Friday, August 31, 2018

In the Age of Trump, there are still some decent Republicans.

Ninth Ward Republican committeeperson Jane Toczek

In the Age of Trump and the complicit, cowardly Republican establishment, it’s important to remember that there are still some decent Republicans. From my article on Northwest Philly Republicans in the Chestnut Hill Local:

The Republican Party in Philadelphia has been on a downward trajectory. In the past, we had successful moderate or liberal Republicans—e.g., Arlen Specter, Thatcher Longstreth, Sam Katz, and former State Senator Phil Price. Many longtime Democrats voted for these candidates. In recent years, however, the number of moderate Republicans has dwindled, as has the number of Democrats willing to split their ticket and vote for a Republican in a general election.

Ninth Ward Republican Party ward leader Christopher Lins and Ninth Ward Republican committeeperson Jane Toczek acknowledge the challenges. Chestnut Hill resident Christopher Lins, the Director for Attorney Recruitment at JURISolutions, has been active in the Republican Party since 2008. He was appointed ward leader in 2014 and elected ward leader in 2018.

Mt. Airy resident Jane Toczek, a long-time employee of Chestnut Hill’s Philadelphia Print Shop and long-time board member of Stagecrafters, has served as committeeperson since 1996. She has a long family history with the Republican Party. Her parents met at meetings of the Young Republicans, and her father, Charles Mebus, served as a Republican state representative in Montgomery County from 1965 to 1979. Despite her living in the Ninth Ward’s overwhelmingly Democratic 1st division, Toczek’s Republican affiliation has not been a problem. “My neighbors know I’m a Republican, but not a Trump supporter,” she said.

According to Toczek, “there were a lot of moderate Republicans” when she was growing up. She is clearly not happy about the transformation of her party. Lins noted that there are still some moderate Republicans around, such as City Commissioner Al Schmidt and Beth Grossman, a candidate for District Attorney in 2017 whom Lins considered significantly better qualified than winner Larry Krasner.

Both Lins and Toczek think it’s important to have a Republican Party in Philadelphia as a check against corruption. Although no Republican with the exception of Schmidt has won city-wide office in recent years, the City Charter provides the Republican and other minority parties the opportunity to fill that watchdog function.

Seven City Councilpersons-at-large are elected. The Charter requires that two of these seven must be the two most successful candidates representing non-majority parties. The five Democratic candidates who win the primary election for at-large seats are all but guaranteed victory in the general election. Lins encourages Democrats to cast two of their five votes for council-at-large seats for the two best-qualified Republicans.

Both Lins and Toczek acknowledge that the national Republican Party has failed to reach out to the racial minorities who, collectively, will at some point become the new majority. Toczek noted, however, that here have been African-American members of the Republican Ninth Ward Executive Committee, and that her first partner as committeeperson was an African-American, the late John Myles. According to Lins, the majority of the ward leaders in Northwest Philadelphia are African-American. He thinks that “inaccurate perceptions have prevented people of color from realizing how welcoming the local Republican Party is.”

Lins further notes that both parties have failed to engage voters and that in the last presidential election, Republican turnout was 57%, with Democratic turnout only slightly better. Given the highly educated, informed voters in the Ninth Ward, he thinks that Ninth Ward turnout should be significantly higher.

Lins and Toczek see the major divide between the Republican and Democratic parties as over the role of government. They would like to see a greater role for private non-profit agencies in addressing social welfare issues. Of course, the resources the non-profit sector can marshal are insignificant compared to the resources of the United States government. Lins contends: “No responsible Republican is calling for the dismantling of government.” He would like to see a civil conversation about how best to utilize government resources, but is pessimistic about that occurring in today’s toxic political culture.

On the local level, however, cooperation does occur. Lins described how he and Ninth Ward Democratic leader Chris Rabb have co-operated in running elections in the 9th ward:

“It’s not partisan. It’s just helping your neighbor,” he said.

Chris Rabb has a similar philosophy about bi-partisan cooperation on the local level.

“My philosophy leading a ward in a very blue area of the city has more to do with civic engagement than partisan persuasion. That lends itself to a high level of cooperation, collaboration and civility.”

The increasing tendency of voters to register as independents suggests there is trouble ahead for the major parties. Responding to a question about whether the Republican Party will survive the Trump administration, or even whether the two-party system will survive, Lins was of the opinion that the two-party system will endure, as all our laws and institutions have been set up to support it. However, he speculated that the current configuration of Democratic and Republican parties may not last—they might be replaced by two very different parties. The dissatisfaction of a younger generation of progressives with the Democratic Party, as well as the dissatisfaction of socially liberal but economically conservative voters with the Republican Party, may be harbingers of future political realignment.

Both Lins and Toczek see a dysfunctional political system in which, as Toczek put it, “compromise is a dirty word,” and incivility reigns. According to Lins, “no healthy political system could have elected Trump”; however, he sees the political dysfunction as preceding Trump and resulting from a weakening trust in institutions.

However, despite their dissatisfaction with the national picture, they both see the Ninth Ward Republican Party as on the right track and believe it operates according to principles of democracy and transparency.

But the reputation of the national party is a heavy burden for local Republican activists. Will the party Jane Toczek grew up with ever return? Perhaps not before there’s a change at the top.

To quote former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner: “There is no Republican Party. There’s a Trump Party. The Republican Party is kind of taking a nap somewhere.”

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