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Casey, Wolf Maintain Blue State Trend

November 7, 2018

Casey, Wolf Maintain Blue State Trend

Sen. Bob Casey of Scranton and Gov. Tom Wolf achieved relatively easy re-election victories Tuesday and maintained a trend in Pennsylvania that should point to revised state policy.

With few exceptions — most notably Republican President Donald Trump’s narrow upset victory in Pennsylvania in 2016 — Democrats have dominated most races that cannot be contained by gerrymandered district borders. That is, they win statewide.

Democrats hold the governorship, all state row offices and most of the appellate court seats that are decided in statewide races, and Casey now has won six times statewide — twice for auditor general, once for state treasurer and three times for U.S. Senate.

Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey has won two terms but much more narrowly than Casey, and likely benefited in 2016 from Trump’s surprising performance. He defeated Democrat Katie McGinty by 1.5 percentage points.

Act quickly on gerrymandering

Despite the Democrats’ strong statewide performances, Republicans have held large majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature and the state congressional delegation. Part of the reason for that is the ruthless gerrymandering of legislative districts following the 2010 census. The original redistricting was so severe that the state Supreme Court prevented its implementation for an entire election cycle. Then, the same court overturned the congressional district map this year on grounds that it violated the state constitutional mandate for fair elections. It commissioned a redistricting that produced far more balanced districts and much more competitive races Tuesday.

The next census is in 2020, after which the state legislative and senatorial and U.S. congressional districts will be redefined. Statewide electoral results and Tuesday’s results in the redefined congressional districts call for the Legislature to adopt an honest redistricting method to ensure that the districts reflect the actual electorate rather than legislators’ preferences.

That requires rapid passage of a state constitutional amendment to wrest control of the process from self-interested legislators, and give it to an independent commission. An amendment would have to be approved in consecutive legislative sessions and in a statewide referendum, so it requires immediate attention.

Outcomes should inform policy

The question now is whether Wolf’s and Casey’s overwhelming victories will inform other state politicians about the direction Pennsylvania should take.

Wolf campaigned emphatically on the priorities he set in his first term, and his decisive victory over former state Sen. Scott Wagner demonstrates that Pennsylvanians largely want to see that agenda realized.

It includes increasing the state commitment to public education funding, and paying for that partially with a long overdue extraction tax on natural gas commensurate with those imposed by other gas-producing states.

Casey’s decisive victory is a further repudiation by Pennsylvanians of Republican Rep. Lou Barletta’s demagoguery on “sanctuary cities” and illegal immigration, and his consistent support for attempts to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act — including the elimination of the law’s guarantee of competitively priced coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

High turnout encouraging

Perhaps the best news from the election was generally high turnout locally, statewide and nationally. In Lackawanna County, it was between 55 and 60 percent, whereas turnout for midterm elections generally is in the mid-30-percent range.

Given the deep divisions affecting not just government but the society, which this election did not and could not resolve, the high turnout reflects an appropriate sense of urgency and concern about the nation’s direction.

Ideally, voters locally and nationally will make that the new normal.

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