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Good Riddance Dave Levdansky

I’ve been meaning to blog about the rematch of Rick Saccone and Dave Levdansky in the 39th House District, but I haven’t had a lot of time. Also, around 10:00 last Tuesday night my soul was replaced by a gaping black void that sucked away my very will to exist. So you could say I mostly haven’t given a **** about anything except somehow forming my own breakaway republic. I’m calling it Fredistan. Email me a resume if you’re interested.

Anyhow, some of you may remember that I blogged extensively about Rick Saccone’s challenge to 13-term State Representative Dave Levdansky. In a nutshell, Levdansky managed to accomplish several feats during his tenure in the House. He established a pro-choice, pro-tax, anti-gun voting record in Harrisburg while convincing everyone back home in the Mon Valley that he was an A-OK Blue Collar Democrat Working Man of the People who Understood the Plight of the Little Guy. Dave has never had an actual job in the private sector, incidentally. Not only did he pull that off for 26 years, he managed to earn a reputation as a petulant classless bully while remaining an unremarkable back-bencher for almost his entire career in the House!.

In 2010, all of that came to an end when Rick Saccone, an actual conservative who has had numerous real jobs, beat him by 151 votes. Once the shock wore off, Dave attempted to get a real job, but had about as much success with that as he did on Election Day. Fortunately for Dave, he had a nice big fat taxpayer-funded pension to live off of so, you know, no pressure. Then, when the redistricting of the Pennsylvania Legislature was thrown out by the court (cue choirs of angels) he decided that that he’d learned his lesson and wanted another shot at his old house seat! HALLELUJAH!

Now, to be sure, we thought Rick was toast this time around. And by “we” I mean “every single human being who had even a passing familiarity with Pennsylvania politics”. True to form, Levdansky backed a challenger against Rick in the primary and engaged in a plethora of dirty tactics during the general election, even going so far as to drag Rick’s son through the mud in an attempt to smear Rick.

Election night 2012 came and went with no clear winner, but by Wednesday morning Rick had an unofficial lead of 36 votes. It has been a tense week, but the final recount concluded this evening and Rick is the confirmed winner with 114 votes. In a presidential election year. With Obama on the top of the ticket. In a 2:1 Democrat district. In the Mon Valley.

So the fat lady has finally sung for Dave Levdansky–a walking, talking, strutting, smirking argument for term limits. Good riddance, Dave Levdansky. Nobody will miss you.

November 13, 2012 at 8:46 pm Comments (0)

Will Sandusky And Corbett Defeat Romney?

The Governor’s mishandling of the Sandusky investigation may doom the GOP

Ohio, Ohio, Ohio. It’s all about Ohio. Win the Buckeye state — win the White House.

Very true, especially for Mitt Romney, since no Republican has won without it.

But the monumental point is being overlooked.

Ohio is only kingmaker by default.  Its 18 electoral votes would not be needed if Romney wins Ohio’s larger neighbor — Pennsylvania and its 20 electors.

That’s not wishful thinking, but eminently achievable. Or at least it was, until two men severely diminished hope for delivering the Keystone State: Jerry Sandusky and Republican Governor Tom Corbett.

*****

Make no mistake. Pennsylvania should have been a lock for the GOP.  The fact that it has not voted Republican for president since 1988 is misleading. When there is a solid candidate, Pennsylvania is always in play, where a small vote swing changes the election result (George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004).  Conversely, bad candidates lose handily (Bush I in ‘92, Dole in ’96, and McCain in 2008). And remember that Ronald Reagan won it twice, and George H.W. Bush in ’88.

In 1994, it became the most Republican state in the country in terms of elected officials, with the GOP claiming both U.S. Senate seats, the governorship, total control of the state legislature, a majority in its congressional delegation, and two of three statewide row offices.

Fast forward to 2010, when GOP Governor Tom Corbett rode to victory with a massive ten-point margin.  Conservative Pat Toomey was elected U.S. Senator, and Republicans gained control of the State House in historic fashion, smashing the Democrats and taking a ten-seat majority.  The State Senate remained solidly Republican — as it has for three decades.

So why is it likely that Romney will lose the Pennsylvania Prize?

Enter Corbett and Sandusky.

*****

The most worthless commodities in politics are endorsements. Party leaders endorsing their own is expected, swaying no one.  And celebrities choosing sides only makes for good cocktail talk.  Romney doesn’t benefit from Clint Eastwood, nor Obama from Bruce Springsteen.

But while endorsements don’t sell, popularity does. And they are distinctively different.

If a leader possesses a bold vision — and the ability to articulate ideas in a common sense, bipartisan way — he will have followers from the entire political spectrum. New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie is the best example, having achieved monumental victories despite both legislative chambers being heavily Democratic.

While no single Republican could swing Jersey to Romney, that feat should have been in the bag in much more Republican Pennsylvania. If Christie could rack up wins in The People’s Republic of New Jersey, gaining immense popularity, how could Corbett not deliver Pennsylvania?

Because he is an MIA governor.

After the first year of his Administration, when virtually nothing was accomplished, Corbett’s own legislators nicknamed him “Christie-lite.” But after the second year, with an even more startling lack of achievements, the nicknames became unprintable.

