The No-Bullshit Guide to the 2016 Philadelphia Presidential Election
Only two days left.
The most unbelievable election of our lifetimes is, mercifully, coming to an end. The vast majority of you know whether you’re voting for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. (To those of you who don’t, we have a simple message: ?!?!?!?!) But even political junkies have found it difficult to focus on anything outside of the Black Mirror episode we’re currently inhabiting, er, the presidential race. Worry not. We’ve studied the other elections in Philadelphia so that you don’t have to. They include a Senate race that could determine whether the ninth seat on the Supreme Court stays open, a battle to replace Kathleen Kane, and lots of legislative campaigns. You’ll also be asked a ballot question that’s pretty darn shady.
This is not your typical voter’s guide: It’s the straight-up honest truth about each of the candidates’ pros and cons. Here are your choices.
- U.S. Senate
- Attorney General
- Auditor General
- State Treasurer
- Congressional Races
- State House and Senate Races
- Ballot Questions
The basics: This is one of the closest and most important Senate races in the country. It could determine which political party controls the chamber in 2017. It’s also the single most expensive Senate election in history.
Democrat Katie McGinty
The basics: 53. Former chief-of-staff to Gov. Tom Wolf. Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection under Gov. Ed Rendell. Environmental advisor to President Bill Clinton. Advised or worked for energy companies such as Iberdrola and NRG Energy.
The case for McGinty …
- She could help Democrats recapture the U.S. Senate in a big way. The website FiveThirtyEight says Democrats have a 52 percent chance of winning the Senate. Pennsylvania’s race between McGinty and Pat Toomey is the sixth-most likely in the nation to decide which party dominates the chamber. If it’s driving you nuts that Ted Cruz and John McCain are already talking about refusing to confirm a Supreme Court nominee if Hillary Clinton is elected president, you should probably vote for McGinty.
- She would be the first female senator to represent Pennsylvania. McGinty would also add gender diversity to the majority-male Senate: Only 20 percent of the nation’s senators are women. Additionally, McGinty would be the only woman in Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation; that’s right, there are no females in it now.
- She has extensive experience dealing with environmental issues. She was the head of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, and an environmental adviser to President Bill Clinton.
- She’s from Northeast Philly, and was born into a working-class family. Having a native Philadelphian in the Senate could increase the city’s clout.
- She wants to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, close tax loopholes, and fight for universal background checks for guns. She also says NAFTA is “something that hasn’t worked in 30 years,” and has spoken in support of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Read more about her policies here.
- She’s a moderate on some issues. Perhaps you don’t want your Democratic senator to be too left-wing. Well, McGinty supports fracking, as long as it’s taxed and regulated. And after Toomey criticized her for not taking a stand on Philadelphia’s “sanctuary city” policy, she urged Mayor Jim Kenney to rethink the issue.
The case against McGinty …
- She’s never been elected to office. Tom Wolf, who is serving in elected office for the first time, has faced serious challenges. Do you want to give someone else lacking elected experience a try at this high of a position?
- She was handpicked by the Democratic establishment. In the primary, she was endorsed by everyone from Barack Obama to Ed Rendell to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. That helped her beat two anti-establishment candidates. If you’re frustrated with the Democratic Party because of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Donna Brazile and all the rest, you could show it by voting against McGinty.
- She’s a somewhat uninspiring candidate. She’s either been unable or unwilling to make the campaign about much more than a referendum on Donald Trump. She isn’t the best speaker, often relying on prepackaged and tired lines. At times, she has refused to answer tough questions from journalists. She was also rated by Politifact as telling a “pants-on-fire” lie during the primary.
- She’s a moderate on some issues. This is one of the those eye-of-the-beholder types of things: What looks like compromise to one voter looks like mushiness, and acceptance of anti-immigration and anti-environment policies, to another.
Republican Pat Toomey
The basics: 54. Pennsylvania Senator since 2011. U.S. Representative from 1999 to 2005. Former president of the Club for Growth. Former Wall Street banker.
The case for Toomey …
- He could prevent Democrats from winning the U.S. Senate. Are you afraid of what the one-two punch of a President Hillary Clinton and a Democratic Senate might look like? Do you want to make sure that Bernie Sanders doesn’t become chairman of the Senate budget committee? Vote for Toomey.
