Posts Tagged washington

Winners and Losers


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  Moderate state senators like Cumberland County’s Pat Vance and Lancaster’s Lloyd Smucker have been replaced by far more conservative legislators.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.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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R.I.P. PA Constitution 1968-2016


Governor Tom Wolf has been in office for just over a year, but already we know historians will put the words “budget crisis” in their lead paragraph.  But a far more ominous phrase may get top billing: “constitutional crisis.”

Like his authoritarian counterpart in Washington, D.C., Governor Wolf is willing, in fact may prefer, to shred the constitutional separation of powers and enact by executive fiat that which the legislative branch is unwilling to do.  The commonwealth has entered its ninth month without a completed state budget and that has spawned a growing debate over the limits of gubernatorial power.

Days before Christmas the legislature again passed a state budget.  This time Governor Wolf signed off on most of the spending plan but “blue lined” or line item vetoed about a third of the items thus extending the budget crisis.  Three months later, there is no resolution, but the administration is spending money anyway.  This, many lawmakers argue, is a clear violation of the state constitution.

The Governor, and his appointed State Treasurer Timothy Reese argue there is a competing requirement for the state to keep certain agencies operating – especially those involved with ensuring public safety.  But Treasurer Reese has gone far beyond that even authorizing a “loan” from the state treasury to House Democrats to pay their staff during the ongoing budget crisis.

The public safety argument is nothing more than a distraction from the main issue which is can a governor spend taxpayer dollars without explicit authorization from the General Assembly?   It is a clear violation of the state constitution and one which will explode into a full blown crisis, especially if the governor’s illicit spending extends outside the realm of public safety.

The budget, however, is not the only area in which Governor Wolf is willing to trample on legislative powers.  He is trying to shutter the Public Employees Retirement Commission (PERC), an obscure state agency that earned his ire when it disagreed with his view of the pension crisis.  The agency was created by an act of the General Assembly and signed into law by a previous governor.  Lawmakers have sued in court to block executive dissolution of PERC pointing out it would take legislative action to do so.

This week Governor Wolf again by-passed the General Assembly on the issue of the state’s minimum wage. The governor has called for an increase in the state minimum wage, but the legislature has refused to go along.  So, he signed an executive order unilaterally raising the minimum wage paid to state employees to $10.15 per hour.  The action applies only to state workers, but will be extended to those companies doing business with the state.  The minimum wage hike does not extend to private business.

However, the impact on small businesses will be significant.  Neal Lesher, legislative director for the National Federation of Independent Business-Pennsylvania, points out that the governor’s executive order effectively prevents many small businesses from entering the bidding process for state contracts.  “Some small businesses simply cannot afford to pay inexperienced, entry level workers that much more per hour,” Lesher explained.  “This creates an unfair playing field that favors larger companies.”

Having fully bought into the Obama “pen and phone” style of governing there is no indication Governor Wolf plans to return to a constitutional model any time soon.  His “budget address” to the legislature last month was hostile and confrontational and had the effect of solidifying Republican opposition which at times had shown signs of wavering.

It is clear crisis government is now the new normal in Harrisburg.  With no resolution to the current budget impasse in sight, and the deadline for adopting a budget for the next fiscal year less than four months away, the governor is content to act as if the legislative branch of government does not exist.  But legislators will not sit idly by and be consigned to irrelevance.  If the governor continues on his current course the constitutional crisis will explode into the courts, and possibly even lead to impeachment proceedings.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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Thomas J. Smith: An American Life


From the minutemen of the American Revolution to the settlers of the old West to the housewives who poured into the factories during World War II to the Tea party movement of recent years our nation began and thrives when ordinary Americans step up and do extraordinary things.

Since the beginning of our Republic the concept of a “citizen legislator” has been the ideal.  Our founding fathers realized that professional politicians are more concerned about their careers than “we the people” posed a threat to our liberty.  Four score and seven years later, President Abraham Lincoln eloquently called it a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Now special interests and professional politicians dominate both Washington, D.C. and Harrisburg while the interests of working families, small businesses and senior citizens take a back seat.  But there are those who are willing to leave the comfort of their private lives and fight to preserve, protect and defend the God-given rights upon which our nation was established.

