POLS ON THE STREET: GOP Plans a Counter to Wolf’s ‘Restore PA’

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CONGRESSWOMAN Mary Gay Scanlon visited Bartram’s Garden last Saturday to meet with its staff along with environmental activists and numerous Southwest Philadelphia community groups that are engaged with Bartram’s Garden extensive programing. Afterwards, they went on a bike ride to explore the developing Schuylkill River Trail. The historic garden has launched an audacious $30 million master plan. L-R in the lead: Stephanie Wein, PennEnvironment clean water and conservation advocate; Scanlon; and Justin DiBerardinis, Bartram’s Garden director of programs and partnerships.

The moment the dust settled on the municipal primary election this spring, all fulltime State-level politicians swung into fulltime planning for 2020, which will be their turn onstage.

All legislative proposals for the remainder of the 2019 session will be understood, necessarily in part at least, as strategic positioning.

Ever since he was elected in 2014, Gov. Tom Wolf has pressed forward the banner of a severance tax on natural gas, a cause dear to most Democrats’ heart and anathema to most Republicans. Throughout his first term, it never went anywhere in the GOP-controlled General Assembly.

But the 2018 general election was a sharp setback for state-level Republicans. Though they remained in firm control of both houses of the legislature, their ranks were reduced. Democratic campaign planners smell blood next year.

Thus, this past January, Wolf’s “Restore Pennsylvania” plan. This time, the severance tax was designed to pay for a wide range of municipal and county goodies across the state, many of them tailored specifically to appeal to struggling Midstate and Western communities facing stagnant economies – items like rural broadband access, roads, commercial blight and contamination.

It was a shrewd pitch. While the benefits of the Marcellus Shale boom accrue indirectly to many across the state, the vast bulk of natural-gas production takes place in just 10 of the Keystone State’s 67 counties. These are the ones that sop up most of the “impact fees” under the current, Republican-written regulatory model. That leaves most Republican-majority counties as much out of the game as the Democrat-held, environmentally conscious constituencies of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Wolf (who comes from such a Republican county, York, himself) noticed this and began to warble into the Midstate ear his “Restore Pennsylvania” song.

Few GOP lawmakers budged, shrugging off the governor’s legislation before the summer recess. They didn’t have to listen to him; they needed to listen instead to their business donors, to amass a kitty to fend off Democrats next year.

But Wolf intends to bring back “Restore Pennsylvania” louder than ever this fall. And as the 2020 election approaches, Republicans in iffy districts may find it prudent to strike a deal on infrastructure.

Accordingly, Republican leadership last week unveiled its counterproposal for infrastructure: an approach that would fund infrastructure projects by drilling for natural gas under State forests, a move desired by drillers but forbidden by current regulation.

While it seems unlikely that State-forest gas will pay for anything like the revenue provided by a severance tax, it’s a talking point.

STATE REP. Martina White

Enter, of all people, State Rep. Martina White (R-Northeast), Philadelphia’s sole surviving GOP general assembly member, who represents a district not known for either forests or oil reserves. Despite this, the Republican house caucus appointed her to chair a task force “to determine the next phases of infrastructure improvements needed to accommodate the demands of expanding industries and a growing economy without putting any additional burdens on taxpayers.” White said, “We need to have the infrastructure to maximize our potential and keep pace with an ever-growing, competitive global economy.”

That was a huge give on the part of state Republican leadership to a city that has trended ever more Democratic.

But White has shown her GOP chops before, by spearheading an embarrassing assault on Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner’s assault on the death penalty. She painted Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro into a corner that forced him ultimately to capitulate on whether he would relitigate at the State level charges dropped by Krasner at the county level. By waffling, Shapiro likely won little loyalty from either progressive activists or law-enforcement voters. More on this subject below.

It’s possible the 32-year-old White, who is only in her second full term, is being well coached by senior state operatives as a tool for discomfiting Philadelphia Democrats. But it’s unlikely they would push her into these important roles if they didn’t think she’s a comer. By being handed the shale-gas job, she is being groomed for statewide leadership. Expect her to be well funded to beat off any Democratic challenger next year.

Can Progressives Sack GOP City Council Seats?

