Can you spell Dan O-N-O-R-A-T-O?
It's spelled Tom W-O-L-F.
Four years after the Pennsylvania Democratic Party sleepwalked through the 2010 gubernatorial primary, the natural forces of wakefulness, if not sanity, have finally prevailed.
Four years after Tom Wolf was no longer needed at his family's multi-million business in York, he was finally free to lead a movement among Pennsylvania voters who seem clearly sick of being told who to vote for, what to think, what to expect, which has been very little.
The pied piper of change is a Democrat businessman from central Pennsylvania -- that red state swath that puts the "Tucky" in Pennsyltucky. It's hard not to conclude that finally, coupled with the federal judge's ruling this week that struck down the Gov. Tom Corbett-led ban on gay marriage, Pennsylvania's old-school, outdated politics and policy have been taken to the woodshed.
Under these new set of conditions, it's hard to know whether or not to profusely thank Tom Corbett for being one of the biggest flops in the Keystone State's high-stakes political pantheon. But first, it's important to re-state the fact that Tom Corbett's clueless, useless reign as the governor of the 6th biggest state in the country never should have happened.
How the Dems lost in 2010 will forever remain a testimony to Pennsylvania's somnambulance -- a brainless marching to the drumbeat of "Oh, every eight years we let the other guys have a turn at the trough." The entrenched interests who control all over Pennsylvania's power and resources are so closely aligned, and play exactly the same game, it's almost as if Ed Rendell was admitting as far back as 2008 and 2009 that it did not matter, ultimately, which party was at the top!
Heck, not only can you not spell Dan O-N-O-R-A-T-O, you can't find him. The presumptive leader of the state's Democratic Party is nowhere to be found.
Part of this blame for Corbett's victory rests at the feet of Rendell, who, inexplicably, was equally assuring of Corbett's ascension, all while giving lip service to the vague, passionless notion that Onorato should be the Democratic candidate in 2010. It continues to intrigue some of us as to whether or not Corbett and Rendell and their attending party bosses had reached some kind of agreement back in 2008, just as then Attorney General Corbett was wading waist deep into his selective prosecution of a few state lawmakers and legislative staffers in the "Bonusgate" investigation.
In between lunches with John Perzel, and the lack of attention paid to Senate Republican computers (Jane Orie: Guilty -- but not under Corbett's purview) Rendell seems to have gotten the message: Hands off this GOP Hair Apparent. (That's right, Corbett LOOKS good as a candidate, which is the main reason GOP bigwigs like Bob Asher and Rob Gleason chased off Pat Meehan and Jim Gerlach.) The fix was in. Everywhere. Which is why Rendell seemed to spend much of his final months in office delivering the KY jelly to Pennsylvania Democrats by pronouncing that Corbett would win.
Yet, no sooner did Corbett take office than did the polls start showing his approval ratings were abysmal. By April of 2011, a mere 34 percent of Pennsylvanians said they liked what Corbett was doing -- and it was only that high because with no taxes on hydraulic fracturing that turned Pennsylvania into a driller's free-for-all, 34 percent of Pennsylvanians were either drilling for natural gas or getting nice checks from Range or Chesapeake for gas leases.
No wonder that even Republican primary voters nixed Corbett on their ballots, casting votes 26,000 more times for Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley than for Corbett. In York County, a GOP stronghold, GOP voters appear willing to side with homeboy Wolf, as this voter breakdown report from Politics PA shows.
Corbett was never going to be a good governor for the people of the state, or the land or jobs or education. He is a prosecutor; a strict law enforcement guy with no creative thinking, just dogmatic and reflexive and, often, insensitive or just plain stupid comments about many issues that effect the real, daily lives of citizens. Heck, he couldn't even get liquor privatization, in part because he and his insular, defensive staff couldn't negotiate their way out of a paper bag. Not even the GOP controlled Legislature seemed able or willing to enable Corbett's agenda, in part because there was no real agenda, outside of protecting the drillers and the stalwart captains of industry.
To top it off, among all the staff shuffling and boondoggles associated with Corbett's failed administration, the people of Pennsylvania had to pay off a restaurant owner after Corbett's health secretary sabotaged a catering bid over .. AN EGG SANDWICH!
But Corbett doesn't have egg on his face. He has no face. He's a blank.
His tenure, his party, his people have given Pennsylvania nothing to hang onto and no vision. It's no easy task to push Pennsylvania forward, given the geographical quirks of the state, which is really like six states in one. Still, given the resources, given the proximity to powerful Northeast corridor; given Pennsylvania's prominence in national politics due to its "swing state" reputation, it is mind-blowing that this state has spent four years going nowhere.
