Don’t forget there are important races in 2017, too

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By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

Tanned, rested and ready — amazing what the blue waters of the Caribbean and lots of odd beverages with paper umbrellas will do for the soul — and ready to jump into the burning dumpster fire that is politics, 2017.

While Republicans in the U.S. Senate debates various health bills that will likely cost them both their Senate majority and the U.S. House — and maybe two out of three local seats in Congress — it might just be time to bring the focus a bit closer to home and the near future.

While about a gazillion words have already been written about the 2018 Congressional Elections — and the 84 (okay, a slight exaggeration) Democrats seeking to run for those three seats, it might just be time to start thinking about an election day that takes place this year and the races for four county row offices.

Now, until recently, these races were basically a one-party show — Republicans had won pretty much every row office (this year’s batch: Treasurer, Controller, Clerk of Courts and Coroner) since the Civil War. Democrats ran candidates of varying quality — some good — some (cough-me-cough) not as good. But, in the end the results have turned out the same: GOP sweeps.

Before the advent of the age of Trump, 2017 looked to be the first year that Democrats had a real shot. The county’s demographics continue to trend toward Democrats, Hillary Clinton won the county by more than 9 points last year and the local committee now has something like leadership and the ability to raise real money and mount a true ground game.

So call that a gentle breeze behind their backs for local Democrats.

The Democrats managed to put up four quality candidates: Patricia Maisano, who faces Jack London for the open Treasurer seat; Maria Crossan who seeks to unseat Robin Marcello for Clerk of Courts, Margaret Reif, who is challenging Norm McQueen for Controller and Christina VandePol who is taking on Gordon Eck for Coroner.

In particular, the Treasurer race, where London, the New Coke of Chester County political candidates — as in no one seems sure why he was brought to market (even some Republicans), and it appears that he’s an acquired taste coming off a state Senate loss to Andy Dinniman last year — was tabbed to replace the retiring Ann Duke. Maisano, on the other hand, the spouse of long-time and beloved District Magistrate Daniel Maisano (a former candidate for GOP seats in recent years), brings a broad network of supporters in both parties, especially in the southern part of the county.

So, in a normal year, that would clearly be a race to watch where the Democrats could break through.

Enter Donald J. Trump, Billionaire and Chief Dumpster Arsonist.

Now, to be honest, what happens at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, rarely impacts what happens in county wide elections. But…

Well, the normal rules of gravity don’t seem to apply — and clearly, the local 2017 elections are rapidly moving toward becoming a referendum on Trump, on both sides of the aisle.

Democrats are looking to capture the angst and passion in their base —often impossible to turn out in odd years — to generate wins from Township Supervisor, to Boards of Education to, yes, county row offices. Republicans have to worry that the ongoing circus doesn’t turn off the more moderate and educated voters in their party (a large subset in Chester County) and see them either stay home in November, or worse, try to send a message to their party by voting for Democrats in the local and county elections.

Of course, the problem here is predicting what Trump and the growing civil war in the West Wing will push into the headlines. Will Trump fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions? Will Trump try to fire Special Counsel Robert Muller, touching of a Constitutional crisis? Will Reince Priebus get shoved out the door as Chief of Staff? Or will things calm down and the administration make meaningful progress on health care reform (less likely after Friday morning’s vote), tax reform and infrastructure?

Based on the last few weeks, the latter seems unlikely, but in this new world of political chaos theory its almost impossible to predict what the political climate will look like in two weeks, let alone 90 days.

***

Not shocking, but the local Congress members: Lloyd Smucker (R-16), Patrick Meehan (R-7) and Ryan Costello (R-6) have been targeted by Emily’s List, the PAC supporting female candidates. While it seems likely that Smucker (Christina Hartman) and Costello (Chrissy Houlahan) will face women challengers in 2018, it seems more likely that current state Senator Daylin Leach prevails in the 7th to run against Meehan. It will be interesting to see whether Emily’s List plays a big role in that primary — supporting female candidates — or not.

***

I’d make jokes about the current state of the state budget, but honestly, it’s impossible to do so as the situation is so pathetic.

While Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republicans in the state Senate (despite some of the usual suspects sporting Pampers) have acted like adults and seem to back a plan to modestly raise taxes (including a shale extraction tax), the toddlers in the State House GOP caucus continue to stamp their feet, refuse to allow revenue to match the spending plan they approved, and leave the state in fiscal limbo.

Forget ideology: these folks aren’t doing their job. We keep saying this like a broken record, but, if we keep sending people back to the state legislature who fail to do their job, how are we ever going to have an effective legislature? The only real solution is to not send some of them back (although clearly, term limits — four, two-year terms — would also help). Nothing puts the fear of God into a politician than the idea that they might lose their job. Right now, the majority of State Representatives seem to be acting like they can’t be fired.

***

Ending on a bright note: congratulations to U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello and his wife Christine who welcomed baby Caroline into the world, Monday. The couple already have a son, Ryan Jr. (3 1/2).

Congratulations and best wishes to the Costello family.

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