Jonathan B. Robison

April 23, 2012

Robison Political Newsletter

Filed under: Uncategorized — jon @ 3:15 am

Jonathan and Mary Robison
154 N. Bellefield Ave. #66, Pittsburgh, PA 15213
April 12, 2012

This is the Robison political newsletter, better late than never. It is sent free, in advance of the primary and general elections to about 2,000 people. If you want off our list, please tell us.l Please also contact us with any corrections. Please tell us if we’re sending this to the wrong e-mail, such as you business e-mail and we should send it to your personal e-mail. If you receive this by mail or otherwise, and have an e-mail address we can use, please tell us. This saves us money on postage and printing. E-mail gets you the newsletter a few days earlier. In addition, our bulk mailing is limited to four pages. We can add additional information to an e-mail, and recently we have appended to the e-mail some of the poetry which I, Jon, wrote. You might consider this a plus.
Of course, we welcome any comments, criticism, and questions. We will be happy to add anyone you suggest to the list. Some people find the newsletter interesting and even useful, especially about races which receive less media coverage,

The big election this year is the presidency. The primary gives us an opportunity to practice maximizing the voter turnout. It seems that we will also have an opportunity to try to help friends and neighbors whose right to vote is threatened by the so-called Voter ID bill. (Please see discussion below,)

That said, what contests are on the ballot in the Democratic primary April 24?
President Barack OBAMA and his Convention delegate candidates are unopposed in the primary. Suffice to say for now that we think Pres, Obama is trying to do a good job despite unrelenting hostility. Later, we will suggest reasons why traditional Republicans, and also genuine conservatives, should vote for Obama. Mitt Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich are twits and losers, as well as anti-women, anti gay and lesbian, anti-union, anti civil liberties, and pro war. We have no preference in the G.O.P. convention. The Republican establishment was lining up behind Romney even before Santorum said he was dropping out of the race. The ideological extremists think that Romney is only pretending to be as crazy as they are on the issues. Regardless, this election is crucial.

Senator Bob Casey has nominal opposition in the primary. He is pretty good on economic issues and strongly pro-union. He has always been hostile to a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, although he’s not as extreme on that as his father, Governor Casey. The five Republican hopefuls do not seem to have good positions on any issue.
There are two candidates for the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania Attorney General. Either Patrick MURPHY or Kathleen KANE would be very good.
Patrick Murphy is first on the ballot and has substantial support from Democratic Party leaders,
apparently because if his diligent political work, He is also the choice of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (glbt) leaders because of his outspoken opposition to the notorious ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell;’ that got gays and lesbians discharged from the military. He is also vocal in opposition to Governor Tom Corbett’s mandatory ultrasound examinations, a gross invasion of women’s privacy. He was endorsed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Murphy is endorsed by the PA National Organization for Women (NOW). He stated, “I will continue to partner with PA NOW to defend women’s rights and end discrimination in the workplace.” He is endorsed by Equality PA, a statewide group in support of the rights of the glbt communities, and by the Stonewall Democrats. The Gertrude Stein Political Club (the GSPC) endorsed him, while giving honorable mention to Kathleen Kane because both are solidly pro-glbt and pro-choice. Mary and Jon are charter members of the GSPC, a political organization for glbt rights and feminism;.
The Murphy/Kane primary contest presents a difficult choice – a good problem to have. Murphy may have been more active on our issues, but we certainly need more women in public office.
We personally like State Representative Eugene DePasquale, a solid liberal Democrat and feminist, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary.
For State Treasurer, incumbent Bob McCord is also unopposed in Democratic primary.
For Congress in the 12th District, to the north and east of Pittsburgh, reapportionment pitted Mark S. Critz against Jason Altmire, two incumbent Democrats. Both are good Democrats on economic and union issues, although Critz has picked up most union endorsements on the grounds that he is more consistent. Both are poor on social issues, particularly reproductive rights.
In the 14th District, our own Mike DOYLE is a hard worker and a real fighter, especially on economic justice issues. His position is mixed on abortion, although he solidly supports Planned Parenthood. We hope that he is following the path of his predecessor, Bill Coyne, who started out as a typical organization Democrat of Irish heritage, and gracefully evolved into a supporter of every woman’s right to decide. His opposition in Democratic primary is Dr. Janis Brooks, an Afro-American and a woman, who promises “to fight for family stability” but doesn’t say how.
In the 18th District, Larry Maggi of Washington County is unopposed in the Primary. He would be an underdog against incumbent Republican Tim Murphy in the fall, assuming that Murphy survives his ‘tea party’ primary challenger.

For the State Senate, only odd numbered districts are up this year, and apportionment has helped give the G.O.P. a virtual lock on the majority.
In the 37th State Senate district, in the South Hills and West Hills, NO DEMOCRAT filed for the nomination for the open seat being vacated by John Pippy. Shame on us. Maybe there will be a write-in candidate, but that is difficult. There is a three-way fight for the Republican nomination.
In the 43rd District, incumbent Democrat Jay Costa, Jr,.of Forest Hills, is unopposed, and no.Republican filed. Ditto in the 45th District, where Sen.. Jim Brewster has no opposition on the ballot. In the 47th District north of Pittsburgh, Kimberly Pazzanita Villela of Baden will face Republican incumbent Elder Vogel in November.
All State Representatives are up. We will discuss only the five seats with a Democratic primary contest and a few others.
In the 20th District centered on the North side, two Democrats filed against incumbent Adam Ravenstahl, the mayor’s brother. David Schuilenberg is a solid liberal and feminist. He was endorsed by the Gertrude Stein Political Club and the Stonewall Democrats. No Republican filed.
The 19th Representative District is centered on the Hill and includes some Oakland election districts, including the 4th Ward, 9th District in which we were Democratic Committeepeople before we moved to the Bristol. No opponent filed against Jake Wheatley, the hard-working incumbent.
There are three Democratic contenders in the 22nd District, even though that district was moved to the eastern part of the state un the reapportionment plan approved by the Legislature but shot down by the state Supreme Court. (Please see discussion on reapportionment.) One, Erin Molchany, is progressive, feminist, independent-minded, and bright, endorsed by the GSPC and the Stonewall Democrats. Wherever the 22nd district goes politically and geographically, she is a future leader. Our county and our country need more women among our political leaders.
We now live in the 23rd District, centered around Squirrel Hill. Rep. Dan Frankel has no opposition on the ballot. In the forefront of the toughest fights, he is one of the few people in Harrisburg who can be described with a straight face as overqualified for his current position. Usually the G.O.P. puts somebody on the ballot against him, not in the hope of winning, but in the vain hope of diminishing his efforts around the state to elect other progressive Democrats.
The 24th District, which includes Homewood-Brushton and Wilkinsburg, has a hot fight. Incumbent Rep. Joe Preston and challenger Ed Gainey have similar views on social as well as economic issues, But many activists in the Democratic Party and in the community think that Joe Preston is no longer as active as he should be. This was a major factor in Gainey’s endorsement by the Democratic Committeepeople in the district as well as by the Stonewall Democrats and the GSPC.
The 28th District in the Wexford area and the 40th District around Upper St. Clair are the
other districts where we have no Democrat filed. The latter is particularly unfortunate because the incumbent, John Maher, is running for re-election and running for state auditor general. Legally, he can run for both. If he were to win both, he would have to decline one. I realize that both of these districts are not really zoned for Democrats. But I think we should contest every seat, on principle. Moreover, just having a candidate on the ballot may reduce the time and money that Republican gives to help in other districts.
There are a dozen State House districts in Allegheny County as well as two State Senate districts where no Republican candidate filed, Perhaps the most interesting in the 42nd District centered around Mt. Lebanon. Matt Smith is the incumbent, a good liberal Democrat. Mt. Lebanon is reasonably prosperous and used to be a Republican stronghold.
There’s a primary fight in the 39th District in the Mon Valley, where David Levdansky, a well-regarded former legislator, is attempting a comeback. We don’t have information about the 45th primary in the West Hills, in which Nick Kotik and Marybeth Taylor are candidates. .

One final note on something YOU can do for Barack Obama, without waiting for the campaign organization. We know that our country is politically polarized – more than any industrial democracy since Germany in the 1920’s. Very few people are undecided about re-electing President Barack Obama.
THEREFORE, this election is likely to be decided by voter registration and turnout. What can YOU do? Simply carry voter registration forms with you at all times. When you talk with anyone who is a likely supporter, ask them whether they are registered to vote at their current residence. If they need to register or change their address, sign them up on the spot. If possible, get back the signed form back from them, and offer to mail it in or deliver it downtown. Any registration forms received will not be effective until after the Primary.
There are three reasons to get back the signed form. First, you can check for mistakes in filling out the form. Even more important, you can be SURE they are registered as soon as registration re-opens after the primary. Good intentions get left on top of the bookcase or the TV set. Moreover, you can note their name. address, and also their phone number if they provide it. This hel[ps go-to-vote follow-up. This is especially important with new voters. Surprisingly, new voters are often non-voters, unless they are reminded.

