Comitta looks to be in good shape on 156th recount

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Will there be a local price for GOP overreach?

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

So much for putting the feet up and enjoying the holiday season before wading back into this column in 2017 — so consider it a pre-holiday gift (or curse) — as news makes a surprise return needed.

While the last provisional ballots have to be counted, it appears that Carolyn Comitta has pulled off a narrow win in the 156th District State Representative race over incumbent Dan Truitt. After absentee ballots were counted, Comitta had a slim 18-vote lead over Truitt — who led narrowly in the early, election-night tally.

This week, Comitta likely got a few more votes with the ruling by Court of Common Pleas Judge Jacqueline Cody, allowing the counting of 14 more provisional ballots. As Comitta and Democrats fought to get the ballots counted and Truitt and Republican argued against it, it stands to reason that Comitta is likely to see a net vote gain from the counting.

Of course, with a full recount ahead, numbers could still change, but it looks good for Comitta, much like Barbara McIlivaine Smith’s narrow win in 2006 in the same district. Comitta’s likely win still leaves Democrats in a deep hole — the GOP house and senate can still override any veto by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf — but hints at coming issues that the Republican Party faces in Chester County in coming years as demographics continue to shift.

Something to watch in 2017: the Democrats seem poised to finally try to run a full slate of candidates across the county, from township supervisor and school boards all the way up to County Commissioner. I’m told recruiting, some of it fairly aggressive, is already underway, as the party and its local subsets are talking to potential candidates up and down the ballot.

The argument they make is that Trump lost the county by nine points and if he proves to be unsuccessful, unpopular and divisive, it should motivate angry Democrats and independents to go to the polls in 2017 to express their frustration, while hurting GOP turnout. Still, two caveats: the Democrats locally have been pretty bad at running local Get Out The Vote (GOTV) efforts and the whole theory assumes a President Donald Trump disaster, which obviously isn’t a given.

Is this an inflection point or another false start for Democrats in Chester County? Time will tell.

***

Despite Comitta’s apparent win, the Republicans in the state Senate have a veto-proof majority to work with for the next two years. That means, once again, the onus is on them to fix what ails the commonwealth — and based on what happened between 2010 and 2014 when Republicans controlled the legislature and the governor’s mansion, the prognosis doesn’t look very good.

They will again be forced to take on pension reform — and hopefully not Sen. Scott Wagner’s proposal to shove everyone into a 401K plan. Aside from violating the state Constitution, it would literally bankrupt the commonwealth. Obviously Wagner, who sees himself as a candidate for governor in 2018 (and whose intellect and vocabulary has been unfavorably compared with compost) struggles with basic math, or worse, doesn’t much care what happens down the road as long as he gets a political win.

Also, the legislature is going to have to fix the financial state of the commonwealth, both through increased revenue and by cutting spending. Slashing some of the $800 million in corporate welfare would be a nice start, but too many State Representatives and State Senators depend on campaign contributions from those “lucky” recipients, so don’t count on that happening.

Then of course, there’s school funding, paying for the State Police and a thousand other issues that the state needs to look at, but probably won’t, busying itself with proclamations of “State Mayonnaise Day” or similar.

We’ve seen this movie before — the GOP will split into “reasonable” and “two-year-olds on sugar tantrum” factions while the oblivious Democrats snooze in the corner — and nothing will get done.

Again.

***

With official news that Chester County Republican County Chair Val DiGiorgio is a candidate to become state party chair — incumbent Rob Gleason is ready to move on and has been rumored as a contender to become Ambassador to Ireland — and is likely to face off against Gleason’s hand-picked successor, party counsel Lawrence Tabas.

With the vote taking place on Feb. 4, it could prove an interesting gauge of whether the growing division (bordering on civil war) in the GOP is patched up by the somewhat unexpected Trump win, or whether the long knives will be out.

DiGiorgio has both ardent supporters and vocal opposition in his own county. His backers point to his exceptional fund raising ability and how he kept the party mostly together as clear fissions began to widen starting in 2010. His critics point to an allegedly autocratic management style, questionable candidate recruitment, and his ties to the lobbying industry at a time when many in the party seek to “drain the swamp.”

One argument against will be Trump’s poor showing in Chester County, losing by nine points even as he won the commonwealth narrowly. On the plus side, the Chester County GOP delivered for U.S. Senator Pat Toomey, defeating Democrat Katie McGinty in her home county.

Something to watch, also.

Whomever wins, one hopes that the winner keeps Megan Sweeney on as Communications Director for the State GOP. While we’re sure that Sweeney is a professional, her ability to crank out histrionic media releases is the most entertaining thing this side of Baghdad Bob (and trust me, in three decades, I’ve seen a lot of histrionic political media releases). Were Jesus, St. Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa all Democrats, she would be able to entertainingly portray them as agents of the Devil.

