How the Far-Right Wing of the Republican Party could Undermine the Commonwealth
It could happen here.
The destruction of the public school system. Increases of the Sales and Income Taxes. The systematic elimination of the middle-class. The near elimination of public transit. Major cities seeing reduced funding and going bankrupt, employers allowed to fire people for their sexual preferences, the closure of dozens of abortion clinics, and an end to unions. That is the bleak future the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania may begin to face come January 20, 2019.
Sinclair Lewis wrote in 1936 of a nightmare scenario where the United States fell under the siren call of fascism and the destruction of the Republic due to it in his book, “It Can’t Happen Here.” Thankfully the Election of 1936 saw the reelection of FDR and in the following years a sound rejection of Fascism and Far-Right politics, but only after we saw some of our darkest thoughts as a nation materialize.
This article is a similar warning in using facts. If there only is one thing I want you to take away from this, it’s that there is a Plot to Destroy Pennsylvania by the Far-Right Wing of the Republican Party.
The plot starts by eliminating the property taxes that pay for schools and is the key to accomplishing their goals. With a Steve Bannon-backed candidate for Governor named Scott Wagner, the political capital lost by Governor Tom Wolf due to numerous budget battles, the Far-Right sees a tenure led by a Governor Wagner as an inevitability. The scenario I outlined at the onset are the goals of the Far-Right, both in deed and action, all under the guise of doing what they think is best for Pennsylvania.
My goal is to illustrate not only why they are disastrously wrong, but to sound the alarm while there is still time to make sure their plot never comes to fruition.
The Rise of the Far-Right in Office
Pennsylvania has always had a strong Republican Party. Largely leftover from before the Southern Strategy, these Eisenhower-era Republicans began to follow the Christian-Conservatism of Reagan and slightly to the Neo-Conservatism of Bush. By and large, the Republican Party of Pennsylvania has had a long history of being filled with moderates who want to see government work for the people of this Commonwealth.
In a special election held in the Far Northeast of Philadelphia during March of 2015, Martina White defied the odds when she won the 170th State District special election and became only the second Republican to represent Philadelphia in the state’s General Assembly in Harrisburg. The Philly GOP was thrilled with White’s victory while most Democrats had written it off as a fluke. In hindsight, it was the first signs that the Far-Right had begun to infect Philadelphia.
While most Philadelphia Republicans tend to take fairly mainstream views in relation to immigration and abortion, Martina White has taken a firmly Far-Right view. In one of her first legislative acts she sponsored legislation to take away federal funds for “Sanctuary Cities”.
For those who are unfamiliar with what a “Sanctuary City” is, there is no official, or legal, definition. Most cities that identify as such will not report someone here illegally to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unless that person has either committed a crime or has previously committed a crime. The justification for this is twofold: Not only do they see this as the responsibility of ICE to enforce Federal Law, this also allows local police departments to work with communities that may have high illegal immigrant populations since they would be more willing to talk to the police to go after and arrest the real bad guys committing crimes and help them instead of being afraid of being deported.
Others see this differently: They see cities that allow this as hotbeds for crime and “sanctuaries” for illegal immigrants. Martina White firmly believes in the latter and has sponsored bills designed to take money away from Philadelphia law enforcement through grants, a result that would decidedly hurt the city she was elected to represent. These bills were meant to pressure the City of Philadelphia to change its laws through economic pressure. While the Mayor of Philadelphia, Democrat Jim Kenney, obviously opposed this move, the Philadelphia GOP firmly agreed. In fact, the Philadelphia GOP over the 2016 election cycle began to make this anti-illegal immigrant stance a key issue of the local party.
Across the state, it hasn’t been much better: During the last legislative session, Representative Metcalfe (R) invited known White Supremacist, Robert Vandervoort, to speak to the General Assembly on a bill to make English the official language of Pennsylvania.
Like most lawmakers, Rep. Metcalfe has videos of himself speaking on various topics. One of these is a video of him ridiculing liberals with the title, “The Intolerant Left”. His biggest focus is on undocumented immigrants with nearly 10 videos on the topic alone, ranging from “Cracking Down on Illegal Immigration” to “Illegals in the Job Market”. Neither elected GOP officials, nor spokespeople for the party, have criticized Rep. Metcalfe for inviting a White Supremacist to address the General Assembly.