Hence, the reason why Tom W-O-L-F was able to roll up one of the most impressive primary victories ever seen. As of last count, he was winning every single one of the 67 counties, taking three out of every five votes. It wasn't a win. It was a referendum.
Tom W-O-L-F ought to be happy now that, in retrospect, his family business needed him back in 2010. He had to sit that one out and let the zombie politics of the state have its last hurrah.
Now, the zombies have been exposed. They're dead weight. Dead wood. A useless hologram beaming out illusionary light about the way things USED to be.
If nothing else, the Democratic primary voters in Pennsylvania not only said they didn't want Tom Corbett anymore, they also didn't want any of the same old crap they've seen before. This is no prediction about how good, or what, Wolf will do should he prevail in November. However, it is impossible to not notice that, finally, the voters that party bosses used to lull into sleepwalking mode have rejected the idea of having pablum candidates and empty campaigns foisted on them.
I have no idea where Dan O-N-O-R-A-T-O is or what he's doing. What we do know is that by the margin of votes earned by Tom W-O-L-F, a least a large portion of PA. voters are demanding a fresh start. They were incapable of that last time around, when Rendell told them Corbett would probably be their man, as if saying after the salad course there comes the appetizer. Ho hum. What does it matter?
Well, as we have now seen four years later, it mattered. The clarity of the state's current malaise has been recognized. The times, finally, have changed. Welcome to the 21st century, Pa. The rest of the country is glad you're here. We need you.
I'm certain that threats, dirty deals and abuses of power have been part of the political and governmental process going back to Caligula, or Zeus. But some of us prefer our titans of intemperance to be historical figures, dressed up in hyperbole and embellished with mythic meaning, not some 21st Century, Tea Party-abetted Congressman from Staten Island whose nickname is "Mikey Suits" -- like, straight out of "Goodfellas" or "The Sopranos."
Then again, maybe in 300 years, long after the fall of the American Empire, when all three of the remaining polar bears have found the last ice floe and Jeff Bezos has set up a small colony of Asperger's Anonymous to live with their moon-beam powered Kindles on Mars, U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island) will have earned an enduring place in the pantheon of bullies, crooks and ego-maniacal gods.
For anyone who missed it, Grimm is the Congressman who, after President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, took offense to a question from a NY1 reporter who had the audacity to ask about an investigation into alleged campaign contribution fraud. So close he could spit into the reporter's nostrils, Grimm threatened to throw the man off a balcony and, well, break him. "Like a boy."
This is the state of the state, circa 2014. Social media, 24-hour news cycles, divided government, reality TV, a consumer economy married with out-of-control former Marines, sitting governors, U.S. prosecutors and, well, the rest of us have all conspired to make our current and collective mode of behavior a living hell.
Civility? Respect? Discourse? All eradicated under the seething pressures of ... WHAT?
People keep saying these are tough times. Our economy is toast despite the stock market run-up and corporations sitting on billions in cash. Wages are stagnant, the 1 percent has 85 percent of the dough. Immigrants are stuck in limbo; college is unaffordable; jobs are not materializing ... it's all horrendous, horrible, bad.
Except, of course, when you compare us to Kiev, or Greece, or Afghanistan or Syria or any number of other hot spots around the world where the world is literally engulfed in flames, blood and misery.
Yet somehow, in America, we have the audacity to fight like steroid-juiced wrestlers mugging for the TV cameras, which is funny since our "greatest" commodity is our slavish devotion to our 15-Minutes-of-Fame "ideal."
I don't believe we are a nation of thugs. I see too many people in daily, ordinary life doing daily, extraordinary acts of kindness for their friends, families or communities. We aren't a nation of lawless people, and there's still enough connection to previous generations of Americans who really had to fight or suffer for us to forget that we ought to work hard and try and play fair. Yet somehow, the infrastructure of power and so many of the people who decide to participate in that arena can't avoid descending into Hades to carry out whatever notion of power they think comes along with it.
Accelerating the fury and distrust and hair-trigger emotion of our national "discourse" is the commentary, the chatter, the "analysis" of it all, which only amplifies the noise and elevates its meaning and alleged importance to such outsized and demoralizing proportion.
Speaking of outsized and demoralizing proportion: Take Chris Christie. As the New Jersey governor lawyers up against abuse of power charges connected to Bridgegate and Sandy funds, there's new reporting that says Christie was so greedily eager to PROVE his popularity as a "both sides of the aisle" Republican in order to boost his 2016 presidential credentials that he might have been tempted to do anything necessary to run up the vote tally in his recent re-election.
The New York Times: They were part of what one high-ranking Republican called “the crew” around Mr. Christie: friends who strategized at Mr. Christie’s kitchen table in Mendham and socialized with him in the governor’s box at MetLife Stadium.
