Tuesday’s election results were not all about Trump

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By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

Not to mince words, but Tuesday was a bit of a stunner.

With the county’s Democrats sweeping the county row office races and making pickups in virtually every category from township supervisor to District Justice, it is clear that Chester County is no longer a one-party county.

And yes, to be sure, it was a bit of a referendum on President Donald Trump, as we saw in neighboring states and counties. But don’t assume that’s all it was, because you’d be missing a lot of the story.

Is it shocking that Democrats in Delaware County broke through, won row seats and two County Council seats? Nope. The Delaware County Republican Party has been akin to an old, rotted pier waiting quietly for the right storm to come in and completely tear it down. Democrats already had an edge in voter registration and have been making inroads for more than a decade, winning legislative seats and even a Congressional seat.

Truth be told, many us around politics have felt that the Delco GOP would just collapse one day and cease to be relevant — that day was Tuesday. Once voters see that the world won’t end — and their trash still gets picked up — Democrats will keep winning with regularity and likely become the permanent controlling party there.

The Chesco GOP is a whole different story. This has been, until we started to see some cracks at the seams in 2016, a smoothly operating machine. It always seemed likely that the Chesco Democrats would have to gain a foothold, maybe by winning one row office seat, and then slowly work to get to parity over the space of a number of election cycles.

Tuesday changed all of that.

I think two major issues took what should have been a gradual process and turned it into a sudden one.

First, like it or not, the Chester County Democratic Party has its stuff together.

Really has it’s stuff together.

Under Chair Brian McGinnis fundraising is way up, the party has filled many of its empty committee person slots and built up new — and effective — Get Out The Vote and candidate marketing efforts.

2017 was a testbed for a lot of what the county Democrats expect to use in 2018. Obviously, much of what they tried worked well, boosting turnout and participation to record levels on Democratic side. While every party has its internal tensions, Trump has served as a great unifier for the local party organization and McGinnis’ efforts over the last few years are paying dividends.

The Democrats were confident that they would win — even though pundits, including myself — thought it would still be tough sledding. Personally, I figured that Patricia Maisano was the party’s best bet to win a Row Office, running against Jack London (a head scratcher of a pick, to be honest) for Treasurer. She had a lot of Republican support in the southern part of the county, raised a lot of money and was one of the strongest candidates the Democrats had put forward in years. I did think — and wrote in this space earlier this year — that the entire slate was really strong, really impressive and would show well.

But a sweep? I didn’t think it was possible — the numbers in terms of registered voters, still solidly in favor of the GOP, made the math tough. Apparently, though, the new math has a lot of those registered Republicans voting for Democrats, at least in this cycle.

So not only was it possible to win, but Democrats won some of these races by nine points — and the closest was five. The ripple effect was enormous around the county, impacting municipal and school board elections.

Yes, the Democrats are going to have to show they can repeat it, not to mention handling governance — but consider this: winning means more money from donors (especially as traditional GOP donors start to hedge their bets) and better candidates (who also tend to raise more money). Not only will party leaders no longer have to arm twist to get candidates to run in some legislative races, we’re already seeing multiple candidates line up in some districts, a number of whom would appear to be formidable candidates.

One other benefit: while typically Democratic enthusiasm for an incumbent governor — such as Gov. Tom Wolf — might be tempered, the state’s Republicans might be poised to do them a big favor by nominating state Sen. Scott Wagner, who is kind of the Trump of York County.

Wagner is all in with Trump and even has the official blessing of Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist. By essentially tagging Wagner as the Trump of Pennsylvania — undoubtedly the President will come to tout him in campaign season, deepening the link in voters’ minds — Democrats will be able to boost their turnout in the collar counties, including Chester County and depress turnout of old-school moderate Republicans.

So…it’s clear the Democrats should have the wind at their backs in 2018.

But it’s not just that reason that 2018 looks like a wave in Chester County.

The Chester County Republican Committee has issues.

Although the party chair — and also the state GOP chair — Val DiGiorgio attempted Wednesday to spin the loss as being from external factors (read, Donald J. Trump), the numbers tell a different story.

Republicans under performed the region — yes, Democrats won in places such as Delaware County (where, by the way, there are more registered Democrats than Republicans), but the margins were tighter and in line with trends that have been building in the county for years.

So while it might be easy to blame the Trump factor, there was more to the story or Republicans wouldn’t have seen row offices lose by nine points or lose Township Supervisor races in places such as East Marlborough.

Internally, the party is divided — an issue many local Republican parties are struggling with — as Tea Party/Trumpers battle the old-school and more moderate establishment members of the party. But there seems to be a leadership vacuum at the top of the party. When DiGiorgio won the state chairmanship, he took the entire Chesco GOP staff with him — but didn’t step aside locally to allow new blood to grow into their new roles.

