Arlen Specter Succumbs to Cancer

Former U.S. Senator Arlen Specter couldn’t beat cancer the third time around.   He passed earlier today at age 82.  One of the last moderates serving in Washington he was challenged by Tea Party favorite Pat Toomey until it forced him to switch parties in an effort to retain his seat in 2010.  He wound up losing that primary to Congressman Joe Sestak.

The Senator began his career as Philadelphia District Attorney as a Democrat before switching parties and serving for thirty years as a Republican Senator.

I disagreed with many of his votes, particularly Supreme Court Justices (among his legacies are Scalia, Thomas, et al).  After he returned to the Democratic Party the State Committee meeting in Pittsburgh was, essentially, a welcoming back celebration.  He posed with his wife Joan in the donkey tie given him by then Gov. Ed Rendell:

The Friday evening of that State Committee meeting I was at the hotel reception taking pictures and getting stories when Brad Koplinski, the Senator’s campaign political director, saw me and offered to introduce me to the Senator.  Now recall that I hadn’t been particularly kind to the Senator over years of blogging so I winced at the coming onslaught of criticism (an occupational hazard when you write about politically powerful people) from the Senator.  Instead he was polite and gracious.  Not all politicians are when face to face with a blogger for whom they’ve been a regular target.  That’s my lasting impression of Sen. Specter:  above all he was a gentleman.

The President released this statement this afternoon:

Arlen Specter was always a fighter.  From his days stamping out corruption as a prosecutor in Philadelphia to his three decades of service in the Senate, Arlen was fiercely independent – never putting party or ideology ahead of the people he was chosen to serve.  He brought that same toughness and determination to his personal struggles, using his own story to inspire others.  When he announced that his cancer had returned in 2005, Arlen said, “I have beaten a brain tumor, bypass heart surgery and many tough political opponents and I’m going to beat this, too.”  Arlen fought that battle for seven more years with the same resolve he used to fight for stem-cell research funding, veterans health, and countless other issues that will continue to change lives for years to come.  Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to Joan and the rest of the Specter family.

Casey, Specter Vote to Dismantle Social Security so Rich Can Get Tax Cuts

Both of Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senators voted for the rich and against the rest of us this week when they capitulated to Republican extortion demands for the rich.  The deal brokered by the President is a recipe devised by the GOP to dismantle Social Security and Medicare by defunding the programs.  The payroll tax cut will do exactly that.  The bill extends the “temporary” tax cuts for the rich.  From now on we won’t call them the Bush Tax Cuts bur the Obama Tax Cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans.  The bill also provides further estate tax reductions for the richest of the rich, .3% of the country.  This means it wouldn’t affect 99.7% of us.

Repeal of the Bush Tax Cuts has been a central Democratic campaign promise since they were enacted.  Every federal Democratic candidate, including Obama has vowed to end this giveaway and balance the federal budget with the proceeds.  Conversely Republicans promised this year to end the massive deficits they created and now, before even being sworn into office, reneged on this Pledge.  

So why did Casey and Specter stab us in the back to help the rich?  The extension of unemployment benefits is only for a year while the tax cuts go for two.  There’s no way in the middle of a presidential election year Congress is going to raise taxes on anyone.  Specter won’t be around any then but Bob Casey will be up for re-election.  We’ll remember this vote.  Do any progressives want to give him a run for his money for abandoning the people?

White House Details Sestak Offer

The White House released details of the job offer provided to Congressman Joe Sestak in exchange for his withdrawal from the U.S. Senate primary against Arlen Specter.  Republicans have been trying to make hay out of this since Sestak was first asked a question in an interview about getting any offers to drop out.  He answered truthfully with a simple “yes” and since then accusations of impropriety and have been raised by Republicans for whom this was SOP in the Bush White House.  Where was their outrage when Karl Rove was making deals like this constantly?

