Pennsylvania’s Best County Chairs

These are the 14 men and women who make Pennsylvania politics happen at the most important level.

There are a wide variety of skill sets represented by the men and women below. They are fundraisers, activist leaders, candidate recruiters, strong managers, local politicos, and statewide powers. The best of them are all six.

Not surprisingly, the best GOP chairs are in the southwest part of the state, while Democrats are strongest in the southeast. It’s also little surprise that Bucks and Chester, two of the most competitive counties in the state, both have party chair from each party who made this list.

A few notes: we decided not to include the two PA state party chairs, not because they don’t each deserve to make the list (they do), but because it would be too obvious and the aim is to highlight local players. Additionally, we tried to look at where each chair is positioning his or her county for the long run, not looking solely at 2010 or 2008 results. Names are listed alphabetically by party.

The Best Republican Chairs

Mike Baker, Armstrong County
Insiders know they can count on Baker to do the work and deliver the votes. A businessman with not discernable political aspirations beyond county chairman, Baker is that rare person in politics who works more than he talks about working. His county performed well in 2010, but also did well in 2008 and 2006.

Skip Brion, Chester County
He’s established himself as a statewide leader as a member of PA GOP Leadership and State Party Treasurer, where he consistently raises over $600k a year for the party. While many county parties suffer factionalism and infighting, Brion has helped to keep the ChesCo GOP unified – even with several Tea Party groups.

Terry Casey, Luzerne County
Casey has the distinction of the most bipartisan recommendations for this list. He’s brought fundraising prowess and organization to a committee in disarray, and made the Luzerne GOP a major player in PA politics. We said we wouldn’t focus on 2010 outcomes for this list, but we have to make an exception here. If PA was the GOP’s best state in 2010, Luzerne was PA’s best county. Under Casey’s leadership, the GOP elected home towner Lou Barletta, beat Chris Carney, and sweetest of all, knocked off PA Dems’ Majority Leader Todd Eachus.

Harry Fawkes, Bucks County
The legendary longtime County Chair manages to win in the hotly contested Philadelphia suburbs, and is one of the reasons that Bucks County GOP candidates have avoided the path of their neighbors in MontCo. Fawkes is a statewide power player with prominent roles in the careers of Gov. Mark Schweiker and now Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley.

Elaine Gowaty, Westmoreland County
If Republicans want to continue their growth in southwest PA, they’re going to need local leaders like Gowaty. She is hands-on and involved with every aspect of the party, from candidate recruitment to volunteer recruitment. Her fundraising efforts have yielded a salaried, full time executive director for the party. While Westmoreland Dems relax and enjoy their 50-year supremacy, Gowaty is working hard to bring it to an end.

Jim Roddey, Allegheny County
Probably the most heavy-hitting GOP Chair in the state, Roddey is a major player. Fundraising, candidate recruitment, insider politics, everything – Roddey is one of the most influential voices in the PA GOP. At the same time, he attends most local GOP events and consistently raises money for local candidates.

Joe Sterns, Schuylkill County
Here’s the kind of up-and-comer that Republicans need: the sense of an establishment veteran and credibility with tea party activists. Sterns opened up the historically closed (and moribund) Schuylkill committee, and activists rewarded him for it with countless hours of volunteering. He’s the PA GOP’s most successful chair person affiliated with the tea party.

The Best Democratic Chairs

Bob Brady, Philadelphia County
Practically every important state party decision runs through him, and it’s no secret why. Brady has managed to keep relatively tight control of the largest political juggernaut in Pennsylvania (while dealing with constant internal conflict). Despite occasional turnout issues, Brady still delivers high margins for his candidates.

John Cordisco, Bucks County
“Handsome John” Cordisco is a talented local chairman, but he really shines on the statewide scene. Cordisco has influence over a great deal of the state committee, demonstrated by Kathryn Boockvar’s strong endorsement there.  He’s also a powerful fundraiser, a skill that will come in handy in 2011 as Bucks County is ground zero in the statewide Commonwealth Court race and looks to have a competitive election for County Commissioner.

Fred Lebder, Fayette County
Lebder is a veteran of local politics who consistently delivers, votes, money and party infrastructure for federal, state, county and local politicians. He has the ear of just about every official in the region.

Marcel Groen, Montgomery County
Groen has spent two decades turning Montco, formerly a gem of the PA GOP, into a solid blue county. A statewide and even national political power player with solid fundraising chops, he has tight control over one of the largest Democratic operations in the Commonwealth. Groen’s ouster of incumbent Commissioner Joe Hoeffel demonstrated that he the muscle to put his vision into practice.

Bob Kefauver, York County
Kefauver is the chair of a tough county for Democrats, but he has the dedication and serious approach that it will take to make his party much more competitive in the coming years. Simply put, he’s a hard worker with a vision. And redistricting will likely bring another Dem-friendly state house district around the city of York.