Thomas J. Smith was one who has answered his nation’s call.

Tom Smith, who passed away on Saturday at the age of 67, was an American success story.  At the age of nineteen, when his father became ill, Tom decided to postpone college and run the family’s Armstrong County farm.  He mortgaged his existing property to purchase a coal mine and – by risking capital and his financial security – successfully expanded his business operations over a 20 year period eventually mining more than a million tons of coal per year and employing over 100 people.

Along the way, Tom and his wife Saundra had three biological children. Then, the Smith’s adopted a family of four children from Texas allowing the siblings to be raised together.

After selling his mining interests in 2010 and becoming alarmed over rapidly expanding federal intrusion into our lives, Tom was in the vanguard of the Tea party movement and helped to found the Indiana/Armstrong County Patriots.

But that level of activism was not enough for Tom Smith.  In 2012 he decided to run for the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat from Pennsylvania.  The sitting governor and state GOP endorsed another candidate, but Tom persevered dealing the party a rare defeat and besting five other candidates to win the nomination.  Despite his best efforts, the headwinds against the GOP in Pennsylvania that November resulted in the re-election of the incumbent.

This is the point where most people give up.  But not Tom Smith.  He was only getting started.  Tom became involved in a wide range of state and national policy battles serving on the boards and financially contributing to a wide range of organizations fighting for individual liberty and personal freedom.

In the summer of 2015 Tom was again planning to enter the political fray as a candidate for congress when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.  That cut short his political career, but Tom remained involved fighting for the issues about which he cared deeply until his final days.

Ronald Reagan once said that “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Thomas J. Smith did his part to ensure that freedom endures for the next generation.  His life and career will continue to serve as both an example of what citizen activism should be and as an inspiration to the rest of us to step up and continue the cause which he has “thusfar so nobly advanced.”

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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Trump Card


It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes a summer romance turns into a permanent relationship.  That may be the case with Donald Trump whose summer surge has propelled him to the front of the herd seeking the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination.

Conventional wisdom (which is often wrong) for weeks has put Trump in the same category as Herman Cain, Michelle Bachman, Newt Gingrich and others who four years ago took turns rocketing to the top of the polls only to fall and be replaced by the next candidate who caught the voters’ fancy.  But that race also featured the formidable campaign operation of Mitt Romney who played an electoral version of wack-a-mole to pick off anyone who gained traction against him.  This year no one – yet – appears capable of taking down Trump.

At first Donald Trump appeared to be just another passing fad.  He is a commanding presence and used his celebrity to launch his campaign feeding the narrative that this was just another PR ploy.  But there is an old adage among public speakers that to get people to hear your message you must first get their attention.  Nobody is better than Trump at getting attention, and now he is delivering his message.

The Republican Party establishment, mainstream news media and even the conservative punditry all initially wrote Trump off as a side show.  As Trump whipped off a series of decidedly not politically correct broadsides against illegal aliens, John McCain, and Meghan Kelly, the tongues wagged that he had gone too far and was set to implode.

The implosion never happened.  Instead, Trump has risen in the polls the most recent of which show him suddenly competitive in the General Election against the once-invincible candidate who is imploding, Hillary Clinton.  Trump, it seems, can – and does – say whatever he wants and voters flock to him.  He has almost literally pushed the other 16 candidates off the stage.  On a recent night both Trump and Jeb Bush hosted town hall meetings in New Hampshire.  Trump spoke before a raucous crowd of over 2,000; Bush talked with a couple hundred people many of whom appeared to be borderline comatose.

Trump has succeeded in becoming the dominant figure in the 2016 Presidential race because he has refused to play by the rules.  And that is a good thing because the rulebook has been written by the Left and by design puts Republicans in general and conservatives in particular on the defensive.  Trump refuses to be defensive – he is always on the attack.

