Whatever else, praise or condemnation, you might award to President Trump, you have to admit that he has a knack for using, and misusing, simple words to his advantage. Some of that language is catching on as everything we approve of is now “huuuuuge” or specific women are now “nasty.” But two can play that game. Our President, having identified the word “swamp” with political corruption, has left himself open to accusations of spreading that corruption. Lebanon County is also vulnerable to that charge.
The May 16th primary election exposed the corruption very plainly in the campaign for, of all things, the office of Register of Wills and Orphan’s Court. Let’s make sure we know what we are dealing with here. The office does not require any expertise. The retiring Clerk states bluntly that she relies completely on her long-term assistant, who is the one who knows all the answers. The office of Register of Wills and Orphan’s Court is set up as an elected office so it can be a patronage plum. No one can deny this with a straight face, though there are lots of crooked faces on the county political scene. The man who won, Brian Craig, was immediately asked what higher office he was aspiring to.
The Lebanon swamp is best compared to the Florentine Medicis, without the art or religious cover or the Corleone family without the religious theme. Corruption is family based because serious corruption requires serious trust. In one sense, Lebanon’s corruption is a dynasty problem. Mike Long assumed the Brightbill mantle of power which is now being passed to his son Casey. But Bill Ames is no Chip Brightbill and the Ames famiglia has made inroads.
Long has followed Brightbill’s lead. Doug Cheney claimed he never would have thought that Mike Long would attack his family. In an unaccustomed burst of honesty, Mike Long said that he had warned Cheney he was going after his family. The Long family technique is well established. It calls for an explosion of negative, and some times “fake,” news so timed at the end of the campaign that the target has no chance to respond. The Lebanon Daily News opined that “negative ads late in the campaign may have accounted for Craig’s large margin of victory.”
Again the LDNews: “Long dismissed the notion that there are deep divisions within the [Republican County] Committee.” So says Mike Long. Let me suggest four factions each of which holds that its brand of conservatism is Political Truth. First, is the Brightbill/Long faction. They control the party, the money and the jobs through what looks like the practice [illegal] of paying a percentage of the salary for the party endorsement. In effect, they control the money and the jobs and so the level of corruption. They also just happen to command the largest constituency – the die-hard Lebanon Republicans. This is our swamp. Second is the Bill Ames faction which came out of nowhere to challenge Long’s control. They represent, sort of, the traditional business interest but they have no traditional voter bloc in the county. That is why their candidate, Doug Cheyney, lost so badly. The third group is the faithful remnant of the true Republicans, the good guys who rose against corruption but in the end lost to the bad guys. These are the people, Herb and Pat Braden, who kept the Citizen’s Caucus alive and really want to drain the swamp. The fourth group are the out-liers who are looking for a place to fit in. Colonel Francis X. Ryan, CPA sometimes acts like he wants to command the Lebanon Valley Marine Corp detachment. But he has a political conscience and an uptight Marine approach to getting the job done. Russ Diamond snuck into a State Rep slot on an outsider platform but shortly began to drift toward the Long money and power.
Then there is Senator Mike Folmer, the tire salesman who confounded every one when he turned out to be of star quality. He is a politician, a Republican and a man who stands on the high ground and does much to drain the swamp.
What is it with a Democrat analyzing and judging the politics of Republican Lebanon County? It is my obligation to tell the office holders how I view what they are doing. Besides, I don’t see any Republicans doing the necessary self-reflection.
– Paul A. Heise, PhD, is an Emeritus Professor of Economics at Lebanon Valley College.
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