We’re not talking about a failed extreme right-wing agenda, but common sense ideas Corbett promised but didn’t come close to delivering, despite holding all the cards.

-Was the nation’s largest state-controlled liquor system dismantled — a move overwhelmingly supported by most Pennsylvanians? Nope. Zero action.

-Was any effort made to 1) solve the state’s massive pension crisis, 2)lower the job-killing, corporate net income tax (second-highest in the nation), or 3) reform the nation’s most hostile legal climate? All drive businesses away, but no action was taken. The can was kicked down the road.

-Did state union workers receive a contract in line with private sector employees? No.  Instead, Corbett gave them guaranteed raises, no increases in health care premiums, and eliminated layoffs for economic reasons. At the same time, he raised salaries of his inner circle, aides who apparently couldn’t get by on $135,000.

While his inaction sunk the Governor’s favorable ratings, it was his handling of sexual predator Jerry Sandusky that really put him in the toilet, flushing away whatever attractiveness he had left.

Corbett’s attempt to steal the national limelight at Penn State news conferences by portraying himself as the savior who took down Sandusky rapidly backfired. Instead, his decisions in that case (he was the investigating Attorney General) grew into a firestorm that continues to explode.

No one is buying Corbett’s claims that he didn’t play politics with the Sandusky investigation. A whopping 69 percent of Pennsylvanians don’t view Corbett favorably, making him the nation’s least popular governor.  And a miniscule 17 percent think he handled the Sandusky investigation well.

Why? Maybe because:

-It took three years to get Sandusky off the street. Within the law enforcement community, it’s almost unanimous that Sandusky should have been nailed much, much earlier. Ten cases weren’t needed, as Corbett maintains, but only two or three to make an arrest while continuing to build the case.

-Corbett ordered a narcotics agent to lead a whopping team of two to investigate Sandusky, while scores of agents — including child predator units — prosecuted a political corruption case.

Because of Corbett’s colossal inconsistencies, Republican leaders were forced to abruptly end a legislative session, killing a motion requesting a federal investigation of Corbett’s handling of the case.

As a result, Corbett’s numbers have stayed in the basement. The erosion of his popularity, transcending Party lines, stems from the nagging feeling that Corbett placed politics above the protection of innocent children.

*****

The most far-reaching result of the Governor’s failures will be the political earthquake that never was. If Corbett had been just a fraction of Chris Christie, and had run the Sandusky investigation properly, Mitt Romney wins Pennsylvania hands down.

Instead, because of Corbett’s toxicity, Romney was forced to focus on Ohio, which he will likely lose, and with it, the White House.

But that may be the least of Corbett’s troubles. Kathleen Kane is poised to become the first elected Democratic Attorney General in Pennsylvania history.  Should that occur, the political embarrassment for Corbett would be immense, since he would be seen as the main contributor to a Kane victory.

If elected, Kane promises an intense review of the Sandusky investigation, with no hesitation to charge anyone —including the Governor — should improprieties be uncovered.

And who thought politics wouldn’t be interesting after this election?

As published in Daily County Daily Times:
http://www.delcotimes.com/articles/2012/11/05/opinion/doc50979500780a2499235935.txt

Philadelphia Magazine:
http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2012/11/05/sandusky-corbett-defeat-romney/

Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com  His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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November 5, 2012 at 3:57 pm Comments (0)

New PA House and Senate Maps are out

Second time’s a charm.

Redistricting Commission Passes GOP Maps

The panel charged with redrawing state House and Senate maps passed its final plan Friday, voting 4-1 to in favor of those submitted by Republican members. It’s the second time the Legislative Reapportionment Commission sent a proposal to the PA Supreme Court for approval; its initial maps were rejected by the Court.

Short story–lots of changes, particularly in the Senate seats in Allegheny County. The House map didn’t change much from the original proposal. There is still a 30 day public comment period before the courts can formally approve them, so the story’s not entirely over.

Since the topic is redistricting, you know there has to be whining, bitching, and partisan hackery involved. Senator Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) never disappoints:

“Democrats have a 1 million voter advantage, but this map would continue Republican dominance in the Senate.”

In other words, “Waaaaaah.”

Elections have consequences.

June 9, 2012 at 8:55 pm Comment (1)

Convert Oil Refineries To Process PA’s Marcellus Shale Natural Gas

 

Delta Airlines Buying Conoco Refinery Doesn’t Solve The Problem

 

Psst: Don’t tell anybody, but the worst-kept secret in  Pennsylvania is that the natural gas industry — the only economic salvation our dying state had— is leaving in droves, replaced by job loss, budget holes and despair.

 

Like most tragedies, this one was preventable. Only common sense and foresight were required. But those traits were pumped dry long ago, so instead of experiencing a booming economy rooted in the rebirth of American manufacturing, Pennsylvania is now witness to yet another long exodus of our best and brightest.  And the Commonwealth’s march toward permanent mediocrity is accelerating.

 

Natural Gas Industry Exiting PA

 

As with most things, our elected officials couldn’t see the forest for the trees, and now that the gas industry is packing up their mobile rigs and making for greener pastures, (or, more accurately, black pastures, as in Black Gold), the recently passed gas “impact” tax will be as impactful as Mitt Romney’s Position-du-jour.

