In the wake of a historic victory for the Democratic Party — from the race for the White House to the battle for the Pennsylvania state House — U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak (D-District 7), a retired admiral in the U.S. Navy, likened the country to an aircraft carrier.
Change directions too abruptly, and the planes can slide right off the deck.
Likewise, Sestak, who cruised to re-election and a second term, cautioned that if the Democrats overreach and try to do too much too quickly — try to beat the other side instead of working with it — the party could risk losing the voters' trust and fail to meet its stated goals: stemming the economic and housing crises, reforming the health-care system, finding a way to move forward with energy independence and ending the war in Iraq. Immigration reform and Social Security solvency are additional issues that have been deadlocked in recent years.
"We have to do this wisely, safely, and it will take time," said Sestak, who represents a district in which registered Republicans still outnumber Democrats. "I cautioned to my party, don't think you can line up and say this many dollars to education and this much to health care. It's — wait a moment — we've got a debt to stop."
Democrats gained 19 seats in the House on top of the 30 seats they gained in 2006, leaving the GOP far outnumbered.
Sestak said he has warned his colleagues that they must not repeat some of the mistakes of the Republican-controlled Congress and effectively jam its agenda down the throats of the opposition. In an era of economic stagnation and skyrocketing national debt, it will be useful for the Democrats to mind the core Republican philosophies of fiscal responsibility and accountability, even as Congress and the president attempt to solve large problems, such as health care.
U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-District 8), a fellow member of the freshman class of 2007, stressed his bona fides as a fiscal conservative and sounded downright conciliatory toward the losing party.
"While campaigns are partisan, government is not — or, at least, it shouldn't be," said Murphy, an Iraq war veteran who won re-election by more than 40,000 votes.
In 2006, Murphy won a nail-biter and beat Michael Fitzpatrick by just over 1,000 votes out of more than 230,000 cast. But, despite the huge shift from two years ago, Murphy wouldn't entertain any talk that the seat is now solidly blue.
"It's a 50-50 district. It's a swing district. I'm sure it will be a tough race in 2010," said Murphy, who noted that one of his top priorities for the district is growing the number of what he called "green-energy jobs."
While the party's victory in Harrisburg wasn't as dramatic, it was significant, nonetheless. The party increased its razor-thin majority in the House from 102-101 to 104-99, which may give Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and his ambitious agenda a little more breathing room in the House.
It also means that State Rep. Dennis O'Brien (R-District 169) will, in all likelihood, be voted out as speaker, which could also affect state Rep. Josh Shapiro (D-District 153), whom O'Brien designated as deputy speaker.
One district that flipped from Republican to Democrat belonged to retiring state Rep. Carole Rubley (R-District 157); the seat represents parts of Chester and Montgomery counties. Paul Drucker, a lawyer and member of Congregation B'nai Jacob, a Conservative synagogue in Phoenixville, narrowly defeated Republican opponent Guy Ciarrocchi by 17,843 votes to 17,229 votes.
A former district attorney and a Democratic member of the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, Drucker said that he will pursue an ethics-reform agenda that would include banning lobbyist-funded junkets, eliminating other perks for lawmakers and instituting campaign contribution limits.
"I'm 63 years old and I'm certainly not a career politician," said Drucker.
The state Senate, on the other hand, remains firmly in Republican hands, with 29 GOP lawmakers and 20 Democrats. But state Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-District 19) easily held off Republican challenger Steve Kantrowitz, winning by more than 20,000 votes.
And state Rep. Daylin Leach (D-District 149) handily won the seat being vacated by retiring state Sen. Connie Williams (D-District 17). Leach said he plans to push to bring early voting to Pennsylvania.
"It's more fun being in the majority than in the minority," acknowledged Leach about leaving the House. He was elected to serve there in 2002.
"I don't regret not having to run again in two years," said Leach, noting that terms in the Senate last for four years. "I've had five elections in six years. That's enough for a while."