Primary 2009 has come and gone and, as with any election, there were a few surprises (at least from my perspective, skewed and/or uninformed as it may be).
Let's start in Luzerne County where voters answered a resounding "Yes" to the question of a Government Study Commission (a.k.a. home rule). What with the corruption scandal and all going on in LuzCo, I can't say I'm surprised that voters want to explore the possibility of a different form of county government. But, I am surprised at the margin by which the referendum passed - 77% yes to 23% no. Sounds like they really, really want change. The true test will come with a second referendum, when whatever plan the Government Study Commission comes up with gets put to a vote. We'll see if the desire for change remains strong between now and then.
One of the other most-watched races in Luzerne County was the contest to fill two open seats on the county bench. Although the corruption scandal framed the race, the two open seats are not directly related to the fallout from the scandal. One seat currently belongs to President Judge Chester Muroski, who is reaching the mandatory retirement age. The other seat belonged to Michael Conahan, who retired as a full-time judge before the scandal erupted.
At any rate, a full 17 candidates cross-filed for the primary; three will now move on to the general election. One of those three is District Magistrate BILL AMESBURY. He won on both the Democratic and Republican ballots. I'm surprised by that only because his ballot position was at or near the bottom on both sides. Voters obviously cared enough to do some work and seek him out.
The other winners were TINA POLACHEK GARTLEY on the Democratic side and RICHARD HUGHES, who finished as the top vote-getter on the GOP side. With so many candidates in the race, it was tough to get a feel for who had the advantage. Even so, I'm a little surprised by Gartley and Hughes because I didn't notice a lot of advertising (at least not on TV). Obviously, they found other effective ways to get out their messages to people in areas where it mattered most. I think that, come fall, the edge goes to Amesbury and to Gartley. Amesbury because he seems to have broad support, and Gartley because Democrats outnumber Republicans in Luzerne County and because there seems to be some sort of movement to have a woman on the county bench.
In Wyoming County, one of the few contested races turned out to be a lot closer than expected. Unoffical numbers show that incumbent DA George Skumanick has squeaked out a win over GOP challenger DEBORAH ALBERT-HEISE by fewer than 30 votes. Albert-Heise is an attorney from Tunkhannock who also serves as the county's public defender. I'm not sure why this race was so close. Skumanick has been in the news lately with the whole "sexting" thing at Tunkhannock Area High School. So, maybe that issue has some people riled up. Or, it could just be a matter of both candidates having some name recognition in the community. Don't know. In any case, there was also a Democrat on the ballot, so this race ain't over yet anyway.
One more race of note to mention. Voters in Harrisburg have given long-time mayor Steve Reed the boot. Reed lost last night's Democratic primary to city council president Linda Thompson. Reed's been mayor of the state capital since the early 80s. During my tenure in Harrisburg, he was always showing up at the scenes of fires or shootings to comment for the media. It was kind of a pain because, if he wasn't there, often there was no one around who was authorized to provide information. But, when he was there, he usually had something to say. Anyway, I think Reed did a lot of positive things for Harrisburg. But, the city still has lots of problems and when Reed spent millions on artifacts for a Wild West Museum that never materialized, it didn't help. HERE'S what Reed had to say (courtesy of WHTM) when he conceded the race: