Wednesday, May 31, 2006

As Sam Said To Dave...

Hold on, I'm coming!

I couldn't get that old song out of my brain whilst reading news reports of former Gov. Tom Ridge's five-city swing Tuesday with this year's Republican gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann.

It was all smiles and handshakes, with Ridge and Swann showing the pearly whites, but let us not kid ourselves. Much like the 7th Cavalry, Ridge charged in to give a boost to a Swann candidacy that is sagging, especially at the Republican base.

Many of those county chairs who got on the Swann bandwagon early on are now having buyer's remorse, to use a phrase I stole from a GOP strategist.

Ridge's purpose in this trip was to boost the base, calm the party activist types and (maybe most importantly) help Swann raise money.

The next deadline for campaign spending and fund-raising reports is June 16th. The chattering class and the pols will be looking at how well or poorly Swann has done in getting his hands on some cash.

Among those most concerned: GOP leaders in the Philadelphia area, who are worried that a weak Swann candidacy will result in the Rendell/Casey ticket swamping other Republican officeholders, many of whom have competitive races for Congressional and state legislative seats. Hear them fret in this Daily News piece by Bob Warner.

The House on Stevens Lane (cont'd)

For those of you who just can't get enough of the controversy over Rick Santorum's Penn Hills home, here is Jon Delano's excellent step-through of the controversy.

Jon is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and an independent political analyst, who often comments on PA and national politics.

This exegesis was emailed over the Memorial Day weekend.

Delano poses a question that's been circulating around political circles in recent days: Was Santorum's reaction to the incidents at Penn Hills just an example of the senator freaking out or was it a calculated political maneuver? I subscribe to the later theory, many subscribe to the former, citing how unwise it has turned out to be for Santorum to highlight one of his weaknesses -- his failure to live in his home base.

Delano makes it clear that while the Santorums initial reaction may have been to freak out over someone "stalking" their home, the senator and his campaign brain trust quickly elevated it to a political matter by trying to blame Bob Casey with the incident.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

So Many Questions

Are these the last days of John Perzel?

Could the House Speaker be the next one to fall to the forces that already have defeated his Senate counterpart, President Pro Tem Bob Jubelirer?

That's the intriguing question rasied by my colleague, Mario Cattabiani, in a piece that ran Sunday in The Inquirer. There's lots of evidence to indicate that the Speaker could be in jeopardy.

And, if Perzel is going down -- not now, not in November, but after the fall election, when it comes time to reorganize the state House -- what do you do if you are a Democrat?

First of all, I bet that Perzel survives.

His caucus may be going more conservative, but the Philadelphia Republican is politically skilled and probably has enough chits out amongst his members to to hold onto his job.

Besides, you can't beat a someone with a no one -- and a strong, alternative candidate to Perzel has yet to emerge.

But, a weakened Perzel could make life miserable for Ed Rendell in his second term. Hamstrung by his own caucus, Perzel might have to go anti-Rendell all the time in order to maintain his job as Speaker.

The Senate Republicans -- with the departure of Jubelirer and GOP Majority Leader Chip Brightbill -- look like they are going to tilt to the right and make life (even more) miserable for the governor.

Let's face it, the Speaker is often the only Republican who seems willing to deal with Rendell. (A point often raised by his enemies within the caucus).

So, what do you do if you are Rendell?

Do you work hard to have the Democrats take over the House? They are 8 seats away from becoming a majority, so it wouldn't be easy. But you could direct money and political support to those districts in contention and make it a holy cause.

Do you concentrate on your own campaign and let the chips fall where they may in the legislative races? Rendell did a variation on that two years ago, when he refused to lift a finger to support Democrats running against Republican incumbents who supported his first tax plan and budget.

Do you want no Perzel or a weakened Perzel?

Do you want to live through the agony of four more years of having both chambers controlled by a more conservative Republican party?

With your own re-election looking secure, do you seize the moment and go after control of at least one chamber of the legislature?

So many questions, so little time.

Another Lucky Winner

Here's an answer to the critics who doubted that legalized slots in Pennsylvania would boost the economy and create new jobs.

Backers of the Isle of Capri slots parlor in Pittsburgh apparently paid residents of that city's Hill District $15a head to attend a rally in support of the proposed slotino. The Morning Call has the story.

Meanwhile, Bill Toland of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette looks into the, um, checkered pasts of some of the applicants looking to build and open casinos in the state.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Lexicon of Spin II

Lynn Swann complains to the Associated Press that the Rendell camp is scaring away potential contributors to his campaign.

Quote: "His party machinery is out there putting the squeeze on people, saying `don't contribute to Swann's campaign,'" Swann told the AP.

Swann said he has heard of "more than five, less than 20" instances in which potential donors said they "felt pressure" from people connected to Gov. Ed Rendell or simply assumed on their own that contributing to Swann's campaign might hurt their chances of winning a contract or grant."

Translation: "I am having a hell of a time raising money."

See also: The Benjamin Factor

Return to Sender

I knew there was a reason why I took Latin in college.

It's so I can give you a learned discourse on the battle of the Latin-root word residence versus the punchy, to-the-point Anglo-Saxon live.

Of course, it has to do with Sen. Rick Santorum and the House on Stevens Lane.

I can't help myself. I can't stop blogging about it. It's partly because the issue won't go away.

Santorum walked into this tar pit a week or so ago and hasn't come out yet.

The negative radio ad he ran, accusing the Casey campaign of stalking his house in Penn Hills, has created an uproar in Pittsburgh.

The latest chapter in this mini-series: a story by my colleague Carrie Budoff in today's Inquirer where Santorum defends his right to vote in the Pittsburgh suburb of Penn Hills and says that all questions about his residency are the work of his political opponents.

It includes a five-page letter from his attorneys to the Allegheny Law Department spelling out, in excruciating detail, the senator's case. You can read it here.

If you want to save the time, I can give you the bottom line: Santorum's lawyers say he is a resident of Penn Hills and they are right.

