Run Joe Sestak for Governor in 2014

(Cross-posted from Keystone Politics)

Looking at Rich Wilkins’ round-up of the 2014 field, I see a lot of people who just recently won elections this year:

Who should actually take him on though? I think the right of first refusal belongs to Senator Casey, who is the leader of our party right now. If not him, I’d be open to Kane, McCord, and Joe Sestak for sure. Allyson Schwartz would be wonderful, but I doubt she wants it. I like DePasquale a lot, but i’m not sure you jump from first term Auditor General to Governor right now, even with his time in the legislature. Any of them, if they’re smart enough to get out of the Harrisburg echo chamber in their hiring, would be great candidates.

On the “will he?” question I have to think Bob Casey’s not going to run. Casey just ran a pretty lackluster campaign for Senate, and I doubt he’d want to run two years later. Should he run? I know I don’t want him to. Casey’s got a decently progressive voting record and took some tough votes on environmental issues for us, so he deserves props for that. But tempermentally I feel like he’s too conservative. He ran a really safe campaign, the initiatives he’s sponsored in the Senate are mostly safe small-bore stuff, and it’s hard to get a sense of what he really wants to accomplish on public policy.

Say what you want about the content of Tom Corbett’s agenda, but dude arrived on the scene with a clear list of things he wanted to get done. In the Democratic primaries, I’m going to be looking for a mirror-image of Corbett – somebody who’s showing up with a meaty agenda for policy change. And not just on economics and the environment. We’ve got to play the process game like the Republicans do. Ask yourself which candidate is going to try to roll back Voter ID and pass early voting and same-day voter registration. That doesn’t sound like Bob Casey to me.

After that we’ve got Kathleen Kane and Rob McCord. I hope that Kathleen Kane will run for Governor later in her career, but not in 2014. Kane is the first Democrat to win the office since AG became an elected post in 1980. We cannot have the first Democrat to hold that office bailing two years into her term to run for Governor. That would look horrible. We need Kane to finish out her term, with a solid record that future Democratic AG candidates can point to as a template for what a progressive does with that office. Setting up the board for future Democratic AGs to win the office is arguably more important to PA Democrats’ long term political project than one Gubernatorial election.

I don’t know a ton about Rob McCord and am open to persuasion from KP readers that he’s the best choice to take on Corbett. The trouble with the Treasurer office is that, if McCord is doing politics it’s not really visible to the voters. Every day I’m trawling this Internet for PA politics content, and rarely am I reading anything about Rob McCord’s doings that the guy could get voters excited about. Again, happy to be persuaded otherwise but until I hear more about McCord’s political platform I’m underwhelmed about his prospects as a candidate.

Others have mentioned people like Josh Shapiro, Jack Wagner and Allyson Schwartz, and we’ll see about them if it starts looking like they’ll run.

The candidate I’m most enthused about is Joe Sestak. I know a lot of PA political professionals feel like they got burned by Sestak in 2010, but hear me out on this.

First of all, you can’t argue with results. Sestak was the top Democratic vote-getter in 2010. In a banner Republican year he came within two points of beating Pat Toomey. This is probably because the Democratic base voters love a winning primary challenger, and Sestak walloped Arlen Specter 54-46. If Sestak can come that close in a Republican wave year, he’s got a decent shot at knocking off a weakened Tom Corbett in 2014.

Second, you have to consider the guy’s campaigning abilities, which are formidable. There’s a big negative mark on his record in this category, which is that he foolishly did not join the coordinated Democratic campaign in 2010. If he’d bought into the coordinated campaign, he could’ve avoided some duplication of efforts in the field and maybe pulled out a win. I would like to think Sestak realizes how bad that was now, and why he can’t run as a lone wolf again.

But looking past that, there’s a reason he came as close as he did – the man is basically a campaign machine. Back during the 2010 campaign, I was reading articles about Sestak driving back and forth across the state multiple times in a day, not stopping to eat or go to the bathroom. He does not get tired. Of course for the same reasons his campaign staff got ground down, and all the anecdotes I’ve heard suggest he pushes his employees way too hard. I doubt I’ll be applying for any jobs on the Sestak campaign, but frankly that is exactly the kind of energy we need the 2014 Democratic nominee to project from the top down. If we want to retire Tom Corbett after one term, we’re going to have to bust our asses. It is not going to be easy, and we’re going to need the candidate to be pushing the activists to work harder, not the other way around.

The final reason I want to see Democrats pick Sestak is that he’s not cautious. He is the tempermental opposite of Bob Casey. That’s what we need if we’re going to try for real progressive policy change. Can you imagine Bob Casey leading a serious push for a Constitutional amendment to bring a progressive rate structure to the PA income tax? Definitely not, but can you imagine Joe Sestak going for it? Of course you can! Any “serious” political professional is going to tell you not to try that. “Not this cycle!” they’ll say. “Wait until the second term!” I want Joe Sestak as the nominee because I want the guy who is not going to listen to the cautious campaign consultant class who never want to try to do anything new. I want the guy who’s going to ignore all the sage advice and pick the stupid-hard political fights that our campaign consultant overlords never seem to want to get around to.

Federal Government Should Pay for 100% of Sandy Clean-Up

The difference between state governments and the federal government is that state governments have balanced budget requirements and the federal government doesn’t.

There is no reason at all why state governments should have to spend a dime on Hurricane Sandy clean-up – that is, divert tax dollars away from education or Medicaid or anything else – at a time when investors are willing to pay us for the privilege of holding 20-year Treasuries. Yes, right now 20-year Treasury yields are negative.

It is currently more fiscally conservative to pay for the Hurricane clean-up with new borrowing than it is to pay for it out of current taxes.

Or here is an even better suggestion from Cate Long – the Federal Reserve should purchase infrastructure bonds with freshly printed money to fund the clean-up.

Bold Ideas from John Callahan in This Year’s Bethlehem Budget

Very proud of John Callahan for thinking outside the box on the latest budget in Bethlehem. Rather than just cutting more city jobs or raising property taxes, Callahan’s going for some “structural” reforms that will make both city government and city residents better off.

The most important is the switch to a single trash hauler:

Heading into his final year in office, the mayor plans to take on a difficult political fight and hire a single hauler to cart city garbage – eliminating Bethlehem’s longstanding system of requiring property owners to hire their own hauler from a list of city-approved garbage collection companies.

Callahan argued that a single hauler system would save the average city household $110 a year while providing the city with a new source of revenue that is not property tax.

The proposal is likely to draw fire from the 20 or so contractors — many of them small mom-and-pop operations — that make their living in the city and a number of residents who believe they are saving money or getting better service by hiring their own hauler.

The idea that most people save money by contracting individually with a trash hauler has always been pure fantasy. Bethlehem residents pay more than anyone else in the LV for trash collection, and have more trash on the street for it. When the public coffers have been flush with cash, there’s been no real need to dispense with this fairytale, but now that every budget involves choices between more layoffs and tax hikes, harder heads must prevail.

We know that single hauler is cheaper and and delivers better service. Palmer Township just studied the issue ahead of their switch to single hauler and they found that automated collection by a single hauler is cheapest and best. David DiGiacinto says he doesn’t think there’ll be enough time to debate this, but what is there to debate? Just go ask Palmer to see the results of their study.

The other proposals I like are selling the five city-owned parking lots to the BPA and the first responders fee on ticket sales.

Parking is a market good, not a public good. It has neither of the two qualities that a thing must have to be a public good. Therefore, the city should not be in the business of providing parking. Eventually I’d like to see the LV cities limit their involvement in the parking market to pricing curb spaces at markets. Variable pricing for curb spaces is another “structural” reform that would raise more money, but BPA should probably wait another year to let people get used to the electronic meters. Cities need to own that parking because it’s the public roads. They don’t need to own surface parking lots or parking garages. Businesses can and do make money from operating parking lots and parking garages. Eventually I’d like to see the BPA sell off its garages to private owners and its surface lots to developers who want to build buildings on them. Selling the city-owned lots was a step in the right direction.

The first responders fee is another good idea. Callahan’s right that large events and concerts require a police presence, so it makes sense to put more of the cost on the ticket buyers than on the general public. By the time people get to the Checkout page to purchase their concert tickets, an extra $2.50 isn’t going to dissuade anyone from going to see the band. It’s a nuisance sure, but so are all taxes. The key is figuring out how elastic the demand is – are people going to stop buying the thing you’re taxing, or are they going to grumble and pay up anyway? This seems like a clear case where people are going to grumble and pay up.

On EMS, I appreciate that people think it would be hard to switch to County-run 911 dispatch for various reasons, but I still think it’s a good idea. German transportation planners have a saying that I think is applicable to this situation: Organization before Electronics before Concrete. Applied to city services I’d say it’s something like Organization before Tax Changes before Tax Increases.

Yes, it would be a challenge at first for city police to get used to working with County dispatchers. It’s hard to make different organizations work together. But should that mean you just keep increasing taxes to pay for 911 services? I don’t think so. I think it means you just need to try harder to find a way to make it work.