Politics

No, This is Not Normal — It’s Time for a Democratic Party Makeover

The news cycle has been dominated by the actions of the new president and his staff. It has been a dizzying few months trying to keep up with the news out of Washington. Every day there is a new story about Russia’s influence. We’ve seen travel bans implemented, overturned, and attempted again only to be […]

The news cycle has been dominated by the actions of the new president and his staff. It has been a dizzying few months trying to keep up with the news out of Washington. Every day there is a new story about Russia’s influence. We’ve seen travel bans implemented, overturned, and attempted again only to be challenged in the courts. All to result in fellow American citizens and visa holders being held up in airports because their name sounds Islamic. It’s difficult to discuss President Trump without falling into the trap of Goodwin’s law. So what are we, as Democrats, to do in the Trump era?  It’s clear that we cannot continue accepting the fact that while the majority of American’s agree with our platform, they reject the Democratic label. We need to understand how that happened in order to start fixing it. For us Democrats to win in this environment, we need to learn how to communicate with not only the disaffected Democrats who didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton and those who did but Trump voters as well.

Democrats are Outspent in Most Election Years

The most obvious problem is the lack of money to get information out to the voters and counter attacks ads. Despite the rhetoric that the GOP spouts about Democratic donors like George Soros, the Republican Party raises substantially more money for down ballot races. In PA in 2016, the Republican Party raised $7.6 million vs. $5.2 million by the Democratic Party. This fundraising goes toward funding mail, television ads, and staffing. To put this number in perspective, assuming the average race for the state legislature costs $100,000, the PA GOP can fund 25 more races than the Democratic Party. This discrepancy in campaign contributions is organic and logical when you consider the number of big businesses that benefit from dismantling labor and environmental regulations that the Republicans promise during campaigns. Additionally, Republicans deliver tax breaks to those same extremely wealthy business owners on top of their increased profits from worker exploitation and pushing the costs of environmental damage onto the taxpayers. This deficit in structural fundraising has left Democratic candidates having to build their own personal brand rather than relying on a unified Democratic Party to win elections.

Democrats Need to Move Left

President Obama’s election unleashed a wave of Republican propaganda that was continuously spouted on AM radio, Fox news, and social media. The attacks were on Democrats as a whole and went largely unanswered by the Democratic Party. But that’s not the only reason that voters have a hard time voting straight ticket. The Democratic Party has fallen victim to letting the other side define us. Our elected officials can no longer afford to compromise on their Democratic values when there is no benefit to the public.  Take the ACA, or Obamacare as those on the right like to call it, President Obama compromised with Republicans and ended up passing a health care bill with a clumsy and unpopular payment system that makes healthcare available to all, but is burdensome for Americans to pay for and enroll. Had he taken advantage of the Democratic majorities in Congress and pushed for a more progressive insurance system, the current administration would be fearful of tampering with such a vital program.

The combination of being out-funded and outmaneuvered politically has critically weakened the Democratic Party nationally. The Republicans currently control the Presidency, both houses of Congress, 32 out 50 state legislatures and 33 governorships. So how does a Party with a popular platform comeback from such a resounding defeat?  The answer is not to become more centrist because there is no center to go to. The Republican Party has gone off the rails with the election of Donald J. Trump, and the country will follow if we don’t fight back with a coherent message to the American people.

America Agrees with Us

We are the big tent Party, and we won the popular vote. We have passionate members of all creeds, colors, and ethnicities. The Democratic Party reflects the real United States which is still proud to be called a melting pot. We believe that our diversity makes our country stronger and unique. We are not an ethnically homogeneous country and never have been. That reality makes it easier for corrupt ideologues to exploit the concept of “otherness” to impede progressive ideas and policies from moving forward. Democrats need to call out the dog-whistle rhetoric for what it is and push for more progressive and proven economic policies, like raising the minimum wage.

Our history is complicated, but our country was founded on classically liberal principals like equality and justice for all. However, the Constitution is not a magical document. We need to fight back against attacks on our free press, attacks on the separation of church and state, and we need to fight back against economic oppression that is happening to all working people. It’s easy to call the supporters of Donald Trump xenophobic or even racists and to be sure some are, but the majority of the people who voted for Donald Trump wanted change. They’re tired of the outsourcing taking their jobs and not getting ahead financially.  They voted for Donald Trump for the change they wanted from President Obama. They want our policies without the Congressional obstruction. (As an example, and an aside, let’s not forget that we will have another Republican appointed Supreme Court justice that should have been President Obama’s nominee.)

