Democrats: there are a lot of Republicans on your primary ballot, know what to look for

By Rich Heiland, Columnist, The Times

It’s going to be critical for Democratic voters to take their “cheat sheets” into the polling place and be absolutely sure the candidates they vote for really are Democrats. If you are concerned about far righters taking over school boards, county elections, boroughs and towns, you need to understand the law suits the far-righters file start in our Common Pleas Courts.

THE UGLY SIDE of Pennsylvania’s absurd and dangerous practice of allowing candidates for judicial and school board races to cross-file into both Democratic and Republican primaries is showing itself in races for the Chester County Common Pleas Court.

Again, voters in each party will see names on their May 16 primary ballot that belong to candidates not of their party. That means voters, if they truly want to vote their intent, will have to educate themselves more than most normally do in coming days.

That’s why, if you are a Democrat, you need to write these names down and take them into the voting booth with you. The ballot will be confusing, loaded up with Republicans and with no party ID to guide you.

Sarah Black; Judge Nichole Forzato, current County Sheriff Fredda Maddox; Thomas “Tip” McCabe, Current District Attorney Deb Ryan. Two non-endorsed Dems also will be on the ballot: Paige Simmons and Kristine Howard.

Any other names you see on the ballot will be Republicans and they are campaigning as if they were Democrats, to further muddy the waters.

A few days ago I noted in a post about this same cross-filing issue involving school boards that Republicans today cannot run on who and what they are in Chester County. Just as radical right school board candidates have had to scrub their social media, put out position statements that are not even close to what they really plan on doing if elected, the same can be said of judges.

One Republican candidate, Dave Black, had the good fortune in random ballot placement to be the first candidate on the May 16 primary ballot. He is using that in a misleading way, sending out literature and making videos that make it appear he is a Democrat.

This is an important race. If a candidate wins in both primaries, he or she will be unopposed in the November general election.

A week or so ago, speaking to a mostly Democratic Party group about the perils of cross-filing, local attorney Garen Megurian made it crystal clear that if our democracy is on the verge of sliding into becoming an oligarchy, it may well happen through the courts.

Starting with the Supreme Court and working down Megurian graphically outlined how courts today are interpreting law and the Constitution in ways not seen before. Well, at least maybe not since the Taney Court and the Dred Scott decision.

If you are among those that think a race for a common pleas court is ho-hum, you might want to think again.

The common pleas courts are where most of us will go if we find ourselves involved in either criminal or civil matters involving Pennsylvania law. Most important to democracy, they are where challenges to local government and school boards begin.

In recent years far-right groups have filed suits claiming election fraud in Chester County and local school boards also have been targets. Those suits were filed in common pleas courts. Fortunately, they were rejected.

One of the supposed intents of cross-filing was to make judgeships “non-partisan” but events over the past few years have shown they are anything but. The Republican move to remake our Democracy into an Oligarchy began in the 1970s and has evolved, mostly undercover, to today and the Trump era. We have seen Federal judgeships swing to radical far-right control and today the Supreme Court is not just far-right, it is outright corrupt.

Who sits on the bench matters. It may well determine, taken as a whole across all courts, whether we remain a democracy or become an oligarchy. An oligarchy, by definition, is “government by the few, especially despotic power exercised by a small and privileged group for corrupt or selfish purposes.”

CURRENTLY WE HAVE a U.S. Supreme Court where the majority claim to be “originalists.” That word is used today to describe judges who think the only way to interpret the Constitution is to climb inside the minds of the founders and follow their guidance. Alas, this current black-robed mob has not climbed inside the founders’ minds. Had they done so they would have learned that to almost a man (and they were all men) the founders knew full well their document would have to change with the times.

In fact, they planned it that way. Much of what went into the original document was compromise. To gain ratification the southern, slave-owning states were needed. That is why slavery remained legal. It’s why slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person. Southern states were afraid of being out-represented by northern ones based on population so while not being willing to concede slaves should be considered full-fledged humans, they were fine with having them considered part-human to boost representation.

The Second Amendment also was a sop to the slave owners. Yes, there were legitimate concerns about being able to field an army, until a functional standing army was created. But the real impetus behind the Second Amendment was the slave-owning states used “militias” as slave patrols and to tamp down slave revolts. Today we have a military; we have the National Guard; we have more and more militarized police forces. Yet, the far-right keeps using the slavery-based Second Amendment as a cudgel.

The Electoral College was another bone thrown to the South. And of course, women could not vote.

Bottom line, if the founders had intended for what they created to be set in stone for all time they would not have included a process for amendment.

So, as we look at today’s climate and the courts, it’s safe to say that the current majority on the Supreme Court, and their soulmates Republicans have littered lower courts with, none are “originalists.”

Consider what Thomas Jefferson had to say specifically about the courts and oligarchy.

“It is a very dangerous doctrine to consider the [Supreme Court] judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions. It is one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy.”

Going further on the subject of change, in a letter to James Madison Jefferson wrote “The question Whether one generation of men has a right to bind another, seems never to have been started either on this or our side of the water… (But) between society and society, or generation and generation there is no municipal obligation, no umpire but the law of nature. We seem not to have perceived that, by the law of nature, one generation is to another as one independent nation to another… On similar ground it may be proved that no society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation… Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of 19 years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force and not of right.”

Jefferson was a bit extreme in his view of what the lifespan of a constitution should be but his writings show there was a lot of debate on the nature and flexibility of the document.

Do your homework. Make sure you that if you intend to vote for Democrats in the Democratic Primary that you actually do that. Your vote matters.

Rich Heiland is a retired reporter, editor and publisher. He has been a part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting team, National Columnist of the Year and a journalism instructor. He lives in West Chester.

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