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Breakfast Sausage: 5 stories to read today

Published by Mike Pound on .

Empty pews in the Queen of Peace Chapel in Greensburg. (Pam Panchak/Post-Gazette)

1) Religion is still a pretty big deal in the United States, but the numbers of people who say they don't identify with traditional religions are growing, and we're curious about what that might mean in upcoming state and national elections. We've written recently about the decline of influence by the Tea Party; will a decline in influence by evangelical Christians, whose numbers have held steady, according to a study released by the Pew Research Center, decline as well?

2) Rick Santorum would undoubtedly like to hang on to his share of those evangelicals long enough that he could pull off a win similar to the one he engineered in Iowa in 2012. But with new social conservatives already crowding the Republican field, it may be tough for Mr. Santorum to find traction for his yet-to-be-announced campaign.

3) NeighborWatch 2016: Ohio Gov. John Kasich apparently is still waiting for God to tell him whether he should run for president, but it looks like he's made up his mind about one thing – if he runs, he's not going to worry about Iowa.

4) PACs, committees and big checks – our Chris Potter examines how Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald are spreading around campaign cash to support their allies and agendas.

5) Here's a tip for eager political operatives who are faced with figuring out how to interact with camera-toting trackers – folks who work for opponents who constantly run video – when they show up to your events: Don't. When you do – like the Rand Paul aide in the above clip – you're doing exactly what the tracker hoped you would do. And you're the one who will look like an idiot. Also: gross.

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Breakfast Sausage: 5 stories to read today

Published by Mike Pound on .

Darlene Harris (Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette)Darlene Harris (Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette)

1) Darlene Harris has not one but two challengers for her Pittsburgh City Council District 1 seat, and both challengers – Randy Zotter and Bobby Wilson – say the contentious relationship between Mrs. Harris and Mayor Bill Peduto is holding back improvements on the North Side.

2) There have been Wagners and Flahertys involved in Allegheny County politics for a long time; our James O'Toole looks at the histories of those political families what they mean for the race between Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner and challenger Mark Patrick Flaherty.

3) Michael McMullen had earned endorsements from the Fraternal Order of Police and firearms groups in his candidacy for district judge serving Hampton Township, but those groups have since rescinded their support, citing robocalls from Mr. McMullen's 2013 county council campaign that appeared to come from his opponent Ed Kress. Mr. McMullen says he is the victim of a smear campaign, but Republicans as notable as former Allegheny County Executive Jim Roddy say Mr. McMullen "is not the person I want representing me."

4) Attending professional sports games can be expensive – they're pricy in Pittsburgh and we'd assume they're even pricier in and around New York. But even so, spending $82,500 over two seasons at New York Jets and Giants games seems a bit much, but that's what a watchdog group found New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie spent at Met Life Stadium in 2010 and 2011.

5) The deadline to file an application for an absentee ballot for the May 19 primary election is 5 p.m. Tuesday, which pretty much means you only have time to hand-deliver your completed application to your home county's elections office. Someone should explain to those folks about how the Internet might help in this situation.

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Perry on Politics: The eyes of Texas are watching the feds

Published by James M. Perry on .

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (Reuters photo)Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (Reuters photo)

Congressman Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat, says Texans are so crazy they passed a law that says "you can't shoot bears out of a second-floor window."

Mr. Hastings may not be the best source for background on whether Texans really are crazy. He was impeached by the House in 1989 but was re-elected by stubborn voters in Broward and Palm Beach counties in 1992. He is not, in other words, entirely reliable. And, as you might have guessed, there is no law in Texas saying you can't shoot bears from a second-floor window. The fact is, you can't shoot bears at all.

That doesn't mean there's not a streak of craziness running through the Lone Star State. Consider the state's reaction to the news that the Pentagon had scheduled a training exercise for elite military units called Jade Helm 15 this summer in nine states, including Texas. Commentators traversing "the outer edges of paranoia" said the exercise "is part of a secret plan to impose martial law, take away people's guns, arrest political undesirables, launch an Obama-led hostile takeover of red-state Texas, or do some combination thereof," according to the New York Times.

One commentator said, seriously, that the special forces were going to dig tunnels under abandoned Wal-Mart stores and use them as food centers for the soldiers, sailors, and Marines participating in the take-over. Wal-Mart says there are no tunnels and no plans to use those old stores as food centers.

Now, one would have thought, Gov. Greg Abbott should have stepped forward and said all this Twitter talk was nonsense. But, no, he issued a directive to the Texas State Guard to monitor the military operation because it was "important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed."

No story I have read explains just what the Texas State Guard is. It is not, as some presume, the same thing as the Texas National Guard. The State Guard is purely a Texas outfit, under the direction of the governor and commanded by the state's adjutant general. The Texas State Guard consists of six civil affairs regiments, two air wings, a medical brigade and a maritime regiment.

It traces its roots to Texas militia units organized by Stephen Austin and others at a time when Texas was breaking away from Mexico. In fact, though, the modern state guard was organized in World War II when the state's national guard units were federalized and marched away to serve their country.

The Texas Army National Guard, a part of the federal military structure, is a separate organization, although some of its duties overlap the states guard's. The Army National Guard in Texas numbers 19,000 men. I could find no mention of how many men and women serve in the state guard, but the number must be significant.

