Fred Anton opened the 2016 Pennsylvania Leadership Conference (PLC) in Harrisburg this past weekend with a word of caution: with the presidential election dominating the headlines, don’t lose focus on Senator Pat Toomey’s re-election and the elections of the down ticket Republicans.
"The Senate will have a big impact on who sits on the Supreme Court," said Anton, who chairs both the PLC and the PMA. "In six states GOP senators are in jeopardy. Pat Toomey is a solid conservative and we have to get him re-elected."
A record crowd of more than 900 attendees heard Anton’s remarks, including a large number of young people.
"Of special note was a large increase in attendance by university and college students with over 200 at this year’s event," said Loman Henry, President of the PLC. Henry added, "U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and Governor John Kasich appearances signify the importance of the conservative movement in Pennsylvania on not only the statewide, but also the national stage."
Almost certainly boosting attendance was the hope for change with less than a year left in the Obama Administration, and on the other end of the turnout scale, bewildering frustration after only a little more than a year of the Wolf Administration. Panels of economic and political experts examined the sputtering policies of both administrations.
During one panel, "Tax, Borrow & Spend: How Wolf’s Agenda Harms Pennsylvanians," PMA President David N. Taylor lamented Governor Wolf’s insistence on new, additional energy taxes.
"It’s a smash-and-grab [effort] that will amount to a few paltry more dollars for Harrisburg, while damaging an industry that is about much more than just the jobs at the wells," Taylor said. "This [opportunity] is about the jobs at the steel mills, other manufacturing jobs that use the wet gases we’re recovering, the thousands of other down-stream jobs, exports that bring capital back home. That’s the world I want to live in."
Conservatives look to play a big role in Pennsylvania’s April 26 primary – it will matter this year given the late charge by Cruz, who won Wisconsin’s primary on Tuesday. "All across Pennsylvania and all across this nation, people are waking up and help is on the way," Cruz told the PLC audience. Cruz’s victory in Wisconsin likely means that Trump won’t make it to 1,237 delegates needed to carry the convention.
Notable upcoming primary dates include April 19, when New York votes; and April 26, when Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania go to the polls. While some surveys show reality-show star Donald Trump leading in those states, momentum is not in his favor.
Procedurally, Pennsylvania is unique. Only 17 of Pennsylvania’s 71 delegates are bound to the statewide winner when the convention convenes on July 18. The remainder go into the convention unbound. The likely scenario at the convention likely won’t be known until June 7, when the biggest state of them all, California (where at the PLC Cruz says an internal poll shows him ahead), with 172 delegates at stake. Also voting that day are Montana, New Mexico, New Jersey, and South Dakota.
If Trump support continues to weaken, especially in matchups against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Republicans may look to someone else at the convention, political experts say.
"I took the state of Ohio from an $8 billion hole to a $2 billion surplus," Governor Kasich said at the conference. And he did it without raising taxes.
In contrast, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf continues to hold out for the largest tax increase in history, even as revenues from the taxpayers continue to come in above estimates.
With the U.S. Supreme Court now divided 4-4 after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, conservatives already lost one major decision.
On March 29, the High Court ruled 4-4 to leave intact a lower court decision in Friedrichs v. California Teacher’s Association allowing public sector unions to continue to force non-members to pay dues. The Center for Individual Rights is expected to file a petition for rehearing, which would require the approval of a majority of justices.
If confirmed, President Obama’s nominee, DC Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland, would almost certainly uphold the lower court again, judicial experts say. During his long tenure on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Garland has consistently supported government labor regulators.
The stakes in this election, as Anton said, are very high.