Exile on State Street: Waking up Erie Leadership from Its Comfortable Slumber

Categories:  News & Politics    Opinion
Wednesday, November 26th, 2014 at 4:00 AM
Exile on State Street: Waking up Erie Leadership from Its Comfortable Slumber by Rick Filippi

Now that the dust has settled on the 2014 election, I’d like to offer some thoughts both on the national results and here locally. As everyone knows by now – except maybe those who don’t vote, which is quite a large group – the Republicans completely routed the Democrats in every major election, with the notable exception of Tom Wolf’s victory over Tom Corbett here in Pennsylvania.

In my thirty years of political awareness, I must say that this past election was the most surreal that I have ever experienced. My politics are well-known, but I believe many would agree that the Republican national rout was largely the triumph of "no­-ideas." Actually, it might be more appropriate to call it the election of the party of "anti-­ideas."

The GOP offered nothing in the way of any forward-thinking, solution-oriented policies, only the tried and true platform that anything that is or was anti-­Obama was to be voted for. Sadly, this was a vindication of the GOP’s six-year effort to oppose, obstruct, and reject any meaningful proposals to deal with America’s domestic and foreign policy issues.

On the other hand, the Democrats might as well have run in this election with a sock in their collective mouth. Rather than flout the progress made in the last six years and stand on their principles, most ran from those accomplishments, and instead offered… nothing. Few Democrats gave any compelling reason to vote for them or their party. Despite the evidently accepted gospel that the President has been a failure, his accomplishments are quite significant.

A short list. First, the President’s economic policies helped pull us from the brink of the economic collapse now known as the "Great Recession." Second, the Affordable Care Act. This was a promise the President ran on, to address a significant social problem, i.e. the millions of Americans with no health insurance. Third, national reduction in unemployment rates to numbers we had not seen in years. Fourth, the withdrawal from the quagmire in Iraq created by the previous administration. Finally, as further vindication of the President’s policies, the stock market continues to break records putting huge profits in the pockets of many of the richest people in America. Ironically, many of those people form the core of the anti­-Obama front.

Tactically speaking, the most significant effect of the election is to ensure more gridlock in the next two years. The GOP will be able to block appointments to the Supreme Court and other federal offices. But can they really enact any meaningful legislation? They don’t have the sixty votes in the Senate to move most legislation to a vote and probably cannot even get close to the votes necessary to override a presidential veto. So we will have another two years, at least, of blustering gasbags bemoaning everything Obama. It will be painful at best.

And what of the local election? The gubernatorial election aside, there really were no surprises. How could there be? With the Republican-controlled state legislature’s reapportionment plan now fully in place, were any of the elections really in question? Democrats have continually trounced the GOP in almost all of the most recent statewide elections, including the last several presidential elections as well as most state offices. Yet, the election of your local senators, representatives, and even congressmen, was a foregone conclusion from day one.

Okay. You all know I’m a Democrat, but what really sticks in my craw is that Erie has felt the brunt of this reapportionment more than any other part of the state. We no longer have a representative in Congress. Mike Kelly? Really? He’s from Butler. Glenn Thompson at three and a half hours away in State College represents Erie County? There’s no Happy Valley here. It’s really quite depressing. The state legislative offices are almost as bad, as Erie County has been sliced and diced so that we will not have a clear voice of representation at least for a decade to come.

If Erie’s leadership is listening, the results of this election should be a wake up call. The problem is that we’ve had the alarm on "snooze" for more than a generation. What the local elections should signal to Erie’s leadership is that the loss of Erie’s political clout has been profound. And the loss of political clout is due directly to the Erie region’s failure to grow and prosper. Erie is no longer a region that can collectively flex its political muscle for its share of the pie. Frankly, our failure to grow has allowed us to be passed by other regions in the state. It has effectively marginalized our political strength. And, unfortunately, given state politics, it’s not going to change soon.

Let me provide some examples just in case the point is not getting through. On the political front, as stated, Erie no longer has its own representative in Congress. We are now designated a "rural" area by the state. Few national political candidates visit Erie. For that matter, few statewide candidates make Erie a priority as witnessed in the recent gubernatorial campaign, particularly by the now governor­-elect.

Economically, it’s very similar. Our two major hospitals are now affiliates of Pittsburgh-based hospital networks. The largest bank and the largest real estate firm are also Pittsburgh based. We continually see a reduction in state and federal investment in the region. The list could go on.

Sure, some of these things are due to changing economics. But because of our population stagnation, we are approaching the loss of critical mass that enabled Erie to be its own economic and political unit. Now, we’ve become a vassal state of Pittsburgh, which is confirmed in our political emasculation.

So what should we learn from the local elections? That unless we address our internal problems with bold and, yes, radical ideas, we will continue to slide into political obscurity. Our leadership needs to wake up and take active roles in job creation (i.e. the Inland Port Project), land use planning (i.e. stop sprawl), tax equity (i.e. countywide revenue sharing), and education (i.e. the community college). These are just some of the things that have either failed or are not even being discussed.

This was a depressing election, particularly for Democrats like me. But it should also make others think as well. Has this great nation become spent of meaningful ideas? Are we just a bunch of "anti" anythings? Does it matter to anyone here locally, that Erie seems to have lost much of its relevancy as a geo­political unit?

Nationally, I hope we can come to grips and put the country’s interests first, as opposed to individual interests and get some things done again. Locally, I would hope that this election and surely those to follow wake up Erie’s leadership from its comfortable slumber to develop their own ideas to bring about change that leads to progress and growth.

I’ll hold my breath because I have to. America and Erie are worth it.

Rick Filippi can be contacted at atty.filippi@gmail.com.

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