Blogs > Daily Local Dan

A blog that takes a look at West Chester area government, politics, and community events.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The McCain Poll

I got a chance to interview Sen. Lieberman yesterday. The first thing I asked the Democrat turned Independent was whether it he found it disorienting to be hoping, for the first time in his life, to see the Republican presidential nominee gain in the polls. 

"Well, I don't think of it as the Republican poll," he responded. "I think of it as the McCain poll."

Good answer. The McCain campaign has been sending Lieberman into swing regions to convince Independents and Democrats that it's OK to vote for McCain. His role is to say that, despite what voters have been hearing, McCain is not a partisan nut. He will listen to both sides and try to come up with a practical solution.

This despite the fact that the McCain campaign has been trying hard this year to convince right-wing Republicans that, at heart, their presidential nominee is a budget and national security hawk who despises the current Democratic legislature and supports the social conservative agenda.

This despite the fact that the Obama campaign and the media have latched onto and reinforced McCain's new, far-right version of himself.

Does anyone remember the maverick of the early Bush administration? The guy who opposed the Bush tax cuts and fought for legislation aimed at combating climate change? We try to, but after this 24/7 rebranding campaign, it's difficult. 

An example - I am an Independent, but I have three close friends who are extremely partisan Democrats. They believe that Republicans can do no right (conveniently enough, they don't know any Republicans, so they never have to question this prejudice). In 2006, all of them said that McCain was a cool guy. Although he is a Republican, they said, they would consider voting for him over Hillary (who, at the time, we believed would be the Democratic nominee).

What do my friends say about McCain now?

He's a right-wing nutjob. He'll kill the economy. He's worse than W. Everything he does is evil. etc.

My very unscientific public opinion poll shows that McCain has squandered all the street cred he used to have with Philadelphia liberals. 

Enter Lieberman, a guy whose liberal street cred has been hurt both by his refusal to bow out of the 2006 senatorial election after his primary election defeat to Ned Lamont and by his decision to support McCain. Will the Connecticut Senator be able to convince Independents and Democrats that McCain is still the maverick they once admired?

"When it comes to domestic policy, John is practical," Lieberman told me. "He's interested in finding solutions that work. On foreign policy, John is more idealistic. He has this American Warrior persona - he wants to spread freedom. But in the end, he's interested in coming up with practical solutions."

Lieberman and I spoke at the Penn State Great Valley Campus. He had just finished a "roundtable discussion" with local biotech professionals. The McCain campaign sent him there, he said, to "clear up misconceptions created by the Obama campaign about John's position on stem cell research and on other policies that affect the life sciences industry."

I asked Lieberman what other groups the McCain campaign had asked him to target.

"This event is a bit unusual," he said. "They've never asked me to target a specific group before. Usually I give the same speech at every event."

That speech, he said, was meant to highlight McCain's experience and bipartisan record.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Whatever you just did doesn't matter

Over the course of the year, I've interviewed a lot of candidates for the state legislature. Because I'm gaffe-prone, I usually said, during the course of our conversations: "You can campaign however you want, but it might not end up mattering. Your race might end up being decided by the presidential election."

They, of course, didn't want to agree with me.

And I'll admit that I might be wrong.

But if I'm right, my argument only applies to Chester County's four competetive state House districts (the Tredyffrin and Phoenixville area's 157th; the West Chester Area's 156th; the Malvern Area's 167th; and Southern Chester County's 13th).

For all the work the candidates for these seats have done, the presidential election is likely to outweigh it. There are tons of voters who only vote in presidential elections. Their number will be higher this year, because of Obama's very successful voter registration drives. These presidential year voters probably have no idea who is running in their state house district. If they only vote once every four years, or have never voted before, it's doubtful they even care who their Congressmen and U.S. Senators are. So what will these voters do? Vote Obama or McCain, look at all the other names, squint a bit, and figure, "What the hell? I'll go straight party."

People keep telling me that Chester County's voters are notorious ticket splitters - that they're too smart to go straight party. In a midterm election, this may be true (see: Rendell and Gerlach carrying the county in 2006). But midterm voters pay more attention to politics than those who vote only in Presidential elections. I'll have to see this notorious ticket splitting to believe it.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

All those other races

A few people have pointed out to me that this blog isn't living up to its promise of covering the races all the other media outlets are ignoring. I apologize for that. I thought I'd have way more time than I do for political coverage.

Yes, someone should REALLY be paying attention to that 13th District State House Race. Art Hershey, the Republican incumbent, is stepping down. Tom Houghton, the Democrat, has a good chance to win in what was once a very Republican area. And this summer, the Republicans pulled the ol' switcheroo. After Curtis Mason, their first candidate, raised a whole bunch of money from his businessmen friends, the GOP pulled him and put John Lawrence on the ticket. Unfortunately, the 13th district is a blind spot for me, and the race fell off my radar. In order to effectively cover politics in an area, it helps to have covered government there and to have spent a few years at the polls there schmoozing with and getting the phone numbers of all the local committeepeople.

