Tuesday’s primary results indicate that incumbents and power brokers from both parties at all levels are vulnerable. For the first time since the 2005 pay raise debacle, this year’s state budget will have consequences politicians will feel in November.
Tuesday’s political graveyard accepted reservations from long-term pols. Rep. Rick Geist (R), an unrepentant pay jacker who racked-up $25,253 in per diems last year, was first elected in the same year Three Mile Island melted down. Geist, chairman of the powerful Transportation Committee, was defeated in Blair County by talk host and college professor, John McGinnis.
On the other side of the pile, old legislative fixtures were moved – out of town. Babette Jospehs (D), a pay jacker from Philadelphia, came to Harrisburg in 1985, received $10,034 in per diems last year and was defeated 28 years after she upended an incumbent. Joseph Preston, who has been nesting in the legislature since 1983, was crushed in Allegheny County and only able to scratch out 34.2% of the vote. He managed to cash-in on $21,671 in per diems in 2011.
Speaker of the House Sam Smith (R) succeeded his father “Snuffy” Smith in 1987. He is one of the last pay raise leaders still standing, but barely. Speaker Smith failed to win his home county – Jefferson – and only garnered a plurality of the vote. The Speaker took home $14,431 in per diems.
The Governor got a dose of reality as well. Tom Corbett’s anointed U.S. Senate candidate Steve Welch finished in third place. In the general election, look to see more candidates run against Corbett’s budget cuts, Marcellus Shale policy, and his firing of Joe Paterno.
Challengers also took out Kevin Murphy (D) and Ken Smith (D) from the Coal Region. Murphy raked in $17,637 in per diems last year. Mr. Smith successfully requested to have the election machines in Lackawanna County impounded, but failed to repay a dime of more than $130,000 in personal loans in two years. Smith also “forgot “ to report the money on his ethics statements.
Congressman Tim Holden (D), who was first elected in 1993 and was the longest serving representative in the Pennsylvania delegation, got clobbered by trial attorney Matt Cartwright in the gerrymandered 17th District.
Nasty ads blew-up Rep. Mark Mustio’s (R) state senate campaign in Allegheny County. Mr. Mustio bagged $18,459 in per diems last year. He finished third in a field of three, but won reelection for his House seat on the same day. Yep, in Pennsylvania you can run for two statewide offices at the same time. Mustio’s name could have appeared on the primary ballot a third time if he choose to run as delegate to the National Convention. How many per diems will Mr. Mustio get this year for running for two offices?
Eugene DePasquale (D-York County) and John Maher (R-Allegheny and Washington Counties) won their legislative seats and were also nominated as their party’s candidate for Auditor General. That means in November, no matter what the outcome of the election for Auditor General, both men will remain elected state officials. Maher, a CPA by trade, collected $25,192 in per diems last year.
Central Pennsylvania produced interesting results. No ads and a pink pig propelled Gene Stilp (D) to a Congressional victory. Rep. Sue Helm (R) demolished the endorsed party challenger, and in Harrisburg Bill Cluck switched parties and waged a successful last-minute write-in campaign.
Five Republicans were vying for an open seat in the 92nd (York County) including Anthony Pugliese (son of prominent lobbyist Rocco Pugliese) and William Sieg (nephew of Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman). Mike Regan, a former law enforcement officer, won the race handily and puts the kids in time out.
Clearly, the most bizarre result was the national story out of Greene County. Bill DeWeese (D) resigned his seat on Tuesday morning. He was sentenced to 2.5 to 5 years in prison in the afternoon for theft of services. In the evening, the recently retired legislator was nominated to take back his seat in an uncontested primary where he got more votes then his Republican challengers. DeWeese pocketed $23,104 in per diems in 2011.
The results are attributable to voter angst, low turnout and partisan redistricting. More importantly, money and dirty tricks no longer equal a slam dunk at the polls. The good news: Democracy is working. Here’s the bad news: The pension system is not.
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