There is scads of case law on residency for voting purposes and I think they all support Santorum's claim.

In addition, there are state and federal laws that say, in so many words, that as long as a person serves in the federal government in some capacity, he remains a resident of his home state. Santorum is one example. A G.I. from Altoona stationed in Iraq is another example.

Residence comes from the Latin word residentia, meaning "to reside or abide."

So, in the eyes of the law, Santorum resides in Penn Hills.

But does he live there? The root of live is the Old German lifen, which means "to occupy a home."

Santorum and his family don't live in Penn Hills. They don't lifen there either.

They live 215 miles away in Leesburg, Va., where they own a nice $750,000-plus home. Santorum's attorneys assert they return to Penn Hills for various purposes, including dental care, which I find intriguing.

(I interrupt for some made-up dialogue:
"Honey, get dressed we have to go to the dentist."
"But,, Mom, do I have to? I'm tired and its a six-hour ride."
"But me no buts, Missy, get your coat on and get in that car.")

Different laws have different standards when it comes to residency.

The one that could have given Santorum the biggest headache is the law governing residence for the purpose of determining where your kids can go to public school.

It's not uncommon for people in a lousy district to rent an apartment in a nearby wonderful district so they can enroll their kids in that district's schools.

It's an issue in Philadelphia where parents in the city will do just that to get their kids enrolled in a suburban district. The suburban districts even have "residency police" to track down offenders.

In these cases, the courts have ruled that residency is where where you stay most of the time , where you put your head down on the pillow most nights.

It you have an empty apartment in Narberth, but spend all your time in a home in Philly, your kid cannot go to Narberth public schools.

You remember the flap over Santorum enrolling his kids in a cyber-school – and having the Penn Hills District paying most of the tuition?

Had that case advanced to the courts, a judge may have ruled against the Santorums on that residency issue.

As it was, the case brought by the Penn Hills district was dismissed by an Education Department hearing examiner on a technicality – a failure to file the objection in a timely manner.

One final note: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette weighs in on the issue today, with an editorial saying it had mailed a candidates questionnaire to Santorum at his Penn Hills address before the primary.

It was returned as undeliverable.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Swannomics 101

Lynn Swann promised to reveal a comprehensive property tax reform package and darned if he didn't deliver.

In a speech Monday in Harrisburg, he trotted out his proposal, a complicated affair that would (to oversimplify) do two things:

* Give taxpayers immediate relief by dipping into the state's projected revenue surplus to give them partial rebates on their property taxes.

* Give taxpayers long-term relief by substituting the current property tax system with one that, in effect, freezes taxes until a home changes hands.

Here's a Post-Gazette story on the plan. Here's a day-after piece that AP did. And, if you want to get into the nitty gritty, here is the Swann campaign outline of the proposal.

Swann's idea has a pie-in-the-sky aspect to it, because it would require amending the state Constitution. To do that, the proposed amendment must pass two consecutive sessions of the legislature, then be approved by the voters in a referendum. In the words, the earliest it could go on the ballot is sometime in 2009.

The most radical part of the Swann plan would be to shift the way property taxes are levied: from one based on the market value of a home to one based on the purchase price of a home.

I can explain it thusly:

If you buy a home for $250,000 under the plan, you will pay one to two percent of the purchase price (to use the 2% rate, $5,000) in taxes each year, but the total won't change much at all.

In a sense, it caps property taxes for owners of existing homes, ala California's Proposition 13.

What stands in the way of Swann's proposal becoming law? The Constitution's uniformity clause, which forbids tax rates from varying among the same class of taxpayers. (It's why we have a flat income tax, instead of a graduated one.)

The uniformity clause will have to be amended because the Swann plan will result in wide variations in property taxes paid.

Example: Suppose you bought your house 20 years ago for $70,000. Your property tax -- under the Swann plan -- would be $1,400 a year (using the 2% rate as an example.)

Suppose you sell your house for $300,000. The new owners will pay 2% of his purchase price, in this case $6,000 a year in property taxes.

In other words, you'll have blocks of identical houses where one (longterm) owner will pay a fraction of what other (newer) owners pay.

Depending upon your point of view, the tax is either a great deal (for long-time homeowners) or inequitable and unfair (for recent buyers).

Swann's plan also would cap local spending on schools to an annual increase of 3%, thus reducing the pressure to increase taxes.

Will it ever fly? Probably not. But, it does give Swann the right to say: "I have a plan that will reduce property taxes" and that serves his needs for now.

Stevens Lane, Cont'd

New and recommended:

A column in today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by Brian O'Neill, where he reminds us how Santorum used the residency issue against U.S. Rep. Doug Walgren in 1990.

An excerpt, where O'Neill quotes an article from the time:

Mr. Santorum said Mr. Walgren did not live in his district, and pledged "my primary residence will be in suburban Pittsburgh -- unlike the incumbent, who lives full-time in Virginia and maintains no residence in Allegheny County.''

And a telling and prophetic quote from Walgren, also from 1990:

"I can guarantee you that if Mr. Santorum is elected to the House of Representatives, and if he has children, he will bring those children to Washington and he will stay with those children in Washington during the week. Because if he doesn't, he will never see them.''

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

He's Up, He's Down! He's Up Again!

Tony Payton, the young Democrat who ran unopposed for the seat held by state Rep. Bill Rieger in Philadelphia, looked like he was aced out of the party's nomination by a write-in -- make that a stamp-in -- campaign run by several ward leaders for Emilio Vazquez.
On Election Night it appeared Vazquez had won by getting close to 1,000 write-in votes.
But that was then, (see Write-In Wonder), this is now.
As of yesterday, Payton was up by 29 votes -- and holding.
See my original post for background on the Payton candidacy.

Stevens Lane Postscript

When I started writing about this incident, I didn't know it would inflate into something akin to the Seven-Year's War.

But, here is a excerpt of an interview Rick Santorum did today on KDKA-AM radio about the "stalking" of his house.

It's kind of confusing, unless you have followed the story in detail.

