State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

I Wonder Where the Elephants Are

by on May 08, 2011 6:00 AM

I have nothing against the Democratic Party, as political parties go. It is, after all, one of the top three or four major parties in the U.S.A. and among the top seven or eight — main fabric or fringe — overall.

And while, for personal and professional reasons, I have been an independent for most of my adult life, I confess to having been registered as a Democrat on two occasions. Both were to vote for a specific candidate in a primary election. One lost; one didn’t. So for those brief, shining moments, I was able to say, along with the great cowboy philosopher Will Rogers, “I belong to no organized party — I’m a Democrat.”

Little has changed in the organizational respect in the 75 years since Rogers’ death. Even with Barack Obama newly elected to the presidency, a majority in the House of Representatives and a super majority in the U.S. Senate, the Democrats were stymied on almost every issue by the Republicans, the party of “Just say no.” In contrast to the GOP, the Democrats circa 2009-’10 might be called, appropriately, the party of “Just say Moe.” Much of what they did — the president excluded — had little resemblance to governing but a lot to a "Three Stooges" short.  

Rogers, of course, also said, “You've got to be optimist to be a Democrat, and you've got to be a humorist to stay one” — fodder for a future column, perhaps.

But getting back to this one, I find it more than a bit odd that State College has only Democrats serving on its seven-member Borough Council and in the mayor’s office. An all-Democratic borough government seems strange for any municipality, especially one here in central Pennsylvania, even one with a major university — albeit, as generally recognized, a conservative one — in its midst.

Granted, some might liken calling any college or university “conservative” — Jerry Falwell’s Liberty U. being one possible exception — to proclaiming the aforementioned Moe Howard to be the handsomest member of his comedic trio. The competition wasn’t exactly Clooney or Costner. But Penn State is not exactly the University of California at Berkeley, either. Its home municipality, however, seems to lean leftward — at least politically, and at least as far as the makeup of local government is concerned.

Now I’m from down the road a bit in Snyder County where, perhaps coincidentally, Will Rogers spent some time in November 1927 when his airplane, after a refueling stop in Bellefonte, was forced by bad weather to land, rather roughly, in a farmer’s field — a foreshadowing of Rogers’ tragic death in a plane crash in Alaska eight years later. Every four years, the Snyder County Democrats — all five of them — caucus in a booth at Bot’s Tavern in Selinsgrove to draw straws. The loser has to serve a term as the minority commissioner.

But at least Snyder County has a minority commissioner, although it’s fairly safe to say it wouldn’t if it were not forced to by statute. Voters are awfully conservative back where I come from.

But how can one explain State College having nary a Republican, not even a token moderate one, on council? Are they all too busy managing their rental properties? Is the student voting bloc that powerful and that intimidating? Have all the right-wingers been exiled to Ferguson Township?

Even more remarkable, the Republicans don’t have a Borough Council candidate running in this month’s primary election — not one. What in the name of Ronald Reagan or (Penn State alum) Rick Santorum is going on here?

Where is the loyal — or, arguably, as in Washington, the disloyal — opposition?

And if there are no conservative Republicans willing to run, is there not one green or an out-of-the-closet socialist worker so inclined?

Oh, the humanity!

Recently, at the Centre County Democrats' spring breakfast, Chairman Greg Stewart commented on the lack of a self-confessed Republican on the borough ballot.

“That’s a good sign,” Stewart said.

I, respectfully, disagree.

Again, I have nothing against the Democrats, although I didn’t know any growing up. I even count several liberals among my friends. But neither am I a Republican. My voter registration card reads “independent” — or perhaps “non-affiliated,” I need to check to make sure. I’m just not a fan of single-party rule. It was tried in the previous century on a major scale — on the left and on the right — with disastrous results.

Not that I am suggesting that the Borough of State College is in danger of becoming a small-time Soviet Union or Argentina and plotting for the greater good to overrun its neighbors — although I sometimes fantasize about how an invasion of Ferguson would play out.

I’m not even willing to state, on the record, that the borough is becoming a Berkeley, Calif., or, on the other end of the political spectrum, a Snyder County, Pa.

It’s just that unchecked power, in the hand of any person or any party, is, if not intrinsically dangerous, at least potentially so. Just as every writer, no matter how talented or un-, needs an editor — Where’s mine? you might justifiably ask — every authority, no matter how benign, needs a devil’s advocate. If only for the sake of an inspired argument. To prevent the silliness that sometimes crops up among the unopposed so-very-sincere.

Checks and balances, and all that.

As Will Rogers also said: “The more you read and observe about this politics thing, you got to admit that each party is worse than the other. The one that's out always looks the best.”

Even if “the best” does, sadly, look a lot like Moe.

Rich Kerstetter is managing editor of Follow him on Twitter at or get news updates via Facebook at Rich can be reached at [email protected] or at (814) 238-6201 Ext. 135.
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