Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Payback: Pennsylvania voters get their revenge

The incumbents had the money. They had the name recognition. They had the party machinery behind them. They had all the advantages. But they still lost.

Pennsylvania voters punished the pay-jacking Pennsylvania Legislature in the May 16 primary election, firing the state Senate’s two top Republicans, who collectively spent more than $2 million to defend their seats against unknown opponents.

More than a dozen other incumbents were voted out of office in Tuesday's primary. And it's only the beginning.

Only 61 of the 228 Legislators whose terms expire in 2006 faced primary challengers. There's another 50 candidates waiting to take on incumbents in the November general election. Independent and third-party candidates still have until Aug. 1 to gather enough signatures to get their names on the ballot.

Incumbents are not out of the woods yet.

The pundits kept saying that a low-voter turnout would help the incumbents, but they were wrong. The people who went to the polls Tuesday had a specific goal in mind — punish the incumbents, especially the leadership.

The experts kept saying that the anti-incumbent movement was regional, confined to the central and western parts of Pennsylvania. That wasn't the case, either.

Berks County voters did their part in helping punish the pay-jacking Pennsylvania legislators on Tuesday, firing four of the five legislators who had ballot competition.

The big catch was state Sen. Chip Brightbill, who paid for his arrogance and his eagerness to work closely with Gov. Ed Rendell in pushing through massive tax hikes, outrageous increases in state spending and the infamous July 2005 pay raise.

Despite spending more than $800,000 to buy back his Senate seat, Brightbill lost it to a tire salesman named Mike Folmer by a landslide. Brightbill, a 20-year-veteran of the Senate, managed to pick up just 37 percent of the vote to Folmer’s 63 percent in Lebanon and Berks counties.

The unsung heroes who helped Folmer and other challengers defeat the entrenched incumbents were the state's conservative activists and bloggers.

Led by organizations like Young Conservatives of Pennsylvania (YCOP) and its newly-minted Political Action Committee and the Club for Growth, the state's conservatives took out the trash by sending Brightbill and Senate Pro Tempore Robert Jubilerer to their political graveyards.

Jubelirer received 36 percent of the vote. Two challengers took the other 66 percent, with John Eichelberger winning the GOP nomination with 44 percent of the vote.

Unlike Republicans, Democrats failed to clean up their side of the aisle on Tuesday, re-electing Rep. Bill DeWeese and Rep. Mike Veon, two Democratic leaders of the July 2005 pay-jacking. Veon was the only member of the Legislature who voted against the pay raise repeal last November.

In Berks County, voters ousted two veteran GOP House members, Dennis Leh and Paul Semmel. Both voted for the pay raise and took the money early as unvouchered expenses. Despite more than 35 years of service in Harrisburg, Leh and Semmel paid the price for betraying their constituents.

The lone Democrat in Berks facing a primary challenge, Dante Santoni Jr., survived with just 45 percent of the vote because his two challengers (John DelCollo and Irv Livingood) split the anti-incumbent vote. The challengers received a total of 2,600 votes compared to 2,103 for Santoni, who has so far failed to distinguish himself in 13 years in Harrisburg.

The previously smug Santoni faces the prospect of seeking re-election in November with 55 percent of Democratic voters having already rejected him. His return to the Legislature is far from assured. The Republican challenger is Hal Baker, a political newcomer who beat out two other GOP candidates.

A fifth Berks County legislator facing opposition, Rep. Bob Allen, lost to challenger Gary Hornberger. So much for voters in the southeastern part of the state not being as upset with the pay raise or the lack of action on property tax relief.

The revolution is on. The people of Pennsylvania won another major victory Tuesday. The Nov. 7 general election cannot come soon enough.

If you're looking for more analysis on Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary results, tune in to the Pennsylvania Cable Network's "Journalist Roundtable" program this week. One of the guests on the show will be "yours truly" making his television debut. If you missed the initial broadcast Thursday, PCN will repeat the show Sunday at 7 p.m. and again at 11 p.m.

1 comment:

None said...

Hey Tony,

I grew up in the Pottstown area (OJR Class of 1989), and currently live in Reading. There were quite a few people celebrating the defeat of Brightbill & Leh around the neighborhood, but most of us knew that we had a couple more incumbents to vote out. I am talking about Santoni, who somehow survived in the 126th, and Caltagirone who was not opposed in the 127th.

Now I know that there was no Republican candidate in the 127th primary, for which I was trying to get on the ballot, but fell short because of my own mistakes. However, I am now working on getting on the ballot as an Independent candidate, and at the same time attempting to get Russ Diamond on the ballot for governor. I'm trying to get the word out, but have not been as successful as I would initially like.