Posts Tagged democracy
One of the many quirks of our political system is that each year there are winners and losers among politicians whose names are not actually on the ballot. This year is no exception. Neither Governor Tom Wolf nor State Senator Scott Wagner was up for election this year, but results of the balloting sent their career paths in opposite directions.
Governor Wolf has had a tough first two years in office dealing with a Republican-controlled legislature. His efforts to dramatically expand government spending, and to implement the historic tax hikes needed to pay for that agenda resulted in the longest budget stalemate in state history. Legislative Republicans won.
Tuesday voters rewarded the GOP with even larger legislative majorities. Democrats in the state senate are now on life support. Two Democratic incumbents were defeated by challengers; a third Democrat seat went Republican after the incumbent gave up several months ago and resigned from the ballot. Combined, the three seats give Republicans a 34-16 edge and something rarely if ever seen in state government: a veto proof majority.
Meanwhile, across the rotunda in the House of Representatives Republicans saw their already historically high majority expand by three seats as four incumbent Democrats and one incumbent Republican lost. The Republican pick-ups came in southwestern Pennsylvania which has been trending toward the GOP for several election cycles. In fact, the most endangered species in Penn’s Woods might well be the non-urban legislative Democrat, with only a handful of Democratic lawmakers representing districts outside of the state’s urban cores.
All of this matters because next year’s state budget battle is shaping up to be even tougher than the first. Republicans caved into Governor Wolf’s spending demands this year, but failed to fully fund the budget. That coupled with revenue sources that either never materialized or have failed to meet projections presages a major fiscal fight next year.
Not only have Republicans added to their numbers, but this year’s legislative elections moved both chambers further to the Right. Moderate state senators like Cumberland County’s Pat Vance and Lancaster’s Lloyd Smucker have been replaced by far more conservative legislators. The continued drift of the House GOP caucus from moderate southeastern dominance to conservative central and western Pennsylvania influence means tougher sailing for those wanting to raise either taxes or spending.
Governor Wolf also saw his agenda rejected in another race; that the battle for Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate seat. The Democratic nominee, Katie McGinty, was Governor Wolf’s first chief of staff and architect of the tax and spend plan that triggered the epic budget battle. Incumbent U.S. Senator Pat Toomey made hay of that effectively painting McGinty as out of touch with the financial needs of average Pennsylvanians. He won, she lost.
How then do the fortunes of one state senator rise on all of this? Senator Scott Wagner was an establishment pariah when he ran for an open seat in York County in 2014. Shunned by his own party Wagner accomplished an historic first in Pennsylvania: He won a special election on a write-in defeating both party nominees.
The upstart senator has quickly gained clout and was tapped by his colleagues to lead the Senate Republican Campaign Committee. The SRCC as it is known is tasked with recruiting, funding and electing Republicans to the state senate. After playing a major role in helping to win several seats two years ago, Wagner effectively recruited candidates like Senator-elect John DiSanto of Dauphin County who upended Democratic incumbents last week. Much of the credit for the senate’s now veto-proof majority goes to Wagner.
This is important because Scott Wagner has made no secret of his desire to run for governor in 2018 and is widely expected to announce his candidacy within weeks. Having built a strong senate majority gives him a leg up both on the Republican nomination and on a grassroots organization for the battle against Tom Wolf who is expected to seek re-election.
Thus the 2016 election has set the stage for the beginning of the next big electoral battle in Pennsylvania. Political fortunes have risen and fallen. And the never ending cycle of campaigns has already begun anew offering no respite for weary voters.
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This is the time of year when Americans celebrate the anniversary of our declaration of independence from Great Britain. It is ironic that the United Kingdom itself a few days ago found it necessary “for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another.” By leaving the European Union the British people have reconfirmed that the longing for liberty is an eternal emotion.
Meanwhile, here in the colonies, the very document that ensured our rights as a free people has been under relentless attack. The Constitution of the United States has withstood the test of time. After the Articles of Confederation failed to provide the framework for an effective federal government delegates from the 13 colonies met in Philadelphia and in September of 1787 put their signatures to the document which, at least theoretically, remains our nation’s ultimate authority.
On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify theConstitution which then took effect on March 4, 1789. The document was, however, viewed as incomplete and several states insisted on the inclusion of ten amendments, which became known as the Bill of Rights. Those amendments were ratified and became effective on December 15, 1791.
That the Bill of Rights was necessary is evidenced by periodic efforts throughout our nation’s history to disregard, water down, or remove them entirely. Perhaps no amendment has been so violated as the tenth which limits the power of the federal government. Congress and the president, frequently with complicity by the Supreme Court, have consistently throughout the ages infringed on this right. Today the assault continues, especially upon the second amendment governing our right to keep and bear arms. The non-existent “right” of freedom from religion has replaced the “free exercise of religion” guaranteed in the first amendment.
It is safe to assume that the founding fathers would place in the first amendment those rights that they viewed as most vital to a free people. It is here that the Constitution guarantees our right to freedom of speech and of the press. Now obviously there was no electronic media or internet back in 1787, but freedom of speech and of the press clearly applies to all means of communication.
A free press was instrumental in our nation’s founding. The only method of mass communication was through the printing press producing formal newspapers, pamphlets, and broadsides. From Thomas Paine during the revolution to the Federalist Papers, the expression of opinion via the printed word was a vital means of exercising free speech. Throughout our history we have depended on a free press to keep government in check, such as it did during the Watergate scandal of the 1970s. So vital is a free press that it is often referred to as the “fourth estate,” or fourth branch of government.
It is therefore disturbing to see candidates and elected officials from the national to the local level trampling this vital right. In just the last few weeks, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has banned the Washington Post from covering his campaign events. Here in Penn’s Woods, the Democratic mayor of Harrisburg, Eric Papenfuse, has revoked the credentials of the capitol city’s newspaper the Patriot News/Penn Live. Papenfuse’s actions are especially curious in that he is the owner of a prominent bookstore, so you would think he might have some loyalty to the unfettered circulation of the printed word.
My goal here is not to defend the content of these publications – whose left-wing ideology frequently taints their reporting of the news – but to stand up for their right to do so. If elected officials, from mayors to presidents can decide who can cover the news they can also then control the news. This is not only a violation of the media’s constitutional rights, but an existential threat to our democracy and ultimately our individual liberty.
As we celebrate our freedom with fireworks and back yard barbecues let us always remember that the trampling of one right is the trampling of all rights. The loss of any one right puts us on a very slippery slope which will ultimately lead to the loss of all rights. From freedom of the press, to freedom of religion, to our right to keep and bear arms, we must fight to protect our God-given rights against those who would take them away.
Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.