Reform is Not Dead! (yet)

John Micek already posed the question:

Bad night all around for the Clean Sweepers. All the under-ticket state judges appear poised to hold onto their jobs as well. Is this it for the reform movement?

Short answer: No.

Long answer:

  • Reform isn’t about winning elections, or anti-incumbency. The reform movement isn’t a political party, whose sole reason for existence is to win elections. The goal of reformers is to make state government more open, more accountable, and more ethical – and to keep the public engaged in that debate. Yes, we aren’t pleased with the pace of reform thus far. But we always knew this would be a long battle, and this election cycle had more debate over the records of judges up for retention (and those up for open seats) than ever before, and conversation – from all sides – about how we should select judges. Thus, as far as public engagement, the reform movement is still on track.
  • The reform movement was split on retention. Many of the reform groups stayed on the sidelines in the judicial retention race (some, like the Commonwealth Foundation, don’t get involved in electioneering at all, but others opted out). None of the “reformers” in the legislature spoke out in favor of sweeping the judges, to my knowledge; nor did any of the editorial boards. Several individuals and groups who been active in the reform movement – The PA Manufacturers’ Association, Pat Toomey, Bill Scranton, etc. – endorsed the retention of judges.
  • Clean Sweep was very effective at keeping the pressure on elected officials. If the ultimate goal was to oust judges, then Clean Sweep’s campaign failed. If the goal was to keep the heat on lawmakers and let them know they’re being watched, the goal was achieved. While “the establishment” had both political parties, the trial lawyers, the unions, the business associations, some reformers and conservative advocates, millions of dollars, and Tom Ridge, the “Clean Sweepers” are – no disrespect – a couple of guys, a handful of volunteers, and a pink bus.

    Yet voters in seven counties Dauphin, Lebanon, Cumberland, Perry, Mifflin, Huntingdon, and Juniata – voted to oust at least one of the judges up for statewide retention. By my count, there was a close retention race (less than 60% voting to retain) in another 23 counties. Those are results lawmakers — who aren’t elected statewide, and may not be unopposed (as all the retention judges were) in the primary and/or general election — cannot ignore (at least in some parts of the state).