We Need to Be Vocal Supporters of the Democratic Party Not Just Our Policies

Democrats are vocal supporters of our platform policies, but we need to tie the policy to the Democratic Party. We need our Democratic elected officials to be loud and lead the charge against the regressive and economically backward policies that will be coming out of Congress. The Democratic Party nationally needs to use the outrage and enthusiasm of our members to build sustainable grassroots movements to elect Democrats and overcome our fundraising gap in the short-term. We need our members to volunteer and help get the message out to their neighbors and voters who no longer subscribe to local newspapers. We need Democrats to win at all levels to fight the policies coming out of Washington, and if we lose the fight on a bill, we need to make sure the public knows that the Democrats were fighting against it. We need to contact our legislators to make them block bills or face defeat at the polls when they are up for reelection. We need to make sure that Governor Wolf, the last Democratic Governor in the rust belt, gets reelected next year to protect our veto power in Harrisburg. And we need our local Democratic legislators to fight to end gerrymandering and implement campaign finance reform to end the no limit finance laws in Pennsylvania. We don’t need to tilt the maps or the bank accounts in our favor. When the playing field is fair, we win.

It’s going to be a long four years, and there will be many battles fought and lost, but we need to be steadfast and dedicated. We are on the verge of a stronger and more progressive Democratic Party, and when we rebuild our Party we will elect a new Democratic President, and we will make America greater than it has been.

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Pennsylvania, the Presidency, & Populism

For the first time since 1988, the year Ronald Reagan left office; the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes went to a Republican Presidential nominee. Pennsylvania proved its worth as a swing state in the 2017 election cycle after nearly three decades of statewide Democratic presidential victories. During the previous thirty years, Pennsylvania was hit hard […]

For the first time since 1988, the year Ronald Reagan left office; the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes went to a Republican Presidential nominee. Pennsylvania proved its worth as a swing state in the 2017 election cycle after nearly three decades of statewide Democratic presidential victories. During the previous thirty years, Pennsylvania was hit hard by the decline in American manufacturing, notably in the steel sector, and increased regulation of the Coal industry that occurred under the Obama administration. The Steel and Coal industries have long been the benchmark of many Pennsylvanian families, and have touched the lives of many generations.

As the once thriving steel and coal towns moved deeper into a post-industrial economy, many struggled but never forgot. As Donald Trump and Mike Pence traveled around the state, visiting towns that once supplied most of the steel during the infrastructure expansion in the post-war era, thousands poured into stadiums and town centers to attend their rallies. Many of these citizens may not have worked in those industries, but their parents and grandparents did, and that proved meaningful. Like many populists in history, Trump said the right things, at the right time, to the right audiences. He promised to restore American manufacturing and use more American steel domestically, which would benefit Pennsylvania and the rust belt immensely. However, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute, American companies produced 70% of the steel used in the United States in 2016. That is a lot of steel, but it does not feel that way to many rust belt residents. In order for the Trump administration to achieve the promised restorations of the steel industry that Pennsylvanian trump voters care about, simply increasing the domestic use of American-produced steel from 70% to 100% is not the answer. The solution lies in the increase in infrastructure spending and expansion through the passage of infrastructure legislation reminiscent of the Eisenhower era. Only then can the steel industry expand domestically and the national infrastructure dilemma be addressed and ultimately solved. From dams in California to bridges in Pennsylvania and highways nationwide, if properly designed infrastructure legislation is introduced it is clear that such legislation could garner bi-partisan support, create more jobs, and restore the national interior.

But infrastructure and steel are not the only major issues that helped Trump turn Pennsylvania red for the first time in three decades. The lack of Democratic voter turnout in two key areas, Scranton and Philadelphia, helped push Trump over the top. Both cities voted overwhelmingly for Obama in the previous two election cycles, and the DNC believed that they would do so again for Clinton. However, it is clear that Clinton was no Obama and her lack of visibility in those two areas leading up to the election proved fatal. In Philadelphia, Clinton received about 550,000 votes to Trumps 100,000. That is not all that unusual, but Clinton’s numbers were still about 45,000 votes shy of Obama’s in the 2008 election. Those extra votes probably would not have given Clinton a victory in Pennsylvania, but they could have helped. In Lackawanna County, where Scranton is located, Clinton did win the county, but her margin was far less than her counterpart in 2008 and 2012. Lackawanna is coal country, and the Clinton Campaigns discussion of increased regulation of the coal industry during the election coupled with the lack of democratic voter turnout and an increase in Democrat to Republican voter registration changes contributed to Trump’s victory.

As the new administration begins to address the infrastructure dilemma that our nation surely faces, the question becomes; can meaningful and extensive legislation be proposed and passed? Individuals from both sides have shown support for Trumps $1 Trillion infrastructure plan because of the belief that it will create millions of jobs. Former Democratic Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell hailed Trump’s infrastructure plan but believes that the proposed $1 Trillion may not be enough. Furthermore, a spokesman for the Chairman of the Freedom Caucus has stated that conservative lawmakers within the caucus are open to increased transportation spending if more clarification can be made on specific projects. When two very different groups, such as the ones mentioned above, show support for an Executive proposal it is clear that the proposal has serious potential to move forward. Infrastructure spending is something that benefits the country as a whole regardless of the political party that someone identifies with, the potential for the restoration of the American interior is possible now more the ever.

