Ryan Costello’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

Donald J. Trump, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are trying really, really hard to make sure U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello doesn’t get re-elected in 2018 — although it may be his own history that ultimately proves his undoing.

Oh, sure, the President and the Speaker of the House — as fellow Republicans — will swear until the cows come home that they back the two-term Congressman from northern Chester County. But their actions of late — amount to fitting Costello with cement boots and tossing him into the lake at Marsh Creek State Park.

Costello — already under fire for co-sponsoring the bill that gutted the Drug Enforcement Agency’s ability to stop distributors from flooding the market with opioids and then getting enough drug industry donations to fund a small country, which we get to in deeper detail shortly — has been aggressively moving to be seen as moderate and bipartisan, as he anticipates a scary race against well-funded Democrat Chrissy Houlahan looming in 2018.

So when Trump (who was for it before he was against it) trashed the compromise deal reached by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to solve the short term and then Ryan suggested it would never see the U.S. House floor, Costello, already having a lousy week, had to be smarting. While the bill remains alive, with 24 bi-partisan sponsors, if Trump is not on board, the bill seems unlikely to get to the floor in the House.

While I can’t speak or anyone else, it seems people won’t be thrilled with this, if the health care insurance market blows up.

In my case, the state already announced what was expected to be an 8% increase will now be 30%. In terms of dollars and cents, that means going from a $2,000 to a $7,000 increase this coming year for me and my family. Without some sort of fix, the individual marketplace is going to be ugly — and we’re already seeing hikes in the group health insurance market as well.

And despite the fact that Costello supported a similar, moderate compromise package in the House, voters typically won’t care — more than likely blaming him for the loss of benefits.

Late Thursday, the U.S. Senate created another poison pill for Costello: the budget resolution. The non-binding resolution is needed to move tax cuts — but, it calls for $1.5 billion in cuts to Social Security and Medicaid, which basically makes itself into a campaign commercial if Costello votes “yes.”

So voters will hear that Costello gutted Social Security and Medicaid and caused their health insurance premiums to spike — at least that’s what any Democratic campaign commercial will say, repeatedly — and then offer the coup d’grace: the opioid mess.

Okay — let’s be entirely fair: the bill Costello co-sponsored was passed by unanimous consent (meaning all Republicans and Democrats said yes) and was signed into law by President Barack Obama. The law made it much harder for the DEA to stop unscrupulous distributors from flooding the market with opioids — some were selling unexplainable amounts of drugs to retailers (one example cited a small town where previously 10,000 oxycodone pills were typically sold in a month, suddenly spiking to 100,000).

The rather lame defense of most legislators has been “they didn’t read” the seven-page bill, which is crappy if true.

That’s an argument that Costello — who did not respond to The Washington Post (but as he subsequently pointed out, made his defense in local media), which broke the story working with CBS’ 60 Minutes — can’t make as a co-sponsor.

Additionally, as a trained attorney, he had to know what the bill would do.

Which is bad.

Now, here’s the worse part: the drug industry has poured money into Costello’s campaign coffers for years. Just this year — and using generous definitions (there’s a lot of contributions from drug retailers and wholesalers I didn’t count) — Costello has gotten $40,000 this year from big Pharma. Go back through his entire federal elective career and that number soars into the six digits.

While it is certainly a cautionary tale on the corrosive impact of money in politics, the politics of it are even worse.

Imagine this commercial:

Announcer: (over various images of news paper headlines about overdoses and deaths): As Pennsylvania battles a growing and deadly opioid crisis, Ryan Costello cashed in big to make sure that drugs kept on flowing into our communities….

Cut to shot of grieving mother, tears rolling down her cheeks.

Mother: “My son Brandon died this past year from an overdose. He was just 19, he had his whole life ahead of him. And now I hear Mr. Costello might have helped put those drugs on the street. How could you, Mr. Costello, how could you….?

Announcer: (over shots of wanly smiling Costello): Indeed, Mr. Costello, how could you take the drug companies money and put our kids at risk? How. Could. You?

Pennsylvania needs better leadership…

Combine that with ads touting Costello’s expected vote for cuts to Social Security and Medicaid and, well, you can see where this is going.

Costello is a gifted politician — a guy with brains and usually something like a moral compass — so it is possible he will overcome all of this and win reelection in 2018. But the odds of that got a lot worse in just one week.

***

Usually, local District Justice races are low-key elections. Not so in 15-3-04 in the Kennett Square/Unionville area. This race has seemed more like a combination of the movies Election and Mean Girls, with a lot of vitriol being thrown out by mostly one side.

Obviously, it’s disappointing. But it underlines a problem with electing judges (and school boards). These need to be non-partisan elections and shouldn’t be run like a Philly ward leader brawl.

***

The absentee management of the Chester County Republican Party doesn’t seem to be going very well, as chaos seems to be enveloping the Grand Old Party on the local level — as message discipline and basic understanding of election law used to be staples of the party’s operation.

With County Chair Val DiGiorgio busy as state chair, let’s just say that details are becoming a problem.

Let’s start with Phoenixville Mayoral Candidate Dave Gautreau calling for the borough to use “drug sniffing bunnies” to help battle the growing opioid crisis (one might argue that using “campaign-cash corrupted elective official sniffing bunnies” might prove more effective) at a mayoral forum.

Of course, there’s no such thing — the bunnies were a parody story published on the “People of Lancaster” site — but there seems to have been no one to counsel Gautreau on the facts before the forum. Now, he’s an national (international) Internet meme, which tends not to help one’s political fortunes.

Less funny, but a better indication that no one is at home over on Church Street (the GOP’s county HQ), are allegations that Caln Commissioner John Contento used his township business card (with his township email) for a county-party run literature drop.

Yes, it’s illegal if as claimed — the campaign law violation equivalent of a parking ticket, granted — but the kind of sloppy, mindless error that the county GOP didn’t used to make. For $25 (oh, the joys of using VistaPrint or some such, if you don’t need to have union indicia), Contento could have had his own cards printed up and used a Google email address. Someone should have questioned using township materials, especially the email address in light of the GOP harping on inappropriate email use last year — a rookie mistake — and spiked it before it ever happened.

With DiGiorgio focused on Harrisburg and the whole state — as he should be as state chair — along with most of what had been an exceptionally efficient and effective staff that had run the county party (there’s no way county party solicitor Joel Frank lets this pass if he knows about it), there’s a clear lack of anyone being in charge of the county party.

At a time when the Chester County Republican Committee faces some of the toughest challenges in its history — between the changing demographics of the county, a better managed and vigorous county Democratic Party and the current national environment — it seems clear that the party needs a full-time, on the ground chair, which DiGiorgio cannot do while serving a state chair.

There are numerous smart people ready to take up the mantle, starting with current party Secretary Shannon Royer, and build a new leadership team.

The time has come for DiGiorgio to step aside. 

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