There’s still no winner for state treasurer? What gives? | Monday Morning Coffee

November 9, 2020 7:13 am

Pa. State Treasurer Joe Torsella this year became the first Democrat since 1994 to lose reelection to state-level office in Pennsylvania. (Image via Pa. Treasurer’s Office/Pittsburgh City Paper)

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Under ordinary circumstances, having occasion to write a political story about Pennsylvania’s three, statewide elected row officers reminds us of Yogi Berra’s famed explanation of why he no longer went to a famous restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore,” the New York Yankees legend is reputed to have said. “It’s too crowded.”

And so it is the case that no one really thinks about at least two of Pennsylvania’s three row officers — auditor general and state treasurer — unless they’re making headlines for one reason or another.

And right now, there’s headlines aplenty with these two fiscal watchdog posts, which appear on course to land in Republican hands for the first time in a decade or more. And because these posts tend to be (but not always) springboards to higher office, they’re especially worth your attention this morning.

Last week, Democrat Nina Ahmad, a former Philadelphia deputy mayor and 2018 lieutenant governor candidate, conceded to Republican Timothy L. DeFoor, the current Dauphin County controller. Unofficial tallies showed DeFoor beating Ahmad 49.68 perent to 46.12 percent, according to Department of State data.

(Tim DeFoor Facebook page image).

Assuming the result holds, it’s important for two reasons: DeFoor will be the first Republican to hold the post since former Auditor General Barbara Hafer held it from 1989 to 1997. Hafer was later elected state treasurer, a post she held until 2005.

DeFoor, who is Black, also will be the first person of color to hold the post. Ahmadwho is a Bangladeshi immigrant, also would have hit a historic benchmark becoming the first woman since Hafer — and the first woman of color — to hold the post.

(Stacy Garrity, Facebook photo)

Which brings us to the race for state treasurer between Democratic incumbent Joe Torsella, of Philadelphia, and Republican Stacy Garrity, of Bradford County. As of Sunday night, this contest remains the only unresolved row office race.

Unofficial tallies from the Department of State showed Garrity, an Iraq War veteran and political newcomer with almost no statewide recognition, leading Torsella 48.92 percent to 47.69 percent, a difference of about 82,539 votes, as John Coleof PolitcsPA, noted Sunday.

The conventional wisdom going into election week was that Torsella, as a relatively well-known incumbent, should have been a shoo-in for re-election. No Republican has served as treasurer since Hafer, who later switched parties to Democrat, had the job.

As of Sunday night, despite Garrity’s numerical advantage, Torsella had not conceded the race. A Democratic operative in Philadelphia said a large number of provisional ballots had delayed the call, though the odds of Torsella closing the gap appear long right now.

In a text message, Torsella’s campaign spokesman, Mike Connolly, told the Capital-Star that, “like everyone, we’re waiting on every voice to be heard and vote to be counted before we’ll know the results.”

Assuming that holds, a defeat would be a stinging rebuke to Torsella, who has been widely mentioned as a likely Democratic candidate for governor in 2022, where he could face two fellow Democratic row officers in the primary: current Attorney General Josh Shapiro and current Auditor General Eugene DePasqualewho lost a bid for central Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District to Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Perry last week.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro announces a partnership with the Pennsylvania State Police to trace crime guns outside the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Thursday, July 25, 2019. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Shapiro, of Montgomery County, defeated Republican Heather Heidelbaugh, of Allegheny County, to win a second, four-year term on Election Day.  As of Friday, Heidelbaugh had not conceded, according to her Twitter feed.

DePasquale, of York County, will be out of a job at year’s end, having served the constitutional maximum of two, four-year terms.

Which brings us back to the importance of these offices. Treasurer and auditor general tend to be under-noticed, while the attorney general’s office seemingly is purpose-built for headline generating. And Shapiro has proven particularly adept at leveraging that perk.

