Harrisburg's trick or treat

Halloween reminds me how Harrisburg can trick or treat.

Trick example: Your "full-time" legislature is basically gone for the year after again failing to fix the funnel of public pensions annually sucking down billions of your tax dollars.

Treat example: It passed legislation so beer distributors can sell six-packs - even single cans or bottles - instead of only cases.

So, pension reform? Um, no. But here, have a beer.

You might need it. For coming soon to a polling place near you are Harrisburg's biggest tricks: a bunch of no-choice elections.

Now I know this political season has lots of people upset. In fact, it appears many are so upset they're seeking professional help.

A poll done for the American Psychological Association (I am not making this up) shows, regardless of party preference, a majority of adults (52 percent) are experiencing "significant stress."

I don't want to add to that. If you're among the 52-percenters you may want to go read something else.

That's because the statewide legislative outlook is depressing. And in Philadelphia it's close-your-eyes, shake-your-head depressing.

Why?

Well, get this. In the cradle of democracy, 79 percent of races already are decided.

Yep, that's how we roll here in the land of liberty.

There are 29 of them in Philadelphia - 25 House, four Senate - on the Nov. 8 ballot in. But of 29 slots, 23 have only one candidate. All are Democrats. Most are incumbents.

This includes three unopposed incumbents charged with or confessed to crimes.

Sen. Larry Farnese was indicted in May for alleged bribery. Rep. Vanessa Brown awaits trial on charges she took $4,000 in cash during a sting. Rep. Leslie Acosta pleaded guilty in March to money laundering.

All three will be reelected. Charged lawmakers are presumed innocent. Convicted or confessed lawmakers can stay in office until sentenced.

And why not: Who better to serve in a legislature known for corruption while representing a city known for same?

Statewide, there's not much choice, either.

The Republican-controlled House and Senate are all but certain to stay that way, again due to lack of competition.

There are 203 House races, but in nearly half (45 percent) there's only one candidate; 25 of the 50 Senate seats are up, but in more than half (52 percent) there's only one candidate.

In the Senate, six of the seven Republican and Democratic leaders running have no opponents.

Ah, the status quo. Ah, the screaming need for redistricting reform.

"We're surprised there's not more opposition [to Republican candidates]," says GOP consultant Mike Barley of Harrisburg-based Riverview Communications.

And Democratic consultant Dan Fee of the Philly-based Echo Group says, "We're talking statewide about a total of maybe fewer than 10 races in play."

That's 10 out of 228. That's about 4 percent.

Here's a thought. How about saving taxpayers the cost of legislative elections and just admit our captors win?

Why is it like this? Gerrymandering, money, power of incumbency, voter indifference and, in my view, a political version of the Stockholm syndrome.

Most insiders working legislative campaigns agree Democrats will pick up a few House seats next week, though not nearly enough to win control from the GOP; and Republicans will keep and possibly add to their majority in the Senate.

But what if Hillary Clinton survives her no-good, very bad FBI hit and wins Pennsylvania big? Won't that help down-ballot Democrats?

Maybe some, but likely not as far down as legislative races.

(In 2008, the last open-seat presidential election, Barack Obama won here by 10 points and Republicans extended their Senate majority.)

So welcome to democracy - Pennsylvania style. Just don't be tricked into thinking your legislature is a treat.

baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer