Bucks County’s Republican Trouble

Strange things happened on election day, and it's not good news for the party

Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines “grow” as “to spring up and develop to maturity” and “to increase in size…to expand.”

Unfortunately for the Bucks County Republican machine, the idea of growth seems to be an alien concept.

For evidence of that, just look to the controversy that erupted within the GOP during the May 18 primary election. [SIGNUP]

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Ten grassroots activists looking to rebuild a wayward GOP decided to run for State Committee, the body charged with vetting and endorsing statewide candidates.

The unendorsed slate had little resources, so running against the might of the Bucks Establishment made their prospects of dim, at best.

Nevertheless, they pressed on, making no secret of their disagreements with the Republican leadership, whom they viewed as more interested in patronage and insider deals, rather than articulating Republican issues.
The Establishment, worried that any “insurgent” winner could weaken their political structure, responded by pulling out all stops.

There’s nothing wrong with both sides having a healthy debate, but the rules of fair play should prevail. And in this case, it seems that they did not.

* * *

In the early morning hours of election day, a court hearing was held to determine if a piece of campaign literature touting the challengers was legal. At issue was whether the disclaimer on the sample ballot was appropriate.

The ruling favored the plaintiffs, who happened to be three endorsed State Committee candidates, with a court order prohibiting the distribution of the literature in question.

Over the next several hours, reports poured in that the unendorsed candidates and their supporters were bullied and intimidated, with some threatened that they’d be “hauled off to jail in handcuffs” if they failed to comply.

Unless scores of grassroots activists — many of whom are new to the political process — are outright lying, the powerbrokers behind the Bucks Machine made it abundantly clear that, since they were in charge, they could do anything they pleased.

And their response was akin to shooting a gnat with an atomic cannon.

* * *

The judge’s ruling may, or may not, have been the correct one.

In lieu of delving into legal minutiae, suffice it to say that there is enough ambiguity in the law to conclude that this wasn’t an open-and-shut case.
Whether the disclaimer was worded correctly and whether the election code even applies to State Committee candidates remains an open question, since the Department of State does not require campaign filings for those offices.

The answer will only come after that issue is adjudicated. But that’s hardly the point.

A closer look at the situation reveals some very troubling events and raises questions about the judgment of the Bucks County GOP hierarchy.

1) A source told Freindly Fire that the sample ballot was given directly to the vice chairwoman of the Bucks GOP, Pat Poprik — a State Committee candidate herself — several weeks prior to the election.

And here’s where things get interesting.

Poprik has been quoted as saying, “I hope they [the unendorsed candidates] come on board and work with us…I welcome them with open arms as wide as I can spread them.”

But under scrutiny, Ms. Poprik’s genteel attitude seems to disappear.
If she knew a problem existed with the ballot but didn’t alert the activists — some of whom were first informed of the court order by constables — then the rift seems irreparable, with the gulf between both sides larger than the Grand Canyon.

It fails the sniff test to believe that the three plaintiffs, all of whom are closely affiliated with Poprik, would file the suit by themselves without the vice chairwoman’s knowledge.

But to be fair, one of two possibilities exist:

A) Poprik didn’t know of the legal challenge, which would be a clear sign that she’s lost control of her party, or

B) She condoned the action, and in doing so, enraged many of HER OWN party.

The same logic applies to how the grassroots activists were allegedly treated by party regulars throughout the day. If Poprik turned a blind eye to thuggery and intimidation, as some have called it, there is no place for her in a leadership position. Likewise, if she didn’t, her ability to effectively lead should be called into serious question.

2) Why were no defendants notified of the court hearing, and why was the proceeding permitted to take place without them?

By definition, election-day issues are timely. And in the age of cell phones and Internet, it is impossible to believe that NONE of the defendants could be located in a timely fashion.

Similarly, why did it take until May 18th, election day, for the hearing to occur? Is it reasonable to think that sample ballot issue just happened to come to the attention of the plaintiffs THAT MORNING?

Here’s the fantastic scenario we are led to believe occurred: After the polls opened at 7:00, the three plaintiffs learned that questionable literature was being distributed in several polling places. Coordinating with each other and agreeing that court action should be taken, they retained an attorney — whose office was in Trevose. After researching election law and drafting a four-page brief, the lawyer drove to Doylestown to file the complaint, which the three plaintiffs signed.

All of which was done by 10:00.

And if you believe all that, there’s a bridge I’d like to sell you.

3) The overarching question is why a Republican organization that clearly needs all the help it can get would willfully alienate an activist, voter-rich base. Remember that this isn’t the GOP squaring off against the Democrats, but a party leadership engaged in civil war with its own members.

Many political veterans believe this self-destructive behavior — certainly not unique to Bucks County — stems from a long-entrenched Establishment that values patronage and power more than principle and party.

And the numbers bear that out:

Bucks, once solidly Republican, now has a Democratic majority, a fact that will make liberal Congressman Patrick Murphy difficult to unseat.

Why? Demographics shifts? National trends? Both are contributing factors, to be sure, but the answer is much more basic.

When those in leadership use their power to satisfy the narrow interests of the politically well-connected, the people and the party suffer.

That’s bad enough.

But when it seems like over-reaching tactics are utilized to protect a small piece of almighty political turf, the result can be the downward spiral of the party, from which it is difficult to fully recover.

Want proof? Just look at the virtually non-existent Philadelphia Republican Party, whose interest in patronage and the retention of miniscule power has left the city a one-party town. And we’re all worse off because of that misguided approach.

If voter mistrust of political leadership reaches a peak — and in Bucks, that may not be far off — there will either be a total revolution within the organization, or the activists will stay home.

If the latter is true, the old guard will think it has won. Instead, it will be presiding over a dying dinosaur, shaped only by the sad ghosts of the past.

If Pat Poprik and the Bucks County GOP leadership truly care about growing the party and welcoming all with open arms, a big first step would be to admit that mistakes were made on Election day.

They would also be wise to begin building a solid bridge to those who were victims of excessive political wrangling.

Honesty is the best way to heal this wound, but pride will only make it fester.

With one of the most important elections in decades just months away, time is ticking.

Chris Freind is an independent columnist and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com. Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”
Freind also serves as a weekly guest commentator on the Philadelphia-area talk radio show, Political Talk (WCHE 1520), and makes numerous other television and radio appearances. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com.