Pennsylvania’s ‘Voter ID bill’ will deprive Thousands of their Right to Vote
The new Voter ID bill is perhaps the most carefully thought-through law approved by the Pennsylvania Legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett in my experience. One of the laws in over a dozen states drafted by the right-wing ‘American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)’, it is certain to cause additional delays at the polls and prevent thousands of low-income, elderly and handicapped Pennsylvanians from voting in the Presidential election. It supposedly prevents voter identity theft, a non-existent problem. It erects substantial barriers to voting be people by anyone who lacks a current Pennsylvania driver’s license, including numerous people who are poor, elderly, handicapped, mad students with out-of-state licenses.
The ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, is on the job, and their lawyers have prepared a four page memo, “Frequently Asked Questions about the New Voter ID Bill.” This memo details what you and your friends may have to do to protect their right to vote, even if they don’t have a current Pennsylvania driver’s license. The ACLU is preparing to challenge this bill in court, and is putting together a list of co-plaintiffs who may lose their vote. .The memo is attached to the ACLU web site: You can contact Jon for more information.

Reapportionment still Threatens our Election Process
Both political parties have used the decennial reapportionment to try to rig elections. Just look at the boundaries of the 38th State Senate District, drawn in an unsuccessful attempt to zap Senator Jim Ferlo. It looks like the product of an acid trip – a bad acid trip. But this year the lines drawn by the Republican majorities in the State House and Senate clearly violated state law and were rejected by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. But new districts could not be drawn in time for the 2012 primary, so the Court required that this year’s legislative elections will have to use the existing boundaries. This has produced some bizarre results. Fir example, there will be a primary and a general election for the 22nd House District, although that seat was moved to the eastern part of the state in the reapportionment plan. Apparently, the winner in the 22nd District will serve out her or his two-year term, although running for re-election may be impractical.
The whole apportionment process will have to be redone. But we have time. The new districts, if not invalidated by the courts, will be used in the 2014 election. So this time let’s do it right. Let’s established a non-partisan process, as California has done, which will try to objectively weigh the various factors, including compactness, transportation access, media coverage, and the maintenance of minority/majority districts. What will happen? Stay tuned.

Do You Want to do More than Vote? Consider EMILY’s List
Do you want to do ms little more than vote, to help increase the number of women in public office, especially pro-choice Democrats? Are you bemused by the number of appealing candidates in your mailbox and e-mail inbox, and the dearth of feminist candidates in the area?
We have a suggestion. Consider Emily’s List. You can on click their webste,
Emily’s List encourages and trains pro-choice women Democrats. They build a list of strong candidates. You can contribute directly to a candidate or contribute to Emily’s List and earmark how you money should be distributed among the Emily’s List candidates. Either way, 100 percent of contributions made through EMILY’s List go directly to the candidates’ campaigns. Their website has information about their candidates. Which ones should you select? They’re all good; we can’t think of any who was not worthy of support. Are they effective? In existence since 1985, Emily’s List has raised $86,009,668 for pro-choice Democratic women, with many important victories,

People know that there is a crisis in state funding for transportation. The problem is statewide, not just Allegheny County, This is a transportation funding problem, not just for public transit. PennDOT lacks funding to repair and maintain bridges and roads. PAT, the Port Authority of Allegheny County, operates our transit system – the buses, light rail, and inclines. PAT must adopt a balanced budget for its fiscal year, which begins July 1. Without major new state transportation funding, PAT must reduce service 35%. While the cuts aren’t scheduled until September, by law PAT must send out job termination notices in June. A 35% cut in transit service would be a disaster for everyone. This includes automobile drivers who will find traffic worse and parking less available, and includes businesses who need transit for their employees to get to work. Pittsburgh will become on of the nation’s least livable cities,
People agree that we need a permanent solution to the transportation funding problem, statewide, before the buses shut down and the bridges fall down, So Governor Tom Corbett created a Transportation Funding Reform Commission, and told it to recommend a solution by August 1 of 2011. The Commission did its job, on schedule. Necessary legislation has been introduced, by Republican Senator Jake Corman and our own Rep. Dan Frankel. But the Republican leadership in the Legislature will not act without leadership from the Governor. So we should contact Governor Corbett. Call his Pittsburgh office, 412-565-5700, or his office in Harrisburg, 1-717-787-5962. Or write him at Capitol Bldg, Harrisburg, PA 17120. Or e-mail him at

Next Year – Who Will Be Elected Mayor?
Looking even beyond the November election, there appear to be two strong challengers in the 2013 Democratic primary against the incumbent Pittsburgh Mayor, Luke Ravenstahl: City Councilman Bill Peduto and City Controller Mike Lamb. Both are sharp. progressive, feminists, with solid pro-choice and pro-lgbt rights records. We like both, and in our opinion either would be a substantial improvement over perhaps the country’s youngest ‘good old boy.’ They can’t both run. (It would divide the vote.) They both know this. Incidentally, Common Cause is having a reception honoring Bill Peduto as a “Champion of Good Government” Thursday, May 24, 5:30 to 7, at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, 5300 Fifth Av, Tickets are $50 and I, Jon, have agreed to serve on the planning committee for the event.

Peace Vigils Every Saturday – Still
The wars go on in the Middle East. What can we do? As we have mentioned previously, there are one-hour vigils for peace in Iraq and Afghanistan every Saturday. I, Jon, am at a vigil almost every Saturday, usually at noon in Regent Square, at Forbes and Braddock. Some Saturdays I go to the East Liberty vigil, 1 pm, at Penn and Highland (organized by Black Voices for Peace). There are also vigils in the North Side, and in surrounding counties. For more information, contact the Thomas Merton Center, 412-361-3022 or
Mary and I have two wonderful grandchildren. We want to be able to tell them that we DID something about the wars. Please join us at the vigil some Saturday.

MS Walk – Again
I expect to go on the 5 kilometer MS Walk in my power wheelchair every year – unless we find a cure. So this is a personal appeal. I - Jon – have Multiple Sclerosis. The walk is to raise money for research on MS and a possible cure. The Pittsburgh 2012 MS Walk will be Sunday Apr. 22. 10 am, starting at Point State Park. You can walk with us or make a check payable to the National MS Society and send it to me.

First Rate Folk Music – Consider Calliope
I, Jon, love folk music and music from different cultures, or ‘World Music.’ So I greatly enjoy the Calliope concerts. They have about eight concerts a year, on Saturdays, at the Carnegie Lecture Hall in Oakland. The current season ends Apr. 14, and included acoustic blues, singer-songwriters, bluegrass, an Irish group and a Ugandan group. All the performers are good and some are outstanding. Many performers have commented on the sound quality at the Carnegie Lecture Hall. The Calliope schedule for next season isn’t set up yet. I suggest that you call 412-361-1015 or check their website, Try it,

Mary’s Personal Medical Situation
Mary’s cancer is still with us. The CT scan showed that it was not growing or shrinking, but hasn’t gotten worse. She’s been off the helpful but exhausting chemotherapy since last August. She and her doctor agreed that she could hold off on more chemo at least until another CT scan in July.

. Do you wonder why you got this newsletter? Some people are on our mailing list by request Maybe we were work together on a cause. Or were at a meeting or event. I got your name and address, and I thought you might find this newsletter interesting, and maybe even useful. Frankly, we don’t remember why we put some of the names on our list. If, for any reason, you no longer want our newsletter cluttering up your mailbox, or you inbox, just tell us, by phone, mail, or e-mail. We will immediately remove you from the list.
If any friends don’t receive the e-mail edition, it’s probably because we don’t have a usable e-mail address. We will be happy to add any names to the list, preferably with their e-mail address. Please TELL US if the newsletter is ok, but we should NOT send it to the e-mail address we used. For some people we have TWO e-mail addresses. That’s no problem. But if you have a preference, please tell us. Why do we prefer to send to an e-mail address? Obviously, it saves on printing and postage. It’s quicker. In addition, we can send a longer newsletter, more than four pages.
Some of our friends contribute to help support the newsletter, and we are grateful. If you would like to help with the costs, you are invited to send a check to Robison Political Action Committee, 154 N. Bellefield Av., #66, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. Please forward or give copies of this to any interested friends.

Love and Peace, Labor
Jon and Mary

p.s. – In previous e-mailed newsletters, I appended a couple of the poems I have written over the years. This is a possibility with the e-mail, which is not constrained by weights and postal rates. Obviously, you can simply delete them. People didn’t object, so here’s a few more. One poem is longer than usual. I invite any reaction or criticism. If you wish to share or use a poem, please do.

Kirkbride Street War Zone
Jonathan Robison 1977,

Here a house holds.
Curtains in the window unfurled.
paint and a tricycle on the porch
proclaim, “We’re staying.”

Down the street, empty windows
and shattered panes stare at the sky.
The speculator’s plywood standard
is nailed across the door.

Between the houses is a vacant lot,
rubble strewn. Remnants of a foundation
poke through the weeds
like broken teeth.

Back at the first house, at the kitchen table
neighbors sit and talk. They discuss
rents and rats and baseball
and how to defend the block.

Harpers Ferry Ghost Walk
Jonathan Robison Pttsburgh Pa. rev.7/94

I. Jefferson Rock

Climb up the old stone steps in daylight,
past the shattered church ruins.
Climb out on the rocky ledge
above the Shenandoah where it meets the Potomac.
Now we call this high place ‘Jefferson Rock.’