State Senator David G. Argall was able to get a ballot initiative on the November 7th ballot to eliminate the Property Tax in Pennsylvania.
In the spring of 2017 Michael Meehan was elected as the Chairman of the Philadelphia GOP. Since taking over, the same Philly GOP that had previously touted its LGBTQ members now states clearly on its website that they consider “protecting the sanctity of marriage” (which is code for being against same-sex marriage) a core principal of the party.
The anti-immigrant, racist, and anti-LGBTQ polices of the Far-Right have been in the rise in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the last 10 years, and those waves of hatred have begun to infiltrate the shores of Philadelphia.
The Decline of Moderates and the Rise of Party Purity
2017 saw a decline in moderate voices of the Republican Party. While Philadelphia is home to mostly moderate Republicans, in particular Al Schmidt and David Oh, Pennsylvania on a whole saw two otherwise moderate Republican U.S. Representatives retire. The retirement of U.S. Congressman Charlie Dent is illustrative of the purge of moderates in the Republican Party in Pennsylvania, a purge that has its roots in 2002.
Looking in retrospect at Governor Tom Ridge, who would go on to become the first head of the Department of Homeland Security, it’s amazing to think a Republican expanded environmental protections and was pro-choice in Pennsylvania, becoming the most popular Republican governor in his state’s history. During his stint in the Bush Administration he was repeatedly pointed out for being a moderate voice in that administration. After Democrat Barack Obama was elected President in 2008, the Tea Party rose to oppose the Republicans that they saw as “complacent” and “weak” in the face of a now entirely Democratically-controlled U.S. Government, and during their rise people like Tom Ridge was considered weak. The purge began of moderates and the great cleaving for party purity began in earnest.
Riding the wave of Tea Party momentum in 2010 saw the Republicans take back the Pennsylvania State House and the election of Republican Governor Tom Corbett.
After 8 years of Democratic Governor, and former Mayor of Philadelphia, Ed Rendell’s tenure, the state saw an expansion of legalized gambling, changes in school property taxes that required that reductions to those taxes only occurred where the local school board accepted funds from gambling, and even after the 2008 economic collapse the state fared better than most states. At the same time, the overall resentment of Philadelphia by the rest of the state rise during this time. With the election of Governor Corbett, Republicans felt they could change the tide with a man they thought best embodied their politics.
Governor Corbett’s tenure was filled with controversial statements and a perception of a lack of real progress. Even before being elected and still serving as the state’s Attorney General, Corbett “called” Twitter before one of his grand juries to gain information about anonymous users who had criticized him, something that his office would go on to deny. While Pennsylvania saw little job loss during the 2008 economic collapse, the Commonwealth would only experienced about 2% job growth, placing it 47th in the nation. In 2013, Corbett unveiled a plan to privatize the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) that never fully materialized. Governor Corbett also slashed funding for state universities by 50% and not only supported fracking but was firmly against taxing it. The biggest blow to his reelection campaign came when he said he not only opposed Same-Sex Marriage, but went so far as to compare it to a brother and sister getting married.
While Corbett was focused on achieving his goals during his term, state legislators were on something big. On December 13, 2011, state Republicans unveiled a congressional redistricting plan that took 3 Democratic Representatives and put them into the same district while putting 6 different Republicans into safer districts. The Pennsylvania Legislative plan of August of 2011 added House seats in the Republican-strong areas of Allentown, Berks, Chester, and York Counties while eliminating districts in more Democratic-leaning areas of Erie, Philadelphia, and two seats in Allegheny County. The moves sought to make the Republican hold on power as permanent as possible.
But 2014 put most of those plans to a grinding halt. The backlash against Corbett’s term resulted in Democrat Tom Wolf’s election, marking the first time in the modern era that an incumbent governor did not get elected to a second term in Pennsylvania history. Victory was in the eyes of Democrats and liberals as they saw this as part of the overall rejection of the Far-Right Tea Party in the nation.
