Thursday, March 13, 2014

Early Casualties of the Primary Season

Anyone paying attention already knows that candidate filing deadlines have already passed in Pennsylvania and some candidates have fallen by the wayside.  Jo Ellen Litz didn't make the filing requirements, failing to collect enough petition signatures to meet the 2,000 signature (with 100 in each of five counties) requirement. With so many names on the gubernatorial and lt. gubernatorial ballot there is no doubt that a few more people will step aside even before the primary in May.

The first such bow-out is gubernatorial candidate John Hanger.  In an email to supporters he wrote:
"Since there is no longer a path to victory in the Democratic primary, I am withdrawing my candidacy for Governor of Pennsylvania. This decision disappoints my great campaign team and me, as well as thousands of our supporters. But we have tried every possible means to find a way to win and so avoid the necessity of making this decision. With no path to victory, to press on could cause damage to the issues and people for which we campaigned." -- John Hanger, Special Announcement -- Ending the People's Campaign
Hanger received the most media attention for his support of legalizing marijuana, starting with medicinal marijuana and moving towards legalization over a period of years.  His principal platform, however, was education reform and ridding Pennsylvania of the redundant system of charter schools which siphon money away from Pennsylvania's (constitutionally-mandated) public school system.  Hanger recently won the Pennsylvania Progressives straw poll, showing his street cred among the left of the left.  I think giving Pennsylvania Democrats a slightly narrower field to choose from isn't necessarily a bad thing and for that reason I commend Mr. Hanger.  I can certainly think of at least one other candidate who could probably stand to bow out of the campaign before the primary (*cough* Jack Wagner *cough, cough*).

Now that the gubernatorial field has narrowed -- albeit ever so slightly -- one wonders if the field for Lt. Governor will narrow soon as well.  The field currently contains six and possibly seven candidates for Lt. Governor.  For name recognition value no one is beating Jay Paterno, but with only 1,117 petition signatures (the requirement for Lt. Gov is 1000 including 100 in each of 5 counties), he's wide open to a legal challenge that could well knock him out.  I don't think Paterno dropping would be any kind of loss to the field since we've yet to see a clear policy platform from him and in any case he only jumped into the race just over a week before the filing deadline.

Name recognition aside, though, I think that for Lt. Governor the best option is Harrisburg City Councilman, Brad Koplinski.  Koplinski came to speak to the Blair County Democrats just a few weeks ago and made quite an impression.  Though it seems that only the wonkiest of wonks care about the Lt. Governor's race, I would argue that it really is important. And while many will argue that the Lt. Governor's position is an unimportant one, noting that the vast majority of people not only don't know the current Lt. Governor's name (it's Cawley, by the way) and likely even less could pick him out of a line up, the Lt. Governor's relative invisibility doesn't mean the job isn't an important one.  I don't know the name of every civil servant in state government, but I know that the affairs of the Commonwealth would grind to a halt without them.  The Lieutenant Governor's job is one that is largely behind the scenes, yes, but not unimportant.

Before taking on the position of Lt. Governor, however, the Lt. Governor nominee's most important job will be campaigning for the Democratic gubernatorial nominee.  No candidate is as well-prepared for that as
Brad Koplinski who, in addition to legislative experience on Harrisburg's City Council, has a great deal of practical campaign experience.  Once in the position of Lt. Governor, our potential nominee will become the Chair of the Pennsylvania Local Government Advisory Board, a board which a City Councilman is uniquely well-equipped to head.  I've heard others argue that we should vote for Mark Critz because he's got name value, but the truth is that once the primary is over the big name is the gubernatorial candidate.  In the general election people voting for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate are likely to vote for the Democratic lt. gubernatorial candidate whoever they may be.  Our best chance at good governance is voting for the person who is best equipped for the job, and that's Brad Koplinski.

Clearly, I know who I'm voting for in the Lt. Governor field, but who's my gubernatorial candidate of choice?   To be quite frank, I haven't decided.  I'm leaning towards Katie McGinty, who has a good environmental record.  She's got well laid-out policy positions on everything you could ask for from civil rights to the economy and everywhere in between.  Some would argue that, like the other candidates left in the field, she wouldn't stop fracking in the Marcellus Shale.  She would, however, like the other candidates, call for a severance tax and environmental protections.  Those who say that the remaining candidates are very similar are not wrong.

The differences between the remaining gubernatorial candidates are now quite limited, and so the race may be more about who has the best marketing campaign (so far, Tom Wolf) and who's got the best personality, and possibly experience.  I'm willing to be wrong about that, but I don't think that I am.  Hopefully we'll see at least one more debate before the May primary in order see if we can't see the cracks between the candidates and make a better decision about who's best suited to be our next Governor.

In the meantime, keep an eye on the news and do your candidate research.  Encourage your friends and relatives to vote because there is nothing more important than making your voice heard.