The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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May 20, 2012

It's just politics: All quiet on the Western Pa. front - almost

MERCER COUNTY — The campaign trail has been a quiet path here in Mercer  County recently.

The results of last month’s primary had no effect on the dynamics of the only “local” race we’re following in November, since incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly and his Democratic challenger Missa Eaton ran unopposed for their party’s nominations for the 3rd District seat.

While both campaigns are surely hard at work, they haven’t made much noise in public lately.

In that activity void, the only political event of note locally in the next week is the grand opening Tuesday of the Obama campaign HQ at 79 E. State St. in Sharon. The kickoff is set for 7 p.m. and features refreshments and remarks by former Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper, who represented the Mercer County area for the first two years of the Obama era.

While the Obama campaign is up and running in Mercer County the Romney campaign has barely gotten off the ground locally. The expectation is that Romeny’s local operation will be  coordinated out of the county Republican HQ in Mercer, but no local organization is apparent.

The conventional wisdom is that Romney has the advantage in Mercer County, based on John McCain’s victory here in 2008 and the clear preference for Republican candidates in 2010, when Kelly enjoyed a nearly 20-point lead over Dahlkemper and GOP candidates for governor and U.S. Senate outpolled the Democrats but almost 10 points.

But those numbers also indicate that turnout could be the key. In 2008, McCain took the county by just 154 votes out of about 53,000 cast. In 2010, about 36,000 people voted in the federal races. In theory, there are about 17,000 voters out there who stayed home for the lower profile congressional election. The question is whether they’ll come back this time around.

ALEC alert

Some Pennsylvania lawmakers who belong to the American Legislative Exchange Council, which brings together lawmakers and lobbyists to craft draft legislation for its members to advance in their states, are distancing themselves from the group in the wake of bad publicity churned up by the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida and protests against voter ID laws.

At least 14 and as many as 30 state lawmakers have severed ties to the group in recent weeks, PoliticsPA reported this week.

ALEC keeps its political membership rolls secret but numerous reports identify local legislators Sen. Bob Robbins and Rep. Dick Stevenson as ALEC members. Robbins’ website confirms that and notes that the state house veteran was awarded an “Outstanding Legislative Leader” award from ALEC. The website’s report doesn’t identify either as recent ALEC defectors, nor does another report on the situation by left-leaning Media Matters, which also included a blistering critique of Pennsylvania newspapers’ failure to report ALEC’s influence on the legislature.

ALEC was the source of legislative language used to draft Pennsylvania’s Castle Doctrine, which is similar to the Stand Your Ground law that has become controversial after the killing in March of the teenage Martin by a neighborhood watch captain who says he shot the unarmed boy in self-defense. ALEC pushed that legislation and the voter ID law that has been adopted in Pennsylvania and other states.

Since the group was linked to those laws, organized protests have driven a number of the ALEC’s corporate members to cancel their memberships. Lawmakers pay a nominal fee for membership, but corporations pay tens of thousands of dollars to belong.

ALEC and its supporters say the group works to promote free market policies through its draft legislation. Critics say the group is a tool used by big business to subvert the public good in favor of corporate profit.

Tim Ryan, Zen master

Representing Ohio’s 17th Congressional District can’t be easy work. The district, which includes Brookfield and much of Trumbull County, has been leaking residents and political clout for decades as the region has been mired in the economic doldrums.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, the Democrat who took over the seat once held by the infamous Jim Traficant, has found a way to make the job if not a little easier, at least less stressful.

Ryan has turned to the ancient practice of meditation to deal with the pressures of political life, spending a part of each day focusing on nothing but his breathing.

“It’s very simple but very difficult. It’s easy to learn and difficult to do,” Ryan, sounding every bit like a Zen master, told Politico in a piece published online this week.

He has written a book extolling the virtues of meditation: “A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit.”

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