In all three posts, former occupants have been elevated to higher office: Former auditor general and treasurer Bob Casey is now the state’s senior, three-term United States senator. Former GOP Attorney General Tom Corbett served one term as governor from 2010 to 2014. Former Treasurer Catherine Baker Knoll served a term-and-a-half as lieutenant governor under Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell until her death in 2008.

And some get famous for the wrong reasons. Former treasurers Hafer and Robert McCord both entertained gubernatorial ambitions. And both were convicted on federal corruption charges. Hafer avoided jail. and was sentenced to three years’ probation in 2017. McCord was sentenced to 30 months in prison in 2018.

So, to come back to that Berra-ism, no one may go to the row offices because, metaphorically speaking, they’re too crowded. But last week’s results are a reminder that it’s important to at least make a reservation.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
As you might expect the Capital-Star’s hardworking full-time staff, crack team of correspondents, and talented Hearken Election SOS fellows spent last week up to their elbows covering the election and the ensuing five days of vote-count drama.

You can find our continuous coverage of Election Day around Pennsylvania, complete with color and scene from every corner of the state, right here. Our rolling post of five days’ worth of vote-count drama, is right here. You’ll find contributions from all our staff, correspondents and fellows in these two posts.

From your humble newsletter author and Staff Reporter Stephen Caruso, here’s our story on Joe Biden capturing Pennsylvania’s 20 Electoral College votes on Saturday, and with it, barring some litigation and massive temper tantrums, the White House.

Cassie Miller rounds up reaction to Biden’s win from elected officials around Pennsylvania.

From your humble newsletter author: An analysis of three of the biggest factors in Biden’s Keystone State win, and some thoughts on what his win means for a country badly in need of healing.

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – MARCH 09: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduces Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden at a campaign rally at Renaissance High School on March 09, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. Michigan will hold its primary election tomorrow. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Philadelphia women — especially the city’s Black women — celebrated Kamala Harris’ becoming vice president-elect, the Inquirer reports.
The University of Pittsburgh has issued a shelter in place order to students because of a surge in COVID-19 cases, the Tribune-Review reports.
State lawmakers have to return to the Capitol this month to finish the state budget in the first post-election session in years, PennLive reminds us.
An elementary school in Lehigh County has been closed for the week because of a COVID-19 outbreak, the Morning Call reports.
Officials in Luzerne County will start counting thousands of provisional ballots today, the Citizens-Voice reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:


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A ‘Black Votes Matter’ motorcade celebrated the Biden-Harris win in Philadelphia, WHYY-FM reports.
WITF-FM looks at what’s driving the rise in COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania.
A conservative group is claiming that ballots were mishandled in Erie, GoErie reports.
Masks, plexiglass, an NBA-style bubble? looks at how state legislatures are handling the pandemic.
NYMag’s Intelligencer looks at Joe Biden’s decades-long path to the presidency.

What Goes On.
11:30 a.m, PEMA HQ.: COVID-19 update with Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.
1 p.m., YWCA of Greater Harrisburg: Gov. Tom Wolf unveils new veterans services program.
The balcony outside Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s office will be lit in purple from tonight through Nov. 19 for National Epilepsy Awareness Month.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Belated best wishes go out today to Spotlight PA reporter Daniel Simmons-Ritchie and veteran Harrisburg PR guy Peter J. Shelly, both of whom celebrated on Sunday. Best wishes go out this morning to Angie Mason Eyer, in the House Democrats’ press shop, who celebrates today. Congratulations all around, folks.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s one from R.E.M. that was on our mind over the weekend. From 1986’s ‘Life’s Rich Pageant,’ it’s ‘Cuyahoga.’ Come for the opening line, ‘Let’s put our heads together, and start a new country up,’ and stay for some of the finest American songwriting of that decade.

Monday’s Gratuitous Soccer Link.
Aston Villa romped to a decisive 3-0 win over Mikel Arteta’s injury-depleted Arsenal squad on Sunday. The win bumps the Villans, who dropped their last, two matches, to 6th place in the Premier League table.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.