According tot he White House Rahm Emmanuel got Bill Clinton to approach Sestak about keeping his Congressional seat but also getting an unpaid, high level position on a presidential commission for which he was qualified in return for dropping out.  Because the proposed position was unpaid nothing illegal was offered or proposed.

I’m not sure why the White House thought Joe would accept such a minimal offer.  He entered the primary race so Democrats would have an actual Democrat for which to voter last week.  Remaining in his Congressional seat and accepting an unpaid position which did nothing but raise his profile accomplished none of his goals.  Those goals were to represent Pennsylvanians in the Senate so they would have an actual Democratic representative there voting for the interests of working people.  Arlen Specter showed over 30 years that he wasn’t that person.  The White House offer is shocking only in that it was so insignificant.  

Using intermediaries is a time honored tradition when high ranking people seek to better organize primary races and fill out their fields of candidates.  It is an important function of Party Chairs to do this actually and it is done routinely.  How often do we see elections where there may be three candidates for one slot and none for others?  It happens all the time and is a sign of a bad Party Chair.  Good Chairs speak with the candidates, determine the strongest and try to convince the others to run for other open seats.  In this case the White House wanted to keep Specter in the Senate and Sestak in the House and sought a solution.  The fact their offer wasn’t grounded in reality, didn’t take into account the Congressman’s reasons for running or the reasons so many Democrats were urging him to run, and was quite insignificant meant, perhaps, they weren’t all that serious.  Maybe it was an attempt to make it appear they were trying to help Specter but not so committed as to make a serious offer, something like Secretary of the Navy.

The release of the details actually boosts Sestak because it shows he is a man of integrity who cannot be bought off even by the President.  That illustrates his independence from the White House and reminds us he didn’t back away from or attempt to elude a difficult question.  When asked he gave an honest answer.  It wasn’t his duty to provide details and he was most likely unaware of them anyway.  This was the White House’s duty to explain what was done, how and why.

Update:  The details released by the White House (they sent me a copy so I’m using that as my basis for this article) say no offer to be SecNav was ever given and never considered because that post was filled even before Specter switched parties.  The efforts to convince him not to run happened in June and July of 2009.  He was offered, By former President Clinton, a role in Executive Branch Advisory Boards for which he was eminently qualified due to his 31 years of service in the Navy.

Update II:  Joe Sestak released this statement today:

“Last summer, I received a phone call from President Clinton.  During the course of the conversation, he expressed concern over my prospects if I were to enter the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate and the value of having me stay in the House of Representatives because of my military background.  He said that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had spoken with him about my being on a Presidential Board while remaining in the House of Representatives. I said no.  I told President Clinton that my only consideration in getting into the Senate race or not was whether it was the right thing to do for Pennsylvania working families and not any offer. The former President said he knew I’d say that, and the conversation moved on to other subjects.

“There are many important challenges facing Pennsylvania and the rest of the country.  I intend to remain focused on those issues and continue my fight on behalf of working families.”

Senate Passes Financial Reform

Scott Brown defected from his Republicans colleagues this week and voted for cloture on the financial reform bill which will establish curbs on Wall Street and end any future bailouts of banks.  The Massachusetts Senator must consider the liberal slant of his constituents if he wishes to be re-elected and so he has broken with his Party leadership on some important legislation.  Bob Casey voted yes but Arlen Specter, still licking his wounds I presume, didn’t vote.

The bill goes a long way towards preventing another financial collapse which resulted in a huge economic meltdown.  It isn’t a perfect bill but none is.  Republicans are trying to exempt car dealers from regulations involving credit and consumers should be outraged over the issue.  Auto dealers are universally hated, with much justification, for ripping people off when they sell cars and trucks.  Most consumers use dealer arranged financing and most dealers are as crooked as the day is long and will soak them for every penny possible.  To do this they frequently break the law, ignore the rules and go laughing (literally) all the way to the bank.  Its time for some tough regulation.

The bill still has to go through some amendments and then to a conference committee to reconcile it with the House bill.  Hopefully by mid-summer it will be law, almost two years after Lehman Brothers collapsed and the precipitous decline began in the global economy.