The other interesting state house races are the ones for the West Chester area 156th District Seat and the Malvern area 167th District Seat. Along with the race for the Tredyffrin/Phoenixville area 157th District seat (about which a TON has been written, by me and others), these could decide whether the state house is under Republican or Democratic control next year. The 156th District has been covered fairly well (articles about debates exist, while articles about the negative aspects of that campaign are rare), and as far as I can tell, not much is doing in the 167th District. Are Republican Incumbent Duane Milne and Democratic challenger Carol Palmaccio too nice to say anything slanderous and verifiably false about each other?

By the way, I got to see John McCain get off an airplane on Thursday. Then I got to ride with his motorcade from the Philadelphia International Airport to the United Sport Training Center in West Bradford. Exciting stuff.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Seeing your own words twisted by political campaigns

It's amusing to see something you've written appear, totally out of context, on a campaign flyer.

An example:

"I recommend her, she's a Democrat."

-Paul Drucker, Democrat running for the 157th District State House seat, as quoted on Republican Guy Ciarrocchi's mailer "Extreme Partisan."

Ciarrocchi is trying to say that Drucker tried to get Susan Wachter, a former Clinton advisor, appointed to the Tredyffrin planning commission just because she was a Democrat.

Drucker's quote, which I meticulously transcribed on March 6, 2007 from a tape of a Tredyffrin Board of Supervisors meeting, actually reads:

"Susan Wachter was appointed by the President of the United States, she was approved by the Senate, and she was vetoed by the Tredyffrin Township Republican Board of Supervisors... I recommended her, she is a Democrat, and therefore it doesn't matter if Tredyffrin needs her. This is how things are done in executive session in this township. I can't prevent it, but I can make certain that you the voters know about it."

As far as I can tell, Ciarrocchi's object is to portray Drucker as a partisan who, to coin a phrase, "never goes against his own party."

Drucker has also engaged in his share of intellectual dishonesty. He sent out a mailing that claimed Guy Ciarrocchi, while a Tredyffrin supervisor, hired a convicted tax evader to be the township's finance director. Ciarrocchi did no such thing. The evader, Harry Marrone, was hired years before Guy became a supervisor. (He was caught embezzling money from the township while Guy was on the board, and he was fired immediately.)

The Drucker campaign defines "hire" strangely - if you're an elected official, you, in essence, rehire your staff every single moment. This is very Buddhist.

I wrote an article dealing with both of these campaign deceptions. There are two more major deceptions, which I meant to write about but did not have the space for.

-First, Ciarrocchi's claim, in a mailer and on a TV ad, that Drucker was fired from the board of the First Bank of Philadelphia.

According to John Nathan, who was President and CEO of the bank in 1994 when Drucker left the board, the reason for his resignation was that new investors were coming in to try to revive the beleaguered bank. They wanted their own people on the board of directors.

In Nathan's words:

"Basically, the previous management had not done well, and that had been recognized. So Paul and the rest of board bought me in to turn the organization around ... We did not know at time, and regulators did not know at time, how serious the problems were. As we got further and further into the books, we found out we had major problems. We were able to stop them and turn bank around. We brought in new investors to recapitalize the bank ... since they were putting in new capital, they wanted to have people they knew on board of directors, and they wanted a new management team ... as part of the resolution of the whole issue, our board resigned to be replaced by theirs, and our management resigned to be replaced by theirs. It was a congenial transaction, a way to save the bank, which later became the bridge by which Commerce Bank was able to enter the Pennsylvania market ... Paul may have resigned a little ahead the time everyone else did, but everything was in order. It was going to happen, and there was no reason to stick around under those circumstances."

You have to define "fired" somewhat liberally to be able to conclude that Drucker was fired. Even so, why is this relevant to a 2008 campaign for state house?

-Second, the Drucker campaign claimed that Ciarrocchi raised Tredyffrin's taxes by 420 percent.

This is outrageous. What Ciarrocchi actually did was vote in favor of the Emergency and Municipal Services tax, a $52 yearly tax most municipalities near Tredyffrin levy. The state passed a law allowing municipalities to levy it in place of the old $10 Business Privilege tax. The EMS tax comes out of the paychecks of people employed in (but not necessarily living in) the township . It goes to support emergency services (or at least it should). And, if you're not aware, apparently no one donates to volunteer fire companies anymore.

Is this a tax increase? Technically, it is. And Ciarrocchi has claimed that, while a Tredyffrin supervisor (a post he held for fewer than two years), he didn't raise taxes. But to say the EMS tax represents a 420 percent tax increase is misleading - when people hear tax increase, they think of an increase in property tax or earned income tax. The EMS tax is really more of a fee. Yes, I pay it. And no, I don't like paying it. But the people who work in my township pay it, so it's only fair.

