Elec­tion 2016 Win­ners & Losers

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - Low­man S. Henry Colum­nist

One of the many quirks of our po­lit­i­cal sys­tem is that each year there are win­ners and losers among politi­cians whose names are not ac­tu­ally on the bal­lot. This year is no ex­cep­tion. Nei­ther Penn­syl­va­nia Gov. Tom Wolf nor state Sen. Scott Wag­ner, R-York County, was up for elec­tion this year, but re­sults of the bal­lot­ing sent their ca­reer paths in op­po­site di­rec­tions.

Gov. Wolf has had a tough first two years in of­fice deal­ing with a Repub­li­can-con­trolled Leg­is­la­ture. His ef­forts to dra­mat­i­cally ex­pand gov­ern­ment spend­ing, and to im­ple­ment the his­toric tax hikes needed to pay for that agenda re­sulted in the long­est bud­get stale­mate in state his­tory. Leg­isla­tive Repub­li­cans won.

On Nov. 8, vot­ers re­warded the GOP with even larger leg­isla­tive ma­jori­ties. Democrats in the state Se­nate are now on life sup­port. Two Demo­cratic in­cum­bents were de­feated by chal­lengers; a third Demo­crat seat went Repub­li­can af­ter the in­cum­bent gave up sev­eral months ago and re­signed from the bal­lot. Com­bined, the three seats give Repub­li­cans a 34-16 edge and some­thing rarely if ever seen in state gov­ern­ment: a veto proof ma­jor­ity.

Mean­while, across the ro­tunda in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, Repub­li­cans saw their al­ready his­tor­i­cally high ma­jor­ity ex­pand by three seats as four in­cum­bent Democrats and one in­cum­bent Repub­li­can lost. The Repub­li­can pick-ups came in south­west­ern Penn­syl­va­nia which has been trend­ing to­ward the GOP for sev­eral elec­tion cy­cles. In fact, the most en­dan­gered species in Penn’s Woods might well be the non-ur­ban leg­isla­tive Demo­crat, with only a hand­ful of Demo­cratic law­mak­ers rep­re­sent­ing dis­tricts out­side of the state’s ur­ban cores.

All of this mat­ters be­cause next year’s state bud­get bat­tle is shap­ing up to be even tougher than the first. Repub­li­cans caved into Gov. Wolf’s spend­ing de­mands this year, but failed to fully fund the bud­get. That cou­pled with rev­enue sources that ei­ther never ma­te­ri­al­ized or have failed to meet pro­jec­tions presages a ma­jor fis­cal fight next year.

Not only have Repub­li­cans added to their num­bers, but this year’s leg­isla­tive elec­tions moved both cham­bers fur­ther to the Right. Mod­er­ate state se­na­tors like Cum­ber­land County’s Pat Vance and Lan­caster’s Lloyd Smucker have been re­placed by far more con­ser­va­tive leg­is­la­tors. The con­tin­ued drift of the House GOP cau­cus from mod­er­ate south­east­ern dom­i­nance to con­ser­va­tive cen­tral and west­ern Penn­syl­va­nia in­flu­ence means tougher sail­ing for those want­ing to raise ei­ther taxes or spend­ing.

Gov. Wolf also saw his agenda re­jected in another race; that the bat­tle for Penn­syl­va­nia’s U.S. Se­nate seat. The Demo­cratic nom­i­nee, Katie McGinty, was Wolf’s first chief of staff and ar­chi­tect of the tax and spend plan that trig­gered the epic bud­get bat­tle. In­cum­bent U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey made hay of that ef­fec­tively paint­ing McGinty as out of touch with the fi­nan­cial needs of av­er­age Penn­syl­va­ni­ans. He won, she lost.

How then do the for­tunes of one state se­na­tor rise on all of this? Sen. Wag­ner was an es­tab­lish­ment pariah when he ran for an open seat in York County in 2014. Shunned by his own party Wag­ner ac­com­plished an his­toric first in Penn­syl­va­nia: He won a spe­cial elec­tion on a write-in de­feat­ing both party nom­i­nees.

The up­start se­na­tor has quickly gained clout and was tapped by his col­leagues to lead the Se­nate Repub­li­can Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, tasked with recruiting, fund­ing and elect­ing Repub­li­cans to the state se­nate. Af­ter play­ing a ma­jor role in help­ing to win sev­eral seats two years ago, Wag­ner ef­fec­tively re­cruited can­di­dates like Sen.-elect John DiSanto of Dauphin County who up­ended Demo­cratic in­cum­bents last week. Much of the credit for the se­nate’s now veto-proof ma­jor­ity goes to Wag­ner.

This is im­por­tant be­cause Wag­ner has made no se­cret of his de­sire to run for gov­er­nor in 2018 and is widely ex­pected to an­nounce his can­di­dacy within weeks. Hav­ing built a strong Se­nate ma­jor­ity gives him a leg up both on the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion and on a grass­roots or­ga­ni­za­tion for the bat­tle against Wolf, who is ex­pected to seek re-elec­tion.

Thus the 2016 elec­tion has set the stage afor the be­gin­ning of the next big elec­toral bat­tle in Penn­syl­va­nia. Po­lit­i­cal for­tunes have risen and fallen. And the never end­ing cy­cle of cam­paigns has al­ready be­gun anew of­fer­ing no respite for weary vot­ers.

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