By law, two of the seven at-large City Council seats are reserved for candidates who are not of the majority party. In practice, for the past 50 years, those seats have been taken by the second-largest organized party in Philadelphia, the Republicans.

CITY COUNCIL President Darrell Clarke, 4th from L, and Councilmember Derek Green, 5th from R, hosted students from the Youth Outreach Adolescent Community Awareness Program Summer Internship program as part of their summer experience, introducing them to the one-of-a-kind Room 400 in City Hall, where Council conducts its public meetings.

But as registered Republicans dwindle in the city, chiefly by dying off, a movement has arisen among progressives who find themselves outside Democratic City Committee’s inner councils to mount at-large independent challenges from the left. Their aim is not to beat a Democratic Party-endorsed candidate but rather to unseat one or both of the top two candidates on the five-person Republican ticket, who normally are elected to four-year terms on City Council.

Presently those Republicans are David Oh and Al Taubenberger, who are seeking re-election along with three others on the November Republican ticket

But why not instead veteran progressive activist Sherrie Cohen, daughter of Councilman David Cohen, who has run for Council at large as a Democrat three times but drawn poor ballot position each time? Why not Kendra Brooks, a younger activist with 215 People’s Alliance who is campaigning on the slogan “Republicans out, Working Families in?”

Brooks did the work of speaking at a demonstration before the Philadelphia headquarters of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, calling for action on the national “Green New Deal.” Ten were arrested, Brooks not among them. But it will be her test to mobilize that constituency and see if it now outnumbers Republicans in Philadelphia.

CONGRESSMAN Brendan Boyle and his staff joined nearly 100 volunteers for the annual Frankford Community Cleanup. During the event, the congressman presented a citation thanking the volunteers for their service.

Brooks, along with Rev. Nicholas O’Rourke, drew the endorsement of the Working Families Party. Brooks went so far as to hold several fundraisers around the city.

It is tempting for leftwing progressives to knock off rightwing progressives in the at-large race. But it would be a duel between a shattered organization and a non-organization. Five Republicans are already at war over two seats and are split among at least two factions, plus freelancers. The progressives don’t even have well-constituted factions yet.

Andrew Stover pioneered this tack four year ago. He was well respected but did not reach or ignite the anti-Republican “masses” in the progressive world.

The way for political outsiders to break in is to surrender ego and form a disciplined phalanx around a core ticket. It is not yet apparent that any of Philadelphia’s dissidents, either on the right or the left, have mastered this lesson.

Sestak’s Back! Now Plowing Iowa in the Democratic Presidential Race

A familiar Pennsylvania face has suited up for the Democratic presidential race. And no, it’s not Joe Biden.

Former Congressman Joe Sestak (D-Delaware) threw his hat into the ring last month but has just started to gear up a campaign team.

Sestak, who ran for U.S. Senate twice in Pennsylvania, now lives in Alexandria, Va. He claims he entered the race late because he wanted to see that his daughter’s brain cancer was under control first. He joins a field that now appears to number 25, more or less, and is jockeying to move up in the field.

COUNCILWOMAN Cherelle Parker, 4th from R, presented a citation to sexual-health counselor Lynette Medley, C, who realized that a number of Philadelphia students were unable to afford feminine-hygiene products and took it upon herself to gather and distribute them to those in need. From Parker’s Facebook page

Sestak is known as an indefatigable street campaigner, walking more miles and shaking more hands. He adheres to that strategy, claiming to have shaken 25,000 hands and handed out over 45,000 brochures across Iowa, running in seven parades, visiting dozens of local Democratic Party groups, attending church services and chamber of commerce meetings and meeting veterans at their gatherings). He can’t claim big money yet, but he says he is running even with other second-tier candidates in funding.

“I know past is not prologue, but I have known – and enjoyed – challenges in other races where I’ve started over 30 points behind,” said Sestak, “like my first congressional race against Republican Curt Weldon (to become the second Democrat to represent my district since the Civil War), or my senate primary race against Republican-turned-Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter (who was supported by the Democratic Party elite).”

In honor of his service to Pennsylvania, we’ve shared a Sestak op-ed in this issue from Iowa, where he is busily doing what all presidential candidates must do.

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