Angry voters have few targets in Nov.
Tom Dimuzio hasn’t been this angry in 13 years.
Back then, the retired Westinghouse engineer got so fed up with the major party presidential nominees that he volunteered for H. Ross Perot’s campaign. This time, he has joined a statewide effort to defeat every incumbent Pennsylvania lawmaker.
But when he heads out on Election Day next month, Dimuzio, 66, will have little to do. He’ll stand outside his Bethel Park polling station and encourage voters to recall two state Supreme Court justices that few will recognize.
“That’s all I can do,” Dimuzio said. “I don’t have a bone to pick with anybody running locally.”
Rarely in recent years have Pennsylvania voters appeared as energized as they do now in the wake of the Legislature’s July 7 vote to raise their own salaries by 16 percent to 54 percent. Activists have marched on Harrisburg with a giant pink pig, harassed lawmakers at neighborhood meetings and vowed to oust them. Pennsylvania’s judges and top state officials also got salary increases.
But in November’s general election, there are few castle gates to storm.
None of the lawmakers is up for re-election. Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ralph Cappy, who praised legislators for their “prudent courage” in supporting the raises, won’t be on any ballot before 2009.
Only judicial posts and local races for municipal and school board seats will be decided.
So, for now, angry voters can turn their wrath only upon Supreme Court Justices Sandra Shultz Newman and Russell M. Nigro, who face yes-or-no retention votes that typically draw little attention. The justices are the only two pay-raise recipients on the ballot.
“If we succeed in removing Justices Nigro and Newman from the bench, it will be enormous,” said Tim Potts, founder of a nonprofit organization called Democracy Rising PA. “It will give people confidence in their government like they haven’t had in 100 years.”
In Pennsylvania history, no Supreme Court justice has been ousted by the voters.
Activists say breaking that pattern could embolden voters for the real fight in the May primary, when all state representatives and half the state’s senators are up for re-election.
State lawmakers and legislative aides hope that, by then, voter apathy — combined with the usual perks of incumbency, such as name recognition and campaign contributions — will keep the incumbents in office.
Activists say the key is keeping voters involved.
“We’re not going to let them forget,” said Judy Brown, 61, of Upper St. Clair, who heads the Allegheny County chapter of a grassroots group, the Pennsylvania Club for Growth. “We’ll just keep pushing it and getting other people involved.”
Dimuzio said he’ll still be angry through May and next year’s general election. He wondered whether others will, too.
Back in 1992, when he had high hopes for Perot’s presidential campaign, Dimuzio prepared for a revolution and then saw his candidate withdraw from the race in July before coming back for a final push in October.
It took more than a dozen years for Dimuzio to invest himself in another political cause.
“My only hesitation,” he said, “is whether this thing is going to fall on its face in May.”
Staff Writer Debra Erdley contributed to this report.