Monday, August 17, 2015
NorCo Dems Are in Trouble
There are no contested city races in Northampton County this year. Sal Panto had no opponent, Democrat or Republican, in Easton's Mayoral primary. Bethlehem's City Council race was decided in the primary, where only Democrats ran. To many who live in these urban cores, and they are heavily Democratic, the election is over. Though county government is vital and has a big impact on their lives, most people have less interest than they do in a city government, where parking meters or garbage can become hot-button items.
When Ron Angle was in the race, that generated interest among Democrats. He's the Republican they love to hate, more than anyone. But now that he's out, and it's likely that Hayden Phillips is in, some Democrats will go back to sleep.
When Hayden Phillips first ran for Northampton County Council, I took him lightly. After all, he's a tea party conservative, and some of his ideas on the campaign trail sounded a tad extreme, like his concern about the UN and Agenda 21. But he worked tirelessly, had a good organization and won. As a member of Council, he's often been the only one from his own party willing to challenge Executive John Brown. So he's independent. And he has done nothing as a member of Council that I consider irresponsible. In fact, his focus on capital projects has been sorely needed. Even the Democrats on council refer to him as the "Colonel," in homage to his service as a Marine. If the party names him as their Controller candidate, I expect to see Phillips give it everything he has.
Democrats in Bethlehem will likely be split over Steve Barron. His suit against Bethlehem City Council is no way to gain votes in what should be his base. He has sparred with Easton Mayor Sal Panto over the commuter tax, and Panto has grown increasingly thin-skinned about criticism. Barron can count on the Northampton County workforce to back him strongly. I am sure they will, but question whether it is enough. One third of the NorCo workforce does not even live in the County. Of those that do, I know for a fact that many of them fail to register. This is a big problem, and though there was one rally to register voters before the primary, it was mostly for show with no real effort.
Barron is the Democrat that Republicans love to hate. He has matured and has actually managed to look like a voice of reason next to Executive John Brown. His audits probably have saved millions. But his side-show antics have earned him their enduring animosity. A controller really should think twice about marching on a call center like T-Mobile, and threatening them with some kind of official retaliatory action because they are non-union. His part-time teaching job was a mistake, too. He is vulnerable, unless Democrats come out in force.
Scott Parsons, who is running in the Slate Belt, has deluded himself into thinking that he will be re-elected because he does a good job and is the NorCo workhorse. When he defeated Ron Angle four years ago, he made no attempt to contact voters. When he did make voter contact in his race for the state senate, he was defeated. So Parsons is running next to no campaign in a heavily Republican District, which is insane.
Parsons' opponent, Matt Dietz, appears to me to have a lot to learn. His knowledge of county government is so flawed as to be laughable. But he's learning, he's everywhere and is extremely affable. People like to be asked, and Dietz is asking while Parsons is not.
In the district race that includes Republican strongholds like Williams, Lower Saucon and Bethlehem townships, John Cusick is largely unknown despite his two terms on council. But because an R follows his name, he will draw a lot of votes from Republicans. He also knows how to run a campaign, and has hired Cheryl Corsa and Kathy Roberts. Democrat Lori Vargo Heffner is a psychotherapist and I've seen her smiling face at several Council meetings. She has no experience running for anything, but may turn out to be a pleasant surprise.
The most important of the races is the judicial contest between Sam Murray, son of a steelworker, and Vic Scomillio, who as Solicitor fired a county employee just two days before Christmas with no due process. So far, the County has been assessed nearly $300,000 for that mistake. Scomillio also advised Executive John Brown that he could hire a media consultant. He even told Brown it's legal to balance the budget with borrowed money.
This is more than a race between Democrat and Republican. It's more like the forces of light and darkness.
Sam Murray is the one Democrat who is actually out there, campaigning. He is going to events and knocking on doors. He is clearly the better candidate, especially if you believe in goofy things like the Constitution. But how many Republicans will split their ticket and vote for him? Not many. How many Democrats care enough about their country and county to come out to vote?
That's the big question. I rarely believe in voting straight Democrat, but this is one of those times. John Brown is hurting this country and county in a big way. By reducing staff sizes at the jail and in other departments like children and youth, he is putting human lives at risk in the name of the Almighty Dollar.
Just last week, the Republicans on Council stuck it to 14 Magisterial District judge workers who simply wanted Brown to honor his word and give them a raise he proposed and Council accepted. They went back on their own word simply because that is what their Republican Executive wanted.
Democrats need to get their act together. They need to forget past differences with Barron. They need to encourage Lori Heffner and hammer Scott Parsons until he starts reaching out to the voters. Sam Murray's promise of due process and fairness needs to be heard.
Unless they do, it will be a seven-person Republican majority, a Republican Controller and a Republican judge.