‘Blue Wave’ helped by court ruling, #MeToo
Several national political and social trends manifested themselves locally in 2018, affecting the midterm election and helping to bring about the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.
But the Democratic victories were not limited to the national level, with Democrats also taking a number of state house seats, including some that had long been occupied by popular Republicans.
One of the first Republicans to fall was former U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan, who represented the famously gerrymandered 7th District.
But it was not the court decision which re-drew Pennsylvania’s contorted district boundaries which brought Meehan down, but his pursuit of a former female staffer, and his use of taxpayer money to try to buy her silence.
A four-term Republican, Meehan had already announced he would not seek re-election, but as the scandal grew and the details of his infatuation became more public, he announced his resignation in April, as well as his tent to repay the government $39,000 he used from his House office account as a severance payment to help settle the woman’s allegations against him.
That set up a scramble for his seat that was ultimately won by Democrat Mary Gay Scanlon, one of several women Pennsylvania
voters sent to Washington for the first time since 2014.
She replaced Meehan in the 7th and will represent the new 4th District that comes into being in 2019.
That new district is the result of a decision early in 2018 by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which over-turned the eight-yearold district lines drawn by the Republican majority in the Pennsylvania General Assembly which, the court ruled, unfairly favored one party over the other.
The new districts will only be in place until the next Census, when the process returns to Harrisburg, although newly reelected Gov. Tom Wolf has appointed a special task force to look at ways the process can be put in the hands of a citizens panel, and not the politicians that benefit from how the lines are drawn.
His decision comes in the wake of the near victory of a bill, pushed by a state-wide citizens group called Fair Districts PA, that would have done just that, but died when Republicans added amendments which would have gutted the intent of the bill.
Not only did the court decision eliminate the sprawling 7th District, widely said to look like “Goofy kicking Donald Duck,” but re-drew the 6th District and created a new 4th district comprised largely of Montgomery County.
That new map, and the difficulties of being a moderate Republican in the
Trump era, ultimately convinced incumbent Ryan Costello to decide in march, late in the process, not to seek reelection in the newly re-drawn 6th District.
“It was a combination of factors,” said Costello, a graduate of Owen J. Roberts High School. He cited personal and political considerations that weighed heavily on him, as well as a distaste for the prospects of waging a bitter and costly campaign to hold the office he has occupied since 2015. “It has been a deeply personal decision and evaluation.
The congressman said his decision to leave the race was not a matter of fear that he would be defeated by the presumptive Democratic nominee for the newly drawn 6th Congressional District, Easttown businesswoman Chrissy Houlahan.
Houlahan went on to easily win the election and add to the wave of women voters sent to the House as part of the Democratic victory in winning the majority there.
Another was former Pennsylvania House Representative Madeline Dean, who handily took the new 4th district, defeating political newcommer Dan David of Skippack.
Democrats also found victory at the state level as well, ousting longtime area Republicans including Representatives Tom Quigley in the 146th District, Warren Kampf in the 157th District, Duane Milne in the 167th District and Becky Corbin in the 155th District.
Chester County voters provided victories to Democrats Dan K. Williams in the 74 Legislative District
— the county’s first black Democratic state representative — Danielle Friel Otten in the 155th District, Melissa Shusterman in the 157th District, Christina Sappey in the 158th District, and Kristine Howard in the 167th District.
Also ousted was longtime state Sen. John Rafferty, R-44th Dist., who was defeated by a political newcomer, Katie Muth.
The Democrats were helped both by a changing voter registration advantage in the once-reliable Republican suburbs of Philadelphia, but also by a record breaking mid-term election voter turn out.
In Berks County, 141,109 voters cast their ballots according to unofficial results — 45,849 fewer voters than those who cast their ballots for Trump or Hillary Clinton in 2016.
But that’s still nearly 78,000 more voters than went to the polls last year, and more than 38,000
higher than the last midterm election in 2014.
Voters in Montgomery County notched a 65 percent voting rate; under the record 78 percent turn-out for 2016, but towering over the 32 percent turn-out in 2017 and the 48 percent turnout in the last midterm election in 2014.
And even though Democrat Linda Fields of Pottstown lost her bid to unseat Republican state Sen. Bob Mensch in the 24th Dist., she earned 585 more votes than Mensch in the Montgomery County portion of the district.
That advantage was erased six times over by the more than 3,000 vote lead Mensch took over Fields in the Berks County portion of the district.
And while Montgomery County’s shift from reliably red to reliably blue has been ongoing for several years, the shift in Chester County is much more startling, where Republicans still hold a 11,500 advantage in voter registrations.
During the last midterm in 2014, voter turnout in Chester County was just under 47 percent and last year, a paltry 32 percent of registered voters went to the polls. Tuesday, voter turnout was more than 66 percent.
John Kennedy, professor of political science at West Chester University, said the county’s vote for Democrats underscored the changing face of the political map across southeastern Pennsylvania.
“I think the results are from a combination of factors. You had candidates who were well matched for the district — women in many instances — and who provided an antidote to Trump,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said there has been for some time a path for Chester County Democrats to make it to the state Capitol, “but this being the kind of year it is made that easier. Republicans were more vulnerable, and the same way it happened in Montgomery County, the balance has shifted.”
That shift resulted in Chester County GOP Chairman Val DiGiorgio submitting his resignation as head of the county party. DiGiorgio continues to serve as the chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party.
the Pennsylvania Supreme court imposed a new congressional district map in Pennsylvania, replacing the map drawn up by the republican-controlled state legislature in 2011.
Chrissy Houlahan speaks to her supporters at Franklin Commons in Phoenixville on election night after claiming victory in the 6th Congressional District.
Madeleine Dean, left, the Democratic candidate for the new 4th Congressional District, stopped by the polling place at Gilbertsville Fire Company on Election Day and met Rachael Hendricks and Boyertown School Board member Jill Dennin.