***

The talk of slashing Social Security and, potentially, eliminating Medicare is, well, curious.

It should bring chills to the hearts of three local congress critters — but I have the feeling only one of them gets the potential for doom that lies ahead of him if any of this gets traction.

While Pat Meehan (R-7) dreams of taking on U.S. Senator Bob Casey Jr. in 2018, and subsequently losing both that race and the 7th District House seat (possibly to a Democrat) and Lloyd Smucker (R-16) is busy dialing for dollars to pay off his campaign debt, U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello must feel like he’s being set up to be a latter-day Marjorie Margolis. History buffs will know her best for casting the decisive vote in the 1993 Clinton budget deal, which raised taxes and sparked an economic boom. For her trouble, she lost her suburban Pennsylvania (13th District) Congressional seat. On the bright side, she did end up as Chelsea Clinton’s mother in law.

You see, despite Costello’s bromance with Speaker Paul Ryan, he most surely knows the quickest way to become a former Congressman is to back Social Security cuts and the elimination of Medicare. Such moves will be wildly unpopular — and the campaign commercials will write themselves.

Hilariously, one of the proposals now would allow my wife to keep her Medicare when she retires, but deny it to me and cut Social Security benefits while lowering Social Security taxes on the wealthiest. Yeah, that ought to go over well — cut benefits for folks have already paid for out of pocket.

If/when this comes to pass, there will be a firestorm of doom for GOP officials who back this — combined with the usual losses (think 2006 and 2010) that the incumbent party suffers in off year elections — things could get ugly quick in a region that already is showing no love for the incoming administration.

If local Democrats are smart, they might even be able to use this as a cudgel against county candidates in 2017 — by forcing local Republicans to go on the record on these proposals. As someone who has managed county-wide races, it’s exactly what I’d do — with cheap video Internet options, it’s too easy to produce local spots saying, “Commissioner so-and-so won’t say whether he supports massive cuts to your Social Security and taking away your Medicare. Tell him you want to know where he stands.”

That leaves the GOP candidates forced to either break with the party mainstream or, worse, endorse the cuts. That takes them away from their talking points, potentially can rattle them and totally changes the conversation.

Combine that with the recent county tax increase — and yes, while I know that there’s no literal connection, most voters do not — and you could have voters saying, “that dirty @#$% commissioner raised my taxes and now he wants to take away my Social Security and Medicare?”

And look, to be sure, it’s the kind of linkage that Republicans have used against local Democrats on various issues from abortion to guns (bizarrely, both were issues in my run for Clerk of Courts) — so they made the rules, and it would be kind of lame for Republicans to cry foul at this point.

History shows that one party’s overreach — Clinton on healthcare in 1993, Bush on Social Security privatization in 2005, Obama on the Affordable Care Act — leads to a very large election cost shortly thereafter. It is amazing how this lesson never seems to get learned.

***

As someone with deep ties in both the political universe (as a former candidate, campaign manager and local party leader) and media universe (three-plus decades in the tech and straight news media), there is something I’d like to share with my friends in the political universe: the media is really, really angry right now. At you.

I’d suggest two things for the coming year: batten down the hatches and cool it with attacks on the “mainstream media.”

To understand what I’m talking about, you need to understand the media landscape from inside — which I’m happy to share as a public service to media-challenged political types.

First of all, the entire industry is kind of shredded thanks to the Internet (yes, the transition to a workable business model is well under way and slowly reaching equilibrium, but these remain very tough times for journalists). Second, the entire industry has been under attack for decades (at times with some reason, but mostly not) as some have sought to delegitimize the media for political purposes. Lastly, and this is the tipping point, the whole fake news thing.

Most journalists are really angry and now feel they have very little left to lose and are much, much more willing to take off the gloves and really dig into candidates, fact check claims and basically refuse to take anything on face value. Previous attempts to bully and/or shout down journalists will be less effective, too. Smart operatives will realize they’re dealing with an angry, wounded mountain lion, not a lap cat.

While previously some personal skeletons might have gone unreported, those running or thinking of running better be prepared for a journalistic vetting well beyond what is seen from opposition campaigns.

In terms of the continued attacks on the media, the updated maxim, “don’t start fights with people who buy their bandwidth by the terabyte” applies and will be ignored at your peril.

These aren’t threats — just observations from speaking with many of my media colleagues and friends — ones that might well be appreciated by those trying to get things done on the political front in 2017.

***

On that bombshell (obvious nod to Jeremy Clarkson), I’d like to wish all of you a wonderful holiday season and maybe, just maybe, a brief break from the political discourse. See you all in January.

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2 Comments

  1. Zeek says:

    The state house does not have a veto proof majority. Did I misread? the state senate does, but the house doesn’t, which makes 156 even more important, not 2006 important, but it matters.

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