‘Blue Wave’ helped by court rul­ing, #MeToo

The Southern Berks News - - FRONT PAGE - By Evan Brandt

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.

PETE BAN­NAN - DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Chrissy Houla­han speaks to her sup­port­ers at Franklin Com­mons in Phoenixville on elec­tion night af­ter claim­ing vic­tory in the 6th Con­gres­sional District.

DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA — FILE PHOTO

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.

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