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The Mess the GOP Created, and What Democrats HAVE to Do to Fix It

As our own Democratic State Representative Dan McNeill stated during an impromptu speech on Labor Day, “If we lose this election, don’t cry, don’t bellyache, we have more Democrats than Republicans. Let’s vote.”  That’s really all it takes for Democrats to win the Presidential and statewide elections.  Democrats have to vote, and they have to […]

As our own Democratic State Representative Dan McNeill stated during an impromptu speech on Labor Day, “If we lose this election, don’t cry, don’t bellyache, we have more Democrats than Republicans. Let’s vote.”  That’s really all it takes for Democrats to win the Presidential and statewide elections.  Democrats have to vote, and they have to tell their friends and neighbors what’s at stake in this election.

There has never been a more important election in our lifetimes.  Every election is important, but 2016 is unique.   The next President will appoint the next three or four Supreme Court justices.  The Supreme Court has not gotten enough attention during this election cycle.  If voters understood that Republican appointees have been responsible for the current dysfunctional state of our elections and our government, there is no doubt they would do all they could to make sure that Hillary Clinton wins this election.

The press hasn’t reported enough on how important these appointments are or how they will impact voters lives for decades to come.

Unfortunately, the media has been too busy covering the GOP nominee and providing his campaign with all the free advertising money can’t buy, in exchange for higher ratings.  There has hardly been a line he hasn’t crossed in his search for sensationalism, and it has made voters so cynical of the circus, many have tuned out entirely.  He has managed to turn the election of the most powerful office in the world into a Kafkaesque reality show where American Democracy is the only loser.

How the Supreme Court Led to Trump

As a result, few voters know how absolutely vital the next Supreme Court appointments are to preserving our Democracy and getting our government out of the mess we have created. The Supreme Court in the last 15 years has made three decisions that have done immeasurable harm to our political system and millions of Americans as a result.

Bush v. Gore

Voters in 2000 will never forget the Bush v. Gore decision, but not many know that it was decided 5-4 with the majority made up of four Regan and one H.W. Bush appointees to the court.  No matter whom you voted for that year, the fact that the Supreme Court decided the election and discounted the votes of hundreds of overseas servicemen was not the outcome anyone expected and polarized our political discourse.

Gerrymandering, PA Style

Next was the 2004 Vieth v. Jubelirer 5-4 decision on the case filed by voters right here in Pennsylvania. The case was a complaint to fight the partisan gerrymandering when Pennsylvania lost two congressional seats after the 2000 census.  Republicans had control of the majority in Harrisburg and changed the Pennsylvania congressional maps so instead of sending 11 Democrats and 10 Republicans to Congress the districts were redrawn so that in 2004 the maps resulted in a Congressional delegation of 7 Democrats to 12 Republicans.  That gerrymandering was sufficient enough to give the state legislature back to the Republicans in 2010 when Pennsylvania lost another congressional seat and had to be redistricted.  This time, the mapping technology was finally sophisticated enough to draw districts based on an individual voter’s likelihood to vote for a particular party.  This technology is so good that there is only one seat in the entire Lehigh Valley that is even close to 50/50 and that is the 183rd where Whitehall Township Commissioner Phillips Armstrong is running.

No wonder there is gridlock in Washington and Harrisburg.  310,000 more people voted for President Obama than Mitt Romney in Pennsylvania in 2008, yet we sent a delegation of 5 Democrats to 13 Republicans to Washington the same year.  In 2012,  Democrats won 51% of the congressional vote but won only five congressional seats.

Citizens United v. F.E.C.

The last but certainly not least terrible 5-4 decision is the notorious Citizens United v. F.E.C. decision in 2010 that allowed the financing of campaigns to become a free for all paid for by shady special interest groups with no accountability to the public.  This decision has made it possible for our TV screens and mailboxes to be filled with lies and trash with no way to complain or take legal action against the organizations that fund the attacks.

These are the decisions made by Republican appointees to the Supreme Court.  We cannot afford to allow the same mistake to happen again, especially with Trump who has detailed over and over again how he will stomp all over the Constitution.  There is only one candidate qualified and trustworthy enough this year to hold our very Democracy in her hands.  If you want your vote to count and your Representatives to do their job, you have to vote Democrat, and you absolutely must vote for Hillary Clinton.

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The Moderate Millennial

It should come as no surprise that the millennial generation is deeply distraught with the current path our country is taking in both a societal and fiscal sense. The chaotic and unpredictable events of the last sixteen years have shaped their beliefs and provided an understanding that their standard of living and upward mobility mechanisms […]

It should come as no surprise that the millennial generation is deeply distraught with the current path our country is taking in both a societal and fiscal sense. The chaotic and unpredictable events of the last sixteen years have shaped their beliefs and provided an understanding that their standard of living and upward mobility mechanisms may be less certain than their parent’s generation. For the first time in modern American history, the millennial generation, which comprises individuals born between the early 1980’s and the early 2000’s, will no longer be guaranteed stable jobs that allow for the type of comfortable middle-class lifestyle that their parents could expect upon entering the workforce.

