Tuesday, 16 June 2009 18:13

Specter's Switch: an update

On Arlen Specter's change of political affiliation.

As recently as March 18th Arlen Specter's office released a statement stating almost unequivocally that he was going to run for re-election as a Republican. Five weeks later he changed his mind, and it is pretty clear why. It is being reported that Specter's own internal polling showed him going down to a crushing defeat in the Republican Primary, even in a three-way race with Pat Toomey and Peg Luksik (an anti-choice activist who could be expected to split the conservative vote -- in theory an advantage for Specter). Ironically, an F&M poll that was about to be released, but was recalled after the Specter announcement and then was released to political bloggers, had Specter eking out a 3-point primary win against Toomey and Luksik, but even that poll showed a dramatic Specter decline from March when F&M had him ahead by 15-points.

So just when all seemed bleak for Arlen Specter, along came Ed Rendell, Joe Biden, Harry Reid, et al and threw him a lifeline he would have been insane to refuse. If he switched his party registration and agreed to run for re-election as a Democrat they would clear the Primary field for him; raise tons of money for his campaign; preserve his Senate seniority; and award him a major committee chairmanship upon his return to the Senate as a Democrat. In return the Democrats reportedly asked only that he support the Obama agenda, at least when it came to cloture votes to cut off filibusters, and that he support the Obama healthcare reform agenda. That's a pretty sweet deal for someone facing political extinction as his only alternative.

In the six days after announcing his "conversion" (and if you were listening you would have noticed that he had lots of bad things to say about the Republicans, but virtually nothing positive to say about the Democrats), Specter has done the following:

  • Announced that the Democrats cannot count on him to be a 60th vote against cloture (the process for cutting off a filibuster which requires a 60-vote super-majority).
  • Announced that he would continue to oppose Employee Fair Trade Act (when that Act was introduced in the last session Specter was a co-sponsor, and he only changed his mind after Toomey announced his Primary challenge necessitating a Specter shift to the Right. One would think that now that he is a Democrat another flip-flop might be in order, but that apparently would conflict with Specter's principles)
  • Announced that he would continue to oppose Obama's nominee to be Head of the Office of Legal Council, Dawn Johnsen (the Right opposes her nomination largely on the grounds that she is in favor of investigating torture allegations during the Bush Administration and is strongly pro-choice). It is hard to fathom what someone who voted to install Alberto Gonzales in that job could find objectionable about Ms. Johnsen.
  • Voted against Barack Obama's budget along with all the Senate Republicans.
  • Voted against the "Helping Families Save Their Homes" Act, again joining all the Senate Republicans.

On the May 3rd edition of Meet the Press, Specter told David Gregory that he was misquoted when the media reported that he had told President Obama that he would be a "loyal Democrat" and would support the Obama agenda. He also stated unequivocally that he would not support the Obama healthcare reform plan because it included a "public plan," and was going to be introduced via a process that would prevent the Republicans from filibustering it.

It now appears that Congressman Joe Sestak (Pa - 7) is considering defying the Party Leadership's effort to clear the field for Specter by announcing his own run for the Democratic Senate nomination. Sestak is not as progressive as I would like for him to be, and he is unlikely to support the kind of health care reform I seek (and like Specter I am opposed to the public plan, but for very different reasons), but at least he is a Democrat, and he is apparently not a Party insider. He also has a campaign war chest of over $ 3 million which makes him a viable contender.

I cannot support Arlen Specter for the Democrat nomination to be our Senator. For now, I will be taking a close look at Joe Sestak. I hope the rest of you will do the same. We need to find a viable candidate to run against Arlen Specter in next year's Democratic Primary. So far Sestak seems to be the only one who is both viable and possibly willing. It is time to launch a Stop Specter movement before it is too late. Let's prove that our Primary means something, and that it is still the Democratic voters who decide who their candidates will be rather than Party Leaders in Washington and Harrisburg.

- Jerry Policoff

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