Tuesday, March 31, 2015

In Which My Procrastination Meets Women's History Month

(So the other day I got to thinking about how snakebit some of my state's female politicians have been, and it occurred to me that might be a good idea for a blog post.  I waited until the last day of the month because I'm a hopeless procrastinator and because I don't really pay much attention to [insert group here] History Months, but mostly because I'm a hopeless procrastinator.) 

After the elections last November of U.S. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Gov. Gina Raimondo (D-R. I.), Pennsylvania is one of only eight states that has never had a female governor or U.S. senator (the others are Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, and Virginia*) .

Before accusing Pennsylvania’s voters of sexism, we should look at the careers of some of the women who seemed poised to break the state’s electoral glass ceiling.  In particular, five women were elected to Congress or statewide row office in the past twenty years and frequently mentioned as potentially Pennsylvania’s first female senator or governor, but came up short.  Two got caught up in abortion politics, two were caught by male opponents with better organization and preparation, and one is currently embroiled in scandal.  

Barbara Hafer was elected Allegheny County Commissioner in the 1980s, then Auditor General in 1988, the only Republican since 1960 to hold that position.  In 1990, when Gov. Bob Casey Sr. was up for re-election, she became Republican party leaders’ choice to oppose him.  However, Hafer is pro-choice on abortion, which led Peg Luksik, a pro-life activist from Johnstown, to enter race six weeks before the primary; Luksik received 46% of the vote.  In the general election, Gov. Casey assembled a coalition of usually Democratic voters and staunch abortion opponents to win by a 2-1 margin, including 73% of the vote in Lancaster County, usually a Republican stronghold.  

Hafer bounced back during the 1990s, winning another term as Auditor General in 1992 and two terms as state Treasurer in 1996 and 2000.  In 2002, when Gov. Mark Schweiker declined to seek a full term, she launched another campaign for governor.  This time the Republican establishment favored then-Attorney General Mike Fisher, leading Hafer to switch to the Democrats.  She didn’t have any more luck in her new party, being passed over for the Senate nomination in 2006 and the 12th Congressional district in 2010.  

Catherine Baker Knoll: Like Hafer, Knoll was a Pittsburgh-area politician elected to statewide row office (Treasurer, in her case) in 1988.  Unlike Hafer, Knoll was a pro-life Democrat in an increasingly pro-choice party.  The closest she got to being elected governor** was in 1994, when she contemplated running, initially deferred to then-Lt. Gov. Mark Singel, then got back in the race after the state committee declined to make an endorsement (there was some tension between Gov. Casey and Singel, who is pro-choice), ending up with a third-place finish in the primary.  Knoll’s feud with Barbara Hafer began in 1996, when her daughter, Mina Baker Knoll, ran against Hafer for Treasure, and culminated in 2000, when Hafer narrowly defeated Knoll for the job.  Knoll had a bit of comeback in 2002, when she emerged from a crowded field to win the Lieutenant Governor nomination.  While she balanced out her running mate, socially liberal former Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell, her frequent gaffes (such as referring to Rendell as “Edward G. Robinson” and handing out her business cards at a Marine’s funeral) prevented her from rising higher.  Sadly, she was unable to serve out her second term, dying of cancer in 2008.

Melissa Hart, a state senator from Allegheny County who was elected to Congress in 2000, replacing Democrat Ron Klink.  During her time in Congress, she was often mentioned as a future candidate for statewide office.  Alternatively, she might have risen into House leadership; she got picked for the Ways and Means committee and played a key role in the rise of John Boehner.  However, she was caught in the 2006 Democratic wave and lost her seat to Jason Altmire, a health care executive who was not polling close to Hart until the last month of the election.  She ran against Altmire in a rematch in 2008, but lost by an even larger margin despite Barack Obama’s unpopularity in western Pennsylvania, and was passed over for her old senate seat in 2012 when Jane Orie had to resign over a corruption scandal.

Fun fact: Hart's page at the Fount of All Knowledge contains the sentence: "She also claimed that she was the person behind renaming Pittsburgh's highway system of I-279S/US-22/30W/PA-60N into a new name of I-376W which cost Pennsylvania taxpayers 14.8 million in taxpayer dollars just to change the signs on that route."  Somebody wasn't happy about that bit of spending...