Accuse Trump of flip-flopping on issues?  No problem, the rules don’t apply.  Accuse Trump of insulting women?  No problem, the rules don’t apply.  Accuse Trump of insulting illegal aliens?  No problem, the rules don’t apply.  The political class says he is a passing fad? No problem, the rules don’t apply.

It has become crystal clear Americans of all political stripes feel the nation is off track and someone has to, as Trump would put it “make America great again.”  That is the nature of Bernie Sanders’ appeal to the Left, and Trump’s appeal to GOP voters. The difference is Sanders’ policy solutions won’t play with a broader swath of the electorate.  But with Trump voters see an ultra-successful businessman who has gotten things done and they believe he can make good on his promise to lead the nation back to greatness.

So Trump has again succeeded where all others have failed.  He has the attention of the voters, and is putting forth solid – if controversial – policy solutions.  But winning a presidential nomination requires an extensive organization that collects a majority of the delegates who will assemble in Cleveland the summer next.  That is Trump’s challenge: converting popularity into delegates.  He also must overcome the fact that while he leads the race, more voters have a negative opinion of him than those who have a positive one, making it difficult to build upon his base of support.

Trump, of course, is accustomed to building things.  His current project is a mammoth hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. midway between the Capitol and the White House.  If he can capitalize on his current front-runner status, Donald Trump may acquire some additional real estate a few blocks down the street.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.   His e-mail address islhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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Need A Lyft?


I stood in the doorway of the Ebenezer Coffee House watching a mid-summer thunderstorm dump water on Washington, D.C.  Although Union Station, and the taxi cab I needed, was little over a block away, getting there in the downpour would result in my getting soaked.  With appointments still to keep that was not an attractive option.

Fortunately, I had downloaded an app on my smart phone that allowed me to summon an Uber car.  Uber is one of the new ride-sharing companies that have revolutionized the transportation industry using the latest technology.

With the touch of a finger the app assigned a car to pick me up.  A photo of the driver appeared on my screen along with her name, a description of the car she was driving and an estimate of time, in this case less than five minutes, before the car would arrive.  I was able to watch the car’s progress on a map as it neared my location.  Not only did the Uber car pull up right in front of my door, but I didn’t even need to have cash on me to pay for the ride since I had previously established an account.

In addition to the creative use of technology and ease of use, I found other interesting aspects to Uber.  The woman who gave me a ride that day was a single mother in her late 20’s.  She has two small children and driving for Uber allows her to get her children off to school in the morning, work the hours they were gone and then be free to pick them up again in the afternoon.  Weekends when her children are visiting their father, she earns extra money driving again for Uber.

As with any major advancement in a business model, ride sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft have arrived in a blaze of controversy.  Public transportation, especially the taxi cab business, is highly regulated.   They also tend to be controlled by influential interests who jealously and zealously guard their turf.

The problem for the taxi companies is that they are moribund, having evolved little since switching from horse drawn carriages to motor cars. Getting a cab still usually involves standing on a street corner waving your arms, or placing a telephone call and enduring a long wait.  Neither exactly suits a highly technology-driven society that demands instant gratification from nearly every service imaginable.

Essentially taxi cab companies are rotary telephones operating in a smart phone world.  While some have evolved web sites and downloadable apps, few can approach the sophistication level of Uber and Lyft.  Technology aside, traditional cab companies operate on a centralized business model, while the new companies harness individual entrepreneurs.  People always work harder for themselves than they do for someone else giving the ride sharing drivers extra incentive.

The advent of this new model of public transportation has also caught regulatory agencies off guard.  Ride sharing companies don’t fit into any existing regulatory category.  This has created problems in that regulators first instinct is to say “no,” you can’t run your business that way.  But Uber and Lyft have persisted often to the point of defying cease and desist orders.

But the ride sharing companies have forced government regulators to find ways to accommodate them.  The danger though is that over-zealous bureaucrats pile excessive regulations on the companies. Regulators like to regulate, and with the taxi cab companies pressuring them to reign in the new kids on the block, the danger exists that government does what it usually does and over-regulate the new industry.