What did Old Tom see?
The steep valleys were mostly still green.
He knew that the river valleys were rich and fair.
Maybe he knew that Mohawks fought Powhatans
over this valuable land.
Maybe he knew that the river tribes
that lived here were slaughtered.

Perhaps he saw rivers of trade through this gap
in the mountain wall. Did he foresee
the rivers of blood?
Later he would write of the “firebell in the night,”
that forewarned of the conflict to come,
that would bring a cleavage that seemed
to follow the river’s line,
and would sunder even his own home state.

II. The Old Arsenal

Armory: where weapons are forged.
Arsenal: where weapons are stored.
Harpers Ferry was both,
And a center of weapons research in its time.
This was once a town of war.

Thousands of rifles were stored here
when John Brown’s band seized the town.
Brown dreamed of another slave revolt
This time they would have guns!

But the rebels were quickly surrounded and trapped,
Captured or killed by the U.S. Marines
led by a colonel named Robert E. Lee.
And Old Brown remarked from the back of the cart
that took him from the Court House to be hung:
“This is a beautiful country.”

III. Blue and Gray

Eighteen months later
War came back for the duration.
War came to this town where munitions were made,
where rivers and railroads met
in the shadow of mountain walls.

No one but War itself
held Harpers Ferry for long.
This town of war could not stand siege.

Battles were fought for the commanding heights.
The stone steps up to St. John’s Church
were slippery with the blood of the wounded,
carried up for refuge and any possible treatment

Since the war trees have grown
in the hollow remnants of the church.
Stone window frames are empty,
like the eye sockets of a skull.

The long dark hills still stretch
voluptuous in the moonlight,
inviting strategies - vain strategies.
This war was too fundamental;
It would not be settled by heroes and battles.

Below Jefferson Rock there are now wooded islands
where cotton mill and musket factory stood.
Armory and arsenal are sites
for industrial archeologists.
Once again we see green valleys
and hazy blue and gray.

IV. High Street

Back down on High Street,
the stone and plaster buildings glow
in the setting December sun.
A cat sits on an old stone stair,
then vanishes into an overgrown foundation.

Now this is a tourist town, quaint,
renting beauty and history.
Shoppes beckon where soldiers were bivouacked.
But behind their facades lurk lessons, and more.
This place was always beautiful.
This town seems peaceful.
But Harpers Ferry has ghosts.

There are ghosts of buildings.
Sometimes their foundations
peep through the grass.
You can see walls and roofs
where houses used to stand.
Sometimes there is only
an emptiness between two buildings.
like a missing tooth.

V. Ghost Walk

On winter weekends there is a tour by candlelight
Let us join the Harpers Ferry Ghost Walk.

“In this house after a party
some officers threw a boyish POW from a window.
At night sometimes he still cries
For his home and his mother.

“In this house across the street
even today things are found smashed.
Paintings are thrown from the walls.
Here a soldier was smothered by his mates.
When he died they tried to hide the body.

“This is called Hog Alley.
Here Dangerfield Newby was eaten by the pigs.
He was a freed slave who joined John Brown
He had tried to buy the freedom
of his wife and youngest child.
When he came up with the money,
the owner doubled the price.
He was shot and captured.
We think he was dead
Before they fed him to the hogs.”

VI. Jefferson Rock

Walk up the stone steps after dark
to Jefferson Rock and the graveyard,
leaving the ghosts in the town.
The wind blows wild,
and the trees’ shadows dance
around the old headstones.
But here, at least, the dead are truly laid to rest,
Some of fever, some in childbirth,
But most in season, most full of years.
Here fathers were buried by their sons,
Not sons buried by fathers.

The storefronts on High Street
are more ghostly in sunlight
then this graveyard under the moon.

There are ghosts in the town below.
Hard deeds linger in stone houses.
Wounded soldiers linger in the courtyards.
The dead leaves, wind-blown, chitter across the stones,
like barracks-room rumors,
like rumors of war.

This is a beautiful country.
More clearly than elsewhere, we see
Ghosts. Not just ghosts, but a specter,
A powerful Presence: War.

And now, for something much lighter

Lament for the Symposium
Jonathan Robison circa 1970?

Alas the symposium, drought stricken low.
Who thinks from solemnities knowledge will flow.
How far will a car without lubricant go?
In a desert will perish whatever you sow.
Where is the cure for this dry status quo?
Wherever seeds in a seminar grow.
Ah, if we knew what the ancients did know?
Friends raise your tankards and solace our woe.

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