Two days from now, what was once the most influential political body in Schuylkill County could be relegated to nothing more than an after-thought and a footnote in coal region political history books. The infamous Republican War Board, which once wielded unchecked political power in this county, ruling their party and the courthouse with an iron fist, will fight for its survival Tuesday in the March 3rd special election. Surrounded by the democratic hordes, which have steadily wrestled away control of government and the voters’ trust over the past four local election cycles, Rep. David Argall (R-124) stands alone as the last remaining War Boarder with any political juice at his version of Little Big Horn.
With an Argall loss, the democrats will have completed their massacre of the Schuylkill Republican Party. In just four short years, they will have stripped the GOP of the 29th district Senate seat, the 125th district House seat, the county Board of Commissioners, and the offices of the District Attorney, Controller, Coroner, Prothonatary, and Register of Wills. All this while maintaing a monopoly on the 17th Congressional seat, the 123rd House seat, the county judiciary, the entire Pottsville City government, and the offices of Sheriff and Clerk of Courts. As a result, the GOP will likely purge the entire establishment and begin again from absolute scratch.
Meanwhile, with a win, Argall could be the savior of the local GOP by stalling the democratic blitzkrieg, restoring confidence in the Republican brand, and forcing a stark paradigm shift within the party.
For two decades, Jim Rhoades was king of the republicans. He held court in Mahanoy City with Bob Allen, Frank Shoeneman, and Bob Ames. Along with his top lieutenants, Champ Holman, Mary Beth Dougherty, and Ron Rader, Rhoades directed policy, hand-picked candidates for local office, and ensured that political allies were well taken care of. Argall was an important part of this group, but he was always viewed as a sort of Prince Charles to Rhoades’ Queen Elizabeth II. Although he had carte blanche over his little world in Tamaqua and southern Schuylkill County, Argall understood that Rhoades was THE MAN county-wide forcing Argall to patiently wait for his turn.
That dynamic changed in October.
Now, Argall can finally take that last step onto the top step of Schuylkill Republican politics with a victory over Lukach Tuesday. As our state senator and top ranking GOP official, the seat of power in our party will travel south. All political trains will run through the Tamaqua Train Station. For example, although a deal has been struck for some of Rhoades’ staffers, mainly Dougherty and Rader, to keep their positions in the senate office if Argall wins, they will ultimately report to their long-time rival Christine Verdier, who will become Argall’s chief of staff, thereby marginalizing Dougherty and Rader’s actual influence. In addition, former Argall staffer and current Tamaqua councilman, Mika Gursky, will coast into the vacant 124th House seat via the same process that brought about Argall’s senate nomination, while current Argall staffer, Jerry Knowles, will be set up for the party chairmanship or a possible run for the Board of Commissioners in 2011. Moreover, Argall will become the sole dictatorial authority within the GOP itself. Everyone who wants to be anyone in Schuylkill Republican circles will be forced to kiss his proverbial ring.
It is yet to be determined how Argall will juggle the party establishment and the party reformers. He has made overtures to the insurgent reform wing during this campaign, but it is unclear if that will continue once he has consolidated his foothold as party pubah.
What all this means is that Tuesday is just not your run of the mill local election. A whole heckuva lot is riding on it. Will the War Board meet its final demise? Will a new “Tamaqua Board” take its place? Or will the GOP be saddled with another paralyzing loss that sends the GOP into chaos?
Stay tuned . . . . .