It basically involves the KDKA host Marty Griffin badgering Santorum about his radio ad, where he accused the Casey campaign of spying on his Penn Hills house. Griffin keeps saying that the ad is wrong because it quotes KDKA as saying there was trespassing.

Santorum concedes a few points, then announces at the end that his is pulling the ad.

By the way, judging from this tape only, you'd think Santorum was running against Ed Vecchio, not Bob Casey.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The House on Stevens Lane

I've said time and again that if U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum loses re-election in November, a major cause will be the controversy surrounding his residency.

It is an issue where Santorum is the most vulnerable. It an issue that resonates with voters, especially in his base in western Pennsylvania. It is an issue that keeps returning to haunt the Republican incumbent.

It turns out that someone else shares my view - the Santorum campaign.

It's up with a radio ad in the Pittsburgh market attacking Casey for stalking the Santorum family and using campaign operatives to spy on his home on Stevens Lane in the Pittsburgh suburb of Penn Hills. The house is pictured above, in a shot from the Post-Gazette.

The allegation the ad makes is nonsense, but -- as I said in my original post on this -- it is useful nonsense.

It is an axiom in politics that if you can't change the facts, you must change the topic.

This ad is Santorum's attempt -- probably the first of several -- to neutralize this issue by turning it around so it becomes a discussion not about his residency, but about his opponent.

To begin with, here are the facts as I understand them:

Rick Santorum, his wife and his six children do not live in Penn Hills, Pa. They live 217 miles away in Leesburg, Va. It's a common arrangement among elected officials who serve in Washington, D.C.

I see nothing wrong with this. Santorum spends most of his time in D.C. He wants to be close to his family. His family lives there with him. End of story.

But, these kind of arrangements can cause political difficulties. It opens a pol to charges that he has gone native and forgotten the little folks back home.

In fact, Santorum used that very issue -- a home in Washington -- in his campaign for Congress, when he defeated incumbent U.S. Rep. Doug Walgren.

So, for voting purposes (and for political purposes), the Santorums do maintain a residence in Pennsylvania -- on Stevens Lane. They own the house and have a mortgage on it. For a while, Santorum relatives were reported to have lived there. More recently, it appears the house is vacant.

The issue arose most recently during May 16th primary. When Santorum showed up to vote in Penn Hills and two of his long-time Democratic opponents, Ed and Erin Vecchio, took exception. They said his house was vacant, ergo, he did not live in Penn Hills, ergo, he could not vote there. They threatened to file a suit over it.

Shortly after, KDKA-TV did a report about Santorum complaining that someone was "stalking" his house.

Later, the Santorum camp used that KDKA report as the basis of its radio ad (From the text of the ad: "According to a KDKA investigative report, a Casey operative admitted to trespassing on Rick Santorum's home in Penn Hills, peering into the windows looking for campaign dirt.")

For the record, the so-called operative was Santorum's old nemesis on the residency issue: Ed Vecchio, whose wife is a member of the local school board and the Penn Hills Democratic party chair. Vecchio denied to KDKA he had been spying on anyone -- and offered to take a lie detector test to prove his veracity.

But, wait there's more.

On reason this issue is so vexing for Santorum is that he keeps sticking his foot into it.

For starters, he failed to pay taxes on the house and was called on it by Vera Miller, a reporter for the local Penn Hills Progress in a 2004 story. He promptly paid.

But, it seems obvious that he didn't pay them because he didn't know about them. The bills were sent to the house on Stevens Lane.

Next, Miller got a tip that Santorum had five of his six children enrolled in a cyber-charter school, which they attended via computer in Leesburg, but that the Penn Hills School District was picking up most of the tab. Her original story ran in October, 2004.

It took a while for the story to gain traction beyond Penn Hills. Erin Vecchio helped. As a member of the local school board, she kept pressing the issue -- and demanding Santorum repay the district the $100,000 or so it paid the cyber-school.

Eventually, the Pittsburgh papers picked up on it and Santorum quickly withdrew his children from the school. The Pittsburgh Tribune ran this story on the dispute in November, 2004. Santorum withdrew his children from the school a week later.

The Penn Hills district later sought reimbursement of the monies paid for the Santorum schooling, but lost its case before the state Education Department.

But, the whole cyber-school thing doesn't resonate well. It smelled like someone who is big and powerful taking advantage of a small district.

But, wait there's more.

Also, in 2004, Santorum and his wife were involved in another flap, this time over jury duty. Several notices were mailed to the Stevens Lane house, but they were ignored. When Santorum did find out about it, he and his wife asked for a delay.

(Note to the Santorum campaign: Have someone check on the mail sent to the Penn Hills home on a daily basis and start forwarding it to Leesburg, Va.)

Santorum and his wife, Karen, finally did show up for jury duty when the Senate was in recess in November, 2004 and neither was picked for a jury.

It was an opportunity for Santorum to do the humble routine and say how important it is for every citizens duty to serve on jury and how glad he to finally do his part.

Instead, he had a Rick Santorum moment.

From the Post-Gazette story on their appearance:

"After local media reported his failure to appear in August, he and his wife made arrangements with the court to serve during the Senate's Thanksgiving recess.

"If this is what people think is a good use of their United States senator's time ..." Santorum said.

This didn't sit well either, being seen -- rightly -- as an example of senatorial arrogance.

Such a little house, so many problems.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Questions & Answers

Another current events quiz.
See how many you can get right.

Question: Guess who is climbing on the anti-pay grab train? (Better late than never). Answer

Question: Who just decided that home is where the heart is? Answer

Question: Who may have to worry about some softening of his base? Answer

Question: Why does the defeat of so many Republicans in the primary hurt Ed Rendell? Answer

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Chico's In The Middle

What are you, some sort of liberal?

I am always surprised when people call me that, though I guess I shouldn't be.

To a lot of folks (at least a lot of folks who communicate with me) a liberal is anyone who disagrees with their hard-right view of the world.

I consider myself a relentless centrist, and now I have proof of it.

