 of 21 seats (Tom Ridge)

· 2002 (Democrats): 37 percent, 7 of 19 seats (Ed Rendell)

Democrats currently hold 28 percent of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional seats (five of 18).

As such, if the Democratic Party does indeed take back the governor’s mansion in 2014, it will have to net two U.S. House seats to avoid setting the record for the weakest gubernatorial coattails in congressional races in Keystone State history.

In order to reach the historical statewide average of 65 percent, Democrats would have the unfathomable task of netting seven seats.

Pennsylvania U.S. House Seats Carried by Party of Winning Gubernatorial Candidate, 1832-2010

Cycle Winning candidate Party US House seats Total Seats % Seats
1832 George Wolf Democrat 14 28 50.0
1838 David Porter Democrat 17 28 60.7
1844 Francis Shunk Democrat 12 24 50.0
1848 William Johnston Whig 13 24 54.2
1854 James Pollock Whig 16* 24 66.7
1860 Andrew Curtin Republican 19 25 76.0
1866 John Geary Republican 18 24 75.0
1872 John Hartranft Republican 22 27 81.5
1878 Henry Hoyt Republican 17 27 63.0
1882 Robert Pattison Democrat 12 28 42.9
1886 James Beaver Republican 20 28 71.4
1890 Robert Pattison Democrat 10 28 35.7
1894 Daniel Hastings Republican 28 30 93.3
1898 William Stone Republican 20 30 66.7
1902 Samuel Pennypacker Republican 28 32 87.5
1906 Edwin Stuart Republican 25 32 78.1
1910 J.K. Tener Republican 23 32 71.9
1914 Martin Brumbaugh Republican 30 36 83.3
1918 William Sprout Republican 29 36 80.6
1922 Gifford Pinchot Republican 30 36 83.3
1926 John Fisher Republican 34 36 94.4
1930 Gifford Pinchot Republican 33 36 91.7
1934 George Earle Democrat 23 34 67.6
1938 Arthur James Republican 19 34 55.9
1942 Edward Martin Republican 19 33 57.6
1946 Jim Duff Republican 28 33 84.8
1950 John Fine Republican 20 33 60.6
1954 George Leader Democrat 14 30 46.7
1958 David Lawrence Democrat 16 30 53.3
1962 William Scranton Republican 14 27 51.9
1966 Raymond Shafer Republican 13 27 48.1
1970 Milton Shapp Democrat 14 27 51.9
1974 Milton Shapp Democrat 14 25 56.0
1978 Dick Thornburgh Republican 15 25 40.0
1982 Dick Thornburgh Republican 13 23 43.5
1986 Bob Casey, Sr. Democrat 12 23 52.2
1990 Bob Casey, Sr. Democrat 11 23 47.8
1994 Tom Ridge Republican 10 21 47.6
1998 Tom Ridge Republican 10 21 47.6
2002 Ed Rendell Democrat 7 19 36.8
2006 Ed Rendell Democrat 11 19 57.9
2010 Tom Corbett Republican 12 19 63.2

* Includes coalition of Opposition, Whig, and Republican U.S. Representatives. Table compiled by Smart Politics.
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Smart Politics is a non-partisan political news site authored and founded in 2006 by Dr. Eric Ostermeier, a Research Associate at the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance (CSPG) at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. If you have any questions about Smart Politics please contact the author.

Originally posted here. Republished with permission.

Politically Uncorrected: The Elephant in the Room

Obamacare NR CoverIt wasn’t a “big “story. In fact, the article published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last June received little follow-up and even less attention. That’s unfortunate – because it’s a story that explains the anxiety so many Americans express about both Obama’s Affordable Care Act and even “reasonable” gun controls.

More about that in a minute.

The not so big story was about a Butler Pennsylvania resident, one Jeffrey L Burtner, suing the Pennsylvania State Police in federal district court. Mr. Burtner sued to force the state police to correct their records erroneously showing he was involuntarily committed to a state mental institution.

Under state law anyone adjudicated as a “mental defective” or involuntarily committed cannot possess a gun. On this basis, the state police relied on their “instant check system” to deny Mr. Burtner the right to buy a new hunting rifle. Their system showed that he had been committed in 1992.

Now this is where it gets interesting. Mr. Burtner asserted he has never been committed to a mental institution and he immediately challenged the “mental defective” designation.