Greg Stewart, Centre County
Centre County is a major area of growth for PA Dems, and now they have a county chairman who is ready to capitalize. Stewart is organized and working to take advantage of State College’s potential for Democratic activism. On top of that, he’s getting serious about Centre Dems’ previously lackadaisical fundraising efforts.

Michele Vaughn, Chester County
For decades, Chester County was beyond the reach of Democrats. That changed with fundraising and activist efforts under Vaughn. Hands-on and skilled with volunteer and candidate recruitment, Vaughn is a strong contributor to the recent Democratic takeover of SEPA. Despite Dems’ setbacks in 2010, it is clear that Chester will be a swing county for a long time – and will never be as solidly red as it was before Vaughn took over.

32 Responses

  1. Michele Vaughn as Chester county Democrats has beech disaster for Democrats and a boom for Chester County Republicans. We Democrats succeed from hard work, great candidates, and by working the united campaign for all candidates independent of the County Chair’s efforts to hobble our best efforts to elect qualified Democrats. It is small groups of strong, focused, active, dedicated, loyal, independent, experienced, true blue Democrats that have made SE PA competitive. We Chester County Democrats will overcome our burden when the current Chair resigns and we choose a new leader who is not blessed by the current regime. We Chester County Democrats have earned hard fought victories and overcome a dismal county leadership deficit. We shall overcome this burden, and continue our march to overcome the blindness of a County Chair who believes in “home rule”, fights against successful true blue Democrats based on personal opinion and personal prejudice, has openly supported other candidates when there are endorsed Democratic candidates in a race, withholds access to information and date from locally elected Party Leaders ( an act that would lead to dismissal of any Zone Leader, unless you are the Chair’s follower), violated By Laws and dismissed the consequences at the pleasure of the Chair, failed to fund candidates ( unless you are a personal loyal supporter), raises funds for a personal PAC at the expense of the Party PAC, takes credit for all the work invested by so many other great Democrats, appoints paper tiger “empty chair” committee people and Zone Leaders based solely on their degree or loyalty to her personally and NOT on ability to get the job done or professional talent, … It continues

    Stay strong and true my fellow Chester County Democrats. hope remains alive in our.future with new and truer leaders in the years ahead.

  2. PoliticsPA are you HIGH? I have followed your site for years – but no more. You obviously have not ONE CLUE since you included Michele Vaughn of Chester County in your list of Best Chairs. You should be ashamed of yourselves. I can hardly believe my eyes. Fundraising is pathetic. Candidates are pathetic. Michele hates and keeps back anyone good in the Democratic party in Chester County who “threatens” her. She’s not only mentally ill and unstable, but most likely working for Republicans! (that is the only excuse for her sorry performance – a 2 year old could do more than her) The only way she won last time was to appoint people she knew to committeeperson slots to get votes! Any of the people who wrote on this site saying something nice about her are just scared of her wrath – or clueless themselves. HELLO PoliticsPA – time to call it a day – your political clout has just taken a serious hit.

  3. Mike Baker is on this list because he knows how to play the game Typical dirty politics. Funny he wrote an email to all on the Armstrong GOP mailing list encouraging them to come support Sen Don White as he unlawfully interfered with school board business by using his influence behind the school district’s back While Senator White’s actions should be fully investigated as well as Armstrong County’s own planning Dept and Judge Valasek (who all were part of a grandiose scheme to change voting regions and delay projects in order to control school boards elections) Mr Bakers email furthered the deceit by slandering the school board with nasty uninformed insults in order to create a circus atmosphere to come to a board mtg and try to make Sen White look good. The crowd was out of control and instead of trying to get information White played to the crowd insulting not just Armstrong’s but all school directors as well as the panel of experts the district had brought for the courtesy of helping the Senator understand the facts The senator obviously had no intention of learning facts. e is aligned with the wealthy oil and gas of Armstrong. Baker conveniently got promoted that week. Look into Whites bill 1127 proposal. Why’s he so involved in school district matters?

  4. Mike Baker runs his county like a dictator. Sometimes he will vote with a multitude of proxies. so I’ve heard.

  5. Roddey would be good but you can’t trust him. Sometimes I wonder if he is really a Republican. He’s not a conservative.

  6. As someone who lived in Montgomery County most of their life before moving to Chester County the difference is night and day.

    In Montgomery County I saw what was once a Republican stronghold dissipate into Democrat philosophies of entitlement and with it came higher taxes, declining property values, etc.

    I moved to Chester County and chose the location primarily due to an excellent school system and low taxes. I love living in Chester County and could not imagine ever wanting to move back to Montgomery County.

    In Chester County my taxes are still low. I am represented but over a 100 years of majority Republican leadership and as such, Chester County is not only one of the most fiscally sound counties in the state but in the country.