I am a certified centrist, according to the World's Smallest Political Quiz, a Q&A sponsored by a libertarian group called Advocates For Self-Government. Answer the five questions and it generates a chart that tells you where you sit or lie or stand...or whatever... on the political spectrum.

If you have more time to kill, you can take the multi-page Political Compass, which purports to measure your political affinities and also generates a chart.

I fall darn close to the center on that one, though on the left side (I think it's because I disagreed with the statement that it's good for kids to be beaten.) The questions on this test change regularly.

One of the problems with being a centrist is that it is soooooo dull.

We need a snappier name for ourselves.

My first idea was the Maybes. but that's even duller than centrist.

How about we call ourselves the Chicos?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Post-Campaign Weirdness Syndrome

Okay, okay, I know it's a tense time for Pennsylvania's political leaders apres le deluge of Tuesday.

But, things are getting a little weird.

First, we have House Speaker John Perzel ringing up conservative blogger-activist Lowman S. Henry of Lincolnblog. com to tell him he is dead in this town (Harrisburg) and that he can hurt his career in the future.

The blogger's sin: calling for the Republican caucus to oust Perzel as speaker.

Read Henry's post here.

Next, we have Sen. Rick Santorum's wife calling the cops, saying some Democrats have been peeking into the windows of the Santorum home in Penn Hills and have discovered -- not to anyone's surprise -- that it is empty.

The Santorums live in Leesburg, Va. They maintain the Penn Hills house for residency purposes. They used to rent it out, but there is evidence the tenants have left.

Read what KDKA had to say here.

A Santorum spokesman accused Democrats of "stalking the house," which is weirder still.

Stalking an empty house?

Who knows, it may soon be a federal crime.

My colleague, Carrie Budoff, has a story on it in today's paper.

This is clearly an attempt by the Santorum campaign to immunize their candidate from what they know is a damaging message they expect to be exploited by the Casey camp -- that Santorum is an out-of-touch absentee, who has abandoned his roots to live in a mansion in Leesburg, Va.

How do they know it is effective? Because Santorum used the same message against Democratic Congressman Doug Walgren in his maiden run for public office and it worked.

Now, everytime the Casey camp raises the issues of residency, Santorum will counter that it is just a cheap attack on his wife and kids. And they even used thugs to stalk them!

It's nonsense, but it may be useful nonsense.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Metaphorical Journey

It's the day after the day after the election. Time to take a metaphorical journey across the political landscape.

We begin with a stop in Limbo, where we find six incumbents, miserably awaiting their fate. (It doesn't look good for them.)

Meanwhile, an earthquake swallows up more than a dozen lawmakers. Or was it a tidal wave? It depends on whom you ask.

Even the survivors are boding poorly, though I myself have never boded. (In this piece, Pat Toomey vies for the title of the Yoda of Spin.)

The legislature is on the table, getting a new blood infusion -- and, boy, does it hurt. The question remains: when it rises from said table, will it toddle towards reform or make a giant leap? My money is on toddle.

In the Senate, they are heading into uncharted territory -- and beginning a fight over leadership, even though the bodies of the earthquake victims are not cold. (P.S. The late Al Benedict often referred to it as "unchartered territory.")

Meanwhile, storm clouds gather over Rick Santorum, while Ed Rendell gets on a bus, smiling as usual.

What does it all mean?

Here I quote the immortal state Rep. Joe Zeller, who once warned his fellow members:

"If we dig deeply enough into this can of worms, we're going to find a real hornets nest!"

The journey is just beginning.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Amazing Tales

Gleaned from the day after election returns, three amazing things that happened in Tuesday's primary.

Jericho, Meet Joshua
A Democrat wins a state Senate seat in Chester County.
It's like the Pope being elected head rabbi of Jerusalem.
Yet, Andy Dinniman defeated Republican Carol Aichele in the special election held to fill the seat of the late Robert J. Thompson. As of last night, Aichele had not conceded, saying she wanted to await the final returns.
The final returns show Dinniman winning by a margin of 5,000 votes.
Dinniman, though a Dem, is a longtime county commissioner, so he is well known about the Chester County folks.
But, it is further evidence -- as if any were needed -- of the Philly suburbs drifting to the Democrats -- or at least away from being predictably Republican.
It has immediate implications, especially for Republican incumbents (see Curt Weldon, Mike Fitzpatrick) facing serious Dem. Opponents in the fall.
Swept Away
The defeat of Bob Jubelirer and Chip Brightbill led the papers, but there's even more to the voter rebellion staged Tuesday. In the state House, 13 Republican incumbents and at least 3 Democrats lost their primaries.
But wait, there's more.
Another 12 incumbents won with less than 50% of the vote. In other words, they were spared defeat because there were multi-candidate fields. Included in this number is House Majority Leader Sam Smith, who polled 48% in his race.
Look for more incumbents to be swept away in the fall.
Write-in Wonder
You have to hand it to Carlos Matos, leader of Philadelphia's 19th Ward.
He had his own candidate to replace retiring state Rep. William Rieger in the 179th House District. It was Emilio Vazquez.
But Vazquez was knocked off the ballot by the courts for failing to fill out his ethics disclosure form correctly.
Another candidate was knocked off for failing to have enough signatures on his petition.
That left Tony Payton, a young progressive Democrat as the last-man standing.
Matos vowed to run a write-in campaign for Vazquez.
And darned if he didn't get enough write ins to defeat Payton on Tuesday.
This is one of those "We'll see you in court" cases, so it is hard to predict if the Vazquez win will stick.
But, Matos and his crew did get 976 write-ins for their man. And that is quite a feat.

Pundit Contest Winner

Actually, we have two winners to my

First Annual Regional Pundits Contest

The challenge was to come closest to the final returns in predicting the winners of the Democratic U.S. Senate primary, in order of finish and their share of the vote. The tiebreaker was predicting the total number of votes cast statewide in this election.

From the thousands...well, hundreds...well, dozens....of entries I am pleased to announce we have two winners.