He approached both the hospital and the provider cited as the sources of the state police report. They both indicated they had no such records that he had been committed. Mr. Burtner’s attorney forwarded this exculpatory evidence to the state police, expecting perhaps they would do something sensible with it.

So far so good. Mistakes happen, no one is perfect, and all’s well that ends well.

Not quite! This is where it gets positively Orwellian.

The state police through their legal office acknowledged they possessed no evidence of Mr. Burtner’s involuntary commitment, stating: “the PSP has been unable to find any involuntary commitment documentation on Mr. Burtner …”

Understand what is happening because what comes next is stunning.

Here, apparently, is a law-abiding Pennsylvanian, attempting to exercise his second amendment rights to buy a new hunting rifle. He reportedly had bought other guns before. Lawfully and willingly, he submits to the required background check, alleges damaging misinformation in the government’s data bases, hires an attorney to help him gather corrective information, and submits that information to the state police.

Upon receipt of that information the state police acknowledge they have no information to the contrary. In other words, they acknowledge they have no basis to deny the purchase or rely on the disputed information about Mr. Burtner.

So the state police corrected their records, apologized to Mr. Burtner for the embarrassment and inconvenience (to say nothing of the costs he had incurred) and approved his original application to purchase a hunting rifle.

That’s certainly what should have happened!

But what actually happened provokes outrage. Upon acknowledging they had no evidence that he had ever been committed, the state police told Mr. Burtner that to get the incorrect information removed from the government data base, he “… would have to take legal action for the PSP to remove it from PICS (the instant background check).”

He was compelled to go to federal court and ask for a declaration so that he can exercise a constitutional right, while requiring the state police to expunge its records — records the state police have already acknowledged are unsupported by any facts.

Happily for Mr. Burtner the whole farce finally ended in November when the state finally agreed to settle the lawsuit, pay him $400, and allow him to purchase a gun.

What is wrong with this picture?

For starters, it’s preposterous that a citizen must go into federal court to force a state agency to correct their own records when those records are preventing him from exercising a constitutional right.

But the injustice imposed on Mr. Burtner, however unpleasant his experience, pales against the corrosive erosion to confidence in government that even such small incidents provoke. Mr. Burtner’s ordeal also explains what is so inexplicable to gun control advocates – why millions of Americans still resist or are indifferent to reasonable gun control measures. And it helps to explain why almost two thirds of Americans now oppose the Affordable Health Care Act.

Opposition to these programs do not arise because most Americans’ oppose either sensible gun control or workable health insurance. Opposition arises because we don’t trust our governments to administer these programs with competence and common sense. It’s not the laws most oppose; it’s the government that incompetently administers them.

That is the elephant in the room amid the gun debate and health insurance – and indeed many of the controversies of our time. We increasingly don’t trust government to get it right.

Americans fear that Mr. Burtner’s story will become their story – that if gun laws are strengthened or health insurance expanded, government will screw it up. We have lost trust in government and Mr. Burtner’s story and others like it exacerbate those feelings.

Somehow, Americans’ must come to believe again that government will do the right thing and the smart thing most of the time. We must come again to believe that government can do its job. Until that happens we will make little progress with guns or health insurance or any of the pressing challenges confronting us today.

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Madonna is Professor of Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, and Young is a former Professor of Politics and Public Affairs at Penn State University and Managing Partner of Michael Young Strategic Research. Madonna and Young encourage responses to the column and can be reached, respectively, at terry.madonna@fandm.edu and drmikelyoung@comcast.net.

Politically Uncorrected: The Rocky Road to Camelot

jfk“Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot. These lyrical lines from the musical “Camelot” were among assassinated President Jack Kennedy’s favorites.

This month, America commemorates the tragic events in Dallas a half century ago that robbed the country of a fabled president destined to be enshrined in national memory as the symbol of Camelot.

The Camelot story is well known. Less well known, however, is the early road to Camelot ran through Pennsylvania. The state’s role in the story begins in the 1960 presidential campaign – now remembered as the beginning of the modern era of media dominated politics – and Pennsylvania played a major part in it.

At the Los Angeles convention that would nominate Kennedy, one key player was the former Pittsburgh mayor who had become Pennsylvania’s governor, David Lawrence, already a veteran of national convention politics. Two years earlier, Kennedy had thought his main rival for the Democratic nomination in 1960 might be the popular mayor of Pennsylvania’s other major city, Philadelphia’s Richardson Dilworth. Dilworth was considered for a brief period a rising national star in the Democratic Party. But he had unwisely passed on a Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidacy in 1958 and that decision effectively ended his future presidential ambitions.