- He’s taken a brave stand on gun control. It’s not easy to go up against the National Rifle Association, especially if you’re a Republican. But Toomey cosponsored a bill that would have expanded background checks in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It was actually called the Toomey-Manchin amendment. He also joined the filibuster over the summer calling for gun control. All this has helped him get endorsements from both Michael Bloomberg and Gabby Giffords’s gun-safety PAC.
- He’s experienced. Seniority is important in Congress. He was in the House of Representatives for six years, and has been in the Senate for almost six years, too. He is chairman of the financial institutions and consumer protection subcommittee as well as the healthcare subcommittee.
- Like McGinty, he was also a working-class kid. His mother was a secretary and his father was a union worker. He lives in Lehigh County, giving the suburbs and rural parts of Pennsylvania some clout.
- He rode the Tea Party wave into Congress. If that’s your thing, he’s been endorsed by Tea Party groups and spoken at Tea Party events. He voted against the bill to end the government shutdown in 2013. He also proposed major cuts to spending to reduce the national debt.
- He’s pro-life, pro-school choice, and a vocal critic of Obamacare. He has voted to defund Planned Parenthood, and sponsored a bill that would have stripped federal grants from municipalities that have sanctuary city policies. He was also a leading sponsor of the JOBS Act, which limited regulation and created new financing for small businesses. Read more about his policies here.
The case against Toomey …
- He refuses to take a stand on Trump. There are only two days left till the election, and Toomey still won’t say whether he’s voting for his party’s nominee. He claimed throughout the election that he was in a “wait and see” mode about Trump, but that looks like a calculated lie in retrospect. And this is all despite the fact that Toomey has strong opinions about The Donald: He says comments about the Khan family were “completely inappropriate.” He also criticized the things Trump’s said about women, John McCain and banning Muslims. Still, Toomey has failed to say what he’s doing on Election Day.
- He’s not strong enough on the Second Amendment. The right to bear arms is practically a biblical decree in parts of Pennsylvania. If you don’t want your senator working across the aisle to expand background checks, Toomey might not be your guy.
- He’s a Wall Street alum. As a banker on Wall Street, Toomey “helped pioneer the use of … financial products that have caused fiscal chaos for American towns, cities and states,” Mother Jones reported in 2010. When Toomey was elected to the House of Representatives in the 1990s, a trade publication crowed, “The derivatives industry can claim representation by one of its own.” And Toomey said he “helped craft” the Financial Services Modernization Act, which repealed part of the Glass-Steagall Act.
- He’s flip-flopped on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In a 2015 interview on MSNBC, he spoke favorably about the trade deal. But after it became a political hot potato, he came out against it, arguing that it was “flawed” and that the Obama administration had “completely capitulated” on issues such as intellectual property protections.
Libertarian Edward Clifford III
The basics: 34. Accountant at a financial services firm. Delaware County resident.
The case for Clifford …
- He wants to cut regulations, reduce federal spending back to 2006 levels, and ax the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He also vows to vote against all tax hikes and “the funding of undeclared wars.” Read more about his policies here.
- A vote for Clifford is a show of support for the Libertarian Party nationally. Sick of the two-party system? Here’s a way to express that.
The case against Clifford …
- He has little chance of winning. A vote for Clifford could be a vote thrown away.
The basics: The Attorney General is the highest law-enforcement official in Pennsylvania. The winner of this race will be tasked with restoring the public’s trust in the office in the wake of Kathleen Kane’s conviction — and, lest we forget, the Porngate scandal!
Democrat Josh Shapiro
The basics: 43. Montgomery County Commissioner since 2012. State representative between 2005 and 2012.
The case for Shapiro …
- He’s a rising star in the Democratic Party. He’s known as an ethical, problem-solving politician with lots of potential. Bigwigs like Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer have encouraged him to run for higher office.
- He’s a talented politician. In Harrisburg, he orchestrated a deal that gave the Democrats control of the state House, which led to lawmakers there actually passing legislation (no, really!). He also helped wrestle control of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners from the GOP in 2011. There, he has implemented zero-based budgeting, among other things.