First, the official results, as posted by the AP at 1 p.m. today. It was

Bob Casey Jr. - 85%
Chuck Pennacchio - 9%
Alan Sandals - 7%
Total votes: 736,700

Most folks were way off. Of course, they all predicted a Casey victory, but vastly overstated either (a) the share of vote Pennacchio and Sandals would get or (b) turnout.

The person who came closest is Terry Gillen of Philadelphia, who (in her spare time) is a Democratic ward leader.

Gillen predicted:

Casey - 78%
Pennacchio - 13%
Sandals - 9%
Total vote: 745,002

Terry, send me your address and I will send you an official Pundits Certificate, plus a $25 gift card to Borders.

I also am awarding a second certificate and gift card to Adam Bonin. He predicted:

Casey - 82%
Pennacchio - 7%
Sandals - 11%
Total vote: 759,000

He gets his awards for guessing a Casey total closer to the actual results, though he gets demerits for picking Sandals to come in second. He also was 2nd closest (behind Gillen)
in predicting the total vote.

Congratulations to the winners.
As to the rest of you, try again next time.
And remember: It's lonely being a pundit.

I Can See Clearly Now

All right, who's the wise guy who rubbed Vaseline all over my crystal ball?

If I find out who did it, I am going to report to the American Pundits Guild.

You could be subject to fine and imprisonment.

Hmmm. Let's see how I did on my pre-election predictions:
Here's my original post, with actual outcome in bold face.

Q: What will be the fate of the 65 legislative incumbents facing primary challenges, due mostly to voter anger over last year's pay grab?
CW: Most will survive, but if the number dumped exceeds 15, we will call it a big victory for the anti-pay grab movement.
Reality: Some races are undecided, but it looks like the number will exceed 15.
Especially with the demise of Jubelirer and Brightbill, this is a big victory for the anti-pay grab movement. Of course, there is always the question: Now what?

Q: What about the legislative leaders? Are they in trouble because of their roles in the pay grab? CW: House Democratic leader Bill DeWeese will win easily, Senate Republican leader Chip Brightbill will survive, Senate GOP leader Bob Jubelier is treading water, House Democratic leader Mike Veon is sinking.
Reality: Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Well, Deweese did survive, but Brightbill went down decisively, as did Jubelirer. Veon, who looked like a dead man walking over the weekend, had no trouble dispensing with Jay Paisley.

Q: How well will Bob Casey's two liberal opponents -- Alan Sandals & Chuck Pennacchio -- fare at the polls?
CW: The two will just break 10% points combined.
Reality: The two broke 16% combined. A tribute to the fire of their supporters. On the other hand, Casey did get 84 percent of the vote.

Q: Who will win the contested Democratic primary for lieutenant governor?
CW: Who cares?
Reality: ABout 500,000 Democrats care for Catherina Baker Knoll, who once again proved her statewide popularity.

Q: Will the large number of contested races juice turnout?
CW: No. Statewide, it will be less than 20%, with higher localized turnout due to hot races, mostly for the legislature.
Reality: Statewide, it was about 19% in the premier race, the U.S. Senate primary. There were spikes in turnout in hard-fought local races.

Q: Who is the biggest potential loser tomorrow?
CW: House Speaker John Perzel, the master of pragmatic realpolitik. If many of his members fall to the anti-pay grab candidates, the Philadelphia Republican will face a leadership challenge next session from the populist zanies who will inhabit his caucus.
Reality: Remains to be seen. But Perzel did get the largest share of populist zanies, with a number of his more conventional conservatives from Central Pa. going down in the primary.

That's the thing about conventional wisdom. It is conventional.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Greetings and Salutations

It's graduation time, which means it is time for a commencement address.

I've never been invited to give one, but that hasn't stopped me from writing one.

These are three of my "Greetings and Salutations" columns, pieces that follow the form and format of commencement addresses.

This year's piece is particularly dark. I don't know why. It may just reflect my mood at the moment.

I wrote another in 2005 and another in 2004.

For the record, I have never been invited to be a commencement speaker. After reading these pieces, I know why.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Quinnipiac Blues, Vol. 2

Yesterday, it was Rick Santorum's turn in the barrel.

Today, it is Lynn Swann's.

A Quinnipiac University poll released today shows that Gov. Edn Rendell currently holds a 22-point lead over his Republican rival. That's up from a 10-point lead in the last Quinnipiac taken in early April.

More significantly, Rendell's approval numbers have consistently stayed above 50%, even though his head-to-head numbers vs. Swann have fluctuated.

Asked whether they approved or disapproved of Rendell:
It was 51% approve vs. 35% disapprove in a December poll.
It was 55% approve vs. 31% disapprove in the May poll.

Head-to-head it was:
Rendell 48% vs. Swann 35% in December.
Rendell 47% vs. Swann 37% in April.
Rendell 55% vs. Swann 33% in the latest poll, taken in the first week of May.

What does it mean? Very bad news for Swann.

People need a compelling reason to oust an incumbent. The Republican challenger, with his sputtering campaign, hasn't given them one. It looks like his chance to do so may be slipping away.

The Ferrick Commission has pondered this race and has some advice for Swann.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Quinnipiac Blues

A downer day for U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum.

A new poll from the Connecticut university with the unpronouncable name puts him 13 points behind Bob Casey. In April, the same poll had him 11 points behind.

The Quinnipiac (pro: KWIN uh-pee-ack) University survey of 1,487 Pennsylvania voters was in the field from May 2-8. It has a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points. You can see the complete poll here.

The Quinnipiac pollsters say that Santorum is "struggling in the doldrums."

It think it is worse than that. He actually is sinking.

Let's ignore the horserace and look at some of the underlying numbers:

Santorum's job approval rating has ticked down seven points since December.
It was 48% approve vs. 38% disapprove last winter.
It was 41% approve vs. 44% disapprove in the latest poll.

President Bush's numbers in the state are worse.
It was 38% approve vs. 59% disapprove in December.
It was 30% approve vs. 66% disapprove in the latest poll.