Gov. Lawrence had become chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party in 1934. One of the few politicians that successfully made the transition from political boss to a respected office holder, Lawrence was elected mayor of Pittsburgh in 1945 and governor of Pennsylvania in 1958.

At the outset of the presidential campaign, Lawrence was a man in personal conflict. He was reluctant to move the state delegation to support Kennedy despite considerable pressure to do so. He still harbored hopes for twice-defeated Adlai Stevenson, but more significantly Lawrence had real doubts that a Catholic could win the presidency. Although a Catholic himself, he was convinced that Kennedy would confront the same prejudice that doomed the presidential campaign of Al Smith in 1928.

Recognizing Lawrence’s importance, family patriarch Joe Kennedy earlier had asked Matt McCloskey, a wealthy Philadelphia contractor and fundraiser, to visit the governor personally and seek an endorsement for his son. McCloskey’s entreaties were unsuccessful, even after Joe Kennedy himself went to Harrisburg hoping to move Lawrence away from his neutrality.

Meanwhile, Lawrence’s efforts to keep the state’s delegation uncommitted in Los Angeles ran into strong opposition from other powerful Pennsylvania politicians already endorsing Kennedy — including Sen. Joseph Clark, Philadelphia powerhouse Congressman William Green, a future governor, Milton Shapp, and a bevy of county leaders. When it became apparent the convention would not deadlock, Lawrence finally threw his support to Kennedy and even made one of the seconding speeches nominating the Massachusetts senator.

Kennedy’s Catholicism did become a political problem for him. In a 1959 Gallup Poll, one in four voters told Gallup they would not support a Catholic candidate even if he was qualified. Many of these voters expressed concern that a Catholic president wouldn’t exercise his own independent judgment if it differed from church teaching.

Anti-Catholicism was not just a southern problem. In Pennsylvania, accounts of increasing anti-Catholicism were widespread. No one documented this sentiment more clearly than famed Pennsylvania novelist James Michener, whose works, such as Tales of South Pacific, and Hawaii, made him one of the nation’s most distinguished writers.

In 1960, Michener campaigned nationally for Kennedy, eventually running his campaign in Bucks County. He wrote a post-election account of his efforts on behalf of JFK that he chronicled in an instructive but little read book, Report of the County Chairman. Michener’s Report detailed the increase in religious bigotry in Bucks County as the Kennedy campaigned progressed.   The anti-Catholicism ranged from provocative pamphlets depicting Catholic prelates torturing Protestants to virulent hate literature mailed anonymously into homes. Michener believed these activities amounted to an organized campaign by anti-Catholic bigots, concluding that the religious issue permeated every aspect of the 1960 campaign in Pennsylvania.

Finally, in September, Kennedy confronted the issue addressing a group of hostile Protestant ministers meeting in Houston.  There he pledged to keep church and state matters separate — a principle he called absolute. The speech defused the issue and today it is regarded as a defining moment of the campaign.

Kennedy ultimately profited from the emphasis on religion in the 1960 race. The Catholic population had been growing steadily and more Catholics paid more attention to the election than in previous years because of his candidacy.

Pennsylvania was typical of this trend. About 30 percent of the state’s adult population was Catholic, a significant proportion of the total vote.  Allegheny, Westmoreland, Beaver, Cambria, Erie, Philadelphia and Lackawanna counties had large Catholic populations, and they had large increases in voter turnout.

Ultimately, Kennedy won the state in a squeaker, 51 percent to 49 percent, a mere 116,000 out of five million votes cast. He won just 15 counties, but they were chiefly the larger counties, most with significant Catholic populations.

Lawrence had not been wrong to worry about Kennedy’s Catholicism. But he was wrong to believe it would cost him the presidency.

Politically Uncorrected: Pennsylvania’s Bad Penny

rotundaIt’s baack! Indeed, it never went away.

The “it” here is Pennsylvania’s perpetual debate over property tax reform, a debate in modern times that traces to the early 1970s. Further back, we have been arguing about the property tax since the 19th century. It’s a bad penny that seems to keep turning up.

One current version of tax reform sponsored by Rep. Seth Grove (R-York) recently passed the state House.  It provides school districts the option of replacing some or all of their property taxes with three other taxes, including the earned income tax, and two business taxes.