    Do the math people. Montgomery County, converted to Democrat leadership and in turn higher taxes, lost business, etc. Chester County, Republican led for decades and one of the most fiscally powerful counties in the state.

    I would like to think that leadership has a big role in that success and is a direct reflection of Skip and the Republican Committee people.

  7. You clearly haven’t done any actual research or you’d know the competent party leader in central PA is Roger Lund of Adams County is the one who should benon this list. Kefauver is a good man but in well over his head. Lund is the one coming up with unique ideas to build the party in a very challenging region. Lund is the party chair getting the same democratic activist turn out to events with four times FEWER people in his county than Kefauver. Lund is the one creating the ideas that work while Kefauver copies them and takes credit for them. Next time you do one of these rankings get your stuff together before posting.

  8. Dave T. I was so excited and encouraged when I read your comment to Skip? It’s frightening to repeatedly hear the word/term democracy thrown about as if it meant the kind of true freedom our country was founded upon. I’ll also say I’ve heard lots of complaints about the leadership of the republican party in Chester Cty. I hope the people will have a fair chance at nominating the person of their choice, be it a conservative or liberal without it coming down to party bosses making what they want or who they want to represent their repective parties. Yes Dave we should constantly contact our local, state and federal representatives and keep reminding them we are a republic. As Plato said 350 bc “The penalty good men pay for not being interested in politics is to be governd by men worse than themselves.”

  9. Can’t give credit for Chesco lossing red status to Michele….dems keep moving to Chesco because the Dems have screwed up Montco and Philly counties. That’s why I’m for no growth right now in Chesco. Chesco should stop the influx of Dems or they may wreck this great county. So stop building in chesco, stop announcing that we are one of Forbes top counties to raise a family. Keep quiet!

  10. The truth is that having these contests….top 30 under 30, top PA politicos, best county chairs, etc. is the only way politicspa gets traffic. There is no original reporting or novel research that is published on this website, hence there is no reason to visit this site for those that are informed and read real newspapers.

    These “best” lists are written based on popularity contests and who is friends with the author. There is no way that editors of this website have the hands-on knowledge within each county party and campaign to accurately rank and put together such lists. The authors are seriously under-experienced and misinformed. These lists are a desperate attempt to generate additional “hits” for ad revenue.

  11. Hey Skip did you get my email?

    Who are we?

    Are we republicans or democrates? Please read the following definitions and you decide.

    1) republican – or relating to or having the charactoristic of a republic / favoring, supporting or advocating a republic / belonging or apprpriate to one living or supporting a republic / one that favors or supports a republican form of government.

    2) democrat – an advocate of democracy / a person that believes in political or social equality (justice) / a member of the democratic party.

    The following are definition or a republic and a democracy as described in the U.S Army Training Manual (1928). The reason I chose these definitions will be apparent to those who know history.

    1) republic – authority is derived through the election by the people of public officials best fitted to represent / attitude toward property is respect for laws, individual rights and a sensible economic procedure / attitude toward law is the administration of justice in accord with fixed principles and established evidence, with a strict regard for consequences / a greater number of citizens and extent of territory may be brought within its compass / avoids the dangerous extremes of either tyranny or mobocracy / results in statesmanship, liberty, reason, justice, contentment and progress.

    2) democracy – a government of the masses / authority derived through mass meetings or any other form of ” direct ” expression / results in mobocracy/ attitude toward property is communistic – negative property rights / attitude toward law is that the will of the majority (not rule of law) shall regulate, whether it be based upon deliberation or government by passion, prejudice and impulse, without restraint or regard for consequences / results in demagogism, license, agitation, discontent and anarchy.

    Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have been been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. (James Madison)

    This being said why would any right thinking republican ever say I want to see democracy spread through out the world. We need to make the clear distinction between our two political parties. I’m sure that you all know that we are a Constitutional Republicand not democracy. So why don’t we as a party take the opportunity to not refer to our country as a democracy anymore. If we as a party helped to educate the people of our nation as to who we really are as a nation, might ultimately show the true distinctions between the republican and democratic parties.
    I have read enough history to know that move to changing who we really was not accidental but was well orchestrated plan started by the ISS in the early 1900 and further advanced by the Woodrow Wilson administration. We have to realize that the changes in our country’s true history happened over a long period of time and will also take time to change back to our true history. But there is no time like the present to start this change. If we could get Rep. Boehner, Senator McConnell, Gov. Corbett, PA Rep. Ross and right down the political line to spread this truth that we are a Constitutional Republic, would be awesome. Just imagine the look on the faces of Nancy Pelosi, Obama, George Soros or any of the left leaning clowns if Rep. Boehner would say ” I would really like to see Republicanism in Egypt”. Their heads would explode.

    So will you take a stand for the Republicanism or will we continue to promote democracy? Remember that Nazi Germany started out as a democracy. I choose Republicanism.