Democrats Lining Up Behind Sestak

Democrats are already solidly backing Joe Sestak in the general election against Wall Street tycoon Pat Toomey.  This race boils down to a Navy Admiral vs. Wall Street and it isn’t a good year to be a Wall Street hack running for office.  Gov. Rendell, TJ Rooney, and the White House quickly united to support their primary election foe after his victory Tuesday.  Vice President Biden issued this statement yesterday:

“Arlen Specter is one of my closest friends.  He has served Pennsylvania with determination, wisdom, and skill for many years. I was proud to play a role in his return to the Democratic Party; his votes to pass the Recovery Act and health insurance reform were courageous and critical to our success.  I look forward to working with him during the rest of this year, and remaining in close contact with him after his term in Washington is finished.

“I spoke to Joe Sestak last night and congratulated him on his impressive victory.   He will make a great candidate in the fall, and a wonderful United States Senator.  I look forward to campaigning for him in Pennsylvania and celebrating his victory in November.”

It never bothered me that Joe Biden supported Arlen Specter.  The men served together for decades, rode the train together and forged a friendship over the years.  I’m very suspicious of persons who abandon their friends, especially in times of need.  The Vice President stood by his friend and that is to be respected.  Now that the election is past they are quickly adopting the former Admiral as their own.  Watching what Joe Sestak did with no Party support, little organized labor support and half the money imagine what he’ll do now with them.

Pat Toomey is a radical extremist who stands to the right of even Rick Santorum.  His record in Congress was despicable and since then he ha sdone nothing but distribute Wall Street money to candidates responsible for the Wall Street crisis, economic meltdown and for millions of people losing their jobs, homes and retirements.  If you like what happened to the economy you’ll like Toomey.  If you like the fact Republicans created this disaster then refused to support measures to reverse it you’ll like Pat Toomey.  If you like deregulated government which results in Massey Energy killing 29 workers or BP destroying the Gulf of Mexico you’ll like Pat Toomey.  If you want to end Social Security and Medicare Toomey’s your candidate.

There is a stark choice this year for the U.S. Senate:  going forward or backward.  Let’s steer the course for the future with Admiral Sestak at the helm.

 

Reflections on the Senate Primary

Two weeks ago I predicted a Sestak win by 55-45%.  I was wrong it was 54-46%.  Arlen Specter lost this race because he was Arlen Specter.  Joe Sestak won it by being Joe Sestak.  I saw some friends last night from four years ago when we defeated Rick Santorum.  One was Alan Sandals wo was a candidate in the Democratic primary and another was Jordan Yeager (and his beautiful wife Kathy Bookvar) who worked on Chuck Pennacchio’s campaign with me in that primary.  We were amazed we rid Pennsylvania of both GOP Senators in four years.  I also saw UFCW friends and others who were volunteers on the Sestak campaign.  It was a great night to be a Pennsylvanian.

Arlen Specter lost this election when he switched parties and cemented his defeat in the one debate he held with Congressman Sestak.  No one likes a party switcher and unleashing Snarlin’ Arlen in his debate reminded voters why they so disliked Specter.  I came across that nickname one day several years ago in a Washington Post article about the meanest people in DC.  Specter won that designation and they reported what people in Washington called Specter.  That nickname has haunted him since.  Democratic voters in conservative counties across Pennsylvania went 2-1 for Joe Sestak.  Those voting for the Senator were those who traditionally crossed the aisle and supported him in general elections but he didn’t get many other Democratic votes.

This was a direct slap in the face to Gov. Rendell and the Democratic Party apparatus.  Philadelphia was around 62% for Specter in spite of heavy endorsements from the “powers that be.”  In Westmoreland County Sestak had 63% last night (I have to check the  final tallies this morning).  When I saw conservative Democrats bolting from their Party leadership, Governor and President and refusing to abide directions I knew a new day had dawned.  I called this for Congressman Sestak when I saw those numbers and they reflected about 50% turnout.  

