The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Wednesday, October 20, 2004  

Don't Forget State and Local Races
Mike McGann Takes on Steve Barrar

A reader who noticed my October 9 post about Philadelphia-area congressional races wrote to remind me, or us, not to overlook any state and local races on the ballot this Election Day.

In Pennsylvania the state Senate and House of Representatives are up for election this year, and while the number of campaigns in the greater Philadelphia area can seem overhelming, one need only stay abreast of those candidates running for office in one's own district. Besides, sometimes local elections produce some interesting characters.

To cite just one example from nearby, Rep. Steve Barrar (R), the incumbent in the 160th House district, which includes portions of Delaware and Chester Counties, is a real piece of work. Last year the lawmaker got all hot and bothered and righteous about the uppity French and tried to get the sale of French wine banned in Pennsylvania liquor stores. (Such stores are owned by the state here.) "French Whine," by Daniel Brook Philadelphia City Paper (April 2, 2003), provides an excellent summary of this embarrassing episode, part and parcel of a larger phenomenon at work in the U.S. at the time. ("Freedom Fries," anyone?)

Forsaking his usual Republican free-market inclinations, Barrar drafted a resolution asking the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (LCB) to ban the sale of French wine in state liquor stores. In the numerous "whereas" sections explaining the rationale behind the boycott, Barrar refers not just to France's foreign policy but to specific snubs of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, including the opposition to the extradition of wanted murderer Ira Einhorn and its honoring of death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Center City Representative Babette Josephs alerted restaurateurs in her district by mail. Because of the concentration of French restaurants in the district, she explained, "the impact of this resolution on our community would be catastrophic."

One recipient of the Josephs mailing, restaurant-supply business owner Helen London, decided to e-mail Barrar personally. Using the salutation "Yo Rep. Barrar," London berated the legislator, arguing that France's national health care and education systems give Americans a lot to envy the French for, but disagreeing with George W. Bush is not one of them. London concludes, "Normally my letters to elected officials are more eloquent and diplomatic, but your proposal precludes it. It is moronic."

Barrar, who has a staff at his beck and call to send form letters from Harrisburg, replied personally to London's e-mail. "Normally I would not answer a stupid letter like this but I could not resist," Barrar wrote. "If you have so much contempt for the American way of life and feel National socialism [sic] is for you get a plane ticket and go to France." [...]

According to Steve Miskin, a staffer in majority leader John Perzel's office, the wine resolution is not yet scheduled for a vote.

And nothing ever came of it. Thanks for using your time so well, Rep. Barrar.

Fortunately, voters in the 160th district have an alternative: Democrat Mike McGann. A writer and former journalist, McGann -- get this -- grew up in a log cabin, and . . . he blogs.

A staunch supporter of Sen. John F. Kerry and the U.S. Senate campaign of Rep. Joe Hoeffel (D), McGann presents voters with a clear -- stark, even -- contrast to Rep. Barrar's rigidly right-wing positions on issues including education, jobs and taxes, and the environment and overdevelopment (Ever been in his district? I have. Overdevelopment is a big problem out there.)

In looking at the two candidates I was reminded of my reader's admonition that we not forget state and local campaigns. This fall, as always, a significant share of votes will cast ballots only in the federal races, allowing their attention span, and civic duty, to wander into a giant void. Not only do state legislators regularly and routinely vote on measures that affect our daily lives, they also play the critical role in drawing the lines of legislative districts, including the maps that can directly bear on the fairness of congressional representation. I usually feel pretty safe voting the Democratic Party line, but there are always exceptions. Make a point of educating yourself about local elections in your area so that you can make the right choice November 2nd.

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