What really frustrates me about the 157th district race is that THERE ARE SIGNIFICANT IDEOLOGICAL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE CANDIDATES. AND WE MAY NEVER HEAR ABOUT THEM. Sure, some of my articles focus on (and perhaps legitimize) the attacks Drucker and Ciarrocchi have launched. But that's the direction the candidates have taken the race, and my job when writing news pieces is to tell people what did happen, not what should have happened.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

First Sixth District Congressional Forum

What struck me most about this forum, held by the Chester County League of Women Voters at the Chester County Library on Sunday, was the candidates' closing statements.

Jim Gerlach, the Republican incumbent, said that there's more to a congressman than how he votes. He said he has a top-notch staff that is excellent at constituent services. He followed that with his standard line about how various publications have determined that he is one of the most independent-minded congressmen in Washington.

Bob Roggio, the Democratic challenger, closed with, "If you like the economy, vote for Jim Gerlach." He added that, because Gerlach has taken large sums from oil companies, he cannot be relied on to promote alternative energy.

Roggio was acting as if job number one was to criticize Gerlach and job number two was to talk about his own policies (Mark Campbell, I know you're listening. Want to lift that quote and throw it on a campaign mailer?)

Gerlach was acting like an incumbent who was sure he would be reelected - this in a district where he nearly lost three times, in a year that heavily favors Democrats.

Anyway, the point of my post is not to delve deeply into each campaign's strategy or lack thereof. It is to bring up a few issues the candidates discussed that did not appear in my article on the debate.

1) Immigration. Significant difference.

Roggio said that we should get tough on immigration. How? By increasing border security and enforcing already exist ant immigration laws. "It is illegal to hire illegal aliens ... if those laws had been enforced, we wouldn't be where we are today," he said. It is wrong, Roggio added, that 21 million illegal immigrants are taking advantage of America's tax-funded social services. He said that illegal immigrants should be returned to their homelands.

Gerlach also argued for increased border security. But he said that a "streamlined" process should be put in place so that illegal immigrants could go back to their home countries, get the proper papers, and come back to the U.S. in order to "fulfill their role in our economy."

2) Reinstating the Draft. Small difference.

Both candidates said that we shouldn't reinstate the draft.

But Roggio used the question as an opportunity to argue that Gerlach incorrectly supported the invasion of Iraq, which put an unnecessary strain on our military. He said that troops should be pulled out of Iraq and sent to "critical areas like Darfur or Afghanistan."

Gerlach said, "Defense folks tell us they are meeting their recruitment goals." He said the legislature should pass policies that will make it easier for military personnel to stay in the military.

3) Abortion. Small difference.

Both don't think the government should subsidize abortions. But while Roggio supports "comprehensive sex education," Gerlach supports "pre-pregnancy education." I have no idea what either of these terms mean, or what the difference between them is.

4) Infrastructure. Difference in detail.

Roggio argued that we need to rebuild our infrastructure. Rebuilding efforts, he said, will create jobs in these tough economic times.

Gerlach didn't disagree, but he said, "My opponent didn't say he had found a way to fund that." Gerlach pointed out that highway repair is paid for in part by the liquid fuels tax - fuel efficient cars and high fuel prices mean the government will be taking in less money from this tax. The solution? Look for alternative funding sources and possibly pursue public/private infrastructure projects. (Dan's note: For a local example of an ongoing public/private infrastructure project, see the Paoli Transportation Center).

5) The Iraq War's effect on the economy. Question not really answered.

Gerlach acknowledged that all government spending affects the economy. He added, "One thing we can't do is raise taxes as my opponent would do and expect to create more jobs ... Raising taxes, as my opponent would do, is a surefire way to send a heckuvalotta jobs overseas."

Roggio said he "agrees 100 percent" with Barack Obama's plan to cut taxes on the middle class. Ending the Iraq War, he said, will help the economy.

6) Aid to veterans.

I'm not touching this one. There were some accusations made by both candidates that I don't want to reprint without doing some fact checking.

7) The Iran Threat. Might be a difference.

Gerlach said, "We have to continue to use every economic and diplomatic means possible to get Ahmadinejad and his regime to back off nuclear weapons development ... and perhaps the Iranian people will change course."

Roggio said that the biggest threat facing the U.S. is Iran. "It's interesting that Jim Gerlach talks about diplomacy because as far as I can tell diplomacy between Iran and our Republican president began four months ago." He then said he agrees with Obama's plans for diplomacy with Iran.

OK - this post went longer than I expected. For the candidates' discussions of the economy, the environment and health care, see my article. I hope this post is useful to two or three people when they make their decision on Nov. 4.

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