The reaction I saw from rank anf file Democrats after an email sent by Party Executive Director Mary Isenhour for Specter was an interesting sign.  There was true outrage that the Senator was being forced down their throats and they had serious nausea.  This probably means Ed Rendell is as lame a duck as can be.  His Party revolted on him.

This wasn’t all simply Arlen Specter switching parties and losing however.  Joe Sestak won this race.  How many times have any of us witnessed a major candidate surging back from 17 points down and cruising to victory?  I’ve gotten to know the Congressman and he is a man of integrity and class.  We saw a stark difference last night when Arlen refused to concede publicly (he did so privately with Joe) or congratulate his opponent.  He is an old war horse whose tenacity kept him going in Washington for thirty years.  Not only did Sestak graciously reflect on his years of public service to Pennsylvania but so did his crowd when the Senator came on TV.  They turned away rather angrily though when he stepped off the stage with that Snarlin’ look on his face.  That was the story of this election:  Specter’s mean and nasty temperament and Joe’s positive, “hope for the future” class.

I was happy to see Joe take the stage and show some genuine emotion.  Sometimes he seemed a bit of an automaton on the campaign trail lacking the fierce audacity it actually took to enter this race and win.  I was in at the beginning approaching the Congressman on behalf of the netroots to urge him to run.  Last night I had to be there at the end and the Congressman provided a short statement for all the netroots for your support.  I’m uploading that and will add it to the blog shortly.

Following his speech the Congressman took his beloved daughter, the reason he ran, put her on his shoulders and worked the room.  You knew where Joe was instantly by looking for his girl and the television cameras  shadowing his every step through the ballroom.  Reporters took turns doing interviews and I got a chance towards the end.  I asked him if the Governor had called him yet to offer support.  Joe said he didn’t know because he’d been in the room.  That tells me that Rendell didn’t follow the Senator’s call with one of his own (he was with Specter).

Now things get interesting for the fall.  Joe Sestak accomplished this on his own, with dedicated staffers who celebrated their victory with great enthusiasm, volunteers who selflessly gave hour after hour, and support from some unions, bloggers and, of course the progressive community.  Now he gets all of organized labor, the Party structure and the big money which goes with all of that to tackle Pat Toomey.  The two have already debated twice and I covered the first of those at Muhlenberg College.  Toomey is further right than Rick Santorum and as his extreme views on issues develop and air voters will have a clear choice:  move forward or move backwards.  I think voters want progress.

Joe, his family and his staff cannot do this alone.  He needs your help.  Take some time, savor this victory, get some rest then go get ’em.

Lessons for Obama from the Arkansas and Pennsylvania Democratic Primaries

By Stephen Crockett

The Obama White House hopefully will learn something about Obama 2008 winning coalition from the 2010 Democratic Primary Elections in Arkansas and Pennsylvania. The media needs to learn this same basic lesson. The Obama Movement was never just about Obama. It was about change… real change. While Obama gives a great speech and the Obama loves to hear him talk, they want real actions that they can believe in and they want it now!

Of course, the Obama movement is not really radical. However, it does want to see fundamental reforms in our political and economic system. The Obama White House has been unwilling to get out in front of the Obama Movement on almost every issue. Conservative and corporate forces within the Obama White House have effectively held back the pace of reforms and often have completely defeated them. The Obama Movement wants more! If they do not get more and soon then Obama will no longer be the leader of the Obama Movement.

Sestak won in the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate race because labor activists and the local Democratic Party leaders did not follow Obama’s endorsement of Specter although their top leadership did. The grassroots refused. They were joined by some unions and essentially all progressive organizations at every level. Minority voters simply did not vote in large numbers. The Obama Movement effectively backed Sestak or stayed home for the most part. Obama cannot take the Obama Movement down paths outside their core values.

Specter was not the kind of leader the Obama Movement wanted. Sestak was and is a different story.

