Poor Black turnout helps GOP…What are ramifications for communities?

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Though Republican gains in the U.S. House of Representatives were the largest since 1938, GOP gains made Nov. 2 in state legislatures were even more dramatic. Winning 680 seats across the country, Republicans took control of 14 state Houses, giving them control of both legislative chambers in 26 states. Pennsylvania’s was one of them.

JakeWheatley
REP. JAKE WHEATLEY

Statewide, though still poor, Black voter turnout actually rose to 9 percent from 8 percent in the 2006 mid-term, however it was still extremely low compared to the 40 percent overall turnout throughout the state.

For state Reps. Joseph Preston, D-East Liberty, and Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, it means a loss of authority, and legislative initiatives when the new House members are seated in January.

“It means instead of driving an agenda, I’ll be defending it,” said Preston. “We’re trying to see what the (minority) leadership team will be. But with control of both houses, the governor will try to push his agenda. We’ll have something like 80 new members who don’t know the ropes, but they set the agenda—it will definitely be a more conservative agenda.”

JoePreston
REP. JOE PRESTON

Preston echoed concerns raised by losing gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato over spending on prisons, and where cuts would come with federal stimulus money no longer propping up the state budget.

“The big deal will be reapportionment. We’re looking at losing one state House seat in Allegheny County and probably one U.S. House seat, maybe (John) Murtha’s old seat that Mark Critz just won,” he said. “The whole issue for low- to moderate-income African-Americans is a lot of the stimulus things like transportation—we have five counties essentially supporting all the roads in the state. And they’re going to push to privatize the state stores—the last thing I need in my district is package stores.”

Preston said his other areas of concern for residents in his district and African-Americans generally are potential losses in funding for transportation, education, and healthcare.

Those issues are perhaps of even more concern to Wheatley, who serves on the House Education Committee, the Transportation Committee and chairs the Appropriations Sub-Committee on Education and the Health and Human Services Sub-Committee on Mental Health.

Though he, like Preston, will retain his committee positions, he will be in the minority and will not be setting the agenda.

“I’m still the minority sub-committee chair but that’s just a title. That means I show up,” he said. “I’m not going to be driving anything. I think what the election should have told us is the electorate wants us to improve their quality of life. So it would behoove everyone to quit pontificating and get about the people’s business.”

As for working with the new Republican leadership, Wheatley said where there is consensus, he’ll be part of the discussion.

There are some serious-minded people here and we should find some commonality,” he said. “If you go by what the Republicans said, they believe government should invest in transportation, education and public safety. That doesn’t mean invest more. It also means everything else is on the table.”

The new leadership will be facing a billion dollar deficit. Wheatley noted that Governor-elect Tom Corbett said he would look to what New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is doing.

“They’re making some deep cuts,” said Wheatley. “People should brace for that because that’s what they voted for.”

As for his constituents, Wheatley said he would continue to work for their best interests regardless of the leadership.

“My constituents suffered the most before the recession and during the recession. Our issues are going to be the same regardless—high unemployment, the lack of neighborhood safety and neighborhood growth,” he said. “I will fight to get them addressed. But frankly, it wasn’t easy under Rendell and the Democrats, it won’t be easy under Corbett and the Republicans.”

Wheatley said he hadn’t seen any turnout figures on Black district but he assumed it was average to below average for a mid-term.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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