The Far-Right Wing of the Pennsylvanian Republicans saw it as a call to arms and a reason to regroup and focus on the long term.
Proposed Bills and Bad Budgets
In recent years, Pennsylvania Republican bills have become more extreme, leaning strongly Far-Right, and should be of incredible concern to the people of Pennsylvania.
In March of 2017, a series of bills were introduced in to turn Pennsylvania a “Right to Work” state similar to Michigan through the “Open Workforce Initiative” which sought to eliminate mandatory dues to unions for state employees, effectively destroying the ability of public sector unions to fight for their workers. One recent bill would have withheld the name of any officer involved in a shooting until the office is charged which would have severely reduced police transparency in these cases. Senate Bill 3, introduced in February of this year, tried to ban abortion after 24 weeks and is now in the Senate Health Committee waiting for approval. In 2015 a Voter ID Law became law, only to be struck down by a state court. That same year saw that notorious “English-Only” bill mentioned earlier. As of now, nearly all of these bills have either failed or stalled.
Since 2015, the Pennsylvania Budget has been an annual battle waged by House and Senate Republicans who have focused on no new taxes and tax cuts, all while trying to privatize as much as possible. This includes numerous calls to block all attempts to impose taxes on fracking which has made Pennsylvania the only state that does not have a gas extraction tax. In its first year alone, the tax is estimated to make Pennsylvania $217.8 million.
Instead of focusing on long-term income sources, one popular idea to generate revenue over the years is to privatize the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB), and House Bill 975 sought to do just that. Constantly pointed to as a financial windfall, the sale of the system according to a 2011 study would net only between $1.1 Billion – $1.6 Billion, and the capital annual budget at that time was $60 Billion. According to a 2015-2016 report, the PLCB brought in $626.3 million during that time alone. In short, selling the PLCB to help with the budget is penny smart, dollar stupid.
Additionally, while medical marijuana has been permitted, full legalization is not even being considered. This despite the fact that conservative estimates put the revenue from it between $200 – $300 Million a year in taxes alone.
As a side-effect of all of these budget battles, drastic cuts have been made to various government agencies, most notably to the Pennsylvania Unemployment agency. With Pennsylvania seeing a drop in unemployment in the last 6 years, the cuts to staff have created a massive back-up of people who have had to apply for benefits, along with delays in receiving payments for beneficiaries. Phone calls to the system can take anywhere between at a minimum 30 minutes to as long as 2 hours. To “help” with the deluge of calls, they’ve instructed people to only call on certain days based on last name. Wolf has had to stop $1.7 billion in payments to various programs, including Medicaid insures and schools. In late October of 2017, State Treasurer Torsella authorized the borrowing of $1.8 Billion dollars to help, and the S&P ranking of Pennsylvania has dropped to among the bottom 5 states.
If these budget battles have echoes of 2009 and the plan by then-U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to make Obama a “one-term” President, it’s because it has all the same earmarks. The plot to destroy Pennsylvania has its roots in making Tom Wolf a one-term governor and setting the table for a Republican Governor who would be more than happy to implement the plans of the Far-Right.
The Man from York County, PA
A millionaire from York County in western Pennsylvania, Scott Wagner is a lifelong Republican who owns both Penn Waste and KBS Trucking. Over the past 10 years he has helped to finance various Republican candidates he considers to be “pro-business” including Tom Corbett and Pat Toomey.
That changed in 2014 when Wagner decided to switch from financing candidates to being one. When a State Senate seat opened up in the 28th District after Mike Waugh stepped down he began to mount a campaign for the upcoming Special Election. The Republican Party decided to back Ron Miller, a Pennsylvania House Member from the 93rd District who had been in office since 1998. Wagner responded by charging the Republicans, the party he has stuck with through all this time, with cronyism and instead ran as a write-in candidate. Using his wealth, he was able to run multiple attack ads against Ron Miller and in the end won with nearly 48% of the vote in an election with only 14% turnout, and also becoming the first person in the state’s history to win a State Senate eat with a write-in campaign.
In his brief political career he’s garnered a national reputation not for policy but for controversial statements. Earlier this year, Wagner tried to refute climate change by stating the following: “The Earth moves closer to the Sun every year. We have more people. You know, humans have warm bodies so is heat coming off?” In another occasion, he called George Soros as a “Hungarian Jew” with a “hatred of America”.
