Despite Democrats’ gains, local GOP looks to ’08

Democrats may be making Centre County registration gains these days, but Republicans dominate by a wide margin and at least a few of them are looking ahead to the 2008 election and the 77th District state House seat.

That’s the seat representing half of State College, and nine municipalities to the west, that was long in Republican hands until Republicans canceled one another out last year as they dived into the vacuum left by incumbent Lynn Herman’s departure.

That local collision together with a general nationwide shift in political sentiment helped springboard Scott Conklin from his county commissioner’s seat to trounce school teacher Barbara Spencer by 18 percentage points.

You surely won’t see such a wide margin next year because Republicans by then (probably) will have regrouped and will be trying to regain lost ground at national and state levels, and because an incumbent is never so vulnerable as after his or her first term (unless you were on the wrong side of the pay raise legislation).

I was reminded of the 2008 election the other day when I saw an invitation to a Conklin fundraiser — a $100 breakfast at the Ramada Inn in State College — scheduled for Friday. That’s less than four months after Conklin was sworn into office and right in the midst of this year’s municipal primary election campaigns.

The two-year term forces state representatives to campaign virtually the entire time anyway. But this is also budget season in Harrisburg. Democratic House members, especially new ones from longtime Republican districts, are caught between a lame-duck Democratic governor calling for tax increases — on electricity use, garbage disposal, tobacco products and retail purchases, among other things — and Republicans back home waiting to use the T-word to get healthy.

Conklin issued a nice-but reaction to Rendell’s budget in February. “I applaud the governor’s tenacity ...,” he said. “... but now it is up to the legislature to strike the appropriate balance.”

The newcomer surely faces heavy pressure from the Rendell administration to support the governor’s budget, along with 26 other rookie Democrats in their one-seat-majority state House.

You can bet that local Republicans will be watching closely to see where the new incumbent stands in striking a balance as the General Assembly tries to sort out how to pay for government in the fiscal year starting July 1.

Here are a few 77th District Republicans who could end up competing a year from now for the opportunity to challenge Conklin:

New role for ex-candidate

A former State College Area school board candidate has decided to serve as campaign manager to Richard Madore, a challenger in the race for five school board seats.

Eric Topp said Madore asked for his help and the agreement was “a perfect fit.”

“I think Rick is a strong candidate,” said Topp, who lives near State High on Prospect Avenue. “He is looking to build consensus.”CBICC schedules forum

The Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County has scheduled a county judge candidate forum 7:30 a.m. to9 a.m. April 25 at Hoag’s Celebration Hall, 2280 Commercial Blvd., College Township. Cost is $12 for the breakfast buffet for members, $25 for nonmembers. Reservations are necessary and should be made by April 19 by e-mailing or calling 234-1829. Members may convey possible questions for the candidates to Angela Lombardo at

Republicans only invited

Centre County Republicans have scheduled a candidate forum at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Hampton Inn and Suites Williamsburg Square, 1955 Waddle Road, Patton Township. It’s for Republican candidates only in the races for county judge, magisterial district judge and State College Area school board directors, even though Democratic and Republican candidates alike in all those races may seek both major-party nominations in the primary. The state says these races are nonpartisan.

One week left to register

You must be a registered Republican or Democrat to vote for candidates in the May 15 primary election, and the last day to register or change registration is April 16, a week from today. Voters registered with minor parties or as no-affiliation voters must change registration to vote for candidates. Any registered voter may vote on referendum questions. Call the county elections office at 355-6703 for more information.

Dena Pauling contributed to this column. The Election Notebook, coordinated by Centre Daily Times senior reporter Mike Joseph, appears Mondays. Joseph can be reached at mjoseph@centredaily. com and 235-3910. “The Thin Man” blog at also will report political observations.