The LuLac Edition #1424, Jan. 3rd, 2011
I should call this article “Arlen and Me” but then I’d be accused of injecting myself into everything I write. Oh wait, I do. I couldn’t help but think about the end of the Arlen Specter Era in the Commonwealth as well as the nation. Toward the end of his career Specter had a lot of detractors. If I ever served in public office, when I left I would hope that I got about 75% of the people mad at me. That statistic would mean that I stood for what I believed in, made some unpopular decisions and actually stood for something. Specter road to prominence was fueled by his ambition but also by some bumps along the way. He rode his association with the Warren Commission to the District Attorney’s office in Philadelphia in 1965. Overreaching, Specter ran for Mayor of Philadelphia in 1967 after seeing the vicious primary battle between Frank Rizzo and James Tate on the Democratic side. (See LuLac Edition #1421 ). Specter was re-elected in 1969 but then lost out in 1973. Undaunted, he set his sights on statewide office running for the U.S. Senate in 1976. John Heinz’ money and classic charm and grace buried Specter. In 1978 in a crowded field for Governor, Specter, Willliamsport’s Henry Hager, David Marsden lost out to the avuncular Dick Thornbugh. A two time statewide loser was a tag Specter wore in the 1980 GOP primary which he finally won. In the campaign dubbed as the “Senate seat no one wanted”, Specter riding the tide of the Reagan landslide became a U.S Senator. He beat former Pittsburgh Mayor Pete Flaherty who had lost even more statewide races than Specter! It was ironic that a true conservative like Reagan brought in a moderate like Specter on his coat tails. In subsequent elections in ’86, 92, 98 and 2004 Specter bested Bob Edgar, Lynn Yeakel, Bill Lloyd and Joe Hoeffel from the Democrats. As you remember in ’04 Specter won a close primary against Pat Toomey. 2004 was supposed to be the last go round. Specter had Rick Santorum and George W. Bush stumping for him. The morning after the victory, Specter made it clear that he was his own guy even though that duo dragged him across the finish line. On primary election night last year on WYLN TV 35 I said “That the only Democrat that could ever beat Arlen Specter for the U.S. Senate was Arlen Specter”. As we review the history of this tenacious campaigner it is instructive to see how he governed.
1. Specter took his job seriously. Despite a flirtation with running for President in ’96, Specter was happy with his job. He made it a point of visiting all 67 counties and pressing the flesh.
2. Specter made sure that Pennsylvania projects had a priority with either a GOP or Democratic President. His ability to get along with both sides gave the Commonwealth funding in projects that might have gone elsewhere. See Tobyhanna Army Depot.
3. Specter I believe saw his social issues as vastly different than his constituent service. You may not see his like again in terms of not caving in on social issues. Conservatives in his own party went nuts over his pro choice stances as well as his views on stem cell research. It wasn’t until the 2004 primary when a credible candidate from the right pointed this out. And in 2010, as a Democrat, his opponent Joe Sestak painted Specter as an opportunist to the right of the Admiral.
4. Will history be kind to Arlen Specter? Among the people who follow things like that, I’d say yes. (Don’t forget we are living in a time when people think history started on the day they went to kindergarten!) Specter has the stats, longest serving Pennsylvania Senator, most likely he met and greeted more voters than any politician in state history. Plus if there ever was a tally on what he did for the state I’m sure it would be astounding.
I met Specter a few times. Once in 1980 when he was rushing through Wilkes Barre, in 2002 when he stopped by the on line pagan travel company in Plains and finally in 2009 when he did a program on WVIA TV’s “State of Pennsylvania”. Each time he was a bit cranky but then gradually warmed to me when he realized I wasn’t a complete idiot. Specter never suffered any fools, semi fools or people who would waste his time gladly.
His governmental legacy will be that he was a tenacious and dedicated public servant. His political legacy will be that he hung on too long but went out the way he came in, swinging.
It will be interesting to see how Spercter’s successor will do in a state that has been used to federal government largess from Specter’s 30 years. I wonder if Senator Toomey’s plans for austerity will be compared to what Specter did. I kind of doubt it because voters are on to the next big things like the Super Bowl and American Idol. But if the feds try to cut programs important to Pennsylvanians, I doubt that there will be a champion as vociferous as Specter. He’s gone now and whether some people want to admit it or not, there will be a void. Specter proved two things in politics, the first is that you don’t have to be a teddy bear to get elected, and the second is you better know when to exit because even though Pennsylvanians love fairs, they don’t want them and the main guest to stay around forever.
Good luck Senator Specter and thanks for everything. C’mon, try it, there you go, that’s it, you can smile a little now. Or give us the finger. Whatever you like, you earned it man, you earned it.