Bush's and Santorum's numbers obviously are linked, and both are being tugged down by growing unhappiness among voters over the Iraq war.
Asked if they approved or disapproved of the way the President was handling Iraq:
It was 37% approve vs. 60% disapprove in mid-February.
It was 27% approve vs. 67% disapprove in the latest poll.

The one thing that surprises me about Santorum's numbers, in this and other polls, is how poorly he does in his home area in a head-to-head with Casey. (A caution: the plus and minus on these regional breakdowns is much larger because the sample size is smaller.)
But, in the latest Quinnipiac, it is:
Casey 56% vs. Santorum 34% in Allegheny.
Casey 49% vs. Santorum 39% in the Southwest.

My personal theory is the brouhaha over Santorum having his Penn Hills, Pa. school district pay close to $100,000 for his children's cyber-homeschooling in Leesburg, Va. has cost him heavily out west.

Spin City

Here are the first entries in my Lexicon of Spin.

These are quotes you are likely to hear this time of year, from campaign managers, candidates, media consultants, etc.

I offer the question, the quote and (in italics) the translation.

When asked about the latest poll results:
Quote: "We're right where we want to be at this point in the polls."
Translation: We're 15 points down and sinking fast!

When asked about the latest poll results II:
Quote: "The only poll that counts is the one on Election Day"
Translation: We're 20 points down and we don't have a prayer.

When asked why their opponent is up on TV and they are not:
Quote: "We are marshalling our resources for a final push on TV."
Translation: The stations demand cash up front and we haven't got any money.

When asked about the latest charge by an opponent:
Quote: "This is another desperate attempt by my opponent to shift attention away from his failed campaign."
Translation: The charges are true.

When asked about another charge by an opponent:
Quote: "I won't dignify that with a response."
Translation: The charges are true and they have documentation.

When asked why you haven't agreed to debate your opponent:
Quote: "We are anxious to debate and are negotiating the final details..."
Translation: ...which we intend to complete the day after the election.

When asked about your inability to raise money:
Quote: "I am the people' candidate..."
Translation: I am the candidate of people without money.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Benjamin Factor

It's in all the papers.

The three state legislative incumbents in the most trouble because of their handling of the pay grab debacle are: Senate Pro Tem Bob Jubelier of Blair County, Senate Majority Leader Chip Brightbill of Lebanon County and House Minority Whip Mike Veon of Beaver County.

Jubelier and Brightbill, both Republicans, are seen as architects of the pay increase. Veon was one of only two legislators to vote against its repeal.

All have drawn populist, anti-pay grab opponents in the primary and the early public opinion polls showed them in deep doo-doo with their voters.

How have the three responded? By raising and spending an astonishing amount of money.

As of May 1, according to the Harrisburg Patriot News, the three had raised nearly $2,900,000 -- compared to $292,000 raised by their opponents.

That's $10 raised by the incumbents for every $1 raised by the guys trying to knock them off in the May 16th primary.

In a way, their success at raking in contributions validates the criticism by their opponents: They are Harrisburg insiders who have lost touch with their districts and are pawns of the special interests.

But, who is going to hear that message when it is drowned out by the truckloads of targeted mailings, robocalls and radio and TV commercials by the incumbents?

I call it the Benjamin Factor, and it is likely to determine the outcome of these races.

P.S. For the record, in the May 1 report, Jubelier reported raised $1.3 million, Brightbill $833,000 and Veon $719,000.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

I Am The Decider

From composer Paul Hipp, via the Beatles "I Am The Walrus," a wickedly hilarious song about President Bush.

Go here and click on "I'm the Decider" to hear it.

To give equal time, here is an equally funny and wicked Santorum web ad on Bob Casey.

The House of Meehan

I did a column the other week about how the city of Philadelphia is more dynastic than it is Democratic.

We don't have a Democratic party in the modern sense of that word, but really just a collection of tribes or clans or families, who tend to dominate their areas of the city.

Call them the Ward Lords.

But, I plain forgot (until reader Paul Tioxin reminded me) that the most dynastic of our dynasties isn't Democratic at all. It is Republican.

It is the House of Meehan.

For three generations, a Meehan has served as leader (read: boss) of the local Republican party.
Their reign began with Sheriff Austin Meehan, who was boss for 25 years until his death in 1961.
The elder Meehan, who was 64 at the time, died in an unusual setting: at a dinner being held in his honor.

Here is a description, from an old story I wrote, about what happened next:

They laid the sheriff out at his big Victorian home on Rising Sun Avenue in Lawndale. The papers said that more than 50,000 people turned out for the viewing. His son was 36 at the time.
"A few of us got together. We talked to Billy," recalled ward leader John Patrick Walsh in 1987. "He was kind of lost. And we were lost. We encouraged him to take over where his father left off. "

Aus Meehan was succeeded by William Austin Meehan (known universally as Billy Meehan)

Billy died in 1994, at age 69, in another unusual setting. He was playing the 10th hole at the
Spring Ford Country Club in Royersford, Montgomery County.

His son, Michael, took over the role of party leader upon his father's death, and reigns today.

That's 70 years of unbroken Meehan rule.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Sodom & Gomorrah Solution?

New and recommended:

Steve Goldstein's interview with former U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey, who says there is a "distinct possibility" that Republicans could lose control of one or both houses in the fall election.

Reading between the lines, I hear the conservative Toomey almost wishing for a Republican defeat to purge the party of its evil ways of profligate spending and abuse of power it has picked up in its years of control of Congress.

Is he wishing for an Old Testament moment?

As Twoomey told Goldstein:

"There's a lack of partisan intensity on the part of Republicans compared with Democrats. And I believe it's because Republicans have abandoned the principles of limited government and fiscal discipline that historically have united Republicans and energized the Republican base."

Toomey's message surely will resonate with fiscally conservative Republicans. And he should know something about revving up that base.

In 2004, the former Lehigh Valley congressman came within 2 points of knocking off Arlen Specter in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate.

