Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Mary Ellen Balchunis-- Ratf**ked And Hacked


America's most gerrymandered district-- drawn to protect Pat Meehan's career

DWT has obtained an advance copy of the introduction to progressive congressional candidate Mary Ellen Balchunis. We endorsed her in 2016 and we have urged her to run again in 2018. I want to share the introduction to her new book, Hacked And Rat**cked in the Presidential Election.

-by Mary Ellen Balchunis

In 2014, Congressman Bob Brady (D) and the Delaware County Democratic Party leaders came to me as a member of the PA Democratic State Committee and asked me to run against Congressman Pat Meehan (R) in PA 7th Congressional District. Congressman Brady was honest to me. He told me that I would be running in such a gerrymandered district, that I would not win. America Votes, a national, nonpartisan nonprofit, described the district: “Pennsylvania is the worst gerrymandered state in the nation, and PA-07 is the worst of the worst.” Congressman Brady advised me not to put any of my money into the campaign. Other leaders told me that if I ran in 2014, I would get name recognition; and if I ran again in 2016, it would be a Presidential election year when more Democrats come out and with Hillary on the ballot, there would be a record number of women coming out to the polls for this historic election. Of course, we know those things never happened. We didn’t count on FBI Director Comey. We saw Hillary up by 21% in our county before his statements. We also didn’t count on the Russians. Donald Trump won, Hillary lost and I lost. My race was part of the DNC hacked emails by the Russians and I was “rat**cked” by the “worst” gerrymandered district in the nation.

As a Political Science Professor, one of the classes that I taught was Congress. I know that it is difficult to beat a sitting incumbent, that members of Congress usually get re-elected by at least 90%. I know the incumbent have all of the advantages. I know that gerrymandering is wrong, drawing the district in an unusual way to insure that the incumbent wins. Taking blacks out of the district, and taking out thousands and thousands of Democrats to ensure your own victory is wrong. I also know that it is the law that elections should be fair, not manipulated by the sitting incumbents and state legislatures. Elected officials shouldn’t be able to pick their voters. The voters should be able to fairly pick their elected officials, not the other way around.

PA-07 was former Congressman Joe Sestak’s district. It was predominately Delaware County when Sestak held it. The state legislature with input from Congressman Pat Meehan turned PA-07 into five counties, Delaware, Montgomery, Chester, Lancaster and Berks counties. As he has noted on his website, this was the district that he represented when he was U.S. Attorney. He neglected to say that it is the heaviest Republican parts of those counties. The district went from predominantly a working and middle class district to a district that includes parts of the wealthy main line, Amish Country, a very small area of poor Chester City, and mushroom farmers. You can see how the different needs of the constituents makes this district very unfair to the voters.

I knew that this was going to be a tough race; I didn’t know how tough it would be. Former Pennsylvania Secretary of Planning and Policy for Gov. Wolf called me a “heroine” for running in this district. I heard Iraqi veteran, then Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, talk about the difference between war and politics. She said, “At least in war, you know who your enemies are.” This was so true and probably the hardest part of the campaign for me. Some of the people and organizations that I thought would help were not there. Remember, I was begged to run in 2014 so I expected that the party would be behind me; and for the most part, the local parties in all five counties were outstanding and very helpful as my primary numbers showed. However, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) was not. Many in the Committees sent numerous emails to the DCCC saying that they had a candidate, and I was there candidate. I had been involved with the Democratic Party since I was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. I worked in the campaign andserved as an Assistant to Democratic Mayor Wilson Goode, the first African American Mayor in Philadelphia; and I went on to serve as Vice Chair of the Upper Darby Democrats and Vice Chair of the Delaware County Democrats. I attended seven Democratic National Conventions in various roles from Delegate, Alternate Delegate, Platform Committee and Special Guest. I was elected twice to serve as a member of PA Democratic State Committee. In addition, I was Faculty Moderator of the College Democrats at my university for 24 years, sending students to numerous internships in both parties, but in a heavily Democratic city, especially to Democratic campaigns and elected officials’ offices. I could not believe that the DCCC did not support me in the primary and not only did they not support me, but they put out the word not to donate to me and they put an opponent against me. In fact, the opponent didn’t even live in the district; and he had a terrible voting record. He did have money. However, even though he outspends me in the primary by hundreds of thousands of dollars, I won the primary, 74% - 26% or as Politics PA said I “crushed my opponent.” Even with this big victory, the DCCC still did not endorse me in the general election; and I understand that they supported few Democratic candidates who defeated their endorsed DCCC candidates in the primary.

