By Dick Miller
WE.CONNECT.DOTS: When Betsy DeVos gets sworn in later this week as President Trump’s Secretary of Education, she should thank the Pennsylvania Democratic leadership.
The Amway billionaire will be confirmed by a historical tie-breaking vote of Vice President Mike Pence either Monday night or Tuesday. Two moderate Republican women senators refused to support the 58-year-old champion of charter schools, resulting in a 50-50 chamber count.
Public education activists spent most of last week and this weekend pressuring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA). In yet another example of “fake news,” Toomey got tabbed as “soft” on DeVos.
Rather, like DeVos, Toomey is a proponent of charter school education. “I will absolutely be voting for Betsy DeVos,” Toomey told CNHI’s Washington bureau.
Mrs. DeVos donated approximately $60,000 to Toomey’s 2016 re-election campaign.
Final reports are still being compiled, but investigative journalist Bill Keisling wrote last October 28 that this Pennsylvania Senate race had become the most expensive in U.S. history.
By that date, over $118 million was reported spent in a race where Toomey defeated Democrat Katie McGinty by about 100,000 votes out of 6 million cast.
That’s 25,000 greater margin than Toomey beat Joe Sestak six years ago, to win his first term in the Senate. Sestak’s campaign was woefully underfunded after Democratic leaders refused to support him.
In 2016, over $31 million was sourced in-state to go with another $87 million in outside spending. Owners of every television station in the state markets lugged record deposits to their banks.
Despite almost $20 per vote cast being spent, the campaign will not be remembered for any other reason. Nearly all the funds were spent on tens of thousands of “opposition” advertising.
McGinty preferred to let the Clinton machine run the street operation and campaign events. At times, Toomey appeared to gain more from Democrat miscues or inactions.
For example, Toomey never felt he had to reveal he supported Donald Trump for President until afternoon of election day. Until that time, Toomey only admitted that he was “not voting for Hillary.” He did not attend the Republican National Convention, joining a large group of party stalwarts who did not want associated with Trump . . . at that time.
Elsewhere, Democratic opposition pressed GOP candidates to “hug” the top of their Republican ticket. Just not in Pennsylvania.
A year ago, Toomey was on the endangered species list, not expected to win a second six-year term. A three-time Congressman from the Lehigh Valley, he had tried to upset long-time Sen. Arlen Specter in an unsuccessful primary bid in 2004.
He ran for the same seat in 2010. This time he was unopposed in the GOP primary. Specter had switched to Democrat when polls showed he would lose to Toomey.
Toomey still did not get his rematch with Specter, who was trounced in the Democrat primary by former U.S. Navy Three-star Admiral and Congressman Joe Sestak.
Sestak raised the ire of Democrat leadership from President Obama on down. They made certain Sestak would not have the funds to be competitive in the fall. Toomey became the junior senator for Pennsylvania by a 51-to-49 percent margin.
Sestak spent the next five-and-a-half years campaigning for the race in 2016. At one point, Keisling writes, Sestak may have been “better known on the ground” than either Toomey or McGinty. Some polls showed Sestak beating Trump or, at least, running even with him.
But Democrat leadership determined to see Sestak would not get his rematch with Toomey. Then, too, there was always the threat that Sestak, a prominent member of President Clinton’s National Security Council, would not take orders from state political bosses.
Sestak had refused to drop out of the Specter race in 2010 and, again, needed punished. In varying degrees and methods, the following Democrats decided they did not want Sestak: President Barack Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden, U.S. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, senior PA Sen. Bob Casey, Gov. Tom Wolf, former Gov. Ed Rendell, AFL-CIO state president Rick Bloomingdale and state party chair Marcel Groen.
Both Sestak and McGinty failed to win the super majority required for the endorsement of Democratic state committee. In retrospect, the “open” primary gave Democrat leadership increased influence.
The Democrat Senate Campaign Finance Committee collects donations supposedly to help defeat Republicans. At least every solicitation claims the money will be spent for that purpose.
Schumer controlled these funds and directed at least $4 million to be spent on McGinty’s behalf to defeat Sestak in the 2016 primary.
Bottom Line: Public education is headed for hard times, certainly in this state. Not only will DeVos operate in Washington, but Republicans increased their legislative margins in both chambers in Harrisburg.
Wolf and Casey will be asking Democrats to help them get re-elected in 2018, but offered little assistance in 2016 to their party’s candidates, other than McGinty. Remember that when you see deterioration in your local public education program, or another raise in property taxes.