PA 2010 Election Reflection
First the numbers:
Tuesday’s election restored Republicans to the majority in the House and kept Republicans in the majority in the Senate:
• House: 112-91 Republicans, a 21-vote majority subject to a few possible recounts
• Senate: 30-20 Republicans, a 20-vote majority unchanged on Election Day
Overall, one-party control of state government will put Republican Governor-elect Tom Corbett in the same position in 2012 that President Barack Obama was in this year: produce or pay. The rise of independent voters and the rise of the Tea Party voters within the Republican Party have changed politics. Two years from now, PA Republicans will be judged by their success or failure at increasing employment, re-aligning priorities for state spending, repairing the crumbling highway infrastructure, sustaining the gains made in student achievement, and doing all of it without raising taxes.
Since the Pay Raise of 2005, voters have become impatient. While both major parties maintain a base of people who think their party can do no wrong and the other party can do no right, increasing numbers of voters have become more realistic and pragmatic. Their expectations are higher, and their willingness to be soothed by rhetoric and automatic party allegiance is waning.
Leading the charge.
House Republicans immediately began talking about some changes in the way state government works. At a news conference on Wednesday, the presumptive new Speaker of the House, Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, and other Republican leaders cited three potential amendments to the state Constitution:
• Reducing the size of the House of Representatives.
• Changing the terms of House members from two years to four years.
• Limiting spending on political campaigns.
Here are a few articles about their plans:
New Pa. GOP leaders eye a fee on natural gas instead of a tax, Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 4
Harrisburg shifts to GOP control, changes priorities, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 4
GOP House to face reform pressures, Scranton Times-Tribune, Nov. 4
What’s next? Harrisburg Patriot-News, Nov. 4
House Minority Leader Sam Smith advocates a smaller legislature, Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 5
While citizens can be optimistic that House Republican leaders are thinking more seriously about these issues than their Democratic predecessors, the decision to seek individual amendments to the Constitution comes at the expense of a Constitution convention, which three-fourths of PA voters want. It indicates an attitude that the government belongs to lawmakers instead of citizens. In this respect, the new Republican majority is no different from the old Democratic majority: Incumbents want to keep the power of making fundamental decisions in their own hands and not in the hands of citizens.
Some defining decisions.
Citizens will know in fairly short order how committed the new leadership is to fundamental change. Here are a few benchmarks that we at DR will use to measure progress:
• A referendum in November 2011: Will the new leadership let the people decide whether to have a Constitution convention in 2012 so that they can re-define their government?
• Public Integrity Commission: One of citizens’ chief frustrations is that laws designed to enforce public integrity are weak and inadequately enforced. Rep. Curt Schroder, R-Chester, has proposed a new Public Integrity Commission that could assuage those frustrations, but will it be strengthened and enacted, weakened and enacted, or simply ignored?
• Re-apportionment: Legislative leaders next year will re-draw the boundaries for House, Senate and Congressional districts. Will they improve upon their performance of 10 years ago (when Republicans also controlled the House, Senate and Governor’s Office) that gave PA the second most gerrymandered legislative districts in America?
• 2011-12 state budget: No one knows the final number, but PA’s deficit is predicted to be $4 billion, plus or minus $500 million. Corbett’s pledge not to raise taxes, fees or other "revenue enhancements" means a lot of cutting and creative financing. Selling the state liquor stores could bring in $1.5 billion to $2 billion, although that is uncertain. Private sector bidders know the state is over a barrel and are not likely to bid top dollar even for one of the best money-making businesses in history. Will Corbett’s determination to hold the line on state taxes result in more costs being pushed onto counties and school districts and thereby raise local property taxes?
• Bonus Scandal: Within the first few months of 2011, high-profile lawmakers and staff will go on trial, accused of illegally using tax-funded staff, offices and other resources for partisan political campaigns. They include Sen. and former Majority Whip Jane Orie, R-Allegheny; Rep. and former Speaker Bill DeWeese, D-Greene; and Rep. and former Speaker John Perzel, R-Phila. Perzel lost on Tuesday; Orie and DeWeese were re-elected. If this is the end of the prosecutions after four years of investigation, will citizens be satisfied that corruption has finally been exorcised from the capitol?
• Attorney General: Who will Corbett appoint to replace him as attorney general? Will the new attorney general be more aggressive in prosecuting lawmakers, who remain under investigation? Will the appointed attorney general be someone who intends to be politically neutral or someone who intends to use two years in that office as a platform to run for election in 2012?
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