In five years, we’ve seen a party that ran like clockwork and over performed — Mitt Romney’s 2012 win in the county over President Barack Obama was a testament to excellence in a county party — and become a dysfunctional, disorganized group that now is just not getting the job done.

To be sure, it is not all the fault of DiGiorgio, a gifted, if overly bombastic political operator. The slow process of weeding out the old-school GOP committee members, the capable, moderate and experienced ones who got things done, and replacing them with erratic true believers has taken its toll.

But mix that with DiGiorgio being locked in on statewide races — managing to win the state Supreme Court race and get the ballot property tax initiative passed show he was laser focused on the statewide races — no one seemed to be home, locally.

As I write this, it’s clear that a number of state house seats are going to be in peril — and that’s assuming we don’t see retirements from some of the long-standing members and I think we will.  Peril is the best case scenario, assuming the county GOP rights the ship and gets new, local leadership. Losing four or five is probably the worst case scenario and looking more likely by the day.

***

Meet the new tax bill, same as the old tax bill.

I read through the U.S. Senate version of the tax bill and it is a little less awful than the one in the house in terms of my personal finance. In the Senate plan, we get the medical expense exemption back — that was more than $30,000 for us in 2016 — but lose the property tax exemption.

As small business owners, we own two properties, one residential, one commercial. We pay property taxes to two townships, Pocopson (which also has an Earned Income Tax) and Valley, two school districts (Unionville-Chadds Ford and Coatesville Area School District) and pay twice to good old Chester County.

Under either plan, based on our 2016 taxes, we will see a net tax increase, albeit larger under the House plan. I suspect those of you who are in the entrepreneurial class and have kids will experience similar numbers.

A number of Republicans — including U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan (R-7) — seem to be arguing that anyone claiming such a terrible thing is merely using Democratic talking points. I’m just using numbers — numbers that should shake out similarly for a lot of Meehan’s Chadds Ford neighbors.

Both versions of the bill appear to shift tax burden from the wealthiest to middle and upper middle class families. In my case, I’ve done the math with real-life numbers, it’s not a talking point, it’s reality. But, hey don’t believe me. Pull out your 2016 returns and see how the numbers fall for you before passing judgment. If you’ve been relatively healthy and have employer-based health insurance, the house plan might work better for you.

As I noted previously, there are a lot of folks in Chester County who won’t get a tax cut and may see a tax increase from this plan. With 2018 Congressional elections already looking shaky, this may well be the final deal breaker for a lot of voters, many of whom usually vote Republican.

***

The Roy Moore story is a giant headache for Republicans — the U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama is alleged to have had inappropriate sexual contact with a minor female in 1979, according to a story in The Washington Post. Moore categorically denied the allegations.

Prior to Thursday’s allegations, Moore was a trainwreck — albeit one favored to win in Alabama — with claims he diverted money from a charity to his personal use and having been removed from the bench twice for ignoring the rulings of higher courts, plus his propensity for bigotry when it comes to gays and lesbians.

You’d think this story would be enough, but it doesn’t appear to be.

As concerning as the story is — and it is another carefully crafted, highly detailed, exceptionally reported story from The Washington Post — two things stand out for me.

First, this story from The Toronto Star suggests at least three Alabama GOP county chairs would still support Moore if the allegations are true. When partisan politics entirely overwhelms morality we have a serious problem.

Second, Moore’s denial of The Post’s story reads almost exactly word for word like the denial by other Republicans in Congress of late when confronted by a deeply reported, meticulous story that puts them in a negative light in The Post.

To further claim that The Post or other media entities are collaborating with the Democratic National Committee — hilarious on the surface of it, but kind of sad when one sees the level of critical reporting on that body and other party organizations, such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (which, by the way, I have essentially used as a piñata in this column for the epically poor way it ruins — I mean runs — local Congressional campaigns). 

It’s almost reached a point that any reporting that is not fawning over certain elected officials is labelled “fake news.”

It’s deeply insulting to those of us who do this for a living and an exceptionally poor tactical decision because it just makes the media work even harder to get their story.

And not for nothing, how crass is it to send out fund raising emails on the Alabama story as Moore has done?

***

One more migraine-sized headache for our three local Congressman: you know those slightly gerrymandered districts they get to run in? The state’s Supreme Court said this week, essentially, “not so fast.”

The state Supreme Court ruled this week that the Commonwealth Court must hear a case challenging the current districts and rule before Dec. 31 — allowing a redrawing of the Congressional district lines before the 2018 elections, should the courts (and appeals, which will likely run all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court) find that the districts are illegal.

The centerpiece of the suit is the now legendary 7th District (the district that I currently happen to be disenfranchised in) — considered by many to be the most gerrymandered district in the entire U.S.

At least of two our local Congressmen — Meehan and U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello may be in serious trouble in the current districts, based on what we saw Tuesday.

Putting them in fairer districts might be too much for either to overcome.

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