There aren't many Democratic officeholders in or from Texas, but one of them, Rep. Joaquin Castro, said, "It's dangerously irresponsible for a governor to fan the flames of conspiracy and paranoia against our own military and government." David Dewhurst, a Republican and a former lieutenant governor, said, "I think you've got some paranoia, which is based upon legitimate concerns by my fellow Texans and a lot of Americans about the trustworthiness and the competence of President Obama, but let's not project than on to our military."

Chuck Norris, the actor with strong right-wing views, explained that Texans trust Americans in uniform. It's their civilian bosses "pulling their strings" that he and others distrust. It's a fine line. Trust the men and women in uniform; distrust their commander in chief, President Obama.

James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, contributes regular observations to post-gazette.com. Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.

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Breakfast Sausage: 5 stories to read today

Published by Mike Pound on .

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush addresses the National Review Institute's 2015 Ideas Summit in Washington, April 30, 2015. (Johnathan Ernst/REUTERS)Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush addresses the National Review Institute's 2015 Ideas Summit in Washington, April 30, 2015. (Johnathan Ernst/REUTERS)

1) We've spent a decent amount of time this year poking fun at candidates who play coy with the declaration that they're running for president – *coughricksantorumahem* – but there's a legitimate reason for the delay: according to the current interpretation of campaign finance rules, there is a ton of money to be make before officially declaring. NPR points out that Jeb Bush has been raising money, not for his campaign – which, technically, does not yet exist – but for a political action committee that will work on his behalf once his presidential campaign officially gets underway. And here's why that works: as a not-yet-official candidate, Mr. Bush can solicit unlimited donations from backers for the Right To Rise SuperPAC; as an official candidate, he can raise money only for his campaign, and those donations are limited to a maximum of $2,700. The goal for Right To Rise, according to NPR? To have $100 million in the bank by the time the candidate – who is not yet a candidate – declares his candidacy.

2) The business of super PACs can also get a little messy, if we're paying close attention to who is doing what. Mitch McConnell is definitely paying attention, and the U.S. Senate majority leader isn't pleased with a gentleman named Carl Forti, who seems to be double-dipping. Mr. Forti's political communications business, Black Rock Group, was hired by the Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous American to run a $1 million campaign questioning the foreign policy decisions of Rand Paul, the product of which you can view above. Mr. Forti, however, also serves as political director for American Crossroads, a PAC backed by Mr. McConnell to maintain the new Republican majority in the senate, a push that would include Mr. Paul should his presidential campaign fail. In his defense, Mr. Forti told Politico that he didn't work on the anti-Paul campaign, but it's clear he has some 'splaining to do; one National Republican Senatorial Committee official said of the appearance: "What advisers do on the presidential level is their business, but if it starts affecting a 2016 Senate race, that is when we will have an issue."

3) No one, including Nate Silver and his colleagues at fivethirtyeight.com, saw the sweeping victory of British Prime Minister David Cameron and his mates in the Conservative Party on Wednesday. Mr. Silver issued a mea culpa, and the crew at fivethirtyeight took a hard look at what they did wrong and at the state of political polling.

4) The name of Republican state Sen. Scott Wagner doesn't come up in Karen Langley's piece about two bills governing collective bargaining for public employees adopted by the senate Wednesday ... but we're prettys sure can hear him chuckling about these all the way over here.

5) We admire the posthumous statement from Barbara Daly Danko, the Allegheny County councilwoman who died this week after a long fight with cancer. And we admire her dedication to her seat and her East End constituents even more.

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Breakfast Sausage: 5 stories to read today

Published by Mike Pound on .

Judge L. Felipe RestrepoJudge L. Felipe Restrepo

1) Just when we started getting used to the idea that the U.S. Senate actually getting things done once in a while, we came across the story of Judge L. Felipe Restrepo, who is awaiting the Senate's confirmation of his appointment to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The problem for Judge Restrepo, who currently serves as a judge on the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia? That would be Sen. Pat Toomey; our junior senator swears that he supports the appointment but he has yet to give the go-ahead on the confirmation hearing, and he's not answering questions about the delay.

2) Your daily Republicans Trying To Figure Out The Internet update: Just-announced presidential candidate Carly Fiorina still has to be smarting over her campaign's failure to lock down carlyfiorina.org, leaving the former Hewlett-Packard CEO open to spoof sites, but we'll give her bonus points for having a sense of humor. Before her appearance earlier this week on "Late Night with Seth Meyers," Mrs. Fiorina bought the domain SethMeyers.org – she made the purchase while waiting in the studio, she said – and suggested that the host needed to be nice to her. Mrs. Fiorina's newly purchased domain re-directs to her official campaign site, carlyforpresident.com.

3) We remember Newt Gingrich's 1994 Contract with America as perhaps the starting point of a more antagonistic atmosphere in Washington. New York Mayor Bill De Blasio plans on announcing a progressive manifesto next week, and Politico is wondering if it could have the same impact.

4) Former U.S. Senator and perpetual presidential candidate Rick Santorum will visit Butler, his hometown, on May 27 to announce ... something.

5) Remarkable: Allegheny County has pumped up the balance of its rainy-day fund by about $10 million in the last year, county Controller Chelsa Wagner said yesterday. Even more remarkable: Ms. Wagner gave partial credit to her nemesis, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, for the gains.

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