In politics it is rare that you get a "do over," but that opportunity is being handed to the state GOP by Democrats who just can’t seem to shake the patina of corruption that continues to plague the party.
Before examining the growing scandal surrounding the dubious, although not likely illegal granting of huge bonuses to staffers from last summer’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, and the self-inflicted wounds that have Lt. Governor Mike Stack’s political career on life supports, let’s take a look a bit farther back.
As Penn’s Woods headed into the critical 2016 election cycle the rogue’s gallery of corrupt Democrats had become quite crowded. Most prominent were former state Treasurer Rob McCord and former Attorney General Kathleen Kane. McCord resigned from office and was charged with extorting political contributions from firms doing business with the state treasury. He has been singing like a bird ever since, apparently with a tune pleasing enough to prosecutors that he has yet to be sentenced and jailed.
The case of Kathleen Kane played out like a soap opera for several years before a jury finally convicted her for leaking secret grand jury information. She was last seen in public being led from the courtroom in handcuffs. Kane resigned shortly thereafter.
But Democratic corruption did not end there. Former Congressman Chaka Fattah was hit with racketeering charges, and eventually convicted. Several state representatives from Philadelphia were caught up in a sting operation. The corruption extended to the municipal level as the Mayor of Allentown came under investigation and the former Mayor Harrisburg was charged with various crimes.
Although presidential and U.S. Senate campaigns dominate both public interest and news coverage, Pennsylvanians elect three very important statewide constitutional or "row" offices in presidential election years. Thus as 2016 dawned, with the state awash in Democratic corruption, the GOP was presented with a golden opportunity to win those offices.
Although shut out of the Auditor General and state Treasurer’s offices for years, the GOP had held control in the Office of Attorney General since it first became an elective office in 1980. With the first elected Democrat now a convicted criminal the stars were aligned for Republicans to reclaim control.
Republicans then blew it.
Pennsylvania went "red" in the presidential race for the first time since 1988 and Pat Toomey claimed victory in the most expensive U.S. Senate race in history. But all three statewide row offices were won handily by Democrats. The Democrat victory in the Auditor General race was expected as a popular incumbent was seeking re-election, but Republicans should have won the scandal-scarred Treasurer and Attorney General offices.
The reasons behind the Democratic hat trick are many, but chief among them is the fact the GOP failed to make corruption a major issue. Despite fielding solid candidates for the jobs, major resources were not put into the campaigns and the public was never reminded that the most recent Democratic holders of those offices were now headed to prison cells.
Now, another election cycle has begun with gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races topping the ballot. A recent poll conducted by Franklin & Marshall College found incumbent Governor Tom Wolf has just a 41% job approval rating and incumbent U.S. Senator Bob Casey, Jr. fares worse with just 38% thinking he is doing an excellent or good job.
This is yet another opportunity for the Pennsylvania GOP. And Democrats are obliging. In what is being dubbed "Bonusgate II," news broke that the host committee for the Democratic National Convention held in Philadelphia last summer ran a $4 million surplus. State taxpayers had ponied up $10 million to put on the presidential nominating convention and rightfully should have gotten back at least a portion of the surplus. Instead the host committee gave out $1 million in staff bonuses and donated the remaining money to "nonprofits," creating a political uproar in the process.
Governor Wolf has sought to get ahead of the growing scandal by calling for the state Auditor General to investigate. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale says he will do just that. Wolf is also trying to distance himself from his own Lt. Governor, as the state Inspector General continues to look into Mike Stack’s alleged mistreatment of his state police detail and household staff.
Add in the indictment of the Philadelphia District Attorney and the continuing investigation into the McCord scandal and once again a major election year in Pennsylvania dawns against the backdrop of Democratic corruption. The question is whether or not this time state Republicans will capitalize on the advantage they have been handed.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected].)
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