POLS ON THE STREET: Upstate Republicans Point at Scary Philly

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Western and midstate Republicans are warming up for the 2018 political season by sharpening their teeth on controversial Philadelphia news.

Majority Chairman Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) and 15 Republican members of the House State Government Committee sent a letter to Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro A. Cortés in response to a report by City Commissioner Al Schmidt that some non-citizens were registered to vote, largely through irregularities in the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s “motor voter” process.

Expressing “dire concerns,” the legislators wrote, “There are numerous unanswered questions relating to this matter. As lawmakers who are charged with enacting laws that protect the integrity of our electoral process, we must have answers. More importantly, Pennsylvania’s qualified and duly registered voters deserve answers, given that votes cast by non-citizens nullify the legal votes cast by citizens.”

JOE HOHENSTEIN stopped at Independence National Historical Park in Old City to announce his candidacy and show he is the man for the 177th Legislative Dist. Seat that will be left open by retiring State Rep. John Taylor. Hohenstein, a staunch liberal, ran against Taylor unsuccessfully in 2016. Republicans have not yet decided on a candidate to replace Taylor in his Mayfair district. Photo by Eldon Graham

The Republican legislators made several specific demands on Cortés with the aim of investing “all necessary time, effort and money to remove non-citizens from the rolls.”

In a surprise move, Gov. Tom Wolf announced yesterday Cortés had resigned under mysterious circumstances.

Meanwhile, Congressman Lou Barletta (R-Luzerne) belabored incumbent U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who is up for re-election in 2018, for defending Philadelphia’s “sanctuary city” policy on illegal immigrants. The trigger was Casey’s attendance yesterday at a fundraiser with pro-sanctuary cities group Protect & Elect.

“Bob Casey is once again threatening the safety of every Pennsylvanian by supporting dangerous sanctuary cities,” Barletta’s spokesman Jon Anzur said. “This time, he’s using his opposition to our nation’s immigration laws to raise money for his re-election campaign. The same group that is hosting Bob Casey’s fundraiser openly associates with a pro-sanctuary-cities organization that protests ICE raids against criminal illegal immigrants. Does Bob Casey support ICE raids meant to keep our communities safe?”

Barletta is the best known of several Republicans who are vying to challenge Casey in the May 2018 primary. In the U.S. House of Representatives, the first bill Barletta introduced would have cut off all federal funding to sanctuary cities.

Both Metcalfe and Barletta are hard-right conservatives with an aggressive brand of anti-foreign sentiment. That predated the rise of Donald Trump. They early embraced his strategy in this area and are betting that Philadelphia-bashing will help the GOP statewide in 2018, as immigrant-bashing did for Trump in 2016.

REPUBLICAN candidate for district attorney Beth Grossman toured the room to greet party workers, among them Dawn McCann, Phoebe Heeney, Ward Leader Bill Heeney, Grossman and Ward Leader Ross Feinberg.

Who’s Popular in Pa.? Nobody

Casey could be in trouble in next year’s election. But so could every other incumbent.

A recent finding by Susquehanna Polling & Research suggests the dominant mood among Keystone State voters is hostile to everyone in office, Republican or Democrat.

When asked about the job Donald Trump is doing as President, 37% approved, 53% disapproved and 10% were undecided.

Pollster Jim Lee noted that during the 2016 campaign, Trump frequently polled poorly, only to succeed at the ballot box.

“I guess I’m not surprised (at the low approval number) because I know what Trump’s image was even last year when we polled for you guys. This is what his favorable-unfavorable was and he still won,” Lee said.

Casey’s approval numbers are 10 points lower than they were a year before his last reelection. But Lee said if anger toward the current president is strong, that will be to Casey’s advantage.

“If the political environment is toxic for the Republicans next year, Casey wins probably a squeaker because you’re not going to vote against Casey if you don’t like what Trump’s doing,” Lee commented.

Other state Dem candidates will try to tag their Republican foes with Trump’s unpopularity. But Pennsylvania’s chief executive, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, is also struggling in the commonwealth, according to the poll. The question asked if Wolf deserved reelection or if a new person should get a chance.

Only 35% of respondents gave Wolf a thumbs up. Give someone new a chance, said 50%; 15% were undecided.

