2015 was a memorable year in Pennsylvania politics although probably not for the right reasons. Now that we’re just about in the rear-view mirror, it’s the perfect time to take a look at who had the best and worst year.
This is our second edition of the annual Ups & Downs list and you can read the 2014 version here.
Before we present the biggest Ups & Downs of 2015, though, let us first recognize our honorable mentions.
Martina White. The Boyle-Stack feud was destructive for the Philly Democratic Party. So much so that it cost them a State House seat. White, a 26 year-old Republican rookie, became the beneficiary of this conflict. It may prove too difficult for the GOP to hold a district in the heart of their party’s strongest city, but no matter the result White will serve in Harrisburg through 2016. Now there’s a result that even she may not have considered possible 12 months ago.
Jim Burn. The Democrats had a great election night last month. The occasion should’ve been the crowning achievement of Party Chairman Jim Burn. The only problem? He was forced to resign in July. Instead it was Marcel Groen who got to bask in the judicial victories. Ultimately, Burn just couldn’t go on fighting Gov. Tom Wolf, who never wanted him to stay on and actively tried to remove him. Perhaps next year will be kinder to the ex-Chair.
Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love moved back to the center of PA’s political conversation in 2015. Initially, it was the crowded Democratic primary that captured headlines in the spring. Then, we found out Philly was chosen to be the site of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, ensuring the city a major role in the presidential contest. Finally, the Pope’s visit captured international headlines (thanks to Congressman Bob Brady). Now, if only we could win another championship.
Bill Shuster. One of the greatest fears of any elected official is that their personal life will find its way into the news cycle. That nightmare became reality for Congressman Shuster in April when Politico disclosed that he’s in a relationship with an airline lobbyist. Shuster’s position as Transportation Committee Chair caused even more scrutiny and provided justification for another primary challenge from Art Halvorson. It’s unlikely Rep. Shuster will face long-time damage from the episode but that won’t erase the embarrassments he was put through this year.
Erik Arneson. It could be argued that Arneson had the strangest 2015 of all. When Gov. Wolf fired the Director of the Office of Open Records just days after his inauguration, it sparked a protracted legal battle. Wolf had to reinstate Arneson and eventually lost his case in the State Supreme Court. As a result, Arneson is now one of the most well-known bureaucrats in Harrisburg.
Ed Pawlowski. 2015 was terrible for the Allentown Mayor. In fact, the sole reason he is only in honorable mentions is that 2016 will likely be much worse. His Senate dreams imploded after his office was raided by the FBI. His prospects just continued to get bleaker as it emerged that his closest advisor and friend was wearing a wire. A once promising political career turning into a tragedy is unfortunately becoming a common narrative in Pennsylvania.
The Porngate Trio
Michael Eakin, Frank Fina and Seth Williams. In sports, unforced errors are the largest impediment to success. The same is true in politics and these three men proved to be the kings of unforced errors. For Eakin and Fina it was the sending of pornographic material on state accounts to government officials that endangered their careers. As for Williams, his inexplicable decision to defend Fina severely hurt his political future. Their fates show just how vast a scandal “porngate” has become.
Rob McCord and Chaka Fattah. Forgive the pun, but this sub-head has a double meaning. Each of these men made our 2014 list and both of them are in deep legal trouble. In fact, McCord has already pleaded guilty to extortion charges related to his unsuccessful run for Governor. Rep. Fattah, meanwhile, currently faces 29 charges, all of which he intends to fight in court. Both these men were major figures in Pennsylvania and the state’s Democratic primary and both these men will likely spend some portion of 2016 behind bars.
2015’s Split Decision
Tom Wolf. Last year, we gave our split decision arrow to Gov. Corbett. The rationale was that while he had lost re-election, he no longer had to bear the burden of leading this commonwealth. This year it was Governor Wolf who had to deal with the interminable tasking of assembling a budget. With his sophomore year approaching, Wolf still has decent popularity numbers but he’s yet to find a way to successfully work with the Republican-led legislature. It’s too early to judge his tenure, but 2015 had to have been the most volatile year of Wolf’s life.
The Down Arrow of 2015
Kathleen Kane. There were so many contenders for this “award”, but somehow the Attorney General was able to hold off all challengers and retain the title. Where to begin? In the past twelve months, Kane has been charged on several counts and fired numerous officials for questionable reasons. She was arraigned, fingerprinted and had her mugshot taken. Her office has been raided multiple times and she is facing several lawsuits. She held a press conference where she spoke directly to her children and another where she was introduced with a slideshow of the infamous emails. Yet she didn’t answer a single question at either event. On top of it all, her law license was suspended and the Governor and legislature are fervently trying to get rid of her. Scandals come and go but the falling star that is Kathleen Kane is going down in an extraordinary blaze of glory.
The Up Arrow of 2015
John Dougherty. The power of labor leaders in America has been on the decline for decades. Apparently, nobody told “Johnny Doc” about this. The influential Philly union head had a remarkable 2015. It started with the Philly Mayoral race where Dougherty’s support was not only crucial to Kenney’s victory but to the ex-Councilman’s decision to even run. In September, Johnny Doc expanded his power base by becoming Business Manager of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council (he has long been Business Manager of IBEW 98). His biggest victory came in November, however, when his brother Kevin, who received significant financial help from labor, was elected to the State Supreme Court. Furthermore, Dougherty already has his eyes set on next spring’s Democratic primary for Attorney General. Whether we’re witnessing the peak of his powers or his best is yet to come, there’s no doubt that John Dougherty deserves the up arrow for 2015.