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.