That bill was sent to the Senate for concurrence and then the fun began. Once in the Senate we learn that Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi prefers a different version of tax reform. Pileggi’s proposal would freeze property taxes for seniors; paying for the freeze with offsetting revenues from allowing Keno in state casinos.

Game on.

For 40 years now the Pennsylvania legislature has struggled to reach consensus on a way to provide property tax relief while funding schools. In 1989 it did actually agree on a plan, one that would have replaced partially the property tax with hikes from sales and income taxes. Voters promptly rejected that proposal in a statewide referendum, three to one. The memory of that debacle offers a vivid lesson in why statewide tax reform has been difficult to achieve.

Later in 2006, school districts were authorized to hold local referenda asking voters to substitute earned income or personal income taxes for reduced property taxes.  In subsequent referenda across the state, however, voters have routinely turned down this option.

Now in 2013 the issue emerges yet again: steady rate increases over many years have put enormous pressure on ordinary property owners, many on fixed incomes, who pay the tax – as well as on Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts who depend upon it.

Property owners and school districts are not the only critics of the tax. Economists, policy makers and most scholars also condemn it – labeling it regressive, hard to administer fairly, economically unstable and politically unpopular.

Pennsylvania’s property tax paradox poses a genuine mystery:  if voters hate the property tax, politicians’ rail against it and policy makers criticize it, why is this tax we love to hate still in place, in fact raising more and more revenue year after year?

The short answer is that our legislators haven’t figured out how to abolish or substantially reduce the tax while still funding the schools.

The long answer is more complicated.   Fundamentally no one yet has resolved how simultaneously to solve three vexing problems – problems that left unsolved, preclude meaningful tax reform.

●       Sustaining Local Government Viability — The property tax is the largest source of revenue available to school districts and local governments. Consequently, if it is reduced or abolished, lost property tax revenues must be replaced. If wholly replaced by state taxes, school districts and local governments would become mere administrative units of state government, shorn of meaningful power or decision making. A government without its own sources of revenue ceases to be a government at all.

●       Money, Money and More Money — If property taxes were abolished, it would take an estimated 11. 5 billion dollars annually to replace the lost revenues.  Raising that amount of money would likely mean huge increases in income and state sales taxes. One estimate projects the state income tax might be raised from 3.07 % to 4.34 %, the state sales tax would be raised from 6 % to 7%.  Hence the property tax conundrum: how to  raise the billions necessary in new revenues to replace lost property tax revenues — but do it in a way acceptable to voters, without  harming the economy or reducing local governments and school districts to sheer sycophantic status.

●       Sorting out the Winners and the Losers — Just as there “ain’t no” free lunch, there also isn’t any way to reform the property tax without producing both winners and losers. Under any proposal to reduce or abolish the property tax, some would pay less and others would pay more. Everyone of course wants to be among those who pay less, while no one want to be among those who pay more. The inevitable consequence is a deepening political schism among voters amid arguments about tax fairness and unfairness.

Daunting as these dilemmas are, there are reasons to think real reform might be possible.  Increasingly, ordinary Pennsylvanians are having a harder time keeping up with their property tax bills, putting growing pressure on them and on their elected representatives in Harrisburg who hear from them early and often.

 At the same time, more and more policymakers and educators realize the traditional property tax base has reached its limit to finance schools. Somehow, public schools of the 21st century must be financed mostly by broad based state taxes or fees.

 Driving both of these trends is the rapidly spreading sense among Pennsylvanians that it’s no longer just a “good” idea to reform the property tax. Instead, it has become urgent that we do so. Colossal catastrophes potentially threaten both local government and public education if we fail.

Politically Uncorrected: America Has a Problem

US_Capitol_Building_at_Night_Washington_DCOur federal government is not working. In truth, it has not been working for some time. In the voguish jargon of the ubiquitous pundit, it has become it “dysfunctional.”  More bluntly it’s a train wreck.

The most obvious manifestation of its dysfunction is, of course, the recent 17-day shutdown. But that particular outrage was only one of 18 shutdowns we have endured since 1976.  These repeated fiascoes inflict enormous damage to the health and welfare of the nation. No terrorist has harmed us more economically than we have harmed ourselves.

Bad as they are, however, the hated shutdowns comprise only one symptom of a broader problem: our political system has gradually ceased to function.

