York County special election is a unique one

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Mar 17, 2014 4:00 AM

(York) -- For weeks, voters in the 28th state Senate District in York County have been bombarded with television ads, pamphlets in the mail, and billboards about Tuesday's special election. They’ll head to the polls to make a decision about who will represent them for potentially a short time at the state Capitol - Democrat and Navy veteran Linda Small, Republican state Representative Ron Miller, or businessman Scott Wagner. But the campaign has rarely touched on many issues.


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In early January, when Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley called a special election for March 18th to fill the last few months of the term in the seat vacated by Republican Senator Mike Waugh, the criticism immediately started.

"Look we're all state taxpayers, I mean the cost is, to me it's significant. But I think our ability to conduct the electoral process in a competent way is going to be compromised because of the short time frame, and again, having two elections," said Republican York County Commissioner Christopher Reilly. He was far from the only one questioning the election date. It comes just two months before the primary election for the full four-year term and estimates put the cost at more than $100,000.

“This election was designed to be confusing. It was a special election that’s very confusing. This was a backroom deal," says conservative Scott Wagner, running as a write-in candidate.

Wagner’s competition for Republican votes comes from Representative Ron Miller, who dismisses Wagner’s view.

“Special elections are not that unusual. They occur periodically, they need to occur. They’re not that rare.”

Democrat Linda Small isn’t quite as passionate about the election date  as her G-O-P competitors, instead focusing on undoing corporate tax breaks and increasing funding for education. But she acknowledges the sniping may have distracted people away from her campaign.

“It’s entirely possible. In any race, you only have so many resources. You run the race that you have the resources to run. A lot of people have gotten engaged in this process. I’m actually very happy to see that.”

It’s not just the election date either that’s at play. The boundaries of the 28th have changed because of redistricting, meaning Senator Waugh represented a different group of constituents. So, voters in East Manchester and West Manheim townships, and a handful of others, won’t be able to cast a ballot in the special election, while the polls tomorrow will be in open in several other municipalities like Chanceford and Hedelberg.


Photo by Ben Allen/witf

“It’s clearly Republican leaning in a Republican part of the state. It’s got a mixture of Tea Party activists and more mainstream Republicans. I wouldn’t consider it the most ideologically driven district you’ll see in the state," says Muhlenberg College Political Science Professor Chris Borick.

The issues:

Each candidate pushed a batch of different ideas. Write in candidate Scott Wagner insists he could cut a billion dollars in spending at the Capitol, but he also pushes for a more transparent and accessible government.

“If you had a spreadsheet, and you showed everyone what New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland, what everybody charged for the license deal on a car, people will get it. We don’t educate people enough.”

That was just one of the criticisms that Wagner waged against the transportation bill. He acknowledges it was needed, but doesn't like the funding mechanisms, saying removing restrictions on taxes for gasoline isn't being honest and forthright with voters.

For Democrat Linda Small, the issues are education and corporate tax breaks. She says Pennsylvania shouldn’t be giving millions to corporations like Comcast for creating jobs in the state. She wants that money to go to education. 


Photo by Ben Allen/witf

“When you’re giving those tax breaks, and then you’re saying we can’t afford education and we have to put the tax increases on the local taxpayer, that doesn’t add up.”

On the transportation bill, Small says it should have come sooner. She points to the economic benefits of $2.3 billion in transportation funding every year

Republican Ron Miller points to his vote for the transportation funding bill, saying the County, the region, and the state needs better roads, and an imperfect bill shouldn’t get in the way of improving infrastructure.

“It highlights the needs. I-83 is soon going to be 60 years old. It has major issues, the base needs to be rebuilt and its aging. That’s one of the key highlights of why we need to do this.”

Miller also regrets his vote to increase the value of pensions by 50 percent for legislators and 25 percent for many state workers and teachers. He says he can't guarantee what he called a "mistake" won't happen again, but he thought at the time he was making the right choice so government could stay competitive with the private sector and adapt to a changing, and more mobile, society.

But all of those issues were lost on many at the York Saint Patrick’s Day parade over the weekend. More than a few said they haven’t heard any talk about education, liquor privatization or pension overhauls.

Deborah Flaum lives in York and says she’s seen one commercial in particular from the Senate Republican Campaign Committee that’s raised some eyebrows.

“I think that commercial sort of was the one that flipped me. It sorta bothered me. It was just dirty politics.”

With little on the issues during the campaign, and few voters potentially even aware the election is tomorrow, Professor Chris Borick says it may come down to one thing.

“Any candidate that can muster a strong get out the vote effort on election day and might be getting some energy among the types of voters usually more that are more engaged and more ideological has an advantage.”

Whatever the result, all three candidates say they’ll be back at it for the primary in mid-May too. After all, the special election only determines who gets the seat for the rest of 20-14. The mailers, TV ads and more may be back sooner rather than later.

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