Calling All Pundits

There are only 7 days left to submit your entry for the...

First Annual Regional Pundits Contest

The winner will get an official certificate, suitable for framing, declaring him or her a Political Pundit, First Class.

You will also win a $25 gift card to Borders.

To win, you must:

Correctly predict the winner of Pennsylvania's May 16th Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate by his percentage of votes, plus the percentage of votes tallied by his two rivals.

As a tiebreaker, you must predict the exact number of votes, rounded to the nearest hundred, that will be cast statewide in the race for U.S. Senate in the Democratic primary. (For the record, there are 3.8 million registered Democrats in Pennsylvania.)

Sample Entry:

Tom: I want to be a pundit!
Here is my prediction for the Democratic primary results:
Bob Casey Jr. – winner – 74% of the vote
Alan Sandals – 15%
Chuck Pennacchio – 11%
Total votes cast: 768,300

The deadline is 11:59 p.m., Monday, May 15th.

Do not submit your entry via a posting.

Send it to my email address:

The winner will be announced on this blog at noon, Wednesday, May 17th. The vote total will be based upon the latest Associated Press count as of 11 a.m. that day.

Don't miss this opportunity to become a pundit.

Email your entry today!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

What's It All About, Raj?

Raj Bhakta comes close to fitting the definition of a celebrity – someone who is famous for being famous.

Only Raj didn’t quite make it in his first run. In 2004, he was one of the contestants on the show "The Apprentice," but got bumped off by The Donald in week nine.

I guess that would make him someone famous for wanting to be famous. A celebrity zygote. In short, a wannabe.

Now comes Chapter Two of the Raj Bhakta story.

The 30-year-old is running as a Republican for Congress this year in Pennsylvania's 13th District, which straddles Democratic Northeast Philly and the Republican suburbs.

It is a thoroughly post-modern effort.

Raj – the product of an Indian father and Irish mother – is a rakish guy, with a sultry stare and Bollywood good looks. He favors bow ties and Winston Churchill quotes.

His opponent is U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, a liberal Democratic ending her first term.

From Reality TV to Washington, D.C. What a great storyline.

It turns out, Raj's campaign could be on TV.

As The Hill reported last week, Raj is in negotiations with a New York film company to create a documentary of his campaign. The hook is this: Raj seeks campaign workers. Thousands apply. He winnows them down to 15. Their life is filmed (24/7) to produce a documentary (or maybe a series?)

As The Hill reported:

Bhakta says the documentary will not be an egocentric affair, insisting that the focus will be on workers who typically “toil away in anonymity,” ignored for their tireless work. “Usually the candidate is the center of the documentary,” he says. “In this case, it’s going to be the staff.”

There is Reality TV and then there is reality.

Schwartz is the near-prohibitive favorite in this race. She has close to $2 million on hand. Raj has raised $225,000. (As The Donald will tell you: money talks.)

After he announced, The Smoking Gun reported that Raj had a DUI in 1997. There was another in 2004.

There's a school of thought that Raj's true talent lies not in politics but in self-promotion.

So, if he ended up in Congress, he'd fit right in.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Questions & Answers

Another current events quiz.
See how many you can get right.

Question: Guess who is trying to eat his way to victory? Answer

Question: Where is he when you need him? Answer

Question: What are the oil companies doing with some of their record profits? Answer

Question: Guess who Gov. Rendell blames for the flame out on property-tax reform? Go ahead, guess. Answer

Question: Is standing out there on the sidelines in the bitter cold really worth it? Answer

Newton Was Right

For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction.

In an April 21 post, I posited that the Rendell campaign was trying to create a Newtonian moment by going up early with a flight of major commercials in the state's major media markets.

The idea was to improve his numbers vis a vis Republican Lynn Swann, thereby making it more difficult for Swann to raise the money he needs to run a credible campaign against the Democratic incumbent.

The ads had the desired effect. The latest Keystone Poll (done by the Terry Madonna shop at Franklin & Marshall) shows that Rendell's lead has jumped to 14 ponts.

In February, in the same poll, Rendell had only a 3-point lead.

In May, the Keystone poll said, it was Rendell 49% Swann 35%, with 13% undecided and 3% saying they like independent Russ Diamond.

The February Keystone was taken right after Swann got the endorsement of Republican State Committee, and he probably got a pop from the publicity surrounding his candidacy.

The May Keystone was taken in the midst of the Rendell campaign ad blitz (said to cost more than $1 million).

The important thing here is not to concentrate too much on the numbers -- which will jump and weave and bob month to month, poll to poll -- but on the overall trends. Is the race narrowing or widening? Which candidate has remained in the lead? Is his favorable rating rising or falling?

By the way, in my April posting, I featured Isaac Newton.

In the interests of equal time, this posting features the most famous Newton -- Wayne.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Just Expense It

I wish I could take credit for this idea, but I cannot. It came over the email transom from Jim O'Brien of West Chester. And I quote:

The politicians in Harrisburg are trying to hammer out a last-minute deal to reduce property taxes. The bad news is that it will be years (if ever) before homeowners see a change.

My suggestion: Why don't we (as taxpayers) just deduct the anticipated reduction from our state income taxes next year in the form of unvouchered expenses. That way we won't have to wait !!! Brilliant, huh?

Brilliant, Jim, simply brilliant.

The Blame Game

The property-tax reform bill announced just 48 hours ago arrived DOA in the Pennsylvania House.

The Republican majority in the chamber killed the sucker, saying it didn't do enough for enough Pennsylvanians. (read: our constituents at home.)

I think the plan collapsed under the weight of two conflicting needs: the desire to give immediate (as in, before the May 16th primary) relief to senior citizens and the desire to give long-term relief from property taxes to the rest of us.

Using a chunk of estimated $1 billion in slots revenue for seniors left less money for the rest of us. Once legislators focused on that "the rest of us" part of the equation, the bill looked less appealing. See the post below.

Did the House Republicans also have political motives -- i.e. not wanting to give Gov. Rendell bragging points for delivering on his promise of tax reform?

Of course, they did.

As Republican Rep. Gibson Armstrong of Lancaster County told Tom Barnes of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "Why should we give Rendell an issue to use against Lynn Swann?"

Now begins the finger-pointing part of the proceedings, with each party trying to pin the blame on the other.

Who wins?

I think Rendell does. He gets to paint the House Republicans as obstructionists unwilling to embrace reform for petty political reasons. He can point to the $1 billion figure and say: that's not tax relief?

He can next point to Swann, saying that he is part of the problem and (have some surrogate) hint that Swann helped torpedo the tax-relief plan in order to help his own (dare we call it foundering?) campaign for governor.

In other words, the Republicans just gave Rendell an issue to use against Lynn Swann.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Santorum v. Santorum

On one hand, we have Rick Santorum, the Reformer.

Speaking from the Senate floor, U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R., Pa.) urged his colleagues to curtail a popular perk: private corporate-sponsored flights at bargain rates for members of Congress.
"This is clearly a subsidy," he said March 8.

On the other hand, we have Rick Santorum, the Not Reformer.

Two days earlier, he had taken a BellSouth plane from a runway near his home in Leesburg, Va., to fund-raising events in North Carolina and South Carolina. The jet ferried Santorum, two aides and Ward White, BellSouth's top Washington lobbyist.
Santorum paid $6,955 - first-class rates, as Senate rules require, but a fraction of what it costs to operate the plane.

Which one is running for re-election? You be the judge.

For complete details, see Carrie Budoff's piece in the Inquirer, from which these excerpts were extracted.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Rich in Detail...

...but short on plot.

Each election season, the Inquirer Editorial Board sends out a questionnaire to candidates for public office asking them for their positions on various and sundry issues.

This years is no exception. Russell Cooke, who is one of our editorial writers, has compiled the responses the board has gotten so far and posted them on a mini-blog.

Russ tells me it will be updated as more responses come in.

Become A Pundit, Win A Prize

People always ask me: How can I become a political pundit?

The short answer is, you must be accepted into membership in the American Pundits Guild.

This is a select group, created by the National Newspaper Columnists Act of 1934, that dispenses about 90 percent of this nation's punditry. It used to be 100%, but some of it has been off-shored to India in recent years.

The APG is headquartered – where else? -- in Washington, D.C. The current head is E. J. Dionne. His official title is Most High Priest, but we won't get into that now.

Because this is the Blog That Cares ©, I am going to offer you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become a certified political pundit -- and win a wonderful prize!

I hereby declare the First Annual Regional Pundits Contest.

The winner will get an official APG certificate, suitable for framing, declaring him or her a Political Pundit, First Class.

You will also win a $25 gift card to Borders, which will come from my very own Pundit's Expense Account (which I will list as "Lunch with Source.")

In order to win, here is what you must do:

1. Correctly predict the winner of Pennsylvania's May 16th Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate by his percentage of votes, plus the percentage of votes tallied by his two rivals. (For the record, the candidates are Bob Casey Jr., Alan Sandals and Chuck Pennacchio.)

2. As a tiebreaker, you must also predict the exact number of votes, rounded to the nearest hundred, that will be cast statewide in the race for U.S. Senate in the Democratic primary. (For the record, there are 3.8 million registered Democrats in Pennsylvania.)

Sample Entry:

Tom: I want to be a pundit! Here is my prediction for the Democratic primary results:

Bob Casey Jr. – winner – 74% of the vote
Alan Sandals – 15%
Chuck Pennacchio – 11%
Total votes cast: 768,300

The deadline is 11:59 p.m., Monday, May 15th. Include your name and address.
Do not submit your entry via a posting.

Send it to my email address:

The winner will be announced in this space at noon, Wednesday, May 17th. The vote total will be based upon the latest Associated Press count as of 11 a.m. that day.

Don't miss this opportunity to become a pundit. Email your entry today!

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Millionaires Club?

Turns out that Rick Santorum and Bob Casey Jr. have something in common.

Both are poor.

Poor, that is, compared to most in the U.S. Senate.

Borys Krawczeniuk of the Scranton Times took a look at the personal finances of the two candidates and came up with a portrait of (a) two guys who get most of their money from their salaries (b) have precious few holdings or other investments (c) look upper middle class on paper, but are probably poorer than most in that category because they have so many kids.

Santorum is the wealthier of the two because of his higher salary as a U.S. Senator ($165,000 a year), income from some three properties he owns in State College, Pa., and the fact that his house in Leesburg, Va. is valued at nearly $1 million. His latest financial disclosure is from 2004. He is due to file an update later this month.

Casey earns $134,140 as State Treasurer, owns a home in Scranton valued at $107,500, and has a portfolio of mutual funds that appear to be college-savings funds for his four daughters. His latest state financial disclosure form is from 2005.

I was going to mention that Casey's form could be found on the State Ethics Commission web site, but that would be wrong because I doubt anyone could actually find it.

It is one of the worst designed sites in the English-speaking world.

Kiss, Kiss

I did a piece for the paper that ran Sunday about how closely politics is intertwined with the casino selection process in Pennsylvania.

The guy I focused on is Louis DeNaples, a Scranton-area businessman-mogul, who has bought the old Mt. Airy Lodge near Mt. Pocono and wants to turn it into a slots parlor.

Using the state's contribution database, I found that Louis has been a generous giver to political campaigns, spreading the money fairly evenly between D's and R's.

I put the figure at $270,000 since 2000.

Turns out I vastly understated the DeNaples giving. Through two of his companies, D&L Realty and RAM Consultants, DeNaples has contributed abother $400,000-plus to state pols in recent years.

Thanks to Dave Ralis of The Daily Rant for pointing this out to me. Ralis also listed the particulars of the donations on his site.

This underlines -- in thick, black ink -- my point in the column about politics and gambling being intertwined closer than a pair of 16 year olds necking in the back of a car.