Politically Uncorrected: A Good Start

PA-Governor-Mansion2Still more than a month away, the hotly contested Democratic primary is finally moving into high gear. Over the next several weeks, Pennsylvania voters will be treated (if that’s the word) to a veritable barrage of political ads, press releases, debates and other assorted arcana of political campaigns heading for the wire.

So far, it’s been a set piece campaign. Although it has turned a bit negative, the four surviving candidates have mostly agreed on the big issues. They all advocate ambitious agendas in education and economic development as well as protection of the environment and job creation. As challengers, they’ve mostly avoided dealing with the precarious fiscal situation faced by the state. None favor, for example, increases to the currently structured sales tax or the income tax or in fact any broad based revenue measures, except for a severance tax on the natural gas industry.

Abundantly clear is that whichever Democrat wins the nomination he or she is going to wage a vigorous and energetic campaign in the fall. The Democrats intend to win in 2014, and they intend to govern aggressively, if they do win.

Let’s say this happens. Indeed it is no secret that it could happen. Gov. Tom Corbett, long considered the nation’s most endangered incumbent governor, could still pull it out. Few are betting that he will.

For the moment, then, let’s hypothetically assume that one of the hard-charging Democrats wins in November. Then what happens?

Maybe nothing! Make that a lot of nothing.

We don’t have to look any further then down the road to an imploding Washington D.C. to understand why “nothing” may be the bitter postscript to the Pennsylvania 2014 gubernatorial race. In Washington, an isolated, increasingly frustrated Democrat Barack Obama is struggling desperately to pursue an agenda blocked almost completely by the opposition party’s veto in the Congress. By any measure, Washington is trapped in a stunning gridlock.

Is this Pennsylvania’s near future? Sadly, it could be.

Currently, state Republicans control both houses of the state legislature. While some believe Democrats might capture the state Senate in November, Democratic control remains a long shot. More likely, Republicans will continue their Senate dominance, perhaps becoming even more conservative than now. A conservative oriented Republican-controlled Senate represents a major roadblock to the agenda of any would be Democratic governor.

This bad news might actually turn out to be the good news for any new Democratic governor. Much worse is the situation in the state House. There, already about 30 tea party types make the state House a junior version of the federal House. Moreover, no knowledgeable analyst expects the state house to change hands. The current 111 to 92 edge Republicans presently hold will remain largely intact, partially the result of two decades of favorable gerrymandering and the collaboration of both parties in pursuit of legislative protection.

But numbers alone tell only half the story. As in Washington, far more problematic is the rampant polarization and hyper partisanship that exists. For example, not a single Democratic House vote was obtained on Corbett’s 2013-14 budget, nor did a single Democratic lawmaker vote for the liquor privatization bill passed in the House. The Pennsylvania General Assembly is an ideological battlefield, and any new Democratic governor’s ambitious agenda would be an early casuality.

So, if a Democrat is elected in 2014 a not so quiet policy paralysis is likely to descend over Harrisburg, much as has already happened in Washington.

Are we then making a not so subtle argument that, flawed as he is, re-electing Tom Corbett may be preferable to creating a mini Washington D.C. on the Susquehanna. Is the devil we know better than the devil we don’t? Is Corbett the best of the worst and should we keep him?

No, we don’t make that argument one way or the other. That is clearly for the voters to decide. What we do believe, however, is the vital importance of understanding what decades of paralyzing polarization perpetuated by both parties have done to our politics – and threatens to do to our government.

Pennsylvania’s 2014 gubernatorial election will not end these battles. They will go on. They might even get worse.

But this neither makes the election irrelevant or unimportant. Things will not change in Pennsylvania or nationally until the electorate decides to change them. The 2014 gubernatorial could be the catalyst that sparks that change – the moment where voters collectively say “enough!”

2014 could be Pennsylvania’s “tipping point.”

As Winston Churchill said of another fight long ago, we might come to remember 2014 as “… not the end… not even the beginning of the end. But …perhaps the end of the beginning.”

That’s a good start.

4 Responses

  1. Perhaps the biggest failure of this column is the fact that the authors claim, or seem to claim, that electing a Democratic Governor and a Republican legislature will lead to more gridlock than what we’ve already seen during the 3+ year tenure of Tom Corbett. This governor has had a partisan advantage in both houses of the legislature and has been able to accomplish almost nothing, which is why he is the most vulnerable governor in America in the first place. Electing a Democratic governor won’t create any more gridlock than already exists. In fact, electing a strong Democratic leader, versus re-electing the weakest incumbent in decades, may in fact break the gridlock and inertia that has become synonymous with the name Tom Corbett.

  2. The time has come to end the Tom Corbett and Acting Governor Brabender Government of the Republican consulting classes. This state cannot afford 4 more years of political necrophilia. The Governor’s Manson should be inhabited by someone who’s main priority is the people of this Commonwealth and has a vision for this State’s future.

  3. A couple of points. First, the Republicans have controlled the State Senate pretty much through the tenure of the last four people elected Governor (Casey, Ridge, Rendell and Corbett.) The Republicans controlled the House as well as the beginning of the Rendell administration and through parts of the Casey Administration. Both Rendell and Casey had pretty aggressive legislative agendas, which, after a period of testing relative strength, both found ways to get a lot of those programs enacted into law, including major investments in education, economic development and the environment. That said, the Republican leadership in the House was a lot more willing to negotiate than the new presumptive leader of the House Republicans will be.

    On the other side, Tom Corbett hasn’t had tremendous luck getting his agenda accomplished. The major initiative that he got through, the transportation funding program, required Democratic support. It’s interesting that the current budget proposal is a lot more moderate than what he had proposed in the past–not because there is more money, there isn’t–but because he was moved there by the voters and by the remaining moderates in the Republican party.

    So how successful any of the Democrats will be is more a matter of their leadership, their ability to go over the heads of the legislature to the people and their understanding of when compromise is in order. Both Rendell and Casey understood that.

    They will be challenged early in their term by the legislature–even if it were to switch parties. Every Governor over the last 45 years has faced some challenge. How they respond to that challenge will shape a lot of their tenure in office.

    Final, quick point–it’s Medicaid expansion, not Medicare expansion. Ironically, I think even Corbett is likely to cave on that after the election. Part of why he did what he did was to put the decision off until after the election, when people couldn’t react at the ballot box.

    So in the end, I’m not sure that the control of the legislature and the relations between the legislature and the Governor are a reason to re-elect or not re-elect Tom Corbett. On the other hand, leadership ability is an issue.

  4. When the R’s in the state leg/senate see how badly Corbett gets trounced, and the clear direction the state’s voters want to go, they might bend a bit, rather than become entrenched.

    The national problem is due the fact that Obama is black and the bigoted voters supporting many R’s refuse to acknowledge Obama’s legitimacy. That problem would not be an issue here in PA.

    Also, FoxNews and the right-wing machine media demonizes the crap out of any R’s that vote with the Dems. In PA, there is far less coverage (and chastising) of R’s that behave in a bipartisan manner. The R’s in PA can make responsible votes without a media sh*t-storm raining down on them.

    The governor makes a lot of appointments as to who runs state departments and agencies. Under a Dem governor, we can expect a full withdrawal of any defense of the terrible VoterID law (if it isn’t completely struck down by the courts sooner).

    A Dem governor in PA would be a vocal advocate for strengthening the state DEP and pushing for taxing shale extraction. A Dem governor would also be an advocate for supporting gay marriage as well as turning back regressive rules against abortion and women’s health care rights. Oh, yeah, and accepting Medicare expansion without a fight.

    We wouldn’t have to worry about misguided privatization lottery and other enterprises.

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