CHAMBERSBURG – Know your constituency. It’s the first rule of local politics.
The second: What happens in New York City usually can only happen in New York City, and is best kept there.
Policies that fit "The Big Apple" don’t fit a town that is, say, known statewide for its Apple Festival. Just ask Democrat Pete Lagiovane, the mayor of this Franklin County town who won’t return to office in January. He lost his bid for re-election — to a seat he won unopposed the last time — in part because he signed up Chambersburg as one of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun cities.
His Republican opponent, Darren Brown, said he knows one thing he’ll do immediately after being sworn in as mayor: "The very, very first thing I’d like to do is get Chambersburg off the ‘Mayors Against Illegal Guns’ list."
Just past the town circle, where the Molly Pitcher Highway briefly intersects with the Lincoln Highway, a handful of men climbed out of a shiny black SUV with a rifle rack and walked into the Historic Texas Lunch diner on a frosty Saturday morning. All wore some sort of hunter-orange apparel.
They were just a handful of the nearly 950,000 people (according to Pennsylvania Game Commission statistics) who will hunt in the state in coming weeks. Theirs is a prized tradition that shares nothing with the stereotyped truck-driving, beer-drinking fool chasing critters for the heck of it.
People who don’t hunt don’t understand the appeal. They don’t get why anyone would sit for hours in the woods or in a bog to hunt deer, bear, elk, turkey or duck; they don’t know how, for hunters, this is a time to spend outdoors with friends and family, continuing a tradition passed down by parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
Almost all hunters go out because providing meat for their families is rewarding and satisfying.
When you don’t understand people or don’t identify with them, you tend to mock them — which leaves the people who enjoy the hunting tradition with family and friends feeling more alienated by, more disconnected from, an increasingly urban society that is hostile to their values and their way of life.
Many of these people feel attacked on all sides for many activities that they consider normal, such as hunting, going to church, flying a flag on holidays or every day, and wishing store clerks a "Merry Christmas!"
So when Mayor Bloomberg brings his circus to town to build his own fame and to spread money around, or when Washington decides it wants to start regulating gun ownership with more background checks, these people react in the only respectful way they know: They vote out of office those who are infringing on their way of life.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., an avid hunter who once shot a hole through a copy of the "cap and trade" bill for a TV political advertisement, understands why people reacted so overwhelmingly against legislation he cosponsored with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., that would have expanded background checks before gun sales.
"Look, people outside of Washington look at all of the spying with the NSA and problems with the IRS they see coming out of D.C., and they just don’t trust the government," he said. "I understand that, they just don’t want any more interference."
In 1999 the National Rifle Association put its stamp of approval on universal background checks following the Columbine High School slaughter. Today the NRA, along with conservative Democrats and Republicans, opposes such checks as placing unforeseen burdens on gun owners and endangering Second Amendment rights.
Chambersburg Mayor-elect Brown said his decision to run for office was made with the same seriousness as when he decided to enlist in the Army in 2004: "I spent a lot of time learning about local offices and government … took a look at our current mayor, and thought the people of this town should have a mayor that reflects their views."
Brown said a mayor should focus on such issues as curbing crime and drugs, or keeping the sidewalks clean — not on the issues of outside groups that don’t understand a town’s way of life.
All politics really is local.
Salena Zito is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial page columnist. E-mail her at [email protected]