Scott Wagner also firmly supports eliminating Property Taxes that pay for schools, making Pennsylvania a Right-to-Work State, and abolishing lawmakers pensions and lifetime health insurance plans. In short, he is a Far-Right Republican who has charged the Republicans with corruption and cronyism.
Wagner also has a commanding lead among all the Republican candidates who have announced their running for Governor.
The Bannon Effect
Eager to take advantage of this scenario is Steve Bannon, former advisor to Donald Trump and current editor of Breitbart. In the years since the site’s founders death, Steve Bannon has made it his mission to make Breitbart a home for the “Alt-Right”, a term that has gone from meaning something as harmless as people who simply wanted a different viewpoint on the right to harboring the worst and most racist aspects the Far-Right in America has to offer. Steve Bannon’s mission in the upcoming midterm elections is to destroy the Republican Party as it has been crafted since the days of Reagan and morph it into a twisted ideal of patriotism mixed with white nationalism all combined with a sprinkling of Christian Fundamentalism. He dreams of a Far-Right party similar to those in Europe like the Golden Dawn and National Front, racists who masquerade as patriots. But, more than anything, he wants to destroy the Republican Party from the inside out by kicking out any and all moderate voices in the party.
Many Republicans are content to focus on George Soros as being some “liberal puppet master”, all while ignoring the effect Bannon is having on their own party.
Governor Wolf is Weak
As mentioned earlier, Wolf has been hampered by the Pennsylvania GOP during his entire tenure as well as lacking the overall political capital in getting his own policies in place. Attempts to make permanent the ban of being able to fire someone for their sexual preference, taxing fracking have never come to fruition. Moves to eliminate the Philadelphia School Reform Commission (SRC) have only now gotten the full support of Philadelphia, and even that is fought with its own perils.
Many of the Far-Right bills I’ve mentioned have been stopped by former business owner and now Democratic Governor Tom Wolf, a man who stated that he would be able to run the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania much like one of his businesses. Of course running a government isn’t like running a company, especially when your entire board decides not to pass your budgets. The GOP has systematically blocked nearly any and all budgets that didn’t meet its own litmus test of tax cuts and other cuts to services while not looking for long-term revenue solutions.
The Rise of Trump
Rural Pennsylvania has always identified itself as blue-collar; People who not only worked hard for a living but believed anyone and everyone could make it, too, with enough hard work and determination. The American Dream is still what it was 50 years ago, but sadly, for many of them those dreams have been lost to the march of progress. Many of the people who voted for Obama during his elections were thrilled to vote for Trump in 2016. They see the rampant change happening in not only their nation, but this state, and much like long-time residents in Philadelphia who have seen their neighborhoods change rapidly through gentrification, they fear the same dramatic changes in their lives for the worse.
It’s easy to see Trump as a people’s wrecking bal. In many ways he is, both for the worse and somewhat for the better. Trump promised to end the way things work since they don’t seem to work for many in Pennsylvania, and in that message he has found some powerful allies: Scott Wagner, Rep. Metcalfe, Pennsylvania GOP Chairman Val DiGiorgio, the Chairman of the Philadelphia GOP Mike Meehan, and nearly 45% of all voters in this state.
The Fall of 2018
In other words, it seems Pennsylvania’s Far-Right have learned their lessons from the last 8 years and are setting the decks for a massive change in 2019. With majorities in both houses and a growing resentment towards largely-Democratic places like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Erie possibly electing a Republican, Philadelphia possibly electing a Republican District Attorney, and Republican enclaves in major cities growing, they see their biggest chance to cement control in Pennsylvania yet. They’re taking advantage of the fact that many liberals are focused on national issues and that most moderate Republicans feel like they’re forced to pick either the side of Trump and some of his more Alt-Right policies or to simply agree with the Far-Right and take on less-conservative policies if it means getting
The Far-Right is more than happy to use this to their advantage.