Allyson Schwartz was elected to the state senate in 1990, came in second in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary in 2000, and was elected in the 13th Congressional District just as it was completing its transition from a safe Republican district to a safe Democratic one.  As the 2014 election approached and then-Gov. Tom Corbett’s approval rating remained in the cellar, Schwartz announced her candidacy for governor and led in the early polls.  She was poised to become Pennsylvania’s first female governor until Tom Wolf’s bank account and ability to introduce himself to voters became decisive.  Wolf led in every poll beginning in February and won the primary in a rout, getting 57% of the vote in a four-candidate field and carrying every county in the state.  

Kathleen Kane burst onto the political scene when she won the 2012 election for Attorney General, her first attempt at running for office.  She outpolled President Obama, Senator Casey, and the rest of the Democratic ticket, and became the first woman and first Democrat in state history to be elected Attorney General (which has been an elected position since 1980).  She denied an interest in running against Gov. Tom Corbett in 2014, which only triggered speculation she would run against Sen. Pat Toomey in 2016.  

With the possible exception of Gov. Corbett, no Pennsylvania politician had a worse 2014 than Kane.  First, she angered much of Philadelphia’s legal community, including the Committee of Seventy and D.A. Seth Williams, by abruptly ending a corruption probe into several local politicians in the city.  Then, some leaks from her office triggered a grand jury investigation, which recommended perjury and obstruction of justice charges against her in January 2015.  On the personal side, she suffered a concussion in a car accident in October 2014 and filed for divorce in December.  Late in the year, she announced she was running for re-election as Attorney General, not for the Senate or any other office.  Of course, it’s possible that Kane could be exonerated and win a second term, but unless she wants to primary Gov. Wolf or Sen. Casey, she’ll likely have to wait until 2022 if she is still interested in higher office.

Pennsylvania has had several women rise high in politics, but so far none have reached the highest levels.  The careers of these five women show how fickle fate can be, and it’s not hard to imagine how some of Pennsylvania’s prominent male politicians might have ended up on a list like this (for example, if Allyson Schwartz or then-Treasurer Rob McCord had been better prepared for Tom Wolf’s advertising onslaught, or if Pat Toomey had run in a less Republican year than 2010).  Sooner or later, some woman will find the right circumstances and take office as Pennsylvania’s first female governor or senator.

*In Ohio, Utah, and Georgia, women succeeded to the governorship or were appointed to a vacant U.S. Senate seat, but did not win full terms on their own.

**The closest Catherine Baker Knoll got to actually being governor was when Ed Rendell would drive down the Turnpike at 100 miles per hour.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Where Wolf Won

In the 2014 election, Gov. Tom Wolf improved on 2010 Democratic candidate Dan Onorato's statewide vote total by 9.42 percentage points, from 45.07% in 2010 to 54.49% in 2014.  While Wolf improved on Onorato's percentage in every county in Pennsylvania, the increase was not evenly distributed across the state:

Increase in the Democratic Percentage of the Vote by County, 2010-14
The number on each county is the number of percentage points the Democratic vote increased by from 2010 from 2014.  For example, Dan Onorato got 28.9% of the vote in Lancaster County and Tom Wolf got 40.9%, so a 12.0 is displayed.  Red counties had a smaller-than-average swing toward Wolf; blue counties had a larger-than-average one.  All election data in this post comes from www.uselectionatlas.org.  Since I didn't have enough space to label the counties with their names, you can find that here.

Where Wolf increased less than average: The rural northeastern corner of the state (with the odd exception of Wayne County) and the outlying population centers of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Erie stand out as areas where Gov. Wolf didn't improve as much as he did statewide.  The far northeast is the epicenter of fracking in Pennsylvania, so it might be the one area where former Gov. Tom Corbett's association with the gas industry helped him.  Say what you want about fracking, but it doesn't seem to be terribly unpopular in the areas where it's actually taking place.

(Fun fact: Blogger still autocorrects "fracking" to "tracking".)

As for Philly and Pittsburgh, it's possible that Philadelphia (the second-lowest increase in the state for Wolf) was a "dead cat bounce" for Corbett, who didn't have that many voters in Philly to lose in the first place.  (He went from 17.1% there in 2010 to 12% in 2014.)  The fact that Wolf defeated three Philly-based candidates in the primary may have hurt him in the Southeast, and the fact that 2010 was between two Allegheny County candidates, while Tom Corbett was the only candidate from the area in 2014, may have stemmed Corbett's losses in Pittsburgh.

