Is a ‘cross-fire hurricane’ bearing down on the 6th District?

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

“I was born in a cross-fire hurricane

And I howled at the morning driving rain

But it’s all right now, in fact, it’s a gas

But it’s all right. I’m Jumpin’ Jack Flash

It’s a gas, gas, gas”

— The Rolling Stones, Jumpin’ Jack Flash.

It’s pretty clear that politics over the next 18 or so months will be anything but calm, as the Republicans’ own “Cross-fire hurricane,” President Donald J. Trump, Billionaire, continues to storm through current and future Congressional races, leaving wreckage, anguish and of course, punch lines.

In the coming special election in Georgia’s Sixth congressional district, polling by the Atlanta Journal Constitution suggests that Democrat Jon Ossoff leads Republican Karen Handel by seven points with 10 days to go before the June 20 special election. Let’s keep in mind that this is the seat held not just by Tom Price (now the Secretary of Health) but was held by Newt freakin’ Gingrich, so it’s hardly a Democratic leaning district. A Democrat winning that seat isn’t just a canary in a coal mine, but a giant flaming turkey vulture all but screaming the impact that Trump is already having down ballot.

This week’s hearings featuring former FBI director James Comey testifying that Trump attempted to quash the investigation into former National Security Director Mike Flynn and his relationship with Russia didn’t help and likely hurt both Handel and the prospects of dozens of other GOP House members in 2018. Comey, in sworn testimony, said that Trump is lying. Trump, via lawyer and Twitter, suggested that Comey is lying — all but begging Congress to make the President testify under oath (or allow Democrats to ask why GOP Congressmen are protecting him by not making him testify under oath). It doesn’t look like it’s going to end well.

If you’re a bit Comey’d out and who isn’t after this week — let’s bring things a bit closer to home — with all this noise, which local Congressional seat appears to be right in the projected path of this hurricane in 2018?

Apparently, Chester County’s own 6th — currently held by Ryan Costello — seems right in the projected storm path. That’s not my opinion — well actually it is, too — but that of Rep. Steve Stivers, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Campaign. He cited Costello’s seat as one of two “bellweather” seats in an interview on C-SPAN’s Newsmakers, slated to air Sunday. Stiver said that Democrats would have to go beyond beating the vulnerable “Patriots” — 10 GOP Congress members seen as likely to face very difficult challenges in 2018 — but to what appeared previously to be safe seats, like Costello’s. Ironically, Costello is the chair of the “Patriots” program. Stivers cited the quality of likely Democratic challenger Chrissy Houlahan and the current environment as being a test — and if Costello loses, it is likely that the Republicans will lose control of the House.

“He’s a great young member, a rising star, but he’s got a very strong challenger,” Stivers said in the C-SPAN interview. “It’s not one of our [vulnerable ‘patriot’ seats], but in order to take the majority back they have to move beyond ‘patriot’ races.”

But if Ossoff wins GA-6 by the margin the polls suggest, far more moderate districts such as PA-6 (and PA-7 and PA-16) are going to be deeply in play next year.

***

Speaking of the 7th, it’s becoming more and more likely that state Sen. Daylin Leach is going to make a run at the Democratic nomination for the 7th — currently held by Rep. Pat Meehan.

As I’ve noted before, I don’t think that Leach is the best option — he has a litany of pretty liberal positions and off the cuff comments that I suspect won’t play as well in a Congressional race. Just reading his comments on Facebook (we have a lot of mutual friends on FB — so I see a lot of his social media comments), while wildly entertaining from a journalist’s perspective are the things that make campaign managers and media spokes people turn prematurely grey and drink heavily.

Personally, I like the guy and won’t have any hesitation voting for him if he ends up being the nominee (I live in the 7th, America’s Most Gerrymandered District (TM) ), but I’m not sure he’s the person to beat Meehan. Meehan? It’s hard to justify voting for a guy who seems to ignore Chester County.

Granted, Leach brings a couple of major plusses: he’s an excellent fundraiser, no small issue with Meehan sitting on about $2 million right now and he’s a fiery speaker who actually knows how to find Chester County without a GPS (I’ve seen him here a number of times — versus just once in recent years for Meehan, who seems to spend less time in the county than U.S. Senator Pat Toomey, something that I don’t entirely understand).

On balance, I still think Molly Sheehan is the best option, but Leach would certainly make for an interesting race next year.

***

On the state front: Pension Reform is now law.

Okay, sort of. The legislation signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf does basically nothing to change the current level of unfunded pension debt, or the crushing percentages being paid out by school districts. The bill will offer some savings, about $1.4 billion between now and 2050, but also cuts benefits for those hired after 2019.

It offers three options with varying amounts of 401K plans — and it is unclear whether that will mean a reduction into the main pension funds, an issue that could further spiral unfunded balances and cause another rate spike in a few years.

Keep in mind, this is the state legislature — and between votes in 2001, 2005 and so on, created the entire mess the state faces now.

At best, this is weak tea and doesn’t really do much beyond giving politicians a talking point. At worst (and since this is Pennsylvania, you know where my money is), it worsens the pension fund crisis, further handcuffs state budgets and school budgets and basically turns out to be another fiasco.

***

Fortunately, our pals in the state legislature have come up with a distraction: gambling. Pretty much everywhere.

Like deeply false claims of the past about casino gambling, proponents argued that it would mean enhanced revenue for the state. I’m sure you buy that as much as I do.

Putting slot machines in every bar — or allowing you to lose your house or kids’ college fund on your iPad is a pretty horrible idea.

But if you were living under the false impression that your government is about your interests, well, this should be a wake up call.

***

And then there’s the state budget proposal by the GOP, HB218, which is pretty lousy, even by Pennsylvania state legislature standards.

So lousy, in fact, that the Chester County Commissioners ripped the heck out of it in a resolution this week, noting the proposed budget would cut almost $2 million in funding for the county court system (which the state already fails to pay its fair share of).

The less than happy resolution, backed by all three Commissioners — including Republicans Michelle Kichline and Terence Farrell — reads a bit like this:

“WHEREAS, these cuts could cause inmate populations to swell, decrease public safety, and result in a lack of uniformity in the provision of justice across the state; and

“WHEREAS, the proposal argues that savings are to be had in reinventing government, but the cuts in House Bill 218 run exactly opposite to that objective, wholly dismantling successful initiatives already in place, reversing the significant and documented gains made by the Commonwealth and counties, and thwarting investment in any new innovations as counties focus just on meeting minimum service delivery thresholds; and

“WHEREAS, the eliminated funds and funding reductions do not come with relief for any mandates, nor do they reduce caseloads, which may ultimately require increases in county property taxes while programs remain regulated and controlled by state policy;…”

Well, you get the idea.

If the state forces these cuts — and some of the county tax hikes needed to make up for some of them — expect the finger of doom to be pointed directly at Chester County’s legislative delegation, just in time for the 2018 elections.

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James Pitcherella
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While reading, among other places, you can listen here:
https://youtu.be/eQSGw0hMd_I