Monday, June 05, 2006

When GOP insiders attack

I had no idea I had such power over voters until I received an e-mail last week from a Republican insider who single-handedly blames me for the Pennsylvania GOP's primary election massacre.

My Republican friend has showered me with praise for years as I skewered Democrats in this very same space. But the defeat of so many longtime Republican legislators on May 16 was too much for this rabid Republican to bear. He had to lash out at someone.

Plenty of old-school Republicans can't come to grips with the reality that when your party controls both houses of the state legislature and the legislature does nothing but rubber-stamp tax hikes and massive spending increases proposed by Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, the Republicans bear as much of the responsibility for the troubled state of our state government.

I'm no fan of Rendell (see my previous column titled "The Worst Governor in the United States") but he signed $1.5 billion in tax hikes after the Republican-controlled House and Senate approved them. Rendell signed the notorious pay raise for himself, the legislature and state judges after it was passed by a bipartisan vote by Republicans and Democrats at 2 a.m. on July 7, 2005.

And when Republican voters went to the polls on May 16 to oust 14 Republican legislators, including the two most powerful GOP leaders in the state Senate (Chip Brightbill and Robert Jubelirer), they were sending a clear message to the good-old-boy Republican network that voters are tired of business as usual in Harrisburg.

That message apparently has not sunk in to political insiders, including the one who sent me the following note:

"I know where you stand vis-a-vis Republican incumbents, etc. My only comment: Be careful what you wish for. You might get it. Mike Folmer isn't qualified to carry Chip Brightbill's briefcase, and how much do you know about Dennis Leh's opponent? You can pile it on about the property tax and pay raise issues, but this blind-sidedness has cost the party and will make it significantly less difficult for Democrat candidates to take those seats. In my opinion, your efforts would have been more fruitful if directed at defeating Democratic incumbents — who also are up to their ears in property tax and pay raise actions. Grassroot efforts are admirable, but sometimes people put too much fertilizer on the grass and it burns off!

Let's try to walk a mile in this diehard Republican's shoes. Brightbill and Jubelirer have served in the state Senate for a combined 54 years. They've failed to produce meaningful tax relief. They've failed to contain runaway state spending. They've failed to curb Rendell's liberal agenda even though Senate Republicans enjoyed a 30-20 majority in the Senate before the primary. And Senate Republicans joined with Rendell to push through the July 2005 pay raise for themselves. So my GOP friend wants to send Brightbill and Jubelirer back to Harrisburg for four more years so they can fail some more?

What exactly scares GOP insiders about Mike Folmer (who defeated Brightbill by 7,600 votes) or John Eichelberger (who easily beat Jubelirer despite a three-way race), or Bill Reed who defeated 20-year incumbent Rep. Dennis Leh in Berks County?

Is it that these three individuals are not controlled by lobbyists? Is it because they want to reform Harrisburg? Is it that this new breed of Republican won't dance when GOP puppetmasters pull the strings? Is it because these conservative candidates answer to the people and not the party bosses?

The defeat of Jubelirer, Brightbill and Leh is good for the Republican Party and for Pennsylvania.

Jubelirer was sent into retirement by 22,335 Republican voters in his home district who no longer wanted him as their state senator. Brightbill was fired by 18,291 voters in Berks and Lebanon counties because he was too chummy with Rendell and too fond of the perks that elevated so many "public servants" into the rarefied air of the rich and famous.

Leh, who announced his retirement earlier this year but was talked into running for another term by party bosses, was given a permanent retirement by 1,675 voters who supported Reed, an unknown who financed his campaign by himself.

Change scares too many political insiders, but change is often necessary. Republicans can still salvage 2006 by embracing the reform candidates and tossing more political dead weight (are you listening John Perzel?) overboard.

Thanks to redistricting by the Republican-controlled state legislature, most districts are safe from Democratic incursions. But that's only if the party bosses put their egos aside and stop fighting the growing conservative tidal wave that swept so many new GOP candidates into the political spotlight on May 16.

If they play their cards right, Republicans can even take back traditionally Democratic districts. For example, three Republican candidates garnered a total of 2,429 votes in the 126th House District in Berks County, compared to 2,113 votes for 13-year incumbent Rep. Dante Santoni Jr., who is ripe for the picking.

Santoni and other vulnerable Democrats can be knocked off if GOP leaders stop acting like their whiny counterparts on the left, forget about helping Rendell and start listening to their conservative Republican base.

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