What Does the Primary Earthquake Mean?

Earthquake Richter ScaleI’m writing to you from Pittsburgh, which was, in a certain sense, ground zero of last night’s primary earthquake.

Last night, I watched Tom Smith—who has made it a matter of public record that he is a strong supporter of the Commonwealth Foundation—overwhelmingly beat the state GOP-endorsed candidate for the U.S. Senate.  Meanwhile, not far from where I was standing, a sitting state representative endorsed by the majority leaders of both chambers of the General Assembly and the state senator he meant to succeed lost badly.

As Pete DeCoursey is reporting this morning (subscription required), those two races were just the beginning.  In Blair County, one of the most senior committee chairmen lost his renomination fight.  In Cumberland County (where I live) and Schuylkill County, well-known and well-connected state senators had to fight hard in order to keep their seats.  Back where I grew up, in Delaware County, the Senate Majority Leader had more of a race on his hands than people expected.  Even the Speaker of the House had a squeaker.

So what happened is obvious:  There was an earthquake last night.  The question is, what does it mean?

It doesn’t mean what the left will probably tell you, namely that voters hate Gov. Corbett’s long-overdue fiscal belt tightening.  Quite the opposite:  Voters are saying that it isn’t enough.

Just look at the context.  It’s obvious that the “churn” (as Matt Brouillette says) that began after the 2005 pay raise continues apace.  Secondly, if you look nationally, the old saw that the Keystone State is far too blue for real reform is on its last legs.  In even bluer states, particularly New Jersey and Wisconsin, new leaders have faced down the government unions, have done much more than our new leaders here, and have been vindicated at the ballot box because they offered an overarching vision that inspired people.

Like it or not, the conservative base does not see that kind of inspiring vision here.  That was pretty clear at the recent Pennsylvania Leadership Conference, in whose straw poll 57 percent of respondents said they were dissatisfied with the direction of our state over a year after the departure of Gov. Ed Rendell.  After last night, it is now indisputable.

The base is restless, and the rest are unpersuaded.  The solution isn’t to pivot and provide more patented Pennsylvania milquetoast mush, as we’ve seen time after time in the past, nor is it to argue that the base just doesn’t appreciate what our new leaders have done so far.  It is to lead boldly and to inspire.  That’s what we’re hungry for.

Last night, the voters decided to send some new blood to do just that.  I’m hopeful last night’s victors won’t be the only ones who get the memo—because middling mediocrity and falling behind other states are what has gotten us in this pickle to begin with, and in many ways, my children’s future depends on whether we do something different, now.