SOUTH PHILADELPHIA legend Frank Rizzo was not controversial at Galdo’s Catering on Oct. 5, as local leaders gathered to celebrate his legacy while preparing for Columbus Day festivities. Distinguished celebrants included, L-R, Vincent Melchiorre, Register of Wills Ron Donatucci and State Sen. Larry Farnese. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Lee notes that the numbers can and will change the minute a specific Republican is pitted against Wolf and it’s easier to support the faceless “someone new.” But Lee also suspects erosion among fiscally moderate Democrats who supported Wolf the first time.

For perspective, Lee asked the same question at the same time in former Gov. Tom Corbett’s term and his numbers were much worse, with 65% saying someone new should get a chance. Corbett, of course, went on to become the first governor seeking a second term not to get a second term in Pennsylvania history.

Casey has work to do ahead of next year’s election, according to the poll. Only 27% say he’s done a good-enough job to deserve reelection, with 46% saying someone new should get a shot and 28% still undecided.

Lee notes Casey won’t have the advantage of facing voters in a presidential election year as he did last time, when Barack Obama won a second term. Presidential years create larger turnout, which tends to aid Democrats.

Susquehanna Polling & Research is a right-leaning firm based in Harrisburg.

Wolf’s PLCB Move Looks Shrewd

No incumbent truly wins in Pennsylvania’s appalling budget stalemate. But Wolf may have pulled a sly rabbit out of the hat with his proposal to cover the budget deficit created by Republicans. Wolf now wants to “securitize” (selling investments in future profits) the Liquor Control Board, the state’s enormous liquor monopoly. He aims high – the plan is to sell $1.25 billion of these securities.

Many Republicans have long championed the cause of reverting all wine and spirits sales to the private sector, as in most of the rest of America. But it is an inescapable reality that the LCB brings net revenue to the state on an ongoing basis. Since Republicans don’t want either to raise taxes or cut services in 2017, they are in a poor position to dispense with the LCB’s revenue.

The liquor policy most often touted by the GOP, selling off the state stores to private companies, would be a one-time fix that would create a permanent new hole in future budgets.

Wolf’s plan would have a dramatic consequence: It would make it effectively impossible to sell off the state stores for many years to come, since the state would be committed to rely on LCB revenues to repay investors in its securities.

That would be a huge win for United Food & Commercial Workers, which represents line state-store employees and fervently backs the Democrats on this issue.

Understandably, then, Senate Republicans are fishing around for ways to prevent Wolf from balancing the budget by this unilateral executive action. Their spokeswoman Jenn Kocher says lawyers for the majority caucus are trying to determine the legality of the Governor’s plan.

“We were as shocked as anyone when the governor announced the proposal on Wednesday afternoon,” said Kocher. “It wasn’t something that we had the opportunity to review or weigh in on. So we are curious to see.”

FOUR Northeast Democratic Wards gathered under a Burholme Park pavilion to feast at their fall picnic and watch the Eagles game on TV. Present, L-R, were Ward Leaders Janice Sulman and Bill Dolbow; Jonathan Saidel (otherwise known as “Mr. Maria McLaughlin”); Ward Leaders Brian Eddis, Bob Dellavella, Councilman Bobby Henon; and Councilman Derek Green.

Kocher perceives that such borrowing would have a major impact on the ability to make changes to the liquor system. She says the plan also raises issues of the balance of power in state government.

The governor’s announcement came after the latest effort by lawmakers to approve a plan to fully fund the state budget, which lapsed into law in July, fell apart.

Soda Tax Loses a Round

Philadelphia’s Sweetened Drinks Tax, which has become a national poster child for municipal revenue enhancement, may rise and fall with the fortunes of similar taxes across the nation.

Its most-impressive ally in this cause, Cook County, Ill., which takes in Chicago and the bulk of its suburbs, on Tuesday bagged its own soda tax just two months after it went into effect.

Cook County Commissioners voted 15-1 to undo their decision after a firestorm of opposition.

Their tax was less than Philadelphia’s, at 1 cent per ounce rather than 1.5 cents. It was also more geographically inclusive, making it harder to evade by crossing a nearby city line.

Millions have been spent on lobbying and advertising in Philadelphia, as both sides wait to hear whether the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will take up a challenge of the tax.

Locally, tax opponents are hopeful that a repeal in Illinois would serve as a red flag for officials here, in the handful of cities that approved similar taxes in the wake of Philadelphia’s vote last year, and in other cities that might consider it in the future.

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