The unhappiness in the political process extends both ways for millennials who have supported unconventional candidates in both the Republican and Democratic Parties. The major candidate divide occurs when the factors of college education and regional attitudes are taken into account. While it is clear that more millennial voters lean toward the Democratic side rather than Republican, it is due in part to the younger median age of metropolitan areas combined with the saturation of higher educational institutions located in major population centers.

Even more concerning is that the majority of millennials have supported candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, who represent the extremes of both the left and the right. This attitude is due in part to the Great Recession and its effects on both their parent’s finances coupled with their massive student loan debt and the inability to find jobs that allow for both the paying down of student loans and the purchasing of a first home.

The rise of a candidate like Bernie Sanders, who garnered support from more than 50% of millennials, should be taken very seriously moving forward. Not only because of his suggested massive federal entitlement program expansions, but also because of his self-proclaimed social agenda which increases regulations in certain, already deprived industries, while also calling for a revolution of sorts during a time when the American electorate is divided on almost all issues.

It is of merit to discuss why Bernie Sander’s democratic socialism has appealed so strongly to this generation. More millennials are moving back in with their parents after college because of the social safety net that they can provide. Social “safety nets” are the keystone of Sanders Socialism, however, unsustainable those social “safety nets” may be. It is also highly likely that millennials will not see any return on their investments from federal withholdings for social security from paychecks they are currently earning. These federal withholdings are placed in the federal social security program, which, according to the annual report from the Social Security Board of Trustees, is fiscally unsustainable and will become insolvent by the late 2030’s unless it is addressed in the next decade.

For these Bernie Sanders supporters, they see a rigged system working against them fiscally, socially, and institutionally. What makes zero sense is their strategy to vote for a self-proclaimed socialist who would expand the government exponentially, and therefore strengthen the system they claim to be rigged.

In contrast, a surprising number of millennials are supporting Republican nominee Donald Trump, who, like Sanders, is a Washington outsider who has a unique funding mechanism of his own. According to a poll released by the Harvard Institute of Politics in mid-2016, 25% of people between ages 18-30 support Donald Trump, while another 14% are unsure who will win their support in November.

The nomination of Donald Trump has tapped into the subset of those millennial voters in the same way that Sanders has.  Although both candidates have radically different political propositions, their end goals are similar. They are both advocating radical change: change that counters the supposed establishment. Many millennials are genuinely distraught with the fallout from the 2008 Financial Crisis because of the toll it took on their parent’s retirement plans and their own prospects for employment. Many of these younger Trump supporters also grew up in areas of the country hit hard by the decline in American manufacturing in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, which directly affected their parent’s employment options. The Keystone Research Center recently released their 2016 State of Working Pennsylvania report, which outlines many of the issues that have given way to Trump’s strong appeal to these more rural millennial voters who were raised in former manufacturing hubs. While it is clear that a majority of millennials lean toward the Democratic Party, Trump will continue to garner support from part of the millennial generation who also believe the institutional bureaucracy is rigged against their ability to enter the workforce with the expectation of upward mobility like previous generations.

There are also regional factors to take into account for many millennial Trump supporters; they are overwhelmingly from rural and in some cases, suburban areas. Also, unlike many Sanders supporters who live in metropolitan areas with large academic infrastructures, a majority of millennial Trump supporters have not attended any higher educational institution. Individuals who enter the workforce without a bachelor’s degree have still not seen their earnings fully recover some twenty years after the initial decline of the American manufacturing sector.

The real question will become, can this generation pivot toward the center, combining ideas and strategies from both political platforms to create fiscal and societal compromises that will create success in this new American century? If these compromises are not achieved, will the divide grow deeper and ignite more unrest as we continue moving deeper into the 21st century?

It is clear that the future belongs to the millennials, but as time drags on and we move closer to the millennial majority in all American institutions, can we collaborate and lead, or will we splinter and surrender to our own stubbornness. We can no longer rely solely on decisions that older generations make for our future. Millennials from all walks of life need to embrace the mindset that we are all in a similar situation that will require constant vigilance in order to change and reform our societal and fiscal future.

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The Spotlight’s On Us. What Will Pennsylvania Do?

There are four states that will determine the outcome of this presidential election: Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and our own Pennsylvania. This truth can be found in the Electoral College math. If Donald Trump retains all of the states picked up by Mitt Romney in the 2012 election (one of which was North Carolina) and […]

There are four states that will determine the outcome of this presidential election: Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and our own Pennsylvania.