- He wants to use the office to pursue civil cases. For instance, he has talked about fighting alongside the Public Interest Law Center and the NAACP for a fairer statewide system for funding education. He also promises to sue frackers that violate environmental regulations and expand the Gun Violence Task Force if elected. Read more about his policies here.
The case against Shapiro …
- He’s a little too ambitious, perhaps. The two most important cases in Pennsylvania in recent years have also been the most politically controversial: the Philadelphia sting and the Penn State sex abuse scandal. Some believe Kathleen Kane and Tom Corbett mishandled those cases partly because of their desire to attain higher office. It’s widely assumed that Shapiro wants to eventually run for governor — could his ambitions get the best of him?
- He hasn’t ever worked a case, though he has a law degree from Georgetown. Should he really be the top law-enforcement official in the state?
Republican John Rafferty
The basics: 63. State senator representing Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties since 2003. Pennsylvania’s Deputy Attorney General from 1988 to 1991.
The case for Rafferty …
- He has worked in private business, the Senate, and the Attorney General’s office. Rafferty says this résumé makes him uniquely qualified to lead the Attorney General’s office, which handles civil and criminal cases.
- He serves as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. There, he helped push through the 2013 transportation funding package. He also has written legislation to crack down on repeat DUI offenders, extend sentencing guidelines for arsonists, and strengthen child protection laws. Read more about his policies here.
The case against Rafferty …
- He doesn’t have that much legal experience. His primary opponent argued that Rafferty’s qualifications for A.G. amounted to working as a Medicare fraud prosecutor for three years.
- He was caught hanging out with disgraced pol Seamus McCaffery earlier this year. McCaffery is one of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices who was caught swapping pornographic emails with other government employees. (He later resigned.) McCaffery introduced Rafferty, whom he calls an old friend, to people at a Fraternal Order of Police event in August. Is Rafferty really the guy who will be able to clean up the A.G.’s office post-Porngate?
The basics: The job of Pennsylvania’s Auditor General is to keep an eye on how state funds are spent, making sure everything is on the up and up. This person conducts audits of state agencies as well as organizations that receive public funds.
Democrat Eugene DePasquale
The basics: 45. Auditor General since 2013. State representative from 2007 to 2013. Deputy Secretary for Community Revitalization and Local Government Support of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection from 2003 to 2006.
The case for DePasquale …
- He’s got experience. He’s done the job for almost four years, and is generally well-regarded in Harrisburg.
- He has a record of taking on government waste and advocating for reform. As a state representative, he was a sponsor of Pennsylvania’s open records law. He also pushed for early voting and returned his annual cost-of-living adjustment.
- He’s issued reports on untested rape kits, the state’s child abuse hotline, the Philadelphia Parking Authority and charter schools. The latter got him a cameo on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight. Read more about his policies here.
The case against DePasquale …
- He’s an incumbent. If you want to stick it to the status quo — or just don’t think a Democrat should be tasked with searching for fraud in a Democratic administration — perhaps you shouldn’t vote for him. DePasquale’s opponent has also alleged that he is “too cozy” with Gov. Tom Wolf.
Republican John Brown
The basics: 55. Northampton County Executive since 2014. Former Bangor mayor.
The case for Brown …
- He has experience as an executive. He’s been Northampton County’s chief exec for the past three years. He worked in private business previously.
- He might take on a more adversarial role in the position. There’s a case to be made that, as a Republican, he would be better equipped to look for waste and abuse in the Wolf administration. Read more about his policies here.
- There’s only been one Republican auditor general in Pennsylvania since the 1960s. Why not give one a try?
The case against Brown …
- Don’t fix what’s not broken. DePasquale has overseen an office that has been scandal-free, and claims to have saved the state $40 million annually. Why mess with that? And, some might argue, Brown may be biased against a Wolf administration because he’s a Republican.
Green John Sweeney
The basics: 63. Former chairman of Pennsylvania’s Green Party.
The case for Sweeney …
- He wants to take a look at the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. He says he would also advocate for uniting the state’s Department of Transportation and the Turnpike Commission. Read more about his policies here.
- He has experience as an auditor. He is auditor of Wyoming County’s Falls Township.
- A vote for Sweeney is a show of support for the Green Party nationally.
The case against Sweeney …
- He has little chance of winning.
