The May 16 primary, we're told, was the beginning of a popular revolt. A rebellion against the depraved culture of Harrisburg, as demonstrated by last year's legislative pay raise. Activists from across the political spectrum red-faced conservatives, reform-minded centrists, even left-leaning feminists are waving the red flag of revolution.
Few of them seem to have thought much about which revolution they're getting. France's Reign of Terror? The overthrow of the Shah?
Look, I'm not losing any sleep over the ouster of 17 incumbents, including Republican Senate leaders David Brightbill and Robert Jubelirer. Like the Shah or King Louis XVI, they needed to be replaced. The question is replaced with what?
Let's start with the guy who ousted Brightbill, Mike Folmer. Like this year's other insurgents, Folmer promised to clean up Harrisburg. Among other things, he pledged to "ban gifts to public officials." But Folmer's campaign received a gift of its own $152,000 in independent ads and mailings from the Pennsylvania Club for Growth, a business-fronted "reform" group.
Among the Club's biggest contributors is Pittsburgh Tribune-Review publisher Richard Mellon Scaife, who gave $10,000 in April. According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, other backers include the head of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, who contributed $5,000, and the head of a construction firm who donated a whopping $25,000.
Sure sounds like the end of special-interest politics is at hand, doesn't it? Corporate mavens financing political campaigns what could be more threatening to the status quo?
With Jubelirer and Brightbill out, meanwhile, the top dog in the Senate GOP is Jeff Piccola, the Republican whip from Dauphin County. Last year, you may recall, Piccola tried to use the state budget to push an anti-choice agenda, preventing the use of Medicaid funding for family-planning services.
Next year, he could get help from the guy who beat Jubelirer, John Eichelberger. Eichelberger's campaign boasts that he "believes Pennsylvania can and must do more to extend full legal protection to unborn children." Eichelberger also "opposes so-called 'domestic partnership benefits' and supports efforts to roll back recently enacted state laws that give special legal protection to homosexuals."
Over in the House, anti-choicers can count on the likes of Mark Harris, the 21-year-old Republican who beat incumbent Tom Stevenson down in Mount Lebanon. Harris' campaign Web site promises "to end taxpayer funding for so-called 'family planning' agencies."
Such agencies don't just provide abortions, of course. They also offer birth control and screen low-income patients for conditions such as cervical cancer and other disesases thereby ensuring that so-called "women" don't lose their so-called "lives."
But according to the conventional wisdom, this election was supposed to be good for women. That's because, in a long-overdue development, a handful of female challengers did win races. Lisa Bennington, for example, beat East End representative Frank Pistella by campaigning on voter resentment.
Pistella voted for the pay raise, no doubt. (Then again, he's also voted consistently to protect women's reproductive rights, and has stood firm for gay rights as well. It might have been even better for women if Ms. Bennington had lived in Mount Lebanon.) But while Pistella and other Democrats paid the price for their votes, the leaders who forced that vote upon them House Democratic whip Mike Veon and Democratic leader Bill DeWeese will be back next year.
That's the way the party crumbles, I guess. As a friend tells me, the revolution has to start somewhere.
But some of us didn't need a midnight pay raise to know Harrisburg was out of touch. The pay raise rankled, sure just not as much as, say, the legislature's refusal to increase the minimum wage for anyone else. And by empowering pro-business, anti-choice conservatives statewide, the May primary makes it even less likely such issues will be taken up in Harrisburg.
If you're one of the estimated 1.5 million Pennsylvanians without health insurance, you have even less chance of getting state help than you did before. I guess you can use the money you saved on legislative salaries to pay for that MRI. But you should start saving now: The pay raise cost the average Pennsylvanian about as much as a postage stamp.
And if you want to recruit activists to your cause, look for them on the ramparts come November. They'll be waving the banner right alongside the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association.