Where Wolf increased more than average: The central part of the state, ranging from Fayette and Venango counties in the west to Lackawanna County (i.e., Scranton and its immediate neighbors) in the northeast.  The biggest swings toward Wolf were in Forest County in the northwest (which has the state's second-smallest population and a large state prison, so it might be an outlier), Huntingdon County (immediately south of State College), and a belt stretching from Union and Snyder counties to Schuylkill County.  The anthracite coal region, with the notable exception of Luzerne County, swung hard to Wolf.

The 409*-pound elephant in the room is Gov. Corbett's role in the firing of Joe Paterno.  To make a long story short, there is a perception among some Penn State fans, fairly or otherwise, that Corbett (the attorney general from 2005 to 2011) dragged his feet on the Jerry Sandusky investigation until after he was elected governor, then made Paterno a scapegoat.  That would certainly explain Corbett's unpopularity in Centre and surrounding counties, but that wasn't the only, or even the worst, area of decline for Corbett.  

Another explanation might be the different dynamics of 2014 from 2010.  The 2010 gubernatorial election was between two non-incumbents for an open seat at the high tide of anti-Obamacare sentiment, so the conservative voters of central Pennsylvania were motivated to vote against Democrats.  In 2014, anti-Obamacare sentiment had faded (as did memories of former Gov. Ed Rendell, never too popular in rural areas), and Gov. Corbett had his own record and controversies to defend.  The GOP did its best to portray Wolf, state Secretary of Revenue in 2007 and 2008, as Ed Rendell's tax collector, but it's difficult to portray a Jeep-driving businessman from York County (note Wolf's improvements in York and surrounding counties) as an extreme liberal.  

*See what I did there?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Scott Walker in the Danger Zone

Scott Walker, the illustrious governor of Wisconsin, has risen to national prominence in recent years based on a simple four-step process:

1. Scott Walker aggravates unions.
2. Unions throw a conniption fit.
3. The electorate of Wisconsin shrugs its collective shoulders, and conservatives fall in love with Gov. Walker.
4. Repeat steps 1-3 as needed.

This is now highly relevant to those of us who live outside Wisconsin because for the love of all that is good and decent why are we thinking about the 2016 Presidential election ALREADY?!?!?!

Gov. Walker's resume has one rather glaring omission, though.  Wisconsin has not been invaded by any of its neighbors recently (somewhat surprising, considering that its neighbors include Detroit and Chicago), so Walker does not have a lot of foreign policy experience.  So, when he was asked what qualified him to take on ISIS this week, he had to cite dealing with 100,000 union protestors back in 2011, which led to accusations that he was comparing his political opponents to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a jihadist group known for beheading its way across the Middle East.

I don't think that's what he meant, though.  He actually meant to compare his political opponents to the International Secret Intelligence Service, known for employing the greatest spy in the history of the world, Sterling Archer...

(If you're unfamiliar with Archer, think of a parody of James Bond, with the sexual innuendo turned up to eleven (which is kind of the first logical step in parodying James Bond).)

...and if you compare the rhetoric of Wisconsin union protestors to the rhetoric of the other ISIS, the results are uncanny.

 (When every union in the state of Wisconsin sues me, this will be exhibit A that this is a parody.  Does anyone really believe Michael Moore would ever stop at six gummy bears?)

(I don't think plumbers and steamfitters in Wisconsin really have lemurs and pudding cups, but if they do, I'm immediately moving to Wisconsin and becoming a plumber and/or steamfitter)

 (Look, when I first saw this picture, the shadow of the guy's chin looked like an extension of the red shirt.  Besides, you can't have an Archer quote collection without mentioning the tactleneck.)
(Props to Mr. Monopoly on the right for channeling the precise facial expression I would have if some rich guy next to me mentioned putting whipped cream over everything.)
(Come to think of it, that's also the precise facial expression I would have if some middle-class or poor guy next to me mentioned putting whipped cream over everything.)

(I think she is referring to the prostitute, but it's even funnier if you imagine it referring to the lemur.)

(Technically, the last one was in Michigan.)

Photo sources, in order of appearance: Cleveland.com, Fox News, Anne Althouse, The Washington Post, CNN, Christian Science Monitor, New York magazine, Fox News, Noah Willman, UPI, Bloomberg, Huffington Post, HipHopDX.com, WAOW, Los Angeles TimesThe Guardian, The Washington Times, USA Today, The Daily Mail, The Guardian, Mike Pellegrini, NPR, New York Times, Daily Caller.