Libertarian Roy Minet
The basics: 75. Retired businessman. Former owner of a beer distributor. Founder of Intelligent Computer Systems, Inc.
The case for Minet…
- He says he might attempt to audit the state legislature. He also says he would use the Auditor General’s office to try to save taxpayer money. Read more about his policies here.
- A vote for Minet is a show of support for the Libertarian Party nationally.
The case against Minet …
- He has little chance of winning.
The basics: The state treasurer is the head of Pennsylvania’s treasury department (duh). This person manages the state’s finances.
Democrat Joe Torsella
The basics: 53. U.S. Representative to the United Nations for Management and Reform from 2011 to 2014. CEO of the National Constitution Center from 1997 to 2003, and 2006 to 2008. Chairman of the Pennsylvania State Board of Education from 2008 through 2011.
The case for Torsella …
- He has a great resume. He was a diplomat! And CEO of the National Constitution Center! And chairman of the state Board of Education! This guy is going places.
- He’s got some interesting ideas for what is typically a pretty boring job. For instance, he wants to establish individual retirement accounts as well as universal college savings accounts for residents. He also says he supports open data. Read more about his policies here.
The case against Torsella …
- He’s run for office before and lost. His 2004 bid for Congress was unsuccessful, and he dropped out of the 2010 race for U.S. Senate. Does Torsella want to be state treasurer, or does he just want to be a politician?
Republican Otto Voit
The basics: 59. President of Keystone Dental Group since 1997.
The case for Voit …
- He has experience in business and government. He is a Desert Storm veteran and president of a dental product manufacturer. He also serves as the vice president of the Muhlenberg School District Board of Directors and the treasurer of the Governing Board for the Pennsylvania School Board Association.
- He wants to help people get back their unclaimed property. It’s his No. 1 issue, which he says affects one out of every 10 Pennsylvanians. Read more about his policies here.
The case against Voit …
- He endorsed Trump. In fact, he was the first statewide candidate in Pennsylvania to do so. Of course, whether this is a point for or against Voit depends on your point of view.
Green Kristin Combs
The basics: 29. Teacher in the School District of Philadelphia. Former City Council At-Large candidate. Volunteer at the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign.
The case for Combs …
- She would be a strong advocate for public education. She is a public school teacher and a member of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. Read more about her policies here.
- A vote for Combs is a show of support for the Green Party nationally.
The case against Combs …
- She has little chance of winning.
Libertarian James Babb
The basics: 48. Advertising consultant. Montgomery County resident.
The case for Babb …
- Hate taxes? Like, really, really, really hate taxes? Babb is your man. He says taxation is “theft” and unconstitutional. He promises to use the office to give back tax money and fees to residents. Read more about his policies here.
- A vote for Babb is a show of support for the Libertarian Party nationally.
The case against Babb …
- He has little chance of winning.
The basics: There are contested races in the 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts in Philadelphia, though neither are competitive. Find out which district you live in here. And check out the Committee of Seventy and BillyPenn’s handy guides on the candidates.
The basics: There are contested races in the city’s 5th Senatorial District, as well as its 152nd, 170th, 172nd, 177th, 194th and 200th House Districts.Find out which district you live in here. We briefly explain the more competitive elections below. The Committee of Seventy and BillyPenn have great guides on these races, too.
The 5th Senatorial District candidates:
- John Sabatina. Democrat. The incumbent.
- Ross Feinberg. Republican.
The case for (and against) Sabatina: He has been a state senator since 2015, when he won a special election to fill Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack’s seat. Before that, he was a state representative for nine years and an assistant district attorney. Sabatina is an insider through and through: He is the son of a Democratic ward leader, and was hand-picked by city ward leaders to run in the uncompetitive 2015 special election. He’s also on one side of a storied political feud among Democrats in Northeast Philly. Read more about his policies here.
The case for (and against) Feinberg: Feinberg ran unsuccessfully for the Register of Wills last year, in a race in which he promised to abolish the office. He has worked as an option trader and served in the U.S. Navy. He has compared himself to Donald Trump, and promises to “Make the Great Northeast Philadelphia Great Again.” (Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, but you get it.) Read more about his policies here.
The 170th House District candidates:
- Matthew Darragh. Democrat.
