The power of the people can be as savage as the political candidates. And, in Northeastern Pennsylvania, we know the feral force of politics. Our primitive lust for power and survival is rooted deep in the cultural veins that paralleled hard lives and the hard coal that drew many of our immigrant ancestors to this region.
Good battles evil every day. Good sometimes wins. Evil often takes public office.
And the brutes still hold sway in the political arena where candidates do giddy battle with crude weapons that often omit intellect. Last night’s primary election results illustrate exactly what we’re up against.
Newcomer candidate and millionaire lawyer Matt Cartwright survived a brutal race against 20-year incumbent Congressman Tim Holden that upset the status quo and turned establishment Democratic Party politics upside down. Cartwright overcame the company man who had the support of the company even though party bosses knew they couldn’t trust Holden.
With more than 60 endorsements, Holden courted U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty, Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton, state senators John Blake and John Yudichak, state Rep. Sid Michaels Kavulich and other establishment Democrats.
Cartwright came into the race with a squeaky voice and too much dependence on scripted jargon. Yet his sincerity and willingness to buck the system he perceives as too conservative and oppressive for an “FDR Democrat,” offered the people of his party an alternative.
The people took him up on his invitation. Now, with little significant opposition on the Republican side in November, Cartwright looks like he’s headed to Washington in January. If so, we’ll see if he keeps his word. We’ll see if he can walk the walk through the darkened halls of power in the nation’s capital.
But last night the power of the people prevailed.
Enter the savages.
Three major upsets in Northeastern Pennsylvania also illustrate our primeval side. Primordial to its core, the legislative races centered in Lackawanna County offer classic case studies of the primitive nature of the political beast.
But we in hard coal country understand the grunts and the growls. Up here, the call of the wild shapes a symphony.
Just because the newest likely members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives – two of whom ran without any Republican opposition - deserve the jobs doesn’t mean that they are fit to uphold the public trust.
They are not.
But they did what they had to do to capture the trophy that will pay them more money than they ever earned in their lives in exchange for their vow to uphold the public trust.
Between our victors – Frank Farina, Marty Flynn and Kevin Haggerty – we encounter an array of past criminal charges likely unmatched by any regional political trio of newcomers in any region in America.
Politicians usually wait until they take office before they compile a police record.
Not our mugs.
They’re loaded – and I do mean loaded - with DUIs, bad checks, a questionable military discharge from the Marines, fistfights and bad barroom behavior. If the pasts of our newly elected public servants comprised a reality show the director would best be a SWAT team.
But our future lawmakers all promise pure public service for the people.
Here’s looking at you, fellows.
Here’s looking at the losers, too, poor saps who actually did themselves in.
Incumbents Kenny Smith and Kevin Murphy piled all their misery on themselves. They couldn’t have done a better job losing re-election if they had decided to launch campaign death wishes and lose on purpose. Smith is a major tax scofflaw who owes about a quarter of a million dollars in debt and liens. Murphy publicly claimed for decades a four-year-degree from the University of Scranton that he does not possess.
Good people struggling with their own lives eventually had enough.
Except for Farina, whom voters embraced even though he actually said on “Corbett” last week that he couldn’t remember how many times police charged him with crimes. To his credit and in the spirit of good government, though, Farina did remember the public drunkenness charge.
That was St. Patrick’s Day in Scranton, he said, as if that somehow excused his degeneracy.
Farina’s opponent, Randy Castellani, once had a county commissioner’s job. But he quit in the middle of his public service without explaining his departure. Even with party backing, people argued that a quitter never wins.
Instead they welcomed Farina, who also denied ever being sentenced to probation. Farina told me on the air that maybe the guy in the probation report I held in my hands was his father, who has the same name. Farina’s campaign manager then called the show to explain Farina’s loud lie by saying his client had been nervous when I asked about his probation.
Too many political lug nuts in hard coal country are drunk and disorderly and proud of it. But more and more of us now refuse to buy the party line and place trust in those who are clearly untrustworthy.
Music might soothe the savage beast, but, around here, politics agitates the whole damn jungle.