Happy New Year! Surf’s up, baby!

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

Happy 2018! Who’s got their surfboards ready?

Because, yeah, it is becoming increasingly likely that our friends in the Republican Party might not just be facing a wave, but rather a tsunami.

But before you rush out and scream “that dirty so-and-so Trump” (as apparently so many West Wing staffers seem to do daily, per Michael Wolff’s controversial new book), it might make sense to take a step back.

You see, Trump isn’t really the problem.

In light of this week’s headlines, of course, from his execrable comments about Haiti and countries in Africa to reports his people paid off at least one porn star to cover up an alleged extra-marital affair, it’s not to say he isn’t a problem, mind you, but just not the biggest one.

He’s a bit like a giant lung tumor in someone who has been smoking eight packs of cigarettes a day. If it weren’t Trump, it would be someone else eventually (take your pick from Roy Moore to Scott Wagner — this clearly is not the GOP of Dick Thornburgh and Tom Ridge anymore ).

And yes, a caveat: a lot could change. No political party in American history is as good at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory as the Democrats — but let’s be honest, things don’t look good for the Republicans in 2018. As likely as the Democrats are to mess up, events could also happen — especially a development in the Mueller investigation — that could make things even worse for Republicans.

A hint of the internal thinking is the number of GOP “retirements” from the House. My old pal Darrell Issa — gosh I miss those Directed Electronics press events at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas — announced he would bail out of his California seat this week, one of about 30 Republicans who say they won’t stand for reelection. Interestingly, rumors abound that he might run in neighboring Rep. Duncan Hunter’s a district, a fellow Republican if Hunter decides to move on…which bears watching.

It seems a few more are likely in the coming weeks, too.

Again, you could claim this is all about Trump — but you’d be dead wrong. Well, maybe not dead wrong, some voters will be voting Democratic just to provide a check on the self-described “stable genius” in the White House. But a lot — I’d argue the majority — are taking issues with the votes and conduct of the GOP controlled Congress.

According to Real Clear Politics, currently Congress has an approval rating of -57.5%. That means 15.3% approve of the work of Congress and 72.8% of folks disapprove. A new poll out Thursday by Quinnipac suggests that Republicans are bearing much of that ill-will, with 72% saying they disapprove of Republicans’ handling of their job. In fairness, the same poll has 59% of those polled saying they disapprove of Democrats’ handling of their job. But in the head to head generic ballot, Democrats lead 52-35 — a 17 point margin — in the same poll.

Those aren’t the kind of numbers that lead to job security. Granted, many people hate Congress, but love their own Congressman, so the local numbers are better. But are they better enough?

It’s hard to tell, especially when past votes come back like old ghosts to haunt members. Politico noted last week that GOP members may come to regret a vote last Spring to end an Obama-era regulation regarding worker rules for federal contractors. One of the things eliminated was a provision that ended secrecy agreements and forced arbitration in sexual harassment claims.

While not much was made of that aspect almost a year ago — much of the outrage focused on worker safety — the explosion of the #metoo movement has moved this issue front and center (not to mention costing a number of elected officials in both parties their jobs related to their alleged behavior). Undoubtedly, the Politico story will be branded as “a slam job” or some such, as previous stories have, but the both the facts and the optics, from a political standpoint, will likely have some staying power.

Before you ask, yes, all three Chester County members of the House voted to repeal the regulation — adding to the pile of really easy campaign commercials (the health care debacle, the unpopular tax bill, et cetera) that Democratic consultants are drooling to product en masse.

Again, it’s early. But it’s not looking good.


Something that could make things a lot worse for at least two out of three of Chester County’s Congressmen: litigation that could throw out the current districts.

While one suit, challenging the districts on the basis of violating the state constitution failed at the Commonwealth Court level — but is still headed to the state Supreme Court, and a second suit was rejected by a federal three-judge panel, other suits not directly involving Pennsylvania may still doom the Keystone state district map.