- Martina White. Republican. The incumbent.
The case for (and against) Darragh: Darragh is a committee person who worked in the Auditor General’s Office for eight years. Though he hasn’t served in elected office before, he seems to be pretty politically skilled: He defeated a candidate backed by the powerful Boyle brothers in the spring, and President Barack Obama just endorsed him. He has campaigned on providing tax relief to senior citizens, strengthening union rights, increasing education funding, and “equal pay for equal work.” He has also criticized his opponent as too conservative for the district. Read more about his policies here.
The case for (and against) White: White, a former financial adviser, is one of only two Republicans in Philadelphia’s delegation, which some argue is a good thing for the city in a GOP-controlled legislature. She is also one of the youngest state representatives in Pennsylvania. She proposed a bill this year, which just passed in the General Assembly, that would temporarily bar cities from releasing the names of police officers who shoot civilians. It has received strong support by police officers and strong condemnation by the American Civil Liberties Union. (Relatedly, she has been endorsed by the city’s Fraternal Order of Police, which was key to her victory in a 2015 special election.) She also introduced legislation that would effectively make it illegal for municipalities such as Philadelphia to be “sanctuary cities.” And she ran an ad that doesn’t appear to have a single person of color in it. Read more about her policies here.
The 172nd House District candidates:
- Kevin Boyle. Democrat. The incumbent.
- Jim Pio. Republican.
The case for (and against) Boyle: Boyle has been a state representative since 2011, and he is the son of a SEPTA janitor. He ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate in the spring. He has introduced a bill that would add LGBTQ members to the list of groups covered under Pennsylvania’s hate crimes law, and he recently supported legislation that would temporarily keep secret the names of police officers involved in shootings. He and his brother, Congressman Brendan Boyle, are part of a rising political faction in Northeast Philly (the one that’s pitted against John Sabatina). On one hand, the brothers have come from modest roots and taken on establishment figures such as Sabatina. On the other hand, they’ve been embraced by other establishment figures, like union leader John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty. During the primary, a casting company put out a call that said “extras’ [are] needed for polling stations to support the candidate Kevin Boyle (Democrat).” Brendan Boyle said his brother did not seek help from the company “as far as I know,” but Kevin Boyle never returned our calls. Read more about his policies here.
The case for (and against) Pio: He is a financial consultant, committee person, and member of the Burholme Civic Association. His father was a clerk at ACME. He says he wants to ensure that school funding “is apportioned fairly” throughout the state, reduce class sizes, and bring back manufacturing jobs to the city. However, he has not provided many details on how to do that on his website. Read more about his policies here.
The 177th House District candidates:
- Joe Hohenstein. Democrat.
- John Taylor. Republican. The incumbent.
The case for (and against) Hohenstein: He has been an immigration attorney for more than 20 years, and he is vehemently opposed to the anti-sanctuary city bill in Harrisburg. He supports raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour and has received endorsements from Planned Parenthood, the Liberity City Democratic Club and SEIU. He’s also something of a party outsider, in that local Democratic leaders such as Mayor Jim Kenney have not endorsed him. (See why below.) Read more about his policies here.
The case for (and against) Taylor: He has been a state representative since 1985. Along with Martina White, he is one of only two Republicans in the Philadelphia delegation. Taylor’s presence in Harrisburg can be helpful in that he can advocate for the city as a trusted voice to top Republicans controlling the General Assembly. He is also well-regarded among many city Democrats (Mayor Kenney says he “epitomizes bipartisanship”) and is viewed as moderate; he has introduced anti-blight and tax exemption legislation favored by City Council. But he isn’t always down-the-middle: He said he’s reluctantly voting for Donald Trump and co-sponsored the bill by Martina White that would effectively end sanctuary cities in the state. He is also chairman of the House Transportation Committee, and was formerly chairman of the Philadelphia GOP. Read more about his policies here.
The basics: Philadelphians will be asked to answer two ballot questions on Tuesday. One is a controversial proposal to extend the retirement age for judges throughout the state. The other is a question about whether city government should be able to borrow money for capital spending. We translated the questions into really, really plain English here. Other resources include the Committee of Seventy, a good government group, and Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a judicial watchdog.
(Some of this was republished from our primary no-B.S. guide.)
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