Week in Review: State Senate races grab attention before election


By PA Independent Staff

In just four days, Pennsylvanians will know whether Tom Wolf or Tom Corbett will be governor for the next four years.

Polls have found Wolf holds a healthy advantage in that race, but less clear is whether the Democratic Party could also pick up control of either the state House or state Senate, both also under Republican leadership at the moment.

Taking the House seems a longshot, leaving many politicos watching the state Senate, where Republicans have a four-seat advantage. There are a handful of races to watch there, and PA Independent took a closer look at a couple of them this week.

LOOKING BACK: This week, reporter Eric Boehm checked out Gov. Tom Corbett’s record on taxes, while a few state Senate races piqued politicos’ attention.

Keeping to the theme of the upcoming election, reporter Eric Boehm also continued his series examining the gubernatorial candidates’ tax policies, this time looking at Corbett’s record on the issue.

Here’s a look back at the stories from this week:

Examining Corbett’s record of no-tax pledges and big tax breaks

Corbett faces the voters of Pennsylvania on Tuesday in a bid for re-election that’s also a referendum on his first term in office.

Win or lose, the governor is making a stand on the issue of taxes.

The “no-tax pledge” that he signed during his first gubernatorial run in 2010 has been a central part of his policymaking, but while taxpayers have not seen broad-based tax increases during the past four years, critics say Corbett has short-changed the state by cutting business taxes and handing out special favors at the expense of other priorities.

He’s overseen state budgets that have cut taxes for business in the name of growing jobs, but that hasn’t put money back in the pockets of ordinary Pennsylvanians.

Hand-outs to special interests — like the annual $60 million giveaway to Hollywood film studios and television producers, and the Keystone Opportunity Zone program that allows the state to give certain businesses tax cuts while those across the street have to continue to pay — have remained on the books or even grown during Corbett’s first term.

Corbett says he’ll continue to hold the line against taxes in a potential second term, unless they become necessary because the General Assembly won’t address the state’s $50 billion pension crisis.

In southeastern PA race, tying GOP candidate to Corbett not so easy

With the governor’s race perhaps decided already, the race for the 26th State Senate District has at least given southeastern Pennsylvania a campaign to watch, said J. Wesley Leckrone, a political science professor at Widener University.

That contest pits Delaware County Council Chairman Tom McGarrigle, the Republican nominee, against Democratic candidate John Kane, the business manager of Pennsylvania Plumbers Local 690 labor union. Both hope to succeed retiring Republican state Sen. Ted Erickson.

A poll commissioned by state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, found McGarrigle with a double-digit lead, but Kane said he’s relishing his role as an underdog and thinks the district is ripe for the picking.

So far, though, pollster G. Terry Madonna doesn’t buy the notion that Democrats could seize the Senate, and he said there has been no concrete evidence to suggest Republicans will lose the seat they have held for more than a quarter of a century.

New state Senate seat key battleground for control of chamber

Like the race for the 26th, the 40th Senate District seat in Monroe and Northampton counties also lacks an incumbent. At least officially, anyway.

That’s because veteran state Rep. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe, seems a natural fit for the seat created by Republican-friendly redistricting. Scavello’s taking a run for the job, but he’s facing a spirited challenge from attorney Mark Aurand, the Democratic nominee.

Much of the race has focused on issues of women’s health, with Aurand targeting Scavello’s shifting stances on the issue.

Even so, Tom Baldino, a political science professor at Wilkes University, still sees Scavello with enough vestiges of incumbency — albeit it in a House seat — to overcome the criticisms.

“Because it’s Scavello and not an unknown Republican, it’s going to be Scavello’s race to lose,” Baldino said, “and it looks like he’s going to hold it.”

Ironworkers staying mostly on electoral sidelines

Ten members of Ironworkers Local 401, including union business manager Joseph Dougherty, were charged with racketeering and participating in a conspiracy to commit criminal acts that included arson, extortion, the destruction of property and assault. The case is awaiting trial in federal court.

But in the court of political opinion, the labor union seems to be less welcome than it was in previous cycles.

After handing out more than $160,000 to candidates in 2010 and more than $170,000 in 2012, Ironworkers Local 401’s political action committee has spent only $46,650 so far in 2014, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Department of State.

One of the few races the labor union is involved in this year is the hotly contested state Senate seat in Delaware County.

According to campaign finance reports, the Ironworkers’ PAC has contributed $10,000 to Kane, the Democratic candidate in the race, since the start of the year. Kane serves as business manager for another Philadelphia union, Plumbers Local 690, and he told the Delaware County Daily Times earlier this month he was keeping the money because “it’s not Joe Dougherty’s money, it’s his members.”