OP-ED: Get ready for 2023 local elections – Observer-Reporter

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Cloudy skies. High 44F. Winds ENE at 5 to 10 mph..
Cloudy skies with periods of rain late. Low 36F. Winds E at 10 to 20 mph. Chance of rain 100%. Rainfall near a half an inch.
Updated: December 14, 2022 @ 7:08 am
Gary Stout

Gary Stout
“Your day-to-day involvement with local government matters far more than a referendum on the White House every four years.” – Michelle Wu
Next year will permit most of the country to recover from a demanding 2022 midterm election season. Pennsylvanians will be spared another 11 months of continuous campaign ads. However, there will be little time to turn away from politics in Washington County. In 2023, the commissioners and a majority of the other county officials will be standing for election. What makes the 2023 election season of special interest to local voters is the subject of this commentary.
To understand what is at stake, four groups of election players must be considered. First are the traditional Democrats, led by minority Commissioner Larry Maggi. His position in winning reelection next November is the most secure. However, if his party is unable to elect another Democrat to serve with him, his influence will remain limited, outflanked by two Republican commissioners. The Republican majority in voter registration makes a Democratic sweep highly unlikely, unless Democrats are able to reverse recent trends.
Second are the traditional Republicans, led by Commissioner Chairman Diana Irey Vaughan. Four years ago her party gained control of county government for the first time in decades. Her political future appeared secure. Irey Vaughan is a stanch conservative, but she believes in practical leadership over right-wing ideology. Today, an insurgent group of Republicans who seek to remove her from office have weakened her position. If she runs for reelection, the Republican primary for commissioner will be a raucous affair.
Third are the local MAGA Republicans, self-styled as “patriots.” This group’s leaders now manage the county Row Offices. These elected officials show no allegiance to Irey Vaughan notwithstanding that she was instrumental in placing them in office four years ago. They plan to run their own slate of candidates who favor the positions of the former president.
The insurgent complaint against Irey Vaughan is that she has not replaced many political appointments and county civil servants with MAGA Republicans. Most importantly, Irey Vaughan never supported the local “stop the steal” movement, which includes replacing all of the county’s voting machines. Lastly, Irey Vaughan has backed the county court system and the president judge through several contentious disputes regarding court administration.
Fourth are the individuals in key positions appointed by Irey Vaughan and other long-serving county civil servants. These employees have faithfully kept local government running like a well-oiled machine. Unfortunately, they have a short shelf life if MAGA Republicans gain majority control of the commissioners’ office. These positions include county solicitor, budget director, chief of staff, director of the planning commission, director of elections, director of the chamber of commerce/tourism agency and many others. The replacement of these employees, responsible for running important functions, with inexperienced MAGA partisans would cause chaos in local government.
Republicans in favor of good government should be careful what they wish for. If they replace Irey Vaughn and terminate other key employees, local government will implode. Voters should recall that right-wing Republicans captured the Allegheny County commissioners’ office in the early 1990s and attempted similar radical changes. Without dedicated non-partisan employees in key positions, Allegheny County’s municipal bond rating went down and surplus county funds disappeared. Businesses lost confidence, and basic services could not be delivered. Living and working under such conditions became undesirable.
Another historical example when zealotry was permitted to trump local government will emphasize my point. It takes us to Florence, Italy, near the end of the Renaissance. Jerome Savonarola was a Dominican friar who denounced what he and other religious extremists considered corruption and despotic rule.
In 1494 with the help of the French King, he was able to expel the long-ruling Medici family from Florence. The friar instituted a scorched earth, puritanically Christian campaign to reverse all of the secular beauty that Renaissance artists had brought to Florence. In his famous “bonfire of the vanities,” priceless manuscripts, paintings and sculptures that Savonarola deemed immoral were burned in the public square.
Savonarola’s divine mandate soon became a fiasco, and popular opinion turned against him. Citizens came to understand that the Medici family knew how to govern and that the friar, steeped in religious fervor, but with no leadership abilities, did not. Within five years, it was Savonarola who was burned at the stake and the Medicis were welcomed back into power.
This tale of those with extreme political views gaining power in local government could easily be repeated in Washington County. MAGA supporters were recently elected to lead the local Republican Party. The new party leadership immediately announced plans to “clean up Washington County” and to “dismantle the Democrat cabal.” These goals are head scratchers in that Republicans have controlled county government for the past four years.
One of the first acts promised by MAGA Republicans, if their commissioner candidates win in November, is to “metaphorically burn” all of the county voting machines on the courthouse steps and return to paper ballots. Local MAGA Republicans have other current policies they are against with few positive plans for governing Washington County. Like the Florentine friar and his supporters, our local MAGA Republicans are a radical political experiment that we should avoid at all costs.
Gary Stout is a Washington attorney.
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The reason that the radicals were elected is because we have a voter problem.
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