Sestak loves labor. Specter needed labor. The grassroots of the labor movement understood the difference.

Sestak wants to end needless wars and wants to curb excessive corporate power. He is certainly not anti-business but he does seem more focused on Main Street than serving Wall Street. The Republican in the race, Pat Toomey, is widely considered a complete tool of Wall Street and with good reason. Toomey effectively ran the Right Wing billionaires political entity known as the Club for Growth. He will not look good running against a tough military man with a devotion to mainstream middle class values.

I believe that Specter would have lost to Toomey. I believe Sestak will soundly defeat Toomey! Sestak is both a realist and an economic populist. He is honest and hardworking almost to a fault. The contrast with Toomey will be very clear in November.

Blanche Lincoln has voted with the Republicans often. She has blocked important legislation like the Employee Free Choice Act. Only since getting an effective Democratic challenger did she start voting more often for the kind of change desired by the Obama Movement.

Lincoln did not deserve the support of Obama based on her voting record. She still does not deserve his support in the run-off. Obama’s core supporters will hold this misplaced support against Obama for a long time to come.

Obama should have stayed out of the race in both Pennsylvania and Arkansas. The American people like and respect Obama but want Obama to act more aggressively to check excessive corporate power.  Opposing progressive or reform Democratic challengers only makes Obama weaker.

The Obama Movement activists want Obama to aggressively push legislation to limit the damage from the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. Obama should push legislation requiring that all shareholders should have to approve in a vote before any money from the corporate treasury gets spent on elections or politics. Corporate executives should not be able spend corporate funds on politics if even one shareholder disagrees. The executives are spending other people’s money.

All publicly traded corporations should be required to give at least 20% of the Board of Director seats to elected representatives of their employees. Obama should push that legislation.

Obama should get out and start a nationwide voter education effort to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. It is time to make unionization elections truly democratic instead of jokes rigged in favor of corporations. Workers need a much bigger say in the economy and a bigger slice of the economic pie. Obama should support legislative limits on corporate executive salaries. Corporate executives should be removed completely from the election process for members of the Board of Directors.

Obama should push legislation to break up the largest banks, modify or repeal unfair “so-called free trade deals”, hold oil companies fully responsible for economic damages from oil spills without financial limits, appoint more aggressive regulators and judges, tax imports and start repealing decades of tax breaks for international corporations.

Every hint of going “corporate Republican-lite” upsets the Obama Movement. Obama needs to remember his base. Obama should look hard at making some staff changes and policy shifts in a more Democratic reform direction. He should compromise less with his enemies and remember his real friends.

The media should stop drinking the Republican Right “tea” kool-aid! The Tea Party Republicans are not economic populists nor anti-corporate. If Obama learns the lesson of these two elections, he can lead the Democratic Party in a real economic populist reform direction. This is what the Obama Movement wants and is the key to victory in 2010.

Written by Stephen Crockett (host of Democratic Talk Radio http://www.DemocraticTalkRadio… and Editor of Mid-Atlantic Labor.com http://www.midatlanticlabor.com) . Mail: 698 Old Baltimore Pike, Newark, Delaware 19702. Phone: 443-907-2367. Email: demlabor@aol.com.  

Yeah, that’s great Joe Sestak’s won the PA primary..but….

You know, that is great that Pennsylvania was able to show that we can choose a progressive that can stand for real values that working people are fighting for. However, I don’t personally feel so excited myself. But unfortunately, what does it say for the common man? Will Sestak actually want to do something for the regular working man and vote for labor? Will he turn his back and become a corporate Democrat like Blanche Lincoln or President Obama?

Race Called For Sestak, Specter Refuses to Concede

The room burst with loud cheers and applause as I was writing that last article because the race was called for Joe Sestak by the networks.  When Arlen Specter appeared on television the entire room became quiet.  They applauded him politely to recognize his years of service then jeered when he exited the stage without either conceding or congratulating his opponent.