High profiles of some statewide races overshadow others
HARRISBURG – With a Feb. 16 deadline looming for would-be candidates to gather the voter signatures they need to get on Pennsylvania’s primary election ballot, the high profiles of some statewide contests are overshadowing other races.
Nomination races for president and U.S. Senate have been heating up for months. So has the battle over the state attorney general’s office, where incumbent Kathleen Kane faces at least five potential opponents for the Democratic nod amid questions about whether she can qualify for the ballot.
The state Supreme Court has indefinitely suspended her law license, and a formal effort to oust her from office is under way in the state Senate as she awaits trial on perjury charges for allegedly leaking grand jury information.
Yet hardly any attention has focused on the two other row offices – treasurer and auditor general – that will be on the April 26 ballot. Those office-holders receive the same salary as the attorney general – $158,764 this year – serve the same four-year terms and oversee the same statewide jurisdiction.
Similarly obscure are proposed amendments to the state constitution that would increase the mandatory retirement age for Pennsylvania judges and complete the abolishment of the former Philadelphia Traffic Court.
Each proposal has received two rounds of legislative approval.
A closer look:
A race for the Democratic nomination is shaping up between Joe Torsella of Montgomery County, a former state Board of Education chairman who President Barack Obama appointed to a top United Nations post in 2011, and Albert Baker Knoll of Pittsburgh, son of the late Lt.Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll and a former oil industry lobbyist.
Otto Voit, a business executive from Berks County, is the only Republican hopeful to surface so far.
This would be the first statewide campaign for all three candidates. Torsella said fundraising since 2014 has left his campaign with $1.5 million on hand, while Voit has sunk about $500,000 of his own money into his campaign.
The current treasurer, Tim Reese, is not seeking a full term. Gov. Tom Wolf appointed him to finish the second term of ex-Treasurer Rob McCord, who resigned a year ago before pleading guilty to attempted extortion for using his post to strong-arm state contractors into contributing to his gubernatorial campaign.
First-term incumbent Eugene DePasquale, a Democratic former state legislator from York who is seeking re-election, has no apparent primary opposition but faces a general-election challenge from Republican John Brown, the elected executive of Northampton County.
DePasquale has been an aggressive auditor who sounded alarms over rising municipal pension debt and school-district borrowing forced by a partisan budget stalemate at the state Capitol.
Brown is a former mayor of the tiny borough of Bangor who scored an upset in 2013 when he defeated Bethlehem’s better-known and better-financed mayor. Brown, who has 30 years of executive experience, allowed that he faces an uphill fight but said he and DePasquale possess “different skill sets” for the job.
MANDATORY RETIREMENT AGE FOR JUDGES
The state’s 1,029 judges and justices currently must step down by the end of the year in which they turn 70. The constitutional amendment would move the age to 75.
Proponents of the change argued that it would benefit the judiciary by allowing seasoned judges to stay on the bench longer. Opponents called it unnecessary.
Twenty judges will turn 70 in 2016, according to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
PHILADELPHIA TRAFFIC COURT
The traffic court, portrayed by authorities as a patronage pit where judges routinely fixed tickets for politically connected friends, was abolished under legislation signed by Gov. Tom Corbett in 2013. The amendment would complete the process by removing the traffic court from the constitution.
AN UNUSUAL TWIST
Because the primary election is open only to registered Democrats and Republicans, this one will require special arrangements for independent or third-party voters who want to vote on the constitutional changes. Those voters will be given a special electronic access card, a separate voting machine or a paper ballot that allows them to vote only on those items, state elections officials said.
Jackson is the Capitol correspondent for The Associated Press in Harrisburg. He can be reached at email@example.com.