MILLER: Are Dems forfeiting judge election?


By Dick Miller


WE.CONNECT.DOTS:   The latest stench from Harrisburg is the odor that surrounds this fall’s election for Associate Justice of the PA Supreme Court.

This week the PA Building and Trades Council endorsed Sallie Updike Mundy, a rural county Republican, for the only opening on the nation’s oldest Court (established in 1722).

Why would one of the state’s most politically powerful and financially benevolent unions to candidates desert its normal comfort zone with the Democratic Party?

The question is particularly important when the available choices are made known.

Sallie Updike Mundy began her legal career in Tioga County where she served a clerkship to the county court.  Mundy, 55, sometimes calls Potter County her political base.

Neither rural counties are known as a bastion for organized labor.

Democrat candidate Dwayne Woodruff, 60, on the other hand, has spent his entire legal career in Allegheny County.   In that area, it is doubtful he would have been able to win his current Common Pleas Judgeship without the support of organized labor.

One fact stands out in a further comparison of the two candidates.

Tioga or Potter counties?  Joseph Scarnati, powerful president pro tem in the PA Senate where Republicans hold a 2-1 margin, represents electors in both counties.

Which leads us to another pair of dots connected, creating more questions.

Republican Mundy is an incumbent, having been appointed last year to fill a seat left vacant by the abrupt resignation of J. Michael Eakin.   Former Attorney General Kathleen Kane outed Eakin for trafficking in pornographic emails.

Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf nominated Republican Mundy for the vacancy.  The overwhelming GOP-controlled senate with no opposition by Democrats confirmed Mundy on June 27, 2016.

She is only allowed to serve the balance of Eakin’s term which expires at the end of this year.  She or Woodruff will occupy the seat for a new 10-year term beginning 2018.

Normally, when a vacancy is created by resignation or otherwise so close to the end of the term, the successor commits to not running for re-election.   Even the short-term incumbency is viewed as an unfair advantage.

For example, Wolf’s predecessor, Tom Corbett, had to fill another Supreme vacancy in 2013 when GOP jurist Joan Orie Melvin was convicted of election corruption.   He chose a former House of Representatives member, Correale Stevens, Republican from Luzerne County.

Justice Stevens immediately announced he would not run for the 10-year vacancy in 2015.

Wolf chose to not follow this course.  Philly News writer Chris Brennan speculated that Wolf may have used the appointment to build financial support among Republicans for his budgets.

Gov. Wolf says he is an advocate of “transparency” in government, but he presented a murky picture to justify this choice.

Puzzlingly, he claimed Mundy’s selection was about his ongoing support of merit selection of judges. However, Wolf, in picking Mundy, ignored a list of judges, screened by his own blue-ribbon panel and ranked by merit, wrote reporter Brennan.

An accounting of the two candidates’ fundraising efforts in last week’s PoliticsPA is another indication that a deal has been cut between Republicans and so-called Democratic leaders known for selling out their own party.

Even though both ran unopposed in the 2017 primary, Mundy ended second quarter with over $250,000 in the bank.  Woodruff only has $21,000.  The large law firms seem to be going her way with their checks.  They believe they are getting on the right side of an eventual winner.

The Building and Trades endorsement serves a purpose, even if no more major unions formally back Mundy.  Other large components of the AFL-CIO, inclined to back Woodruff and remain loyal to the Democratic cause, will, in effect, be neutralized.  The AFL-CIO hierarchy will use the Trades endorsement to show that it can be bi-partisan.

Bottom Line: Â Democrat leadership sacrificing quality Democrat candidates continues for as long as rank-and-file party members do not accept it.

Last year, the venue was the Democrat primary for U.S. Senate  Former Congressman Joe Sestak lost to Pat Toomey by just two points in 2010, a Republican year.  Sestak then proceeded to devote the next five-and-a-half years running to win when Toomey came due in 2016.

He appeared at public and political events in every county.  He endorsed and donated funds to local Democrat candidates.  He developed a reputation for always returning calls and emails.

More importantly, Sestak, a former Navy admiral on President Bill Clinton’s national defense council, appealed to the more conservative western and central Pennsylvania voters.

Abandonment of these voters figured in presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s narrow loss in PA last year.

Come 2016, former Democrat Governor Ed Rendell makes a deal with U.S. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer.  Using millions of dollars that had been donated by rank-and-file Dems to be spent against Republicans, the funds, instead were used against Sestak in a party primary.

Sestak was defeated by handpicked Katie McGinty.  Wolf was also a party to this ploy.  In the middle of a battle he eventually lost over his first budget, he releases McGinty as his chief of staff to run against Sestak.  Pat Toomey is now serving his second six-year term, after defeating McGinty in the fall.

Members of the Democratic State Committee and county party chairs should demand these transgressions cease.  PA Democrats are destroying their party for the individual benefit of some leaders.