The Elimination of the Property Tax
If there is one key to all of this, it would be the elimination of school property taxes in Pennsylvania. The proposal that the State Constitution to be changed to allow this is on the ballot this November 7th. As confident as many are that even it passing means it wouldn’t happen, it is important to stress that it wouldn’t happen immediately. Governor Wolf would veto any attempt to do such a thing, and Democrats would do what they could to block it. But a Governor Scott Wagner has made it clear he’s firmly in favor of it.
Between the near elimination of the moderate wing of the Republican Party, a growing rise of support for Libertarian and Far-Right ideals, support for Trumpion ideals of government, and a weakening Democratic Party in the state, a Republican Governor who would support eliminating Property Taxes could win easily.
If things go as planned, we’re going to see things get real bad real fast. With the elimination of the school portion of property taxes, counties across the state will be forced to find new revenue sources for their individual districts. On top of a raised sales tax across the state to 7%, counties would have to determine if they would need to raise their own county sales taxes to raise income as well. Philadelphia, already paying an additional 2% in sales tax, could see it rise to 9% if not 10%.
The middle class would be forced to struggle even more since their income taxes would rise from 3% to nearly 5%, and that’s on top of the massive sales tax increases they’ve seen. The cost for childcare would rise thanks to sales tax now being applied to childcare and diapers. Food would be taxed, causing grocery bills to go up. The working poor, those making minimum wage, will find their $7.75 an hour buys even less than before, and even those making $10 or $12 will have to find more ways to survive.
Public transit would begin to become a thing of the past thanks to sales taxes on public transit that would force many to instead drive to work or find alternate modes of transportation.
The poorest in our cities would be plunged even deeper into poverty due to all of these new taxes. Anyone applying for public assistance may find little to no help; the funding for those agencies would be slashed drastically. People who went to Planned Parenthood for medical care and birth control will no longer get it and the number of children living in poverty will skyrocket.
Businesses will leave. Why would anyone continue to set up shop in a state where the workers have a hard time getting to work, the taxes are sky high, and no one is able to afford child care?
The newly jobless will struggle to get assistance from the state since the system will be backlogged with calls with barely anyone to answer the phones and verify information. Medicaid will not be properly funded and people will get even sicker.
In short, Pennsylvania will become the poorest state in the nation, our cities will quickly go bankrupt, and the only people who will see any benefit for the wealthiest who live far and away from any town centers.
But there is a Way to Refuse and Resist
Despite all of this, all is not lost.
While liberals may be chomping at the bit on how to stop this, the bulk of this is going to have to come from Republicans, both in Philadelphia and across the state. Republicans MUST demand that they get their party back from the more extreme voices of the party that have helped to give rise to the Far-Right people and Alt-Right politics we’ve seen come to power all across this great state! As easy as it may seem to hold your nose and ignore the more hateful rhetoric in order to get tax cuts or limits of government power, it must not come at the soul of the party, and even more importantly, at the cost of this Commonwealth and the people in it! By enabling the worst, most racist, sexist, and fundamentalist aspects of the party, the GOP has become a shadow of its former self and unrecognizable from even 10 years ago.
Republicans in the upcoming 2018 primaries have an obligation to demand more moderate and more traditional-conservative Republicans, if not the Reagan-era, but of the Eisenhower-era! Of demanding better conditions for the working man!
Liberals and Democrats must focus on organizing to make sure their candidates can win as well, especially in the wake of what could be the most radical and Far-Right candidates trying to come to power.
The Plot to Destroy Pennsylvania is best summed up as being focused on having the voters of this commonwealth forget what a commonwealth actually is. Destroying public schools, public transportation, and public sector unions. The limiting of reproductive rights and legalized discrimination based on sex under the guise of “religious liberty”. Demonization of immigrants, and even in some cases, the promotion of racist policies disguised to “help” Americans by making us “English only”, or how illegal immigrants are “taking your jobs.” Tax cuts that would only benefit the wealthiest while forcing the poorest into even deeper poverty and destroying the middle class entirely!
The plot to destroy Pennsylvania is for the citizens of this commonwealth to champion the very things that go most against their own best interests in the hope that none of them are smart enough to realize that the people who are going to be hurt the most are themselves. Are we smart enough to prove them wrong?