by Brandon McGinley
On Monday, November 26th, Keegan Gibson published an article on PoliticsPA that listed the top political operations of the cycle. Here is one of the nominations:
Sari Stevens, Executive Director, Planned Parenthood PA PAC
Stevens runs a tight ship and helped PP be a player in numerous Pa. races from the top of the ballot to the bottom. 2012 was a good year for pro-choicers on the ballot and their direct mail was among the best of the cycle. Going forward, expect Republicans in swing districts to tread much more carefully on women’s issues.
Now, I have no doubt that Stevens has effectively managed Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania’s political arm, and I have no intention to question her leadership here. Gibson’s brief analysis of the results of Planned Parenthood’s work, however, does not stand up to scrutiny.
When Gibson writes about the “swing districts” where GOP pols have been chastened on “women’s issues,” to which districts is he referring? It can’t be the largely pro-choice 156th house district (Chester County, including West Chester), where pro-life Rep. Dan Truitt staved off a challenge from Planned Parenthood-endorsed Bret Binder. Nor can it be the 157th (Chester & MontCo), nor the 161st (DelCo), where Reps. Warren Kampf and Joe Hackett, respectively, survived attacks from from PP-endorsed challengers.
He can’t be referring to the 13th (Chester County), where pro-life Rep. John Lawrence beat PP-endorsed Eric Schott. Nor to the 104th (Dauphin County), where pro-life Rep. Sue Helm easily took care of her Planned Parenthood endorsed opponent, Chris Dietz. In the 131st (Lehigh & Northampton Counties), pro-life Rep. Justin Simmons dispatched of his PP-endorsed opponent, as did Rep. John Maloney in the 130th (Schuylkill & Berks Counties). In the far northeast, Rep. Rosemary Brown defeated a PP-endorsed challenger in the 189th (Monroe & Pike Counties); meanwhile, in the southwest, Planned Parenthood’s David Levdansky lost the overwhelmingly-Democratic 39th district (Allegheny & Washington Counties) for the second time to pro-life Rep. Rick Saccone.
In all, Planned Parenthood endorsed 22 candidates against pro-life members of the State House. One succeeded–Mark Painter over Rep. Tom Quigley in the 146th (MontCo). And of the 112 original co-sponsors of the controversial ultrasound legislation, only one (Quigley) lost his or her seat on November 6.
Now, Planned Parenthood did have some success in the Senate, where they endorsed Rep. Matt Smith over Raja in the 37th (Allegheny & Washington Counties) and Rob Teplitz over John McNally in the 15th (Dauphin & York Counties). (Sean Wiley was a shoo-in in the 49th, and can hardly be considered a significant PP victory). But these were volatile open seats impacted much more by presidential turnout (Teplitz) and an unpopular opponent (Smith) than Planned Parenthood interventions. And the one Senate challenger–Kimberly Villella–endorsed by Planned Parenthood over an incumbent was shellacked in Sen. Elder Vogel’s 47th district.
This is all to say that it’s difficult to see why the results of the most recent election would lead Republicans to believe that the pro-life cause is a political loser, as Gibson suggests. Planned Parenthood’s 2012 political operation in Pennsylvania, though perhaps well-managed by Sari Stevens, was distinctly unsuccessful in ousting pro-life legislators. And the ultrasound issue–the apparent political nuclear rod of this session–was entirely benign. Only one of 112 original co-sponsors lost on November 6th. And remember when Planned Parenthood threw $100,000 at now-Rep. Ryan Mackenzie in this spring’s special election in the Lehigh Valley 134th district? The result: Mackenzie won by 18 points.
There are many lessons to be drawn from this election. The electoral strength of Planned Parenthood and the pro-choice cause is not one of them.