 

Why is the gas industry leaving? Simple. They are losing money hand over fist, as natural gas is sitting at a ten-year low due to lack of demand.  So let’s get this straight.  We ignore cheap, abundant and clean natural gas while continually getting hosed at the pump from record-setting oil prices. And as a direct result of soaring gasoline prices, inflation is rising unchecked and true economic growth is vaporizing before our eyes.

 

Only in America — literally.

 

No other country on the planet would permit this kind of self-destruction, willfully sending hard-earned money to overseas adversaries while doing everything in its power to bite the (domestic) hand that feeds it. And that paralyzing incompetence comes from being fat, dumb and lazy while aggressive competitors do whatever is necessary to gain an advantage.

 

Because of this choice, the U.S. remains dependent on others for its energy needs.  In addition to the obvious national security concerns (we wouldn’t be expending blood and treasure in the Middle East if we drilled domestically), we are willfully engaged in the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind, as hundreds of billions go to China and Middle Eastern oil barons because we refuse to harness our limitless natural resources.

 

The way out of the recession — permanently — is to keep American petro dollars here.  And by the way, “here” doesn’t mean Canada, since it too is a foreign nation. So Republicans need to stop their grandstanding about the Keystone XL pipeline, which, if approved, would only re-direct American money to our Canuck friends.  By definition, that neither achieves energy independence nor creates large-scale American jobs. But never let the facts stand in the way of a good political gimmick.

 

America will never compete with Chinese labor costs, but the untold story is that we don’t have to.  We beat them by having the world’s cheapest energy costs, and that, along with reworked trade policies, would level the manufacturing playing field and get America making things again.

 

Just look at Proctor and Gamble’s manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania.  An energy bill in the tens of millions was virtually eliminated after the discovery of natural gas under the plant.  Saving that much money leads to company expansion, additional jobs, more service industries, and a larger tax base. 

 

But instead of embracing that kind of success, our leaders have punted the ball. Why haven’t all state buildings and vehicles been mandated to operate on natural gas? Why haven’t tax incentives been offered to private sector companies willing to invest in natural gas refueling stations? Why haven’t efforts been made to rescind job-killing and innovation-stifling regulations? Why weren’t the success stories of companies like Proctor and Gamble told and sold by our top political leaders? 

 

No vision, and no gameplan. And now it’s getting late in the fourth quarter.

 

Converting the refineries

 

But there is an opportunity that could provide the same type of boom on a much greater scale: convert the Sunoco and ConocoPhillips refineries in Philadelphia to process natural gas rather than the much more expensive crude oil.

 

(Note: While a Delta Airline’s subsidiary just bought the Conoco refinery to make its own jet fuel, we’ll see whether that high-altitude idea flies, since airlines have a hard enough time staying in the air financially.  An airline getting into the fuel business has the right idea, as lower fuel prices will make their bottom line take-off.  But given the industry’s track record, that type of diversification could send Delta into a tailspin, possibly ending in a crash-and-burn scenario. And that would occur for much the same reason that the oil companies themselves are divesting themselves of their refining operations — wild fluctuations in the price of oil and mindboggling regulations make it inherently unprofitable.)

 

However, if Delta really wanted to lower costs over the long-haul, it might consider retooling its refinery to convert abundant natural gas from 100 miles away to jet fuel —rather than relying on oil shipments in a volatile market from across the world.

 

Sure, converting a refinery to process natural gas rather than oil takes a significant investment, but it is one that would pay huge dividends given that America’s insatiable appetite for energy (and in Delta’s case, jet fuel) will only increase.  And that’s a good thing, because increased energy demand means companies are thriving, jobs are being created, people are traveling and the economy would be truly gaining strength (unlike the disingenuous “recovery” claims now made by government and the media).

 

How to do it? After the refinery conversion (and elimination of many energy-sector regulations that drive up costs), immense amounts of “dry” natural gas, primarily from northeastern Pennsylvania, would be piped down to the refinery, utilizing the right-of-way alongside the Northeast Extension of the Turnpike.

 

The dry natural gas would then be converted to gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel — at a consumer price point that may well be under $2 per gallon.  Fuel that inexpensive becomes an instant win-win: the rebirth of manufacturing, big job gains, fewer foreclosures, and the satisfaction of knowing that national security is bolstered every time you hit the pump.

 

In addition to Philadelphia’s refineries being in an ideal location for disbursement of those refined products, there is yet another opportunity for economic growth.  To meet what would surely be increased domestic and overseas demand, a pipeline could be constructed down the Delaware River, terminating offshore so that tankers could safely take on their loads out at sea.

 

(A liquefied natural gas tanker explosion, whether accidental or deliberate, would be akin to a small nuclear weapon. While extremely unlikely, that possibility would nonetheless present huge political challenges in allowing large LNG tankers in the Delaware River.)

 

Refine Our Way Of Thinking

 

Despite their good intentions trying to save the refineries, some politicians have missed the boat by only pushing the idea of exporting natural gas from Philadelphia.  That won’t create jobs, as we would merely be shipping the gas to be refined elsewhere.  How ironic that would be, watching Pennsylvania export its lifeblood in the shadow of three refineries, any and all of which could keep all of the economic benefits here, and none of which will likely be profitable refining oil as currently outfitted.

