Saving Speaker Ryan; some facts and heard-on-the-streets

As the presidential campaign developed, I posted an article on March 29th about House Speaker Paul Ryan.  I explained how different Ryan’s world view was from that of Donald Trump.  I noted, however, that Ryan intended to support Trump if he was nominated by the Republican Party for president.  I therefore called Ryan a hypocrite.

But then this happened, as reported by the New York Times on May 5th:

In an extraordinary rebuke of his party’s presumed nominee, Speaker Paul D. Ryan, the nation’s highest-ranking elected Republican, said Thursday that he was “not ready” to endorse Donald J. Trump for president.

Mr. Ryan’s announcement represented a split among Republicans not seen in at least a half century, and it came only two days after Mr. Trump said he would unify the party after essentially clinching the nomination with his victory in the Indiana primary.

As the chairman of the Republican National Convention, Mr. Ryan has repeatedly said he would support his party’s nominee as Republicans tried to regain the White House and solidify control of Congress.

But the combination of Mr. Trump’s at times outrageous remarks — insulting women, Hispanics and Muslims — and his broad rejection of many core Republican policies proved too toxic a brew for Mr. Ryan as he defended his majority in the House, the reputation of his party and his own viability.

Within an hour, Mr. Trump offered a biting rejoinder, saying in a statement that he was “not ready to support Speaker Ryan’s agenda.” …

Mr. Ryan, who made his remarks in an interview with CNN, said Republicans want “a standard-bearer that bears our standards.”

One has to wonder what led to Ryan’s bombshell announcement last week. Perhaps he is secretly reading Politics and Other Stuff and realized how hypocritical it is for him to endorse Trump given Ryan’s principled conservative stands on a wide variety of issues. Or maybe not.

More likely, Speaker Ryan is trying to save Speaker Ryan. Pundit-world is filled with commentary about how Trump’s nomination will hurt down-ballot Republican candidates. Some of those folks will mellow as it gets closer to November and their hatred for Hillary Clinton drives them to back Trump. Some who desperately want a job in the next administration will go with the only candidate who might help them get there.

The Senate appears very likely to flip back to Democratic control as a result of the Trump-Clinton election. What is amazing, however, is the new talk about the House of Representatives flipping too. Speaker Ryan is trying to give cover to his members. The thing is, you can run, but you cannot hide. Try as they will to distance themselves from Trump, there is just too much damning information out there that will be posed over and over and over again to Republican House and Senate candidates. “Do you stand with Trump on ‘fill-in-the-blank?’”

One other point to ponder for Western New Yorkers is how Congressman Chris Collins handles all this. As co-chairman of the House Republicans for Trump, Collins has certainly staked out his position. But Collins has also been trying in his short congressional career to be part of the House leadership team. At the moment those two things, Team Trump and Team Ryan, are contradictory.

I am not ready to retract my characterization of Paul Ryan as a hypocrite just yet. For one thing, we need to see how his and Trump’s summit meeting later this week plays out. Ryan is now saying, at least with reference to his role as Chairman of the Republican National Convention, that he’ll “do whatever [Trump] asks me to do.”

While I don’t side with Ryan’s political philosophy, I can accept and respect any political player who takes a principled stand and sticks to it, even if there are some corollary ulterior motives involved. We’ll see.

Facts and local heard-on-the-streets

We can only watch in amazement as this bizarre year unfolds. Here are some facts and heard-on-the-streets that are circulating:

  • Evidently a special grand jury has or will be impaneled this week to pursue prosecution of Steve Pigeon and others who are tied into his political schemes over the past twenty years. As a former candidate for Democratic County Chairman in 2002, along with Len Lenihan and Jim Keane, I am pleased to see that justice may be served. Special shout-outs are appropriate for former Assistant District Attorney Mark Sacha, County Legislator Betty Jean Grant and Board of Elections Commissioners Ralph Mohr and (now Supreme Court Justice) Dennis Ward for having the determination and courage to push for prosecution of repeated violations of the Election Law.
  • Alan Bedenko has an excellent post on The Public about the grand jury and about what he calls Preetsmas. Alan explains the grand jury process and notes Pigeon’s continuing legal problems that go beyond the prominent state and federal investigation.
  • It is a commentary on the state of politics and government in Erie County that the State Attorney General and not the Erie County District Attorney’s office is conducting the grand jury. The DA’s office (which included the current interim DA) had its chances to pursue these violations of the law but passed them up over and over again.
  • Angela Wozniak will not be running for re-election in the 143rd Assembly District. No word yet about a new candidate for the Republicans. Petitions hit the street on June 7th.
  • In that same district the question is, will there be a Democratic primary between endorsed candidate Monica Wallace and Cheektowaga Councilman Jim Rogowski?
  • Also no word about who the Republican candidate for DA might be. Mark Arcara is out there testing the waters and his is the only name mentioned. It seems in such a situation that the county Republican leadership is looking elsewhere, probably to interim DA Michael Flaherty.
  • Democrats in the 60th State Senate District seem to be down to a choice of Amber Small and Al Coppola, the assumption being that Sean Ryan will not give up his safe Assembly seat for the run. Two other potential candidates, Mike Quinn from Hamburg and Lisa Chimera of Tonawanda, have taken themselves out of consideration.
  • The Republican caucus at the Erie County Legislature, apparently at the urging of County Chairman Nick Langworthy, is taking a more aggressive approach to proposals being sent to the Legislature by County Executive Mark Poloncarz. Fighting proposals to deal with the opioid problem and trying to reduce the lead poisoning threat for the county’s children doesn’t have the ring of a winning strategy. Maybe the county Reps have borrowed the “party-of-no” handbook from Republicans in Congress.
  • That same aggressive approach seems to have spilled over to the work of the County Charter Revision Commission, which will issue its report this week. Having been a member of the 2005 version of the Commission, I do not think there is a whole lot of need to do much more than a little tinkering with the Charter. The idea of having the county budget director work for both the Executive and the Legislature is bizarre, undesirable and unworkable. We have separate executive and legislative branches for a reason. Perhaps if the Legislature could pull themselves away from their tendency to concentrate on memorial and congratulatory resolutions they could assign a staffer to specialize in budgetary issues. Having literally been on both sides of the Executive-Legislature street on this, I think that a Legislature which pays serious attention to budgetary issues serves the public well.
  • I spent the past weekend attending my daughter’s graduation from the University of South Carolina and then moving her back to Buffalo. I can report a couple of political tidbits literally observed coming and going along the way. Having used restrooms at the Charlotte, North Carolina airport and at a stop along the highway through the state on the way back, I can tell you that North Carolina does not seem to pay a lot of attention to enforcement of all its laws. Despite the requirements of House Bill 2 that requires people to use the restrooms assigned to the gender they were born with, there were no police present in the restrooms checking birth certificates that I observed – not even a warning sign.
  • I also spent the better part of Saturday driving from one end of West Virginia to the other, unintentionally adding to my 2016 presidential primary storm chasing adventure. They will have their primary elections there today. There are tons of signs for state and local offices (“Vote for Melissa Fisher for County Coroner”), but nary a sign anywhere for Clinton or Sanders. There were two Trump signs, evidently posted by West Virginians who did not get Donald’s message that they should not vote in the primary.