Each new poll reveals deepening levels of public disgust and contempt for our politicians and the government they lead. The average American’s respect for the federal government almost weekly plumbs new lows.  Congress now has an approval rating of 11 percent.  Almost three in four voters believe most members of Congress should be replaced in the next election. Confidence in government likewise has sunk to an all-time low.

Clearly, we are undergoing a national crisis as serious as any our Republic has confronted during peace time. But knowing we have a problem is not knowing what to do about it.  And before we can know that, we have to understand exactly what the problem is.

Some believe we suffer from “divided government” run amok: the national government is split between Republicans and Democrats. But America has experienced repeated bouts of divided government throughout the 20th century — and the country, by and large, thrived through most of that period. Actually, some scholars and plenty of voters believe government works best when power is split among the parties.

In fact, the problem confronting American politics today is not divided government but divisive government. Our politicians have become fractious, peevish, querulous, combatants more committed to destroying each other than solving the nation’s problems. Some — and far too many as evidenced by the most recent government shutdown — are willing to allow perhaps irreparable harm to the nation rather than seek consensus or compromise on the issues that divide them.

How exactly did we get to this desperate state of affairs? Arguably, there have been two fundamental shifts in national politics over the past odd 35 years that largely explains our present malaise.

One was a gradual shift back to the 1970’s — first of political elites and then of the electorate itself toward an ideological style of politics. This growing ideological orientation inevitably eviscerated a once large, centrist political establishment. Simultaneously, it enlarged the proportion of the electorate that saw moderation and compromise as political evils to be erased from American politics.

The problem with the growing ideological orientation in our politics is important to understand. Ideological politics fits well in a parliamentary type government such as the United Kingdom, where power is unified and always held by a single party or coalition.  But ideological polities is a fish out of water in a federal structure like ours with checks and balances and divided powers. Federal governments only work well when compromise and consensus can be reached, but ideological politics militates against compromise.

In effect, we have transformed much of our politics into a parliamentary style while maintaining the underlying federal structure created by the Constitution.  Not surprisingly, this has introduced an almost schizoid frenzy into our politics that manifests itself in confrontations such as the recent government shutdown.

But growing ideological politics is only part of the problem, and not the main malignancy now threatening our political system. That distinction belongs to an arcane process known as “redistricting,” which allows state legislatures to “redraw” the geographical configurations of congressional districts every 10 years to conform to shifting populations among the states.

The ultimate contact sport in American politics, reapportionment has been used irresponsibly by both parties going back to the 1960’s. They “gerrymander” new congressional districts into  bizarre geographic configuration designed to make congressional seats “safe.” The practice was accomplished mostly by shoving so many Democrat or Republican voters into a given district that the district is no longer competitive.  It’s “safe” for one party or the other.

This gradual accumulation of safe seats over many decennial censuses has all but destroyed political competition for many congressional races while contributing to the growing polarization of American politics.

Most recently, national Republicans have had the best of it. They have won control of enough state legislatures to allow them to gerrymander 30 to 40 districts so thoroughly that their incumbents are now accountable only to a small clique of extremists –a clique more than willing to take the country off the cliff for the sake of their ideology.

The problem then is so portentous for the nation: a growing ideological split in national politics, exacerbated by a decades old effort by both parties to use the decennial census to gerrymander competition out of congressional elections.

But what is the solution?

The ideological tilt to our politics is clearly a problem, but one we must learn to live with or live through. That is something the nation can do, indeed has done, during other periods of ideological turmoil dating back to the founding of the Republic. As long as we maintain competitive elections and democratic processes, the most rigid ideology will eventually yield to consensus and compromise.

The larger problem is the gerrymandering. It threatens to destroy the very compromise and consensus that makes national government work. Decades of gerrymandering has insulated a significant proportion of Congress from accountability to the general electorate of their district.

Consequently, only if the unwise gerrymandering of past decades is rolled back will truly competitive and representative districts come about.  And only competitive and representative districts will assure more accountable politicians, and less extreme partisanship.

Fixing this problem will be neither easy nor swift. Under the Constitution, restoring functional apportionment of congressional seats cannot begin until the next decennial census in 2020 — some seven years into the future. And even then it will not happen if the American people and media do not demand it be done.

We do have a choice: we can continue to watch national government slide into utter dysfunction — or we can fix it. It doesn’t seem to be a hard choice.

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