 

Failure to convert the refineries may well kill off the gas industry altogether, making us ever more dependent on foreigners for our vital energy needs while prices continue to soar.

 

But if we rekindle that slumbering can-do American spirit and put America first for a change, the possibilities would be limitless, and we would no longer be bent over a barrel.

 

And what a gas that would be.

 

An accredited member of the media, Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com  His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

 

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May 1, 2012 at 1:28 pm Comments (0)

Corbett’s Colossal Cockiness Castrates His Credibility

Candidate Choice Creates Calamitous Clusterf**k of Carnage

“Stevie Welch sat on a wall (of cards); Stevie Welch had a great fall (winning a mere two of 67 counties). All of King (or is it Joker?) Corbett’s horses (jackasses), and all the King’s men (endorsements by 27 County Commissioners and 35 State Legislators), couldn’t put Stevie’s candidacy together again (4 of 5 Republican voters rejected the Welch-Corbett-Obama “ticket”).

 

And so Freindly Fire’s prediction that Governor Corbett-endorsed U.S. Senate candidate Steve Welch would come in a whoppingly-bad third place was proven correct, though it didn’t take a political genius to guess that result.  After all, asking — strong-arming, actually — Republicans to support the Obama-voting, Joe Sestak-supporting Welch was anathema to common sense and political savvy.  And the resulting carnage is everywhere: the endorsement of the state Republican Party is as meaningful as being valedictorian of summer school; getting backed by Corbett now carries substantial negative baggage, and GOP legislators will think long and hard about aligning themselves with the Governor on his signature issues (are there any?), fearing that his promises of support could be akin to political suicide.

 

And all of this occurred just 15 months after being ushered into office with a ten-point margin and solid majorities in the House and Senate. And ironically, so easily preventable.

 

Many insiders will claim the blow to Corbett’s prestige will be a fleeting, short-term event. As is most often the case, those “experts” will be wrong. The political reality is that next month, when the Governor wants his ill-fated and unpopular voucher plan for only low-income families (which ignores the middle class) to pass, he will fall short, as his Party walks away from him. When he attempts to garner support for his proposed education cuts in the budget, he will meet substantial resistance. And should he try his hand at privatizing liquor, many in his GOP caucuses will cut and run.  Very few will risk their neck for a Guv who in the best of times was invisible, preferring the shadows to the bully pulpit. Now, Corbett has become a liability.

 

(Sidenote: Corbett’s low-income voucher allies made that issue the only issue this election, losing all of the races in which they were involved.  In particular, they spent big money trying to defeat West Philadelphia State Representative James Roebuck and mid-state Senator Pat Vance (who only ran again because she was “not going to be pushed out by any Political Action Committee.”). Both won easily — another reason Corbett will have a difficult time with that issue.)

 

Not only is Corbett’s popularity plummeting, but his reputation has been cemented as a lightweight empty-suit who simply can’t deliver.  The fact that he poisoned his own Party and made it a national laughingstock is icing on the cake.

 

In addition to Corbett’s endorsement of Welch (and the fact the he personally recorded the voice vote of every State Committee member during the GOP endorsement process), he went to the mat for his boy through mailers, phone calls, fundraisers and speeches.  Yet his election night was a disaster. Consider:

 

-The Corbett- Welch-ObamaDrama Ticket had all the advantages going into the race. With Santorum out of the presidential contest, many conservative-leaning Republicans did not vote — and low turnout elections almost always favor the endorsed candidate (especially the hand-picked favorite of a Governor).  The Party’s organizational structure and resources are usually sufficient to propel the anointed candidate to victory, but many Party committee people rebuked the Governor by openly supporting non-Welch candidates.

– Even better for Welch, there were two other major candidates in the race (Tom Smith, Sam Rohrer), both of whom would split the anti-establishment, anti-endorsement vote (and the remaining two candidates, David Christian and Marc Scaringi, did the same, taking 18 percent collectively). It should have been an easy “divide and conquer” campaign for Welch. Instead, it was a Kamikaze mission.
-There was a large snowstorm the day before the election across much of western Pennsylvania — Smith’s critical home base. Any dampening of that vote should have proven beneficial to the endorsed candidate, but it was Smith’s supporters who out-performed the once-vaunted statewide GOP machine.
– It should have been a slam-dunk for Welch to raise millions from Corbett and the big GOP donors.  But he took in an embarrassing $150,000 in the entire first quarter —half of Smith’s total and, quite possibly, even less than Smith’s dog. That lack of gravitas is quite telling.
– There was one bright spot: Welch’s campaign consultants reaped the benefits of the $1 million Welch personally gave his campaign.  The effectiveness of how they spent that money is another story, since there was no Philadelphia broadcast TV, limited media, and, come to think of it, virtually no campaign at all — usually not the best way to win an election.

