Schneller will be on the ballot; setback for Meehan
It’s officially a three-man contest in the 7th Congressional District.
A legal challenge seeking to keep independent Jim Schneller off the ballot was withdrawn from Commonwealth Court late Thursday, shortly after a judge issued a key ruling against supporters of Republican candidate Pat Meehan, whose campaign spearheaded the challenge. The resolution of the case in Schneller’s favor is a setback for Meehan, who now stands to lose at least some votes from a conservative who has dabbled in the so-called Birther movement and espouses many Tea Party ideals. And it’s a win for Democratic nominee Bryan Lentz, whose supporters helped Schneller get on the ballot in the hopes that he could siphon votes from Meehan in the contentious race.
“This is a victory for Pennsylvanians,” Schneller said, “this is a victory for all Americans who encourage and seek ballot access.”
James Colins, the Cozen O’Connor attorney representing Meehan’s camp, voiced dismayed by the outcome.
“I am disappointed with today’s rulings regarding the validity of Mr. Schneller’s petitions,” Colins said in a statement. “We pursued this case based on evidence that these petitions were not circulated in accordance with the law. The court has made its decision, and I respect that. However, I continue to believe that Mr. Schneller’s candidacy was disingenuously bolstered by Democrats, and he would not be on the ballot if it were not for a coordinated effort by the Lentz campaign.”
The significant help Schneller received from Lentz’s supporters only added bitterness to a race already filled with it. It also reignited an argument over nominating petitions that started in the spring, when Lentz’s campaign brought a ballot challenge alleging fraud in Meehan’s petitions. The challenge failed in court, but Meehan’s nominating petitions remain under investigation by the state attorney general’s office. Ever since then, the temperature in the state’s most competitive House race has remained red hot.
The withdrawal of the ballot challenge Thursday was brought about by a series of decisions by Commonwealth Court Judge Shelly Friedman earlier in the day. After Schneller seemed to imply to a local newspaper that his petitions had not been notarized in the presence of those who gathered the signatures as required by law, Meehan’s supporters were granted the right to take depositions—a relatively rare occurrence in ballot challenge cases. During those depositions, it was established that Lentz’s supporters did indeed witness notarization of the petitions, even though the notary public didn’t record them in her logbook as is required. Friedman ruled against the Meehan camp in deciding that those signatures were still valid.
Friedman also ruled that signers who gave the wrong municipality would still be counted, so long as the street address given matched the address at which they were registered.
After that, only the signatures of those who signed petitions for another candidate in the race, as well as other line-by-line challenges, remained to be litigated. The numbers—and the likelihood of getting Schneller under the required threshold—were not on Meehan’s side. So the challenge was withdrawn, canceling a hearing scheduled for Friday morning and closing the case.
Still, Meehan’s campaign continued to make its argument that Lentz played dirty.
“Jim Schneller’s candidacy has been nothing more than a deceitful and desperate attempt by Bryan Lentz to manipulate a race he is trailing in,” Meehan campaign manager Bryan Kendro said. “However, we respect the ruling of the court and do not feel it is a responsible use of taxpayer dollars and the court’s time to continue to pursue the challenge to Mr. Schneller’s petitions.”
Lentz’s campaign, for its part, continued to argue that the whole ordeal underscores an allegiance by Meehan to the conservative wing of his party.
“The Lentz campaign welcomes Jim Schneller to the race,” Lentz campaign manager Kevin McTigue said. “And while Jim Schneller and Pat Meehan battle for the support of the far-right, Bryan Lentz remains focused on growing the economy and job creation in the 7th district.”
This article has been updated with a comment from Schneller.
September 2, 2010 at 6:22 pm