I was very proud of the campaign that I was able to run and the impressive endorsements that I received. Endorsed early in the primary by the Congressional Progressive Caucus; I was also one of the 12 Congressional Campaigns endorsed by Democracy for America. I got more support from the Progressive community and Hillary, herself, than I did from the DCCC. The Congressional Progressive Caucus said that they liked my campaign because it was a “People Powered Campaign.” Needless to say, I was pleased to see Keith Ellison appointed as Deputy Democratic National Committee Chair because I believe the party needs his knowledge of grassroots politics and not the constant focus the DCCC has on fundraising. I was also thrilled to hear Sen. Sanders say that we need candidates from the middle class who understand the needs of the middle class and not wealthy candidates who fundraise.

I have known Hillary since 1992 when she spoke to my La Salle University students during her husband’s first Presidential campaign. I got to know her more when I lobbied with the students in my Women in Politics class on the Baby Bill to increase maternity stays to a minimum of 48 hours. When President Clinton was signing the bill, I was invited by the First Lady’s office to the signing of the Baby Bill. I really admire Hillary, her intelligence, life long dedication to public service, and her tenacity; yet, on the campaign trail, my policies were Bernie Sanders policies, the fight for $15, affordable college education, opposing TPP, climate change and equal pay for women. Of course, Hillary did end up adopting those policies toward the end of her campaign.

My campaign would make a great movie. My Campaign Manager who helped me with the big primary win when we were heavily outspent was arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Convention and taking floor, food and parking passes. My race was one of the dozen of congressional campaigns that were part of the DNC emails hacked by the Russians and released by WikiLeaks. It was the Russians effort to embarrass the DCC and describe my opponent as a weak candidate who they put up to “primary” me. Because of the Russian involvement in my race, I participated in the PA recount effort by Green Party Candidate Jill Stein; and I became Exhibit #10 in Jill Stein’s federal lawsuit for a recount in Pennsylvania.

PA has no women at the national and statewide levels. See the Pennsylvania Democratic Website and scroll down to see the pictures of the “Our Leaders.” You will see 13 pictures, all men! Hillary was supposed to easily win PA that is why I couldn’t believe during the debate that Donald Trump was saying if I don’t win PA, the election was “rigged.” Hillary lost PA. Katie McGinty who was running for U.S. Senate also lost. I lost and the other three Democratic women lost as well as the one Republican female candidate for Congress lost. Known as an all boys club, Pennsylvania’s federal delegation of 20 (two U.S. Senators, Bob Casey and Pat Toomey, and 18 Congressmen) is all male. During the campaign, we put out a picture of the women in the PA federal delegation, a picture of an empty Congress! It was one of our biggest fundraising email blasts.

During the campaign, we worked closely with the Hillary Coordinated Offices. Although, they focused primarily on Hillary, as one would expect, they did help other candidates like myself by making calls and distributing our literature along with Hillary’s literature. However, at the very end of the campaign, we were informed by several sources that one of Hillary’s staffer told the volunteers that they believed that my gerrymandering was too great for us to win. I wonder now if they saw the polls tightening. When my campaign manager expressed his outrage that we were promised help and we would have arranged other help if we knew that they were cutting us, our literature began to be carried again. As a political scientist, I thought it was a really stupid move to cut me to help the state representative candidates because if people did not vote for me and stopped with Hillary or our Senate candidate Katie McGinty, the chances of them continuing down the ballot to the state representative candidates were pretty slim. They were costing their state representative candidates votes more than me. The state representative candidates running with me in the 7th all lost.

In the end, in my very gerrymandered district, the vote was 59.4% for Meehan and 39.6% for me. My numbers were consistent with the previous Democratic Congressional candidate, my Penn classmate and Chairman George Badey, who ran in this congressional district in 2012. The 7th is known as the “Poster Child for Gerrymandering.” I was told that I got the “most that I could in the gerrymandered district.

When I kicked off my 2016 congressional campaign in April 2015, I did it with a Gerrymandered Tour of the five counties included in the 7th. I was told by many people to stop talking about gerrymandering, that people didn’t care about gerrymandering. Gerrymandering cost me a lot of money, I often heard during call time that I would like to give you money, but there is no way that you can win in that gerrymandered district. In 2014, we hired Celinda Lake, a national pollster who specialized in female candidates, to do our poll; and she said that if I could get my message out that people liked my background more than they liked Meehan’s background and they liked my issues more than they liked Meehan’s issues. Of course, getting your message out takes money and without money, we couldn’t afford TV.

