Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Political left sits on the bench at the expense of reforming Pennsylvania

About 84 percent of Pennsylvania residents 18 or older are registered to vote. That doesn't mean they all vote. Far from it. The majority of registered voters sit out most elections, especially primary elections, where party leaders proclaim a turnout of 20 percent as a major achievement.

Even a marquis race for governor typically fails to draw much voter interest. In 2002, when Democrat Ed Rendell defeated Republican Attorney General Mike Fisher to become governor of Pennsylvania, the voter turnout was 38.3 percent. In other words, six of every 10 Pennsylvania voters sat out the last gubernatorial election.

Rendell won just 18 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties. What put Rendell in the governor's mansion was the city of Philadelphia and its surrounding counties. Rendell won the five-county Philadelphia metropolitan area by a margin of 515,000 votes over Fisher. Essentially, Rendell was elected governor of Philadelphia and its suburbs, which provided 44 percent of his vote total in 2002.

Those numbers come from a review of Pennsylvania elections compiled by Jack M. Treadway, a Kutztown University political science professor and author of the new book, "Elections in Pennsylvania: A Century of Partisan Conflict in the Keystone State."

Considering his dismal first-term record, it’s highly unlikely that Rendell can attract any more votes than he did in 2002. All Lynn Swann needs to do to win this November is collect 515,000 more votes than Fisher did to counter Rendell's edge in southeastern Pennsylvania.

I've noticed since the July 2005 legislative pay grab set off a voter revolt in Pennsylvania that the political left — liberal Democrats, Green Party members, independents and to some extent, libertarians — has been quiet about the need for major changes in the way Pennsylvania government operates. That's puzzling because we've always been led to believe that the political left is about pushing change. It does not appear to be the case in Pennsylvania.

While most Republicans figured out long ago that "Emperor Rendell Has No Clothes," the left is enamored by Rendell, who sought, signed and defended the July 7, 2005, pay raise. Rendell’s back-room dealing with the GOP leadership in the Legislature also gave us the worst gambling bill in the country and the notorious Act 72, which is no way to fund public education.

Rendell’s fingerprints are all over a succession of bad legislation and tax hikes. But too many of his fellow Democrats and the state's liberal newspapers (the two worst are based in Philadelphia) have given Rendell a free pass on their editorial pages. They banner stories about Lynn Swann not voting in primary elections, but overlook Rendell’s selling out Pennsylvania to casino interests or funneling of hundreds of millions of tax dollars to Philadelphia at the expense of the rest of the state.

In order for substantial changes to be made in Pennsylvania government this year, the turnout for the May 16 primary election must set a record. That won't happen if Libertarians, Green Party members, Constitution Party members and independents sit out the primary, which is what they will be doing if they don't switch their registration to Republican or Democrat. Primary elections are designed for political parties to settle on their candidates for the November general election. That means only registered Democrats and Republicans get to vote.

Almost 90 percent of Pennsylvania voters are registered as Republicans or Democrats, but there has been a slight growth in the past decade in third-party voters, primary Libertarian and Green Party. In 2002, there were 28 counties where at least 10 percent of the voters were not registered with the two major parties, according to Prof. Treadway.

It's the Libertarians, the Greens, the Constitution Party and the independent voters who can have the final say in how much movement there is in Pennsylvania's status quo government. But change won't happen if third-party voters sit out the May 16 primary.

At least for one day, third-party or independent voters must register as Democrats or Republicans to make their votes count. The last day to register before the primary is April 17.

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