There are several critical issues and elections on tomorrow’s ballot. Here are my thoughts on the main ones.
You can access your Centre County sample ballots here: [Centre County Elections and Voter Registration]
Let’s get a few things out of the way first: When it comes to legislators, I am a loyal Democrat. I’ve never voted for a Republican for any local, state, or national legislative post. But when it comes to the judiciary and executive, I am party agnostic. I’ve voted for both parties over the years, including in local elections. In other words, don’t be surprised when I endorse Republicans in local races.
The most critical race for me personally is for Judge of the Court of Common Pleas. We have one seat open, and we are voting on retaining the judge in another. First, the open seat:
Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Centre County
Judge Thomas King Kistler is retiring after twenty years on the bench. Running to replace him are Ron McGlaughlin (R) and Brian Marshall (D). I am supporting the Republican, Ron. In all of the areas that count – experience, intellect, judicial temperament, and humility – Ron is hands-down the superior candidate. It isn’t so important to me that Brian hasn’t had a single jury trial in his entire career, or that his only criminal clients were leftovers from Stacy Parks Miller after she was elected DA the first time. We’ve had judges who have come from private civil practice before, and they can be taught to be competent judges. But why stop at mere competence? Why settle when you can have excellence?
It is more important to me that I’ve seen Ron in action for his clients. I’ve been co-counsel with him in cases, and he’s always fought not just for his client’s but for what is right.
Perhaps the most important factor in a successful judge is integrity. I don’t know Brian well enough to judge his integrity, but I do know Ron. He is one of the most ethical attorneys I know. I never had to doubt his word when he tells me something. That is a trait that matters to me.
Bottom line: I can work with either of these men as our next judge, but my preference is Ron McGlaughlin.
Retention – President Judge Pamela A. Ruest
In ten short years, Centre county has gone from having its first female judge to having its first female president judge. This race is personal to me. I served as President Judge Ruest’s first law clerk from 2007-2009. It was the best job I’ve ever had. She brought a dedication and thoroughness to the job that was a marvel to experience. She has never taken a decision lightly, and is the very definition of a deliberative judge. We are a better court and community with her on the bench, and we will continue to improve over the coming decade with her at the helm.
Bottom line: I am voting to Retain President Judge Pamela A. Ruest.
Magisterial District Judge
Counties in Pennsylvania are divided into Magisterial Judicial Districts. These elected judges are responsible for the origination of most criminal and civil proceedings that arise in their geographic area. Consequently, the citizens within that district vote for a judge from amongst themselves. This is the one judicial office in Pennsylvania that is open to non-lawyers. My personal bias is, of course, for an attorney to hold this position. Twenty or thirty years ago, the law was still simple enough that legal training and experience were not necessary to do this job well. A lot has changed in a very short time, and we now have a highly technical minor judiciary that is called upon to handle intricate legal issues that previously never came before it. At one time, a career as a police officer was sufficient legal training. That time is long since past. We try to make up the difference with a four-week course on the basics of the Magisterial District Courts, but you cannot cram the needed legal training, and learning to think with a legal mind, into a short program.
In nearby State College, two candidates are vying for the open seat. Casey McClain (D) and Dave White (R). [You can read my endorsement of Casey here and my prior endorsement of Casey in the primary here.]
Bottom line: I don’t get a vote in this race, but I have a clear preference. Casey McClain.
Ballot Measure: [Public Notice (PDF)] [Ballotpedia Entry]
Tomorrow we will be faced with a ballot question so confusing it makes the one last time about judicial retention seem like a children’s story. It is ostensibly to allow local school boards to exempt “homesteads” – property owned by individuals as a primary residence – from up to 100% of property tax. Currently, boards can exempt up to 50%. In rural, cash-strapped areas, this may seem like a good idea. But it is a trap. Here’s the text of the question:
Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to permit the General Assembly to enact legislation authorizing local taxing authorities to exclude from taxation up to 100 percent of the assessed value of each homestead property within a local taxing jurisdiction, rather than limit the exclusion to one-half of the median assessed value of all homestead property, which is the existing law?
To be clear: our current system of funding our schools through property taxes is failing our communities. But this is not the solution we are looking for. What this will do is eliminate a funding source without replacing it. The proposals for replacing it are equally grim: increases in the sales tax and personal income tax (S.B. 76).
Everyone loves a tax cut, but let’s look at the bigger picture. Every cent we pay in property taxes for public schools is an investment in the future. If you care about educating the next generation, vote this short-sighted proposal down. Then write your legislators and demand real change in school funding that provides both property tax relief and fair and equitable school funding. Tell them to assemble the entire plan before they start cutting taxes.
Bottom line: I’m opposed to putting carts before horses. I’ll be voting NO on the ballot measure.