This week’s ruling by a three-judge Federal Court that North Carolina’s districts were unConstitutional strictly on the basis of partisan Gerrymandering. The judges ordered an immediate redraw of the map — which had previously been thrown out for racial bias — this week. The argument — which would also apply to pending cases here and in Wisconsin, currently before the U.S. Supreme Court — is that Gerrymandering violates the Equal Protection Clause, the First Amendment and Article I. While the states mentioned here were largely Gerrymandered by Republicans, there are states that Democrats have done the same, Maryland being just one example.

A court ruling — obviously, the U.S. Supreme Court will have the final say — could lead to a rapid redraw of districts for 2018, making them more balanced — and yes, more challenging for Republicans in Districts 6 and 7 (the assumption is that a redrawn 16th would end up being more Republican, based on most proposed maps I’ve seen).

Something to keep an eye on.


Make no mistake, Chester County’s voters will be seeing a lot of our gubernatorial, Lt. Governor and U.S. Senate candidates. Between Democrats seeing the county as an opportunity for numbers (and donations) and the Republicans looking to staunch the bleeding in what was once a solid Republican county, both sides will need to perform here to win statewide in November.

So it was hardly shocking that Gov. Tom Wolf made an early appearance here in the county — to help celebrate the opening of Turn5 in Paoli last Monday.

Wolf, as usual, was circumspect about the upcoming election. When asked about the GOP primary and the resulting opponent, Wolf joked, “I’m pretty sure I’m going to have one.”

I then asked him about Chester County and its importance in the upcoming election, Wolf again wouldn’t take the bait.

“Every county is important,” he told me. “But Chester County has a lot of people, a lot of voters but I really care a lot about every county in Pennsylvania.”

When pressed, he said: “I want to do well, everywhere.”

Obviously, these are smart comments, but again, watch Wolf (and his opponents’) schedules — expect to see a lot of visits to Chester County in the coming weeks and months. The number of visits will tell you exactly how important candidates see Chester County.


If it is January, it must be silly season. State Sen. Scott Wagner — who right now appears to have the lead for the GOP nomination for governor — a day after praising Gov. Wolf’s declaration of an opioid emergency, blasted it for infringing on Second Amendment rights.

“While I earlier commended Governor Wolf for coming to the table to provide long overdue leadership on the opioid epidemic, further review of his statewide disaster emergency declaration has made it clear that he took the wrong approach,” Wagner said in a statement. “There is no reason why addressing this crisis should come at the expense of our Second Amendment rights. The sloppiness of this declaration is another example of the incompetence of this administration, and calls into question whether this was a good faith effort from the Governor to help those suffering from addiction or just another thoughtless political ploy to silence the critics who’ve been saying hasn’t done nearly enough on the issue.” 

Wagner sites 18 Pa.C.S. § 6107 that says, “No person shall carry a firearm upon the public streets or upon any public property during an emergency proclaimed by a State or municipal governmental executive.”

Wolf’s people shredded Wagner’s comments in a statement to a Chambersburg Public Opinion (newspaper) reporter, calling it “flat out wrong” and an attempt “to score cheap political points.”

Aside from the fact that Wolf’s people pointed out previous declarations of emergency had literally no impact on gun owners — they pointed to nearly three months of the winter of 2016 whether extreme weather led to a statewide declaration — it begs some serious questions about Wagner.

Wagner has been in the state Senate since 2015 — and  in fairness he did co-sponsor a bill to change Title 18 a year ago, but it does not appear to have gained traction (thanks to Wagner spokesman Andrew Romeo, for correcting my error as my initial search did not show the bill). Still, is he telling the families of the roughly 4,600 people who died in Pennsylvania in 2017 of opioid overdose that the theoretical (and again, not borne out by history) infringement of gun rights is more important than doing something to slow the rate of opioid fatalities? It seems like using the emergency to support both the opioid emergency and a revision to Title 18, noting unintended consequences would be a better play.

From here, it seems like knee-jerk message communications, driven by blind anger — a growing problem among some candidates/office holders — rather than a thoughtful, strategic communications plan. If this is a sample of what to expect from the Wagner team over the next 10 months, Republicans around the Commonwealth may well start pining for the good old days of Lynn Swann.

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