While regulators have a legitimate responsibility to ensure public safety they must carefully consider the impact of any new regulation.  Certainly cars must be inspected and insured, but regulators cannot institute rules simply aimed at making the ride sharing companies less competitive.  If they do the legislature will have to step in.

In the meantime, competition is good.  Uber and Lyft offer customers a convenient new option. And, perhaps the taxi cab companies will respond by coming up with an even better idea. The free enterprise system is operating as it should, rewarding those who innovate and pressuring those who don’t to do better.  In the end, we the consumer are the winners.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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Will the Law of Unintended Consequences Turn Obama’s SCOTUS Victory Into Defeat?


By Colin Hanna

It’s not a pretty sound, the braying of donkeys.  President Obama pretentiously claims that the Supreme Court decision affirming the constitutionality of his health care law is, “a victory for people across the Country.”  The Huffington Post, in the largest headline I have ever seen on that site, self-righteously blares a single word in red, bold type: JUSTICE.  I can only imagine what the likes of Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow and Sergeant Schultz will say over on MSNBC.  But once that tiresome braying dies down, my question is: will the law of unintended consequences take over?  Will this ruling have the unintended consequence of reenergizing the Tea Party like nothing else could have done?  Will this fuel the money machines of the right, the Republican National Committee, the Romney campaign, his SuperPAC and other outside groups like Crossroads, FreedomWorks, Faith and Freedom Coalition, Americans for Prosperity and the Club for Growth?  Will it, as Arizona Congressman David Schweikert said, mean that, from now until November, it’s 2010 all over again?  I think that’s quite likely.

ObamaCare is unpopular with a large swath of America.  A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll showed that 53% of Americans oppose the law.  Now that it has been justified and unmasked as a tax instead of a mandate, will that suddenly increase its appeal?  I think not.  So while others on the right are now lambasting the Court and especially the Chief Justice for their decision, I think we should focus our attention instead on the one Court that’s actually higher than the Supreme Court: the court of public opinion and the sovereign power of the people at election time.  Unless Republicans and conservatives do a terrible job of reminding the public why they did not like this unprecedented expansion of government, this intrusion into the economy and the staggering accumulation of debt that will accompany it, then the ultimate loser may well be President Obama – but by no means the only loser. Democratic Senatorial and Congressional candidates may taste once again the sting of public anger that they faced at the forums of 2009 and the elections of 2010.

The bottom line is really not that complicated. As Mitt Romney said shortly after the decision, “ObamaCare is bad medicine.”  Senator Marco Rubio said, “What’s important to remember is that what the court rules on is whether something is constitutional or not, not whether it’s a good idea. And while the court has said that the law is constitutional, it remains a bad idea for our economy, and I hope that in the fall we will have a majority here that will not just repeal this law, but replace it with real solutions that will insure more people and cost a lot less money.”  That last part will be the key:  if conservatives are disciplined and successful in keeping their legislative focus on repeal and their policy focus on what consumer-directed health care would look like if Republicans win back the Senate and White House and hold the House of Representatives, they’ll win the day, not Obama and his vision of neo-European statism.  Republicans must pose a winning moral argument, not just a material one.  Bills like Georgia Congressman, and doctor, Tom Price’s H.R. 3000 should now be looked at to see if they meet Senator Mitch McConnell’s claim that, “We can do better.”  The immediate battle cry in the House of Representatives should be “no funding, no implementation, and full repeal.”  But that will never win the day in the Senate and will never make it to the President’s veto pen.  But they must not stop there.  They do not need to completely finish an alternative bill.  That would be futile with this Senate and this President.  All they need to do, and it’s no small task, is articulate a superior vision that is consistent with the free market system, the Constitution and the values of outside the beltway America.  If they do that, this Supreme Court decision could well be seen as the catalyst for a conservative revival.  The law of unintended consequences will have rescued our nation from the designs of an oppressive and repressive élite.

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