The status quo Republican leadership in Pennsylvania is blaming young conservatives for helping to oust 14 incumbent state legislators in last month's primary. The old-timers better get with the program or more of their good-old-boys will lose in November's election.
I had no idea I had such power over voters until I received an e-mail last week from a Republican insider who single-handedly blames me for the Pennsylvania GOP's primary election massacre.
My Republican friend has showered me with praise for years as I skewered Democrats in this very same space. But the defeat of so many longtime Republican legislators on May 16 was too much for this rabid Republican to bear. He had to lash out at someone.
Plenty of old-school Republicans can't come to grips with the reality that when your party controls both houses of the state legislature and the legislature does nothing but rubber-stamp tax hikes and massive spending increases proposed by Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, the Republicans bear as much of the responsibility for the troubled state of our state government.
I'm no fan of Rendell (see my previous column titled "The Worst Governor in the United States") but he signed $1.5 billion in tax hikes after the Republican-controlled House and Senate approved them. Rendell signed the notorious pay raise for himself, the legislature and state judges after it was passed by a bipartisan vote by Republicans and Democrats at 2 a.m. on July 7, 2005.
And when Republican voters went to the polls on May 16 to oust 14 Republican legislators, including the two most powerful GOP leaders in the state Senate (Chip Brightbill and Robert Jubelirer), they were sending a clear message to the good-old-boy Republican network that voters are tired of business as usual in Harrisburg.
That message apparently has not sunk in to political insiders, including the one who sent me the following note:
"I know where you stand vis-a-vis Republican incumbents, etc. My only comment: Be careful what you wish for. You might get it. Mike Folmer isn't qualified to carry Chip Brightbill's briefcase, and how much do you know about Dennis Leh's opponent? You can pile it on about the property tax and pay raise issues, but this blind-sidedness has cost the party and will make it significantly less difficult for Democrat candidates to take those seats. In my opinion, your efforts would have been more fruitful if directed at defeating Democratic incumbents — who also are up to their ears in property tax and pay raise actions. Grassroot efforts are admirable, but sometimes people put too much fertilizer on the grass and it burns off!
Let's try to walk a mile in this diehard Republican's shoes.
Brightbill and Jubelirer have served in the state Senate for a combined 54 years. They've failed to produce meaningful tax relief. They've failed to contain runaway state spending. They've failed to curb Rendell's liberal agenda even though Senate Republicans enjoyed a 30-20 majority in the Senate before the primary. And Senate Republicans joined with Rendell to push through the July 2005 pay grab for themselves.
So my GOP friend wants to send Brightbill and Jubelirer back to Harrisburg for another four years so they can fail some more? Voters have had enough of do-nothing politicians. They want results.
What exactly scares GOP insiders about Mike Folmer (who defeated Brightbill by 7,600 votes) or John Eichelberger (who easily beat Jubelirer despite a three-way race), or Bill Reed who defeated 20-year incumbent Rep. Dennis Leh in Berks County?
Is it that these three individuals are not controlled by lobbyists? Is it because they want to reform Harrisburg? Is it that this new breed of Republican won't dance when GOP puppetmasters pull the strings? Is it because these conservative candidates answer to the people and not the party bosses?
The defeat of Jubelirer, Brightbill and Leh is good for the Republican Party and for Pennsylvania.
Jubelirer was sent into retirement by 22,335 Republican voters in his home district who no longer wanted him as their state senator. Brightbill was fired by 18,291 voters in Berks and Lebanon counties because he was too chummy with Rendell and too fond of the perks that elevated so many "public servants" into the rarefied air of the rich and famous.
Leh, who announced his retirement earlier this year but was talked into running for another term by party bosses, was given a permanent retirement by 1,675 voters who supported Reed, an unknown who financed his campaign by himself.
Change scares too many political insiders, but change is often necessary. Republicans can still salvage 2006 by embracing the reform candidates and tossing more political dead weight -- Republican House Speaker John Perzel (rhymes with Rendell) -- overboard.
Thanks to redistricting by the Republican-controlled state legislature, most districts are safe from Democratic incursions. But that's only if the party bosses put their egos aside and stop fighting the growing conservative tidal wave that swept so many new GOP candidates into the political spotlight on May 16.
If they play their cards right, Republicans can even take back traditionally Democratic districts. For example, three Republican candidates garnered a total of 2,429 votes in the 126th House District in Berks County, compared to 2,113 votes for 13-year incumbent Rep. Dante Santoni Jr., who is ripe for the picking.
Santoni and other vulnerable Democrats can be knocked off if GOP leaders stop acting like their whiny counterparts on the left, forget about helping Rendell and start listening to their conservative Republican base.
Tony Phyrillas is a leading conservative political columnist and blogger based in Pennsylvania. He is a veteran journalist with 25 years experience as a reporter, editor and columnist for several newspapers. Phyrillas received recognition for column writing in 2010 from the Associated Press Managing Editors, in 2007 from Suburban Newspapers of America and in 2006 from the Society of Professional Journalists, Keystone Chapter. A graduate of Penn State University, Phyrillas is the city editor and political columnist for The Mercury, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning daily newspaper in Pottstown, Pa. In addition to The Mercury website (www.pottsmerc.com), his columns are featured on more than a dozen political websites and blogs. Phyrillas is a frequent guest (and occasional host) on talk radio and has been a panelist on the "Journalists Roundtable" public affairs TV program on the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN). Phyrillas was named one of the '10 Leading Greek-American Bloggers in the World' in 2007 by Odyssey: The World of Greece magazine. BlogNetNews.com ranked Phyrillas the Most Influential Political Blogger in Pennsylvania for three consecutive years (2007-2010). You can follow Phyrillas on Twitter @TonyPhyrillas