This truth can be found in the Electoral College math. If Donald Trump retains all of the states picked up by Mitt Romney in the 2012 election (one of which was North Carolina) and sweeps the Big Three (Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania), he will have enough electoral votes to become our next president regardless of whether he wins the popular vote. As a result, Pennsylvanians have a particular duty to turn out and vote on Election Day.

The stakes could not be higher. Trump is not a regular Republican presidential candidate (a fact that many in his party seem to recognize). His entire campaign has focused on racism and xenophobia, particularly directed against Muslims (calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”) and Mexicans (“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”). He repeatedly makes misogynistic comments about women who stand in the way of his ambitions, including Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Perhaps most disturbingly, he has demonstrated a blasé attitude toward the threat of nuclear war, encouraged our nation’s enemies (like Russia) to do dirty work on his behalf, and in general called into question his capacity to responsibly oversee our nation’s security interests.

By contrast, Clinton is a candidate whose qualifications for higher office are beyond dispute. Since 1993 she has served as chief policy adviser to President Bill Clinton, her husband, during his tenure; as an accomplished United States Senator from New York; and as Secretary of State during the administration of our incumbent president, Barack Obama. Instead of dividing the country by race and gender, Clinton’s campaign has focused on inclusiveness and reached out to Americans of all backgrounds and political persuasions. Even her chief rival for the nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders, has subsequently endorsed her candidacy, which cannot be said for Trump’s chief rivals (Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich). You may not agree with Clinton on some issues, but she is a responsible pick for presidential power. The same cannot be said of her chief rival.

Even as the Northampton County and Lehigh County Democratic Parties encourage Lehigh Valley residents to support our local candidates, we also recognize the critical importance of this presidential election. National politics impact us on a local level, and the existential threat posed by a Trump presidency is serious enough that it demands our attention. Democrats here would never tolerate the possibility of nominating a candidate as bigoted, unstable, and irresponsible, and most could not back such a candidate were he to be nominated.

This is the choice of which we are going to be presented on Election Day. Pennsylvania needs to vote for Clinton… and must never, ever disgrace its reputation by going to Trump.

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Democrats: Make your choice on April 26

As another presidential election approaches, America once again has to lead the world this time facing new challenges that seem bigger than anything before in our lifetimes. Despite the media’s obsession with the presidential primary race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, a number of state races are just as important to our future in […]

As another presidential election approaches, America once again has to lead the world this time facing new challenges that seem bigger than anything before in our lifetimes.

Despite the media’s obsession with the presidential primary race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, a number of state races are just as important to our future in the Lehigh Valley. Seven talented Democrats with very different backgrounds are running in the April 26 Primary for U.S. Senate and Attorney General. Five candidates from both parties filed for their respective primary ballots to succeed retiring State Rep. Julie Harhart in the 183rd District across northern Northampton and Lehigh counties.

In this contest of problems and decisions, we Democrats are solidly committed to values that were passed down to us generations ago. Americans faced the Great Depression along with World War II and we prevailed because WE AMERICANS ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.

We Democrats stand for:

  • Rebuilding a resilient economy on the foundation of a broader, stronger and more stable middle class;
  • Strengthening small businesses that create local jobs;
  • Vastly improved access to higher education and training, ensuring citizens can thrive individually and collectively;
  • Safeguarding women’s rights and equal protection under the law for everyone;
    Transitioning to clean, renewable energy sources that reduce carbon emissions and protect clean air and water;
  • Foreign policy that emphasizes international relationships rather than unilateral actions which lead to a permanent state of military conflict;
  • Balancing the budget while lowering property taxes in PA by closing tax loopholes;
  • Ending governmental gridlock and getting the job done by the politics of inclusion, not the politics of obstruction.

We Democrats remember that our policy differences within our party and between our own candidates are minor compared to the policy proposals of the opposition.

We remember that America has always prevailed when we fought together for justice, not on behalf of any single group’s ideology.

Above all, we Democrats operate on the knowledge that every person is a potential ally in the solution of problems, not a potential enemy.

As a reminder of what’s at stake in November, the modern Republican Party stands in stark contrast to these principles. Donald Trump, the current ring-leader of the circus our opposition has become, uses fear along with racially and religiously divisive language to motivate potential voters.

But the surprising success Trump has enjoyed only highlights his most vociferous and hateful renditions of the same themes shared by his nearest front-runners, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Trump, Rubio, and Cruz all share the same basic views on the major issues of the day.

The Republican front-runners ignore the scientific evidence, consensus and potential solutions for climate change. They support mining and drilling our land and off our shores for the cheapest possible energy sources, even those known to poison our air, water, and citizens. They want to continue or even expand subsidies for fossil fuel industries that are making record profits while condemning incentives for a nascent renewable energy sector.

The GOP leaders oppose rights for workers and collective bargaining claiming the “free market” will make sure workers get what they deserve from large, corporate employers. Meanwhile, they prescribe lower taxes on large corporations and the wealthy, despite most of these wealthiest citizens and businesses using numerous loopholes and subsidies to already pay a significantly lower effective tax rate than struggling middle class Americans.

Republicans scapegoat immigrants and Muslims for our problems, suggesting if we build a giant wall or apply a religious test that it would solve everything. They seek to expand and escalate our involvement in military conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere with no end in sight. Ignoring those new terrorist groups such as ISIS formed in consequence to our decade-plus interventions.

Rather than suggesting improvements to health care access and containing long-term costs, they repeatedly seek to repeal the Affordable Care Act and with it the protections ensuring Americans with pre-existing conditions or on limited incomes can afford coverage and preventive care.

Democrats should vote their preferences for President, Senator, and Attorney General on April 26, remembering the values that unite us as our strongest connection to our shared humanity.

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Republican Response to Public Pension Reform

As we approach the two-hundredth and forty-second day without a Pennsylvania state budget, 2016 holds no promise of quelling the budget impasse that is raging in Harrisburg. There is one issue that has contributed more then anything else to the Commonwealth’s partisan fiscal tensions present today. This issue has been ignored by some and inherited […]

As we approach the two-hundredth and forty-second day without a Pennsylvania state budget, 2016 holds no promise of quelling the budget impasse that is raging in Harrisburg. There is one issue that has contributed more then anything else to the Commonwealth’s partisan fiscal tensions present today. This issue has been ignored by some and inherited by others; it is the Public Pension problem. Addressing the fiscal issue that is State Pension Reform is not only essential in providing future generations of Pennsylvanians with opportunities that their parents had, but also imperative if we aim to once again become a leader among the states that comprise our union.

To begin, we will examine decisions made by our leaders in a time when recessions and economic downturns seemed somewhat improbable because of the 1990’s economic boom. This economic boom was the longest, continuous, economic expansion of its size in U.S History and leads many pension programs across the country to increase benefits for retirees. The Pennsylvania State Pension Benefit increase, which is the single biggest contributor to the states budget problems, began in 2001. Decisions made by legislators in 2001 with Act 9 and to a lesser extent in 2002 and 2003 with Act 38 and Act 40, can be traced as some of the roots of our current fiscal predicament. Because the economy was doing so well in the decade prior to 2001, Act 9 seemed feasible at the time it was passed. Basically, what Act 9 did was make a political compromise with the Pennsylvania State Education Association by increasing pension benefits by using positive investment returns to cover the increased cost. The fiscal platform created for Act 9 basically absorbed the increased pension benefit costs over the following decade. Since these new pension benefits required strong investment returns to stay solvent, something legislators at the time took for granted, it is no surprise that this plan ultimately lead to an increase in allocated tax payer money once investment returns decreased. In 2002 Act 38 was passed, which included benefit increases to retirees who were not included in 2001. The following year, after another bad cycle of investment returns, the taxpayer-funded support began to grow. In 2003, once Harrisburg realized that the Act 9 platform was no longer attainable, Act 40 was passed which essentially refinanced the financial deficiencies acquired from Act 9 by spreading pension obligations out over a 30-year period. By 2010, the taxpayer-funded liabilities reached $1 Billion and by the 2015-2016 fiscal year they have reached about $3.8 Billion. The growth rate of our pension benefit system is beyond Pennsylvania’s means and as you can tell, it is not sustainable. The fiscal “Can” has been kicked down the road for far to long and now it is up to our current legislative leadership to pick the can up and throw it away.

This pension dilemma can and will be addressed, there is no other option. The Republican proposed platform for responding to and reorganizing the states public pension system lies in a process that is prevalent among private sector employees and companies. The Republican plan includes a “defined contribution” program that is essentially a 401K-style retirement plan. This plan is aimed more so at future employees. These future employees would be required to contribute about 3% of their earnings. These earnings (about 3%) would be placed into a cash balance plan that would earn interest from yields on U.S Treasury Bonds. The interest would be capped at 4%. Future earnings for both PSERS and SERS employees will see an increased contribution of 3% and 2.5% respectively. This proposed plan transfers the risk from future recessions or other financial problems away from Pennsylvanian taxpayers while also protecting the retirement security of state employees. As stated above, this type of retirement plan is common among private sector employees and can provide public employees a retirement plan that fits the needs of our current economic environment.
This article aims to give the reader a basic understanding of what has contributed to the pension problems but in no way pretends to address every aspect of this very complex situation. It is recommended that anyone seeking more information on this subject review material available on the Pennsylvania state legislative website.

In closing, pension reforms require trade offs and bi-partisan support which has always been clear. But continuing to fund a program created during a fundamentally different fiscal environment can only cause economic catastrophe for future generations. As we walk deeper into this American century, it is clear that Pennsylvanian lawmakers will have to make tough decisions in order to guarantee future generations the ability to grow and flourish.

Commonwealth Foundation, “Pennsylvania Pensions: Man-Made Financial Disasters” (March 7, 2006)
See Pennsylvania Senate Bill 1

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The Politics of Homeownership

One of the questions I’m most often asked is whether presidential elections affect the real estate market. Realtor® Associations don’t play sides and don’t pick parties. We talk issues that impact the industry and homeowners across Pennsylvania. It’s our responsibility to educate voters about issues at the Federal level that can impact our industry and […]

One of the questions I’m most often asked is whether presidential elections affect the real estate market. Realtor® Associations don’t play sides and don’t pick parties. We talk issues that impact the industry and homeowners across Pennsylvania. It’s our responsibility to educate voters about issues at the Federal level that can impact our industry and our member’s businesses. Although some presidential candidates do have a plan geared towards housing, we need to be cognizant of the lengthy process it takes to send such plans to Congress and to have these plans eventually implemented.

I personally feel very strongly that housing should be a visible issue in every election from local to Federal. There is ample evidence that where you live — the home itself and where it is located — have a tremendous impact on health, opportunity, education and economic outcomes.

Home Ownership is truly the essence of the American Dream. Studies show that 87 percent of Americans believe homeownership is part of their personal American Dream, giving them financial stability and providing individuals a place to raise their family and a nest egg to retire.

One of the issues that congressmen and senators from both parties express a great deal of interest in is tax reform. Ongoing debate puts a variety of tax laws under scrutiny, including those that affect commercial and residential real estate. Locally, school property taxes are most often discussed and impact our members and the public the most.
The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) continues to educate Congress and its staff members on the vital role that real estate tax provisions play in the nation’s housing market and therefore the economy as a whole. Although we don’t expect to see tax reform enacted any time soon, there are a large number of proposals aimed at creating healthier housing and mortgage markets currently under discussion.

Mortgage interest deduction is another important part of homeownership as it allows taxpayers who own their homes to reduce their taxable income by the amount of interest paid on the loan which is secured by their principal residence. The amount of deductible mortgage interest is reported each year by the homeowner’s mortgage company and is a key deduction offered as an incentive for homeowners. This deduction adds yet another benefit to being a homeowner and is a key factor on how the housing market impacts the economy. It is extremely important to have this deduction offered, as it puts consumers in a position where it is more beneficial to own a home compared to renting a home. It is imperative to have this available to consumers and is a key benefit for all homeowners. This is one of many issues we are constantly discussing with our elected officials to make sure the American dream of homeownership continues to be available.

More than $1.2 trillion in commercial real estate loans will come due over the next few years and many of these deals will have trouble with financing. NAR supports consideration of legislation and regulations to protect and enhance the flow of capital to commercial real estate. Additionally, Congress must reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program to avoid the potential loss of 40,000 home sales each month (according to NAR research). In our region, flood insurance is an important and necessary part of many transactions due to the fact the Lehigh Valley has many water ways surrounding and moving through our counties.

Condominiums are another important key for housing throughout the Lehigh Valley. Condos are sometimes a buyer’s first home purchase due to more affordable pricing and flexibility. NAR supports developing policies that will give current homeowners and potential buyers of condos access to more financing opportunities and a wider choice of approved condo developments.

On February 2, 2016, the “Housing Opportunity through Modernization Act,” (H.R. 3700) passed the U.S. House of Representatives. It is expected that this legislation will put homeownership in reach for more families. During NAR’s Conference and Expo in San Diego, NAR President Tom Salomone said, “We look forward to seeing it advance through the legislative process and to the President’s desk, so it can be signed into law.”

This legislation includes efforts to make FHA’s recertification process “substantially less burdensome,” improving a process that is often costly and which condo developments must repeat every 24 months. H.R. 3700 also lowers FHA’s current owner-occupancy requirement from 50 percent to 35 percent and requires FHA to replace existing policy on transfer fees with the less-restrictive model already in place at the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Additionally, the “Housing Opportunity through Modernization Act” streamlines the process for exemptions to FHA’s rule requiring that condominium projects have no more than 25 percent of the space dedicated to commercial use. This effort is in line with the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s initiative to promote neighborhoods with a mix of residential housing, businesses and access to public transportation.

REALTORS mostly advocate for Consumers in the governmental process. Making sure that the American Dream is obtainable, ensuring that this large personal transaction is not impeded by governmental policies or procedures.

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Why We Fight

Allentown has been in the news lately and while there is much speculation as to what the end result may be, the investigations going on here are a symptom of a much bigger problem.  We need more voters to be engaged in elections at all levels and to vote every November. In the last election […]

Allentown has been in the news lately and while there is much speculation as to what the end result may be, the investigations going on here are a symptom of a much bigger problem.  We need more voters to be engaged in elections at all levels and to vote every November.

In the last election only 37% of voters in Lehigh County turned out to vote.  When so few participate, it has disastrous effects on how government functions at all levels. Pennsylvania and Lehigh County elected Tom Wolf as our New Democratic Governor and ousted an incumbent for the first time in our commonwealth’s history. While that was a great achievement, we failed to change our Legislature to ensure that the governor would succeed in making the changes that we as voters demanded.

Here in the Lehigh Valley we have too many far right Republicans who refuse to work with the Governor in the best interests of their constituents.  That is the reason for the stalemate with the state budget.  While we all agreed that education funding is our top priority, more so here in Lehigh County where our local Allentown School District is the 3rd in underfunding in the entire nation, we failed to elect legislators that will fight to see that change.

This year we are electing our local school board members.  We need school board representatives who will advocate for our children and the hard working teachers who help them.  Also up for election this year are the at-large seats for the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners.  They will determine the future of Cedarbrook, our county’s nursing home.  One of the Republican candidates up for election this year was openly for privatization when he ran in 2011. Vic Mazzioti stated,  “Two thirds of the counties in Pennsylvania do not operate a county nursing home.  There is no need for a “poor house” today since most nursing homes will accept Medicare and Medicaid patients.”  That is not acceptable to most of Lehigh County’s seniors who have worked hard all their lives and invested their tax dollars to make sure that there would be a facility available if they ever need it.

Additionally, this year we have the opportunity to elect three Democratic Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justices.  Kevin Dougherty, Christine Donohue and David Wecht, if elected, will be responsible for determining a fair electoral map when we redraw the lines for our legislative districts in 2020.

This year’s election will have long lasting effects on our county, and we need the Democrats in Lehigh County to stay engaged despite all the negative news coming out of our area.  The only way we can truly make sure that we have government that represents the interest of the people is for the people to vote for the candidates that represent their values.  This year we are asking voters to vote straight Democrat to ensure we have elected officials who care about the people of Lehigh County.

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No One Can Afford to Sit it Out!

Though the 2016 presidential field gets most attention, Pennsylvania voters should elect well-qualified Democratic nominees Christine Donohue, Kevin Dougherty, and David Wecht to Pennsylvania’s highest court this November to block partisan attempts to neutralize our impact next year. Likewise, prospects for a responsibly managed Northampton County depend on electing Democrats: Sam Murray judge and Lori […]

Though the 2016 presidential field gets most attention, Pennsylvania voters should elect well-qualified Democratic nominees Christine Donohue, Kevin Dougherty, and David Wecht to Pennsylvania’s highest court this November to block partisan attempts to neutralize our impact next year. Likewise, prospects for a responsibly managed Northampton County depend on electing Democrats: Sam Murray judge and Lori Vargo Heffner to county council, and re-electing Controller Steve Barron and County Councilmen Scott Parsons, Ken Kraft, and Bob Werner.

If anyone doubts that, Republican John Cusick told a local board he was running to get back on Northampton County Council to support County Executive John Brown. County residents should be worried.

In 18 months, Brown has distinguished himself as one of the most incompetent politicians in Pennsylvania today. His most notorious decision was hiring a public relations consultant to an $84,000 no-bid contract after his first month. He also attempted to charge taxpayers $715,200 for a no-bid financial consultant contract.

Brown’s solicitor during that tumultuous first year, Victor Scomillio, is running for county judge. Northampton County’s legal fees and damages topped $300,000 after federal judgments from Brown and Scomillio firing an employee two days before Christmas, before they even took office. Hayden Phillips, a self-proclaimed Tea Party Republican, wants to be county controller. Despite publicly questioning some of Brown’s controversial decisions, Phillips backed Brown’s 2015 budget and proposed double the 9.25% tax increase (1 mill) that was ultimately passed by council Republicans.

The county executive has also hinted at intentions to sell Gracedale, the county-owned nursing home. The referendum preventing such a sale expires next year. Although Cusick now says he opposes privatizing Gracedale, he previously voted to sell it. If Republicans like Cusick and Matthew Dietz are elected to council, we should expect their support for Brown turning Gracedale over to a company driven to maximize profits at the expense of affordable, quality care.

This isn’t to say that county residents should only focus on these local races. The unprecedented election of three Supreme Court justices, along with seats on the Superior and Commonwealth Courts, will impact decisions and set precedents for decades. Among other things, the Supreme Court election could determine whether Pennsylvania continues in its role as the keystone in presidential elections. State Republican attempts to manipulate rules to gain political power may ultimately rest with the courts. Their proposals include diluting Pennsylvania’s influence by distributing its electoral votes by congressional district, suppressing disadvantaged voters through restrictive photo ID requirements, and using incumbent-protection redistricting schemes that make very few legislative races competitive.

The bottom line is simple: The decisions made by Northampton County voters in the 2015 elections will be critically important, determining how much of their paychecks go to local taxes due to Republican fiscal irresponsibility; whether county seniors have continued access to affordable, quality care; and whether our state will continue to carry weight on the national political scene. This is an election of enormous consequence, and no one can afford to sit it out.

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