Sunday, January 06, 2008

Be careful what you ask for

It deserves some debate what the decision by Lisa Bennington to not run for election means. At Rutgers Center for Women and Politics they have compiled this data on the number of women in the Pennsylvania House over recent years. That trend looks like this:

2007: 27
2006: 25
2005: 25
2004: 28
2003: 27
2002: 27
2001: 27
2000: 25
1999: 25
1998: 25
1997: 25
1996: 26
1995: 26

So if nothing else changes, but this one seat flips (by gender that is), it will mean that the decision by Bennington to not run again will ironically leave the Pennsylvania House not just with one fewer woman, but will single handedly put the PA house back to the same number of women as there were a decade ago. Does that really count as abetting progress? Go figure.

It may not be fair to pin the statewide number on a singl candidate, but when you run saying you are doing so because you are upset at the number of women in office you have to wonder about the timing of the decision to go home. It may be true that there is some strong female candidate out there about to run for this seat, but if not she has more than likely enabled the candidates who were already planning to run against her.. and those were mostly men I am pretty sure. Remember, its now less than two weeks to put in your application to be considered for the ACDC endorsement. It's not what you would want to do if you wanted to help another women fill this seat and by getting out this way the seat may not be filled by a woman for years to come... but we will see.

But there is a bigger issue that people don't like to talk about. Is a female candidate always the best candidate to support women's issues. The race between Pistella and Bennington is a good case in point. It's clearly true that Pistella had overstayed his welcome and after a tenure in office measured in decades one ought to find something else to do. With apologies to Senator Byrd, but after 30+ years if you are still in office they ought to be naming buildings for you if you stick around.

Yet somwhere in there Pistella did do things they were almost always supportive of women's issues. One of the disadvantages of a large legislature is that you cant have big headline successes for all 253 of them day in and day out. A lot of things don't make the news yet are pretty important. Once it was explained to me by a completely unpolitical source that Pistella had been instrumental in getting some insurance laws changed to allow the Children's Home here in Pittsburgh to offer some more services to disabled infants. Important for women? Important period? Do things like that make it into the public discourse? All rhetorical questions . That was just one example and you can look up his record on women or family issues yourself. Lots of little things like that had endeared Pistella to lots of local voters. He was known as a big support of elderly issues for sure and who makes up most elderly in the US: women.

But he lost and to figure out why you have to look at the hysteria wrapped up in the anger at the pay raise the legislators voted for themselves. What you saw in the aftermath of the pay raise fiasco that people came out and vo. So honestly, Pistella and others who went along with that may have deserved what they got.... but that says little about the ideas of their opponents in many cases. It's as if the none of the above vote was pressed.

As disclosure of sorts, or a disclosure of nothing to disclose: if it is not obvious this is my district and Pistella lives down the street though I have never met him in any venue at all. I would see him on the bus sometimes and to this day he is the only politician I have ever seen regularly using public transportation for actual transportation. and I have never met Bennington either. But my take of their race was not that Bennington ran for anything, but just against Pistella. Almost all of the campaign literature was simple and straightforward anti-Pistella. It all came down to: your representative took that pay raise and you should vote him out. It all looked like this sample piece:

To be fair, she was by far not the only candidate who rode to office on the backlash of anger against the pay raise, but were flyers like this a bit over the top? We could debate what is or isn't negative campaigning, but no matter what this ad is not about advancing women's issues or advancing anything else.. it says simply that the old guy is bad and ought to be kicked out. My bet is that someone had polling saying the pay raise was the issue and this pointed message is what the political consultants said would get to the voters.. no subtlety whatsoever just "WE CAUGHT THE INCUMBENT RED HANDED". The anonymous incumbent at that. It has about as much content as saying: "we need to get rid of the evildoers".

Here is the key question that is best asked after we see who wins this seat but still... after a two year interregnum, is the candidate that now eventually replaces Pistella going to be at least equal to his record on women's issues? better? or far worse??


Blogger Bram Reichbaum said...

True true.

I read something in the newspaper from Run Baby Run quarters that at least Bennington showed that it is possible. In 2005, it should already have been pretty well established that it was possible. Sadly, Bennington's retirement from public service may only reinforce the stereotype that women are not strong enough for politics. (Of course we do not know her personal decision making).

Sunday, January 06, 2008 1:04:00 PM  
Blogger EdHeath said...

I was always a bit lukewarm on Lisa Bennington. Pistella had voted for the pay raise, but also voted to rescind it. When I emailed Bennington and Ferlo about the PAT situation last spring, both of them responded with the Dan Onorato line about how much drivers are paid. At least Bennington’s response was a bit less preachy than Ferlo’s. Bennington also took a vehicle lease, a Buick full size sedan (I believe). I can sort of understand that in terms of avoiding wear and tear on her personal car, but I wonder if there isn’t a more efficient means of transport, such as a train. She turned her recent raise back into the state treasurer, but to be honest I am not sure how to take that. Since she ran on the previous pay raise it is appropriate, but at the same time is her raise going to now be used for bonuses for legislative staff members who campaign for the old boys during work hours? Couldn’t she have directed her raise to a woman’s shelter? Didn’t we elect her to show judgment?

My opinion on long time legislators is somewhat different than yours. Its nice to be represented by someone with a lot of seniority, because they often have clout to really help you if you have problems with state government. So to some extent I am annoyed that Lisa Bennington is leaving office after only two years. Of course, I wonder how much has to do with other possible candidates for her house seat, such as Len Bodack. Bodack may have the backing of the local democrat people, and Bennington may have been warned she would face a contested primary without the party endorsement and no party resources.

Monday, January 07, 2008 12:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

chris, in regards to your conclusions about pistella losing mostly b/c of the payraise and the negative message of the "reform" candidates/Lisa B. I've been of the opinion that the main reason he lost was that he didn't seem to be campaigning.

You live in that district, right? Did you recieve any calls or visits from Frank Pistella or a supporter?

really interesting post though regarding Pistella's record.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008 8:23:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

No doubt the impression was that somebody forgot to tell FP there was an election at all. After so many elections he may have presumed campaigning was unnecessary, but the pay raise anger was palpable and it is his own fault if he didn't realize all was not status quo.

I can't really say I saw doorknockers from either campaign, but I may just not be around much to notice. I do recall some phone calls for the Bennington side and there was a lot of literature her side sent out. FP may have gotten a token piece out, but not much more. I do presume FP had the endorsement so some of the incidental help that provides like the slatecard would have helped him normally... but that cycle you have to wonder if things like that were actually counterproductive given public sentiment.

So I agree that FP was not out there much, but even so that may not have mattered much without the pay raise anger to actually change some votes.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008 9:16:00 AM  

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