 

-By far the most surreal moment of the night was Welch crying poor, complaining about being outspent 5-1 —even though he is accurately described in every news article as being the self-funding millionaire entrepreneur.  All self-funders claim that they will only spend a fixed amount, and, of course, exceed that after consultants convince them they are “closing fast.”  That never happened with Steve.  The irony is that he was always perceived as a self-funder (and no one wants to contribute to a rich candidate), but he clearly wasn’t able to micturate (look it up) with the big dogs in the tall grass.  Playing the rich-guy card (against a really rich guy like Smith) without having the aces in your hand isn’t just a bad bluff. It’s a dead-man’s hand.

 

Kind of makes you wonder what the hell the point was in going for the endorsement — or running at all.

*****

 

So what happens from here?  Prosecutor Kathleen Kane, who whipped the whining Patrick Murphy despite his endorsements from all the wrong folks (career pols Rendell and Nutter), is in the driver’s seat to become the first Democrat Attorney General. And expect the Penn State scandal to be front-and-center in the fall election, with Kane pounding away about what former Attorney General Tom Corbett knew, and when he knew it.

 

Not only would a Kane victory reflect negatively on Corbett (since the Dems would have captured that prize on his watch, and in doing so, beaten the Governor’s hand-selected candidate in what should be a Republican-leaning election), but his image and effectiveness will be further compromised as more is learned — and publicized —about his role in how the Penn State investigation was handled. 

 

From having it all just a year ago, Tom Corbett will witness his own Party run away from him on the issues and in the election — and helplessly watch as the Democrats make him the issue.

 

It took George W. Bush six years to get to that point.   If Tom Corbett’s goal was to best the former President, well…Mission Accomplished.

 

 

An accredited member of the media, Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com  His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

 

 

 

 

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April 27, 2012 at 10:08 am Comments (0)

Smith! Raja! Rick!

Yesterday was a Day of Restoration of Karmic Balance. Lots of people who deserved to win won, and lots of people who deserved to lose lost.

After Governor Corbett’s arm-twisting to get the Republican State Committee to endorse Steve Welch for US Senate, Tom Smith beat the crap out of him. Even Sam Rohrer beat him which has got to make the Tea Party and other assorted conservative groups happy. The best part is that if Tom Smith has the money, which I think he does, he can make this a real race for Bob Casey. I am personally looking forward to Tom Smith, guy who employs coal miners, debating energy policy with Bob Casey, guy who uses coal miners for political props. I’d hold the debate on the eastern side of the state in Coaldale and hold the one out west in Coal Center. There are any number of formerly operating coal-fired power plants that might serve as suitable venues as well.

The most delightful race of the evening was D. Raja’s curb-stomping of Mark Mustio. More on that here. I spoke to someone from Raja’s campaign who wondered if Mustio had imploded too late to affect the outcome of the race. No. No he did not. As an aside, the person in this race who will not get the credit she deserves is Sue Means. Sue is a true principled conservative who ran a squeaky clean campaign, and it’s nice to see that the voters recognized that. Although Sue didn’t win the Senate seat, she did win her Delegate race handily–she had more than double the number of votes of the guy who came in second.

Rick Saccone won his primary against Shauna D’Alessandro by a 63-37 margin, once again proving that the Post-Gazette’s endorsement is the kiss of death for Republicans. Incidentally, only in the P-G’s world can someone recruited by the House Democrats, funded by Elsie Hillman, and who has a penchant for tax increases be described as “principled”.

Take a victory lap, guys. November’s just around the corner.

April 25, 2012 at 8:44 pm Comment (1)

In which the Post-Gazette abandons even the pretense of impartiality

Every time I think that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette can’t go any lower, they manage to amaze me. Normally, at this point, I would post a link to the offensive article in question, but this one smacks of such journalistic malpractice that the WordPress servers which host the watercooler would immediately burst into flame if I did.

So let’s use our imagination and pretend that we’re reading the PG’s disingenuous endorsements for the PA House in the 39th District. A year and a half ago I chronicled Rick Saccone’s campaign to capture a seat in the PA House in the Mon Valley from Dave Levdansky who had held the seat for 26 very long years. It was a classic David and Goliath story, and Rick won against all odds.

Since then, by all measures Rick has been doing a great job both in Harrisburg and in the district. He’s a conservative voice in Harrisburg who genuinely reflects the views of his constituents even if most of them are Democrats. His office staff will do virtually anything for anyone who asks. He’s at every Boy Scout dinner, community day, and town hall that he can make.

In short, he approaches his job differently than Levdansky did. For instance, he has never shot the middle finger to any of his constituents from the House floor. He has never screamed “I own this borough” while standing on the blade of a bobcat in the middle of a public beautification area in Elizabeth Borough. He has never been supported by CeaseFire PA or Planned Parenthood. His wife has never taken out a Protection from Abuse order against him.

So what does the PG do? They endorse Rick’s opponent. The PG’s only comment was:

Mr. Saccone, 53, a former Air Force captain who became a college professor, declined the Post-Gazette’s invitation to meet with editorial writers along with his challenger.

So who is his challenger? I’m not going to state her name here (for much the same reasons that Dan Aykroyd should not have thought of the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters), but I can give you a thumbnail sketch of her. She claims to be a Reagan Republican but has never supported a Republican candidate against Levdansky. She’s hiked taxes in her school district twice. She opposes property tax reform and school choice. She had an epiphany on gun rights and joined the NRA weeks before she decided to run for office. Hallelujah!!