  12. Greg Sahd in Lancaster is a rising star among county chairs. His political experience and people skills are top notch.

  13. Let’s see……Chester County Democrats lost EVERY HOUSE SEAT that was up for grabs in the last election….that should tell you all something. Great leadership!

  14. Living in Chester County as a democrat is an embarrassment. Not much you can do when your chair is not on your side. For years I’ve heard democrats complain that she was working for the republicans…i always thought it was just sour grapes…then a well connected republican told me he heard that the dem chair was closing her eyes to help the republicans. Then i thought it might be true….she hasn’t raised funds as noted above, hasn’t brought in committee people, and isn’t responsible for the increase in registration. She doesn’t work to get candidates to run for offices, also mentioned above….so what can you think? Who is she working for? Clearly not the democratic party.

  15. A True Republican says:
    “Joe Sterns supports only Tea Party candidates. Your so-called “moribund Schuylkill committee” were true Republicans. Sterns removed them because they were not followers of the Tea Party movement.”

    Are you on drugs? He supported Dave Argall when he won the primary. Those “true” Republicans who left managed to oversee the loss of almost every row office, lost a State House seat that had been R for over 50 years and took the party to minority status on the Board of Commissioners.

    Joe’s already changed the bi-laws to decentralize power and we’ve regained the lost House seat. With him at the helm we’ll be back in the majority for Commissioners and retake the row offices in November.

  16. Sounds like NO ONE is happy in Chester County. So what the heck do you do about it besides complain?

  17. If losing over 100 committee people in 2010 and now not having one democratic candidate to run for Chester County Commissioner or any row office qualifies Michele Vaughn for ‘best of’ anything-it’s a sick joke. Tt’s time the office on High Street be closed up-everyone go home and let the crooked republicans take control. After all they deserve it-at least they have a party that does something. Did you know in Oct incorrect absentee ballots went out with the D & R reversed-voter services created a ‘pilot program’ so the precincts would never see the bad absentee ballots. Michele and Skip Brion were notified and went along with it- how dare they compromise fair elections. Ask a Judge of Elections-they have the letters. Michele should be fired for that one as should Skip Brion. Michele, you should be kicked to the curb by your party…you have done nothing to grow your party. The democratic party is dead in Chester County-thanks to lack of leadership.

  18. Congrats, Mike Baker. You’re a true American… working hard and getting results without the need for bravado. Thanks for what you do.

  19. Joe Sterns supports only Tea Party candidates. Your so-called “moribund Schuylkill committee” were true Republicans. Sterns removed them because they were not followers of the Tea Party movement.

  20. This article was written by an individual with no direct knowledge of Chester County politics or Michele Vaughn. (In fact, her name is spelled wrong in the text).

    Vaughn is praised for fundraising, volunteer recruitment, candidate recruitment and for the recent Democratic takeover of SEPA.

    Fundraising? Fundraising was abysmal this year. The county party did not have funds to support their own local candidates or even to print sample ballots.

    Volunteer Recruitment? Approximately 50% of the committeeperson seats are unfilled and those that are elected committeepeople hardly contribute. They don’t circulate petitions for candidates and they hardly canvass their neighborhoods to increase voter turnout. On Election Day, committeepeople don’t even provide coverage at polling locations.

    Candidate Recruitment? Sue Ruzucidlo, Barb Bergeron, Fern Kaufman and Matt Stehman are all candidates that were motivated by the desire to serve. They were not recruited by Vaughn.

    Recent Democratic takeover of SEPA? A sweeping generalization like this requires elaboration. Andy Dinniman, Kathi Cozzone, Josh Maxwell, Mike Hays, Josh Young? Hardly a “takeover” even in the loosest sense of the term.

  21. “While many county parties suffer factionalism and infighting, Brion has helped to keep the ChesCo GOP unified – even with several Tea Party groups”

    The emergence of the Tea Party groups in Chester County is due to the factionalism and infighting that resulted from his overbearing techniques and poor choice for leadership in the county. The row officer positions have become nothing more than second jobs for lawyers in the party who wish to donate back to Skip. Also, he lets people make careers out of jobs that have term limits for a reason. Very sad where this is all heading. As for unification, there is none, there is simply hardworking volunteers giving up fighting back because they get reprimanded when supporting candidates who arent in Skip’s close little circle, even if they better represent the ideals and interests of the locale.

    Look at Tim Hennessey if you need any more proof of a bad situation turning worse with Skip’s help. Those poor people in that district have been lacking representation in Harrisburg for years now.

    If something doesn’t change in ChesCo, the Dems will keep gaining ground and might actually win a few races.

  22. Skip Brion should not be on this list. While he raises money, his leadership is suspect and his candidates are sub standard, as proven last night at the convention. He is ruining the party and angering a lot of local workers.

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