Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

A political columnist confesses his sins

DUE TO some unused vacation and barring any more political earthquakes, this is my last column of 2016. (No cracks about wishing it were my last ever.)

DUE TO some unused vacation and barring any more political earthquakes, this is my last column of 2016.

(No cracks about wishing it were my last ever.)

As such, and as is my annual habit, what follows are admissions: of failings, of instances I was off base, incomplete or just plain wrong.

(No cracks about how this newspaper hasn't enough space for that.)

My most obvious (though widely shared) failing was missing the fullness of voters' feelings regarding Donald Trump.

Although I never wrote he could not/would not win, I opined right after Labor Day that Pennsylvania wasn't Trumpable.

Turns out it was. He won it - by a margin of less than one percent - and its 20 electoral votes, not to mention the presidency.

I saw all the signs (actual signs) in central and western Pennsylvania. I talked with folks who voted Obama ,some twice, who said they were voting Trump. I just didn't think a state so staid in its ways would flip from blue to red, not to mention the nation.

I was wrong.

In March, I ranted (again) against our Legislature fleecing taxpayers by allowing its members to grab up to $185 a-day in "per diem" expenses, no receipts required.

I listed only one nongreedy Philly lawmaker, Democratic Sen. Tina Tartaglione, as not claiming this on-top-of-salary perk.

But there was another: Freshman Republican Rep. Martina White.

In culling through expenses for two-dozen-plus Senate and House members representing the city, I never saw White's name.

I simply forgot about her. My goof was corrected in the next day's paper. But still. I did White and our readers disservice.

And there were other sins of omission.

In a May column on taxes, I wrote we have America's highest gasoline tax, second-highest Corporate Net Income (CNI) tax, but second-lowest Personal Income Tax (PIT).

I failed to note several states do not have PIT, including Alaska, Florida, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.

All things need context. I fell short in providing it.

In March, I railed about our closed primaries that exclude one million-plus independent/third-party voters.

But I failed to note voters not registered Republican or Democrat can still vote on ballot questions, though I still say primaries should be open.

In October, bemoaning a presidential race then focused on the weight of a Venezuelan beauty queen and Hillary's health, I pressed for more discussion of candidates' budget plans.

I wrote that Hillary's plan, according to the independent Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, would add $200 billion to the national debt and that Trump's would add "much more."

Some readers rightly called me on it. The committee projected Trump's plan would add $5 trillion more. That's a lot more than "much more." I should have written that. It was a clear case of sloppy journalism.

Finally, in an October column on the U.S. Senate, I wrote about the intense national interest in the competitive Pat Toomey/Katie McGinty contest.

I noted even the New York Times got editorially involved. It endorsed McGinty.

And, after what I considered pretty thorough research, I wrote that I and other longtime watchers of Pennsylvania politics believed that to be a first.

Wrong. A former staffer to late Pennsylvania Sen. Joe Clark, a Democrat who served from 1957 to 1969, wrote to tell me The Times endorsed Clark in 1968.

Clark, like McGinty, lost. He was beaten by U.S. Rep. Dick Schweiker, who served in the Senate until 1981, then was President Ronald Reagan's Secretary of Health and Human Services.

So, there you have it.

My yearly mea culpa: driven by the thought that those with public voices should own their failings, anchored in the hope that next year's failings are fewer.