Then there is the ground-to-a-halt endgame of the absurd, partisan divide in Washington D.C., where Republicans vowed to obstruct every Obama initiative, which has now led to Obama's Year 6 State of the Union address in which he vowed to go solo with every power available to him, since Congress will not act on anything that really matters to the American people.
Is Obama finally seizing his presidential pulpit, only to have his foes call it a bully pulpit, denying his presidential authority? Does Obama's "vow" only serve to escalate the underlying sense that everyone's gone rogue in this country? Or is Obama's "threat" that he will move on his own another attempt to smoke out his most violent detractors in order to expose their blind hatred and opposition to him? Look at Ted Cruz and others now emboldened to paint Obama (again) as other, as an "imperial ruler" set out to destroy America?
Are we supposed to be able to navigate all these threats and understand our path forward? I am beginning to lose hope, since our so-called American "exceptionalism" has been replaced by our newest form of cultural expressionism: American Bully-ism.
Gonna break you. Like a boy.
Somewhere, maybe in Hershey, maybe in Philly, the 4.5 people who run the Pennsylvania Republican Party should gather for a sit-down and seriously get their shit together. I say this with the greatest gust of conviction about trying to fix a problem that not only shows how pathetic they were in championing Mr. Hair for governor, but also in plummeting the sixth largest state in the country -- a state vital to transportation of most goods to the Eastern seaboard -- into a leadership and governmental torpor.
Not sure what "torpor" is? It means a state of uselessness yawning all the way into a canyon-esque abyss of ineptitude.
Evidence of this torpor? Don't say Tom Corbett's poll numbers from Terry Madonna's Franklin & Marshall survey. Those are all too predictable, given that this political mega-hack who abused the Attorney General's office and power for political gain was never a statesman, never a policy man, never even an idealogical zealot a la Scott Walker or that other doofus in Florida. He was just the guy installed in the party pipeline years ago so that one day, in the even/odd courtesy way in which Pennsylvania Democrats and Republicans alternate the governor's mansion in Harrisburg, Corbett would be the Hair In Waiting. If there was ever a case to be made for not allowing states Attorneys General to run for governor, Corbett is the poster child. There is absolutely no way that a person with political ambition should be given the keys to grand juries and prosecutorial investigations. It is downright frightening.
Now, to the shock of no one, including the 4.5 people who run the PAGOP, Corbett has fallen on his face, only for some reason, none of the 4.5 people who run the state GOP has the 1) clout 2) balls 3) ability 4) vision 5) morals or 6) brains to get Corbett the hell out of the way, although our friends at the Patriot-News in Harrisburg are starting to find "rumblings" from "sources" that GOP leaders at least understand they are screwed, and that Corbett's re-election is a fool's errand.
I don't know what kind of real input average, everyday, voting Pennsylvanians have about their elected officials. The state was gerrymandered into a red-state Congressional map despite overwhelming Democratic voter registration advantage, leaving much of its capital cronyism to the GOP, if only to offset the Democratic bases in Philly, Pittsburgh and the Northeast. So, even if the GOP loses to Allyson Schwartz or Rob McCord after their Democratic primary battle of the titans, the GOP will still have enough pie to shove in their faces for years to come.
However, in the broader scheme of things, with Pennsylvania trending far more moderate than its carved-up GOP Congressional overload can demonstrate, I am hoping that the coming gubernatorial election season does not merely get reported as whether or not the Keystone State will get a Democratic governor again. What the citizens of PA need is an examination of state politics that outlines how only a handful of people are actually in a position to determine what gets done in that state -- a state that does not allow ballot initiatives for citizens to address entrenched systems.
Where Ed Rendell wanted to sell the PA Turnpike to the highest Middle East bidder, Corbett wants to gift PA land to all those good fellas from Oklahoma and Texas. I am still trying to figure out why Ed Rendell so blithely agreed back in 2009 and 2010 that Corbett was likely going to be the next governor. It's like, even the Dems and GOP have deals to not upset each other's numbers' running.
Whatever Bob Asher, Robert Gleason, Christine Toretti, Roy Zimmerman et al thought they were going to get in installing Corbett as their G.W. Bush, they failed. Their efforts to give away state lands to the frackers; to bully school districts into vouchers and charter school ruses; to siphon funding from higher education; to sell off assets like the liquor stores and lottery ... they had an agenda. But the GOP in PA better own their greatest failure, which was to run Corbett assuming it didn't matter how horrible he promised to be. If they don't, they are going to be committing an even bigger failure: Not getting Corbett off the ticket in 2014.
Is a former political and sports columnist who worked great cities like Albany NY, Seattle, Baltimore and Harrisburg PA. She lives New York.