Democrat wants to tinker with Pennsylvania’s presidential politics


Every so often, Pennsylvania lawmakers get it in their heads they want to change how we elect the president of the United States.

This time it’s Philadelphia Democrat Mark Cohen.

Cohen circulated a co-sponsor memo in the state House earlier this month, announcing his re-introduction of a proposal to put Pennsylvania into the National Popular Vote compact.ElectoralCollege

Cohen says the “complex” electoral college system dilutes Pennsylvania’s power in deciding the president. The proposal would shift from the current electoral college – in which Pennsylvania has a rich 20 votes – to the nation-at-large electing a president based on the raw numbers of voters.

The idea is that when enough states sign on to reach the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, they’ll agree to give their electoral votes to the popular vote winner, ending the current system without a constitutional amendment.

Cohen notes 10 states and the District of Columbia have passed National Popular Vote bills, including neighboring Maryland, New Jersey and New York.

From one perspective, the math is actually on Cohen’s side, but by less than one percentage point. Pennsylvania’s current 20 electoral college votes – behind only California, Florida, New York and Texas – accounts for 3.7 percent of the total. According to the Federal Election Commission, Pennsylvania had a total popular vote of 5,753,670 in the 2012 presidential race – behind only (you guessed it) California, Florida, New York and Texas – accounting for 4.5 percent of the total.

But the counter-argument about the influence of the electoral college is simply made: Bush v. Gore – in which Bush lost the popular vote, but won the electoral college, and which provided impetus for the National Popular Vote movement in the first place.

Does Cohen’s proposal have legs? Probably not, as Cohen isn’t a member of the majority party that controls the Pennsylvania legislative calendar.

Cohen’s proposal does bring to mind the one-time push from legislative Republicans to apportion electoral votes to each party’s presidential candidate based on how many total votes they received.

Pennsylvania has voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in the past six elections.

More Hillary Clinton emails released for public scrutiny

File photo of former U.S. Secretary of State Clinton checking her PDA upon her departure in a military C-17 plane from Malta bound for Tripoli


The State Department posted online Friday more than 1,300 emails that Hillary Clinton sent and received on her personal account from her days as Secretary of State.

The release is part of a U.S. District Court ruling requiring her to roll out more than 30,000 emails she kept on a private email account she used for her government dealings as Secretary of State.

The first batch was released June 30th and included over 3,000 pages; this ‘roll-out’ will continue in chronological order beginning with emails in late 2009.

The state department document is searchable and ranges from an interview with Oprah to emails from Planned Parenthood and “Alerts” from then Special Envoy Stevens in Benghazi.

Clinton, the clear frontrunner for the Democrats, has said repeatedly she never transferred classified material over her private account; a FOIA case initiated by several media outlets resulted in a federal judge ordering the State Department in May to release her emails in monthly intervals.

The release came at the exact same time the Hillary Clinton campaign released a letter from her doctor attesting to her health and fitness for office.

Admiral Sestak (retired) receives ethics challenge

sestaktoomeyBY SALENA ZITO

A former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Iowa has filed a complaint with the Department of Defense to investigate Joe Sestak’s violation of a military ethics directive.

Months after being called out for violating Department of Defense ethics guidelines dictating military retirees not on active duty must clearly indicate their retired or reserve status when running for office, Sestak’s campaign continues to use the rubric “Admiral Sestak” – without indicating his retirement – on press releases and campaign event promotions.

Most recently, Sestak used the rubric Thursday, July 30, to promote an event in Pittsburgh:


The Delaware County Democrat, who lost the 2010 U.S. Senate race to Republican Pat Toomey, is running for the seat again. Katie McGinty is expected to challenge him in the primary for the Democratic Party’s nomination.

“We simply want him to comply with the rules,” said Matthew Whitaker, executive director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT).

Sestak did not reply to a request for comment.

“This is an issue that comes up from time to time with people retired from the military on both sides of the aisle,” Whitaker said. “There is a very specific way that they are supposed to identify their service, using ‘retired’ and doing a disclaimer.

“We are a non-partisan group,” Whitaker said. “We would file a similar letter if he were a Republican.”

Whitaker said he started FACT in February. “So far we have filed inquires on 23 different ethics matters on both Democrats and Republicans,” he said.

Whitaker said the rules were designed to prevent any inference of official military endorsement or approval of retired members’ participation in political activity.

The complaint documents a dozen examples of Sestak’s use of Admiral in politicking, including a fundraising email sent from “Admiral Joe Sestak.”

The complaint and a few of its attachments:




Pennsylvania politician charged with crimes (again)


Whether its $50 bucks from a found wallet or federal millions funneled to personal pet projects, a couple of headlines this week show the infamous Pennsylvania political knack for graft is alive and well.

Federal officials indicted Philadelphia Congressman Chakah Fattah this week. Fattah denies any wrongdoing, but prosecutors accused him of using charitable donations and federal grants to pay off a $1 million campaign loan, using campaign money to pay his son’s debts, and engaging in bribery with a lobbyist.

On the other side of the state, police in Westmoreland County say the mayor of Avonmore, a borough of 1,000 people, admitted she found a wallet in a cart at a Dollar General store  – and took $50 from it before mailing it back to its rightful owner. Barbara Ann DeSimone-Novosel, 72, has been charged with theft.

All this just days after Harrisburg’s former Mayor Stephen Reed was indicted on – literally – hundreds of charges. Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Kathleen Kane accused Reed of engaging in a decades-long pattern of leveraging city’s debt to purchase artifacts for a never-built museum. The Attorney General says Reed took many of the artifacts home with him when voters kicked him out of office in 2009. The details are truly bizarre.

While “Finders Keepers” has a certain ring to it, the charges against Fattah, DeSimone-Novosel and Reed merit a reminder to Pennsylvania politicians: The public’s wallet isn’t yours to pilfer.

Isenhour’s realpolitik wins over Republicans

Mary Isenhour, former executive director of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and state chair of Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign, is Gov. Tom Wolf's new chief of staff... and Republicans like her!
Mary Isenhour, former executive director of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and state chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, is Gov. Tom Wolf’s new chief of staff… and Republicans like her!


It’s more than a little ironic the closest ally Republicans have in Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s administration is a political operative who spent years working to defeat Republicans at the polls.

House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana County, lauded Wolf’s new chief of staff Mary Isenhour during a visit to the Tribune-Review.

“You have a conversation with Mary, you know it’s not going to leak out to 15 or 20 other folks,” Reed said. “I think she’s gained the respect of the legislature.”

Wolf hired Isenhour as legislative liaison for his administration after she served on his campaign. He promoted her to second-in-command after Katie McGinty stepped down in pursuit of a potential U.S. Senate run.

From 1999 to 2003, Isenhour was the executive director of the Pennsylvania House Democratic Campaign Committee, responsible for booting GOP lawmakers and electing Democrats. Then she became executive director of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and state director for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 Presidential Campaign.

Reed called her “pragmatic” and “trustworthy” – despite her past positions.

“That’s part of the process,” Reed said. Then he shrugged. “I actually think she’s probably been one of the more pragmatic folks, and maybe part of that is she’s had to tailor messages – in the past to help win elections – that connect with average folks.”

Reed remains optimistic the Republican majorities and Wolf will find compromise on a budget, after Wolf vetoed the Republican-passed plan in late June.

Isenhour, he said, could be the person who helps broker a compromise.

“She’s been the person the legislature has viewed most favorably,” he said.

Who would’ve thought? Sometimes politics makes strange bedfellows – and four weeks into a budget stalemate might not be the worst time for new unions.