This campaign wasn’t my first experience with gerrymandering. In 1991, Congressman Brady asked me if I would run for State Representative against a sitting State Representative. He told me that three of the four ward leaders were going to endorse me. I told him that I didn’t want to run against a female that there were so few females in office. He said to me that “Men run against men all of the time.” I said that I would think about it. Before I could think about it, I found out my entire condominium building, all 31 floors were taken out of the district. I called Speaker of the House Bob O’Donnell and asked him how this could happen. He said: “Before we begin redistricting, we ask the representatives whom they want in and whom they want out; and Rep. Babette Joseph’s wanted you out.”

My daughter, Lauren, told me about her friend’s dad, former St. Senator Bruce Marks, a Republican, who was involved in a campaign where his opponent was involved in “fraudulent” absentee ballots. His opponent, William Stinson, won the election, but Federal Court Judge Newcomer said Mark’s opponent’s actions were so egregious that the judge took the victory away and gave it to Marks. My daughter said: “What your opponent did by taking out all those Democrats and African Americans in your district was worst. You should bring a lawsuit.” Out of the mouth of babes comes brilliance, although, Lauren is a college honor student. She made me think. If an Olympic athlete is found to have cheated, they strip the award and give it to the next in line. Sen. Marks’ case made front page of the New York Times. With precedence, it certainly could be one way to handle gerrymandering. Independent commissions and computer models are other ways; but they would likely have to wait until the next redistricting in time for the 2022 congressional elections.

In PA, a nonprofit group called Fair Districts has been holding informational meetings on gerrymandering. They are getting standing room only audiences. Upper Dublin in Montgomery County just had 750 people turn up to hear about gerrymandering. An article just came out entitled: “How Gerrymandering Got Sexy? I wish it was sexy when I was running, but I am glad people are paying attention now.

In this book, you will see emails about my race that the Russians hacked from the DNC and were released by Wiki Leaks. You will also see how difficult, if not impossible, it is to win in a gerrymandered district. Gerrymandering is not good for the constituents; when the elected officials have safe seats, they don’t have to meet with their opponents, constituents or hold town hall meeting. Congressman Meehan never met with me in the 2014 campaign. The Delaware County League of Women Voters called me to set up a debate with the Congressman. She wanted me to send a representative to negotiate the debate. I was on the Philadelphia Board of the League of Women Voters and helped write the Mayor’s Debate Briefing Book. When Meehan heard this, he cancelled the debate. He sent his campaign staffer, Caitlin, to sit with me at community forums, and she was not allowed to speak for the Congressman. It was bizarre. I said that I was not sitting with her in 2016. I asked for a debate in 2016. I got a list of requirements that I had to sign off on including no press and no rebuttals to meet him at a senior retirement community. The Congressman didn’t even have his issues posted on his campaign website, so much for transparency. Gerrymandering is also very bad for governing, and it explains why we are at such a partisan stalemate. When you select the extremes in your district, it is difficult to make compromises. Hacked by the Russians and Ratf**ked by gerrymandering, it was a campaign a Political Scientist and a political junkie could really appreciate; but legislators and good government activists should work to avoid at all cost in the future.

Note from Mary Ellen: "RATF**KED is the title of David Daley’s book, Rat F**ked, The True Story Behind The Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy; and it is a term used for Political Sabotage. It was widely used during Watergate. In the summer of 2015, David Daley followed me as I traveled through my gerrymandered district.

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At 5:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll pass...the blame game continues. Until people look beyond the fake 'stolen' election bullshit and understand that the Democrats have offered us nothing for the past 30 year, establishment Democrats will get no sympathy from me. Hillary and her ilk are the reason this district is horribly gerrymandered. The establishment Democrats gave up on the fair shake for all to enrich themselves at the trough of the wealthy and state after state has given the GOP power as Democratic voters find they have no voice and stop voting. To blame Comey for shining a light on the corrupt Clinton clan is like blaming your doctor for giving you a cancer diagnosis.

At 9:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

More proof that real Americans need to deposit the entity which claims to be the Democratic Party in the dustbin of history and move on.

At 4:58 AM, Blogger heysailor said...

So how do you get the book? Not on Amazon or found on DuckDuckGo.

At 8:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is time all Democrats realized that we could have helped candidates like Mary Ellen win with small contributions. If every Democrat in the 7th had donated $25 to Mary Ellen's campaign, she would have been able to get her message out. Pollsters found that if people in the 7th knew how Pat Meehan actually voted, he would have lost. It is time for the grass roots to take control of the Democratic Party. We are the voters and should be supporting the candidates we like so that they can get their message to the people. We need to suppport candidates like Mary Ellen who represent Progressive values!


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