Plenty of us in Northeastern Pennsylvania claim to value a vibrant democracy and fair elections.
We shake our heads in disbelief at events like those unfolding this week in Ukraine, where the Crimeans’ balloting to secede was widely seen as a sham vote. Many observers say the outcome of Sunday’s referendum was a foregone conclusion, the results predetermined by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s undue influence on the region.
For vastly different reasons, however, anyone looking at elections held in and around Luzerne County can find troubling signs that draw into question just how healthy our system is today. Among the causes for concern: A lack of viable contenders. Dismal voter turnout. And potential interference from power brokers. Those and other factors can combine to make Election Day results here seem almost predestined.
The most recent race for seats on Luzerne County Council, only the second election since this 11-person group was established under home rule, drew a small slate peppered with disappointing choices. The consequences of voters’ meager picks in 2013 will be felt for years.
Next up, in this year’s contests for certain state offices, many area voters seemingly will have no choices. Nominating petitions for the major party candidates were due last week, and the field, such as it is, will be official on March 26.
State Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, is running unopposed.
State Rep. Mike Carroll, D-Avoca, is running unopposed.
State Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-Butler Township, is running unopposed.
Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, is running unopposed.
Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, is running unopposed.
Only state Rep. Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake, and Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township, will face primary challengers in their bids for re-election to a two-year term and a nearly $80,000 legislative salary. Third-party candidates might emerge before an Aug. 1 deadline to challenge one or more of the area’s incumbents in November’s general election, but if so there’s been little hubbub about it.
On the federal level, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, faces no opposition in the Republican primary set for May 20. Likewise, U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, won’t be challenged in his party’s primary. Both men instead can focus on fending off contenders in the fall.
Ideally, every sitting lawmaker before securing a new term would be compelled to thoroughly explain his or her record, defend public decisions and debate policies. In some cases, they should answer for matters pertaining to personal behavior, too.
When a challenger doesn’t step forward, those conversations and debates are unlikely to happen. Democracy limps along as a relative handful of party faithful go through the motions of supporting their chosen one. The status quo continues until next time. Or for a lifetime.
Perhaps the expense of running for an elected post discourages some would-be candidates. Also, otherwise qualified men and women in Luzerne County probably get turned away because they won’t pander to the region’s power brokers, or don’t win their favor. And you shouldn’t discount the impact of corruption — real and perceived — on some people’s decisions to steer clear of public service.
Until area residents confront those obstacles, Northeastern Pennsylvania will get more of the same: a less-than-exemplary democracy and Election Day “victories” that ring hollow.