Ballot question was dirty politics

The unprecedented presidential race just past got the lion’s share of the attention from voters and the media. But this election also left us in a Pennsylvania frame of mind.

That’s not a good thing.

It was emblematic of our state’s political culture that candidates for two of the three statewide row offices on the ballot had to make an issue of how they would free those offices from the taint of corruption.

In the race for attorney general, the candidates had to wrestle with the imprisonment of disgraced former Attorney General Kathleen Kane for official misconduct. That arguably wasn’t even the most worrisome shadow hanging over the office.

Kane’s fall came amid another scandal centering on lewd, sexist and racist emails that raised questions about the integrity of the state’s justice system itself.

And the two candidates for state treasurer faced the specter of cleaning up that office. Their predecessors left quite a mess.

The last elected treasurer, Rob McCord, resigned in 2015 before pleading guilty to trying to extort campaign cash. Another former treasurer, Barbara Hafer, faces federal charges of lying to investigators about payments she received from a now-indicted Chester County businessman.

But at least in those races, the political parties fielded promising candidates. We’re optimistic that the winners — Josh Shapiro for attorney general and Joe Torsella for treasurer — will follow through on reform.

The real low point in Pennsylvania’s election was the con job the Legislature pulled off to trick voters into raising the mandatory retirement age for state and local judges.

The ballot question was about raising the age from 70 to 75, but that’s not what the question said and voters almost certainly would have rejected it if it had.

Instead it asked voters if they favored setting a retirement age of 75 — with no mention of the current limit of 70 — leaving many to believe they were voting to create an age cutoff where none existed.

The measure passed by less than 2 percentage points. It was clear in conversations and on social media that a good many voters had been bamboozled.

Remember that the same issue, in the form of a question that did mention the existing retirement age, was pulled from the primary ballot last spring.

In other words, legislators just delayed the vote by one election so they could rig it in favor of the judges.

That means 19 judges statewide who turn 70 this year, including Erie County Judge John Garhart, can extend their careers. Garhart said he will stay on the job, which pays $176,572 a year.

We have no particular quarrel with Garhart. But the reprieve for him and the others resulted from a dishonest political trick, Pennsylvania style.

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