This is the perfect “Republican” for the PG to endorse. What they didn’t tell you is that when Rick spoke to them about the endorsement interview they told him that they had already decided to endorse Levdansky in the general election.

So what does that tell you? If Levdansky’s their boy, why would they endorse Rick’s opponent? Oh–because she’d lose.

Congratulations, Post-Gazette. You’ve hit yet another new low.

April 13, 2012 at 9:40 pm Comments (2)

Legislative Redistricting Commission Passes New PA Assembly Maps

And they’re just as screwed up as before!

Here we go again. The Legislative Reapportionment Commission passed new preliminary versions of the Pa. House and Senate maps by a vote of 4-1 Thursday afternoon. House Dems and GOPers compromised on their map, and Chairman Stephen McEwen introduced his own Senate map when the two sides couldn’t agree.

Each map is followed by the legal description of each municipality in each district. Political nerds–dig to your hearts’ content!

April 12, 2012 at 8:21 pm Comments (0)

Philadelphia Catholic Schools Remain Open— But For How Long?

 Will the Church finally play political hardball?

 

I always try to check my emotions at the door when I begin a column. That’s why I rarely write in the first person. But, hey, I’m also human and a Philly Catholic, so I shed a few tears of joy when it was recently announced that four diocesan high schools and eighteen elementary schools were reprieved from their death sentence and would remain open. I didn’t go to Bonner (mine was the other Augustinian school, Malvern), but a brother, an uncle and a bunch of my friends did. (In fact, my uncle was a member of Bonner’s first graduating class and has three Prendergast—yes, Prendergast—football letters. How’s that for trivia?).And I have an aunt who’s a grad of the school which has, perhaps, the greatest tradition of all—West Catholic.

 

(Quick tangent: I’m a graduate of Annunciation BVM grade school in Havertown, which a niece and nephew presently attend.  Despite meeting or exceeding all of the thresholds laid out by Bishop McFadden in 2009 to remain open, Annunciation is nonetheless being closed. Ignoring the wishes of his congregation, the pastor refused to appeal. Scores of parishioners, encouraged by the 75% success rate of the schools that did appeal, as well as West Catholic remaining open even though it did not appeal, have taken their case directly to Archbishop Chaput.

 

Now that a short-term victory for many schools has been achieved, it’s time to push emotion aside and take an objective look at the situation, where more questions than answers remain.  What changed? What transpired in thirty days that allowed almost half of the schools to stay open? Was it “faulty information” that the Blue Ribbon Commission received, as some readers allege?  Or was it a few deep-pocketed donors stepping up to the plate?  And if so, is relying on a handful of wealthy individuals really a sustainable financial solution?

 

*****

 

It seems quite a stretch that bad information could be the reason for the turnaround. For that to be true, many schools must have submitted data painting a very negative picture — information subsequently determined to be incorrect (hence the reversals).  Outside of a few pastors who lack the desire or energy to further the mission of Catholic education, that scenario doesn’t stand up to the common sense test, since most schools would obviously put their best foot forward in their quest to stay open.

 

So either the Commission did not request the right information, or completely dropped the ball in analyzing the documents it did receive (as referenced in last week’s column). Either way, given that the Commission’s decisions affected the lives of so many, Philadelphia Catholics had every right to expect more, especially given the composition of the Commission. Its members included former top executives of some of America’s largest banks and insurance companies who were familiar with making tough financial decisions. Something just doesn’t add up, and, fair or not, that is fostering cynicism and fear that future closings are inevitable.

Of course, there is another possibility — that the Commission simply never bothered (or wasn’t allowed?) to contact many of the schools in question.  Since more than a few pastors confidentially enlightened me to that situation — why would they lie about something so easily verifiable? — it tends to further cloud the entire decision making process, both closures and reprieves.  And why on earth, if the Commission/Archdiocese realized that the data was incomplete and/or their methodologies flawed, would they not postpone the original announcement in January until they got their house in order?

As a result, many faithful are rolling their eyes (again), wondering how the Archdiocese could look so foolish, while still not communicating any long-term solution. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that, since enrollment has decreased sharply over the last decade while costs have risen, a viable plan must be enacted quickly, or the same situation will arise in the near future.

 

With that distinct possibility looming, how can the Church avoid it?

 

1) Start talking about the positive aspects of the Church, restoring the credibility that has been shattered by years of sex scandals, shredded documents and cover-ups. The Roman Catholic Church is the largest provider of social services in the entire world (and second in America behind only the U.S. government) and administers the world’s largest nonpublic school system, yet most people are unaware of those phenomenal achievements — a massive failure in public relations. The Catholic mission is perhaps the most noble on the planet, and the Church’s history, while certainly not without its darker moments, is a storied one.  From its humble beginnings as the church of a fisherman named Peter, Roman Catholicism became the most benevolent and impactful force the world has ever known.  It’s time to tell that magnificent story and educate the world — again — on what it really means to be Catholic, while purging every aspect of the scandals which have rocked the Church to its very foundations. Unequivocally, pride in Catholic identity leads to fuller schools.

 

2) The newly created Faith In The Future Foundation — charged with fundraising and being a guiding force on marketing and recruiting for the 17 archdiocesan high schools and assisting parish elementary schools—- is a good idea, but only if it offers membership to rank-and-file Catholics with ears to the ground.  Much criticism directed at the Church is that it is too insulated from the pressing issues, and too isolated from the parishioners themselves.  If the Foundation is comprised only of millionaires and politically-connected Catholics, it will fail.  That is not to invoke “class warfare,” for having intelligent business leaders is imperative, but by definition, most would not be able to relate to the concerns of the masses (no pun intended).  If “average” Catholics are not given a dedicated platform to offer their perspective, the rigidness, bureaucracy and stagnation that has come to define the Archdiocese will only worsen.  And the exodus of Catholics will accelerate.

 

3) The Church needs to fight. If you want a true long-term solution to keep schools open and thriving, and believe the best way is by returning to parents some of their tax money (vouchers and tax credits) so they can make the best choice where to educate their children, you are absolutely correct. But it doesn’t happen by itself.  

 

It only happens when political muscle is flexed. It only happens when you play hardball.  It only happens when you unabashedly make school choice the Church’s Number One issue in the primary and general election.  And it only happens when you make it crystal clear to all legislators who doubt the ferocity of a newly awakened tiger — one that has shed its paper skin — that they will reap the whirlwind for that miscalculation.

 

Seems common sense, yet the Church has been doing the complete opposite. For over a year, Freindly Fire and others have been successfully battling clueless Church factions who have been pushing “educational reform” legislation (Senate Bill 1) that would neither educate nor reform.  It’s such a worthless bill —written while Ed Rendell was still Governor and not amended to include the middle class (at all) despite an infinitely more favorable Legislature and pro-school choice Governor Tom Corbett — that, had it been passed a year ago, virtually none of the schools slated for closure would have been saved. School choice bills affecting just low-income families are born losers; only when the middle class is comprehensively included will there be light at the end of the tunnel to help Catholic schools survive and prosper.

 

Ironically, the Church — through its lobbying arm, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference —hurt itself by backing the wrong bill and not being truthful that the middle class was excluded from that legislation. Upon learning that the bill would never affect them or help keep their schools open, many Catholics reacted with palpable anger, setting off another wholly preventable firestorm. One step forward and three back is not the way to achieve political success.

 

What can be done immediately? Make an extremely aggressive push to have the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) expansion bill pass the Senate, where “school choice advocate” Senator Jeff Piccola is selfishly letting it languish (calling it “D.O.A.”) because he can’t pass his low-income voucher bill.  Making the sin mortal is that the EITC bill, sponsored by Montgomery County State Representative Tom Quigley, passed the House by an unheard-of bipartisan vote of 190 to 7 —a year ago!  The biggest tragedy is that some of the schools that have been ordered to close might have been saved if this bill had passed last spring.  But because of misguided legislative priorities and a total lack of political pressure by the Church, Catholics — and their schools — continue to suffer.

 

*****

 

All of the suggested solutions will be for naught if the hierarchy doesn’t learn one lesson very quickly. You cannot grow the Church by being inconsistent, and yes, hypocritical, especially to your own people.  The Archdiocese has thus far refused to grant school choice to many in elementary schools, instead dictating what schools children must attend.  That policy has created an immense backlash, with thousands feeling betrayed since they correctly see the Church pushing school choice for others, but denying it to them.  And no amount of spin or enrollment explanations will change that bitter sentiment.  Charity starts at home.

 

Of the countless emails received in the last week — most from loyal Catholics — one message was most common: Keep the faith but fight the corruption. 

 

If grounded Church leaders and reinvigorated rank-and-file Catholics keep that in mind while preaching a positive message and a wielding a political sledgehammer, then prayers for keeping Catholic education alive far into the future will undoubtedly be answered.

 

An accredited member of the media, Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com  His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

 

 

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February 29, 2012 at 3:03 pm Comment (1)

Opposing Drug Testing For Welfare Recipients? Are You High?

Randomly testing all public workers is simply common sense

Random drug testing of welfare recipients and public workers is racist, discriminatory and blatantly unconstitutional.

And if believe any of that, you’re smoking something.

Once again, the drug testing issue is making headlines in Pennsylvania, as such a program is now underway. Unfortunately, because the Legislature dragged its feet (what else is new?), the current initiative is a scaled-down version of the original bill, and has been put into effect via an emergency budgetary order from the Governor. It only applies to welfare recipients who have been convicted of a felony in the last five years or are currently on parole or probation.

Too bad.  It should include every single non-elected person receiving a paycheck courtesy of John Q. Taxpayer.

(The only officials who should be exempted from mandated drug testing are elected officials, though that position is sure to generate hoots and hollars from the cheap seats.  The rationale is simple: they are elected by the people. They are not collecting government assistance checks, nor are they hired as civil service workers. True, much of what we see from elected officials leaves us wondering if they’re all on drugs.  And yes, at first glance it seems hypocritical for lawmakers to enact laws that they themselves do not have to follow, but they are in the unique position of being employed directly by the people. What’s next? A State Rep fails the test and is stripped of his seat? Not practical, probably unconstitutional, and a very dangerous precedent.  Would these elected office holders be smart to voluntarily take a drug test? Absolutely, because if they don’t, they’ll be unsuccessfully explaining themselves all the way to the ballot box.)

