Pres. Clinton weighs in on AG race

Published by Laura Olson on .

Ex-Lackawanna County prosecutor Kathleen Kane announced this morning that former President Bill Clinton is backing her candidacy in the state attorney general's race.

That high-profile support comes after her work for Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2008 during her presidential bid, coordinating northeastern Pennsylvania campaign efforts.

In a statement released by the Kane campaign, the former Democratic president -- and one-time Arkansas attorney general himself -- said it is "important to elect someone who understands how to use the office and the legal system to protect and advance the lives of Pennsylvanians."

He described Kane as "smart and tough," and said she "understands that an Attorney General's job is to stand up for consumers and people."

The Kane camp called Pennsylvania "Clinton Country," and the candidate said in a statement that she is "energized" by the endorsement.

Meanwhile, her opponent, former Bucks County congressman Patrick Murphy was in Harrisburg this morning, joining Democrats at a morning news conference expressing concerns over the shelved ultrasound bill and other Republican policy proposals.

Murphy reiterated his opposition to the ultrasound measure, which he has said he would not enforce if elected.



Santorum, Rohrer win PLC straw poll

Published by Laura Olson on .

For those not following along in the Twittersphere, here's a quick recap of who the conservative attendees at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference selected when they cast their ballots via iPad app.

Rick Santorum was the overall first choice for president, receiving 147 of the 323 votes, followed by Romney with 91, Ron Paul with 50 and Newt Gingrich's 35 votes. 

Asked who would be their last choice for commander in chief, Ron Paul was the consensus, with 138 votes.

More interesting was the battle for the GOP nomination in the U.S. Senate race. Former state Rep. Sam Rohrer was the overwhelming favorite, with 176 votes.

Former coal company operator Tom Smith drew 60 tallies, 40 said they were undecided, and 19 chose Chester County businessman Steve Welch, who earned the GOP State Committee endorsement in January.


The Gingrich test of media eliteness

Published by Karen Langley on .

It's a question we've pondered throughout the primary season, from debates to campaign stops: Who exactly are the elite media Newt Gingrich so frequently rebukes?

So after his speech at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference this afternoon, we asked him.

"Not  you guys," the former House speaker said, to a small group that also included reporters from the Associated Press, NPR and Capitolwire.

But really, which of us is it?

“I’ll give you a real simple test,” Gingrich said. “Do you automatically assume that Obama’s right? Chris Matthews wake up every morning saying I wonder what wonderful thing Obama’s going to say today. So if you wake up skeptical and wondering --”

He returned to an example from his speech this afternoon, when he made fun of President Obama for saying the country could replace some of its imported oil with gasoline and diesel derived from algae.

“If you think that’s weird, you’re not in the elite media,” he said. “If you think, gosh, that would be wonderful, if only we could have algae, then you’re probably in the elite media. I’ll let you define yourself.”

Before leaving his questioners to consider this, he offered up a little praise: “That was a cool question. Nobody’s asked me that. I think they’re afraid I’ll say them.”



Murderers' Row

Published by Tim McNulty on .

As we wait out jury deliberations in the Jane Orie corruption case -- which are in their third day now -- we're reminded of Brian O'Neill's great column this week on legislative reapportionment in Harrisburg. He goes over how the 2001 lines splintered the district of Ross Democrat Dave Majernik into six parts after he butted heads with caucus leaders, and how that leadership is back in the news now:

Yet even by the low standards of a practice that advances representative democracy only as an afterthought or by mistake, the shafting of Rep. Mayernik stands out. So I thought of him Wednesday morning when former Republican House Speaker John Perzel was sentenced to prison for spending $10 million in state money to aid his party's campaigns.

That conviction had no direct connection with the 2001 redistricting, but Mr. Perzel was one of four lawmakers on the reapportionment commission that year. All have gone down in flames since. In addition to Mr. Perzel, there were:

• Rep. Bill DeWeese, D-Waynesburg, convicted on five corruption counts in February (although still running in the Democratic primary).

• Former state Sen. Robert Mellow, D-Lackawanna, charged in federal court last week with misusing staff and resources for political fundraising and campaigning. Mr. Mellow has indicated he will plead guilty.

• Former Senate Majority Leader David Brightbill, R-Lebanon, defeated in the May 2006 primary as voters took revenge for his role in the unconstitutional 2005 pay grab by the Legislature.


Altmire, Critz face off

Published by Tim McNulty on .

Jason Altmire and Mark Critz had a debate, more or less, before editorial writers at the Post-Gazette Friday. While they're both pretty conservative Dems they did flesh out some policy differences. Here's my story from the main site:

Health care reform remains the defining feature of Pennsylvania's biggest congressional primary this spring, even though both Democrats in the 12th District race disagreed with President Barack Obama over his signature 2-year-old law.

Democratic congressmen Jason Altmire and Mark Critz are locked in a bitter fight for their party's nomination and are the only incumbents statewide facing off April 24. There is plenty of legislation the pair disagree on, but much of the internecine battle pivots on the health package both of the conservative Democrats opposed.

When Mr. Altmire, D-McCandless, voted against the measure in 2010, it created a backlash with organized labor, which had supported him since his first congressional run in 2006. Every major union in Western Pennsylvania is supporting Mr. Critz, D-Johnstown. Mr. Altmire in turn has endorsements from Democratic committees in Allegheny, Beaver and Westmoreland counties.

"I'm confident we're going to pick up the lion's share of votes from working families," Mr. Altmire said in a talk with Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial writers Friday. "There was some animosity generated over the health care issue and the vote that occurred and [unions] have been looking to run somebody against me in the primary ever since."

Mr. Critz won a special election in 2010 to replace the late Rep. John Murtha and was not yet in Congress to vote on the health package. But he said he would have opposed it because of detrimental effects on rural hospitals in his current district, heavily represented by Cambria and Somerset counties.

As for his support from labor, Mr. Critz said "I've developed a very strong relationship with them. They trust me that at the end of the day I'll be there standing with them."

Republicans in charge of redistricting combined Mr. Altmire's current 4th District seat with Mr. Critz's 12th District seat last year. The district covers parts of Allegheny, Beaver, Cambria, Lawrence, Somerset and Westmoreland counties. Edgeworth attorney Keith Rothfus is unopposed for the GOP nomination to the seat.

Every study on congressional voting patterns shows the two men are among the most conservative Democrats in Pennsylvania's delegation, but they do have some differences. Mr. Altmire supported a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution; federal funding for Planned Parenthood; the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill; and supported repealing the "don't ask don't tell" policy on gays in the military. Mr. Critz took opposite positions.

The balanced budget amendment was a Republican-driven measure that Mr. Critz said would endanger Social Security, Medicare and veterans benefits. It "is pandering to the right wing and would be devastating to programs," he said. Mr. Altmire denied the entitlements would be hurt.

Mr. Altmire called the military policy on gays part of "the civil rights issue of our time," while Mr. Critz said he was dissatisfied when the military did not issue a requested report on its effect on bases.

He said he did not support financial industry reform because it would hurt small banks and credit unions in his district. Mr. Altmire did not buy that, saying institutions with less than $10 billion in assets would have been exempted.

Coming after the financial meltdown in 2008, only "the far right of the Democratic party" voted against Dodd-Frank, said Mr. Altmire. "I can't imagine voting against doing something when we almost literally saw our entire economy collapse. That for me was a very easy vote."