Remember the point of state-mandated drug testing: to ascertain whether someone receiving money — given to them by hardworking Pennsylvania taxpayers — is breaking the law by using those funds on illegal drugs. It is not to put people behind bars, but to ensure that they are clean and not abusing taxpayer dollars.

Proof that this is not a conspiratorial police-state tactic designed to incarcerate the state’s drug users, but a program to simply ensure responsible stewardship of the people’s money?

Consumption of drugs is not illegal. Manufacturing, distribution and possession of illicit narcotics is. And since having drugs in one’s system is not legally considered “possession,” no one failing a drug test would be arrested.

*****

Taxpayers have an absolute right to know that their money isn’t going to welfare recipients’ drug habits.  No one has a gun to his head to go on public assistance, just like no one forces people to work at a private sector company that mandates drug tests.  It’s part of the deal— take it or leave it.

Seemingly lost in the debate is that drug testing isn’t a discriminatory act against select individuals, but is increasingly common throughout all of society.  Many companies require applicants to pass a drug test as a condition of employment, for obvious, common sense reasons. No business wants drug users on the job, as they would be high-risk, untrustworthy employees who would undoubtedly threaten not just productivity, but company stability.

It’s key to remember that public assistance is supposed to help the recipient and his/her family survive; it should never be used carelessly, especially for something illegal.  Since drugs are illegal, if recipients can’t prove themselves to be clean, they should receive no benefits.  It’s that simple. Public benefits are a privilege, not a right, just like driving or flying. If people choose not to abide by the rules, that’s fine. But it’s simply arrogant to think one is entitled to these benefits without any conditions.

Here are some of the more disingenuous arguments the pro-druggie side likes to use:

Argument: Welfare recipients are no more likely to use drugs than the rest of the population.

Answer: Who cares?  That’s completely irrelevant. It doesn’t matter what the percentages are, although that claim is certainly suspect.  The majority of the population isn’t directly receiving taxpayer-funded benefits. For those who are, drug testing should be the rule.  Don’t like it?  Fine.  Get a job. And if you have a public sector job, be thankful you do and act responsibly to keep it.  You work for the people. It’s their money.

 

Argument: Drug testing is expensive.

Answer: If the government starts operating like a business, and aggressively negotiates volume discounts with private testing companies, the price isn’t that high.  This common sense expenditure would surely even pass Tea Party muster.  By definition, Government must spend money, but should do so smartly and efficiently. The testing should be for all new applicants, and random testing of the entire public pool thereafter, somewhere in the five to ten percent range.

And financially and ethically, what is the cost of having taxpayers subsidize a crack addict’s drug habit?

 

Argument: The ACLU challenged the mandatory drug testing program as unconstitutional, arguing that drug testing of welfare recipients violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches, labeling it “intrusive.”

Answer: That’s insulting to every citizen NOT on the public dole. First, the anti-testing folks, including legislators and the ACLU, are not Supreme Court justices, so it’s not up to them to determine constitutionality.  Second, odds are certainly favorable that given the makeup of both the state and U.S. Supreme Court, mandatory drug testing would be upheld. Welfare recipients arern’t being forced to do anything. They choose to apply for welfare.  After that, they must abide by the conditions placed upon them in return for receiving public money.

 

Argument: Random drug testing is thinly-veiled racism, and an attempt to demonize public sector workers by lumping them into the (false) public perception that all welfare recipients are drug-using, inner city dregs of society.

Answer: I wouldn’t have believed these accusations could be made with a straight face, but that’s exactly what was thrown at me during two televised debates on this issue. Such weak arguments only serve to bolster what most people instinctively know: random drug testing of those receiving taxpayer money is sound policy that serves to weed out bad apples and preserve the integrity of “charitable” giving.

Given that a Democratic Senator, John Wozniak, is the prime sponsor of the Pennsylvania bill, and his Party loves to bill itself as the defender of the poor, minorities and public sector workers, those charges don’t stand up for a second.

They are so ridiculous on their face that they shouldn’t need rebutting, but it bears repeating: this issue has nothing to do with race (many on public assistance are White), and zero to do with demonizing public sector workers and unions (as many in the private sector are tested as well).  It has everything to do with the reasonable expectation of taxpayers that their money be used for humanitarian purposes (public assistance) and an intelligent, stable and productive workforce (public sector employees).

*****

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart ran a comedic segment, with one of its “reporters” interviewing the Florida legislator who sponsored a similar bill, and Rick Scott, the Sunshine State’s Governor who also championed the drug testing cause. Both men are right on the issue, but may have lost the PR battle, looking downright foolish at times.  That’s a shame, because it’s communication miscues like those in that interview that sets the issue back in other states, giving credence to otherwise baseless arguments that should have been smoked from the get-go.

It’s not what you say, but how you say it. So in Pennsylvania, let’s say it loud and clear: “This is your paycheck (a lot of taxpayer money).  And this is your paycheck on drugs: Absolutely nothing!”

Finally something worth inhaling.

 

An accredited member of the media, Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com  His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

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February 13, 2012 at 10:26 am Comments (6)

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