Tom Ridge finds his voice – Something good happened in Erie, 7/31/2020

Without further ado, your Idiotville feel-good story of the week:

Erie native Tom Ridge (R), former U.S. congressman, governor, and our country’s first DHS Secretary, has had enough. | Photo from Christopher Millette, Erie Times-News.

I met Tom Ridge in 1995. I was a kid then, tagging along with my family to some event at the Barber Center where my grandma worked. Ridge was running for governor of Pennsylvania following six terms as our U.S. congressman, shaking hands and kissing babies in his hometown as he sought what he hoped would be the biggest promotion of his life.

My ten year old eyes recognized Ridge as the guy from that commercial tossing a whiffle ball to his kids. When I told my dad, he insisted we wait in line so I could tell him myself. Eventually, Ridge shook my hand and my dad asked me to describe why I liked him. Describing to a grown man why you like him is quite awkward, even at ten.

“Because you play with your kids,” I eventually muttered, and everyone giggled. Soon, our moment was up and Ridge shifted his focus politely to the next in line. It was an unspectacular encounter.

Except, for me it wasn’t. I think back to it once in a while: how he greeted this ten year old kid who couldn’t possibly vote for him, engaged me in a short conversation, and left me feeling like he related to my family in some way. That’s politics at its best.

Ridge was (and still is) a Republican in good standing, whom became our country’s first Secretary of Homeland Security in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. It was an impossible job which he performed with characteristic competence and relative obscurity.

Since then, Ridge has focused on his work with various national security organizations mostly in advisory roles. He seemed content to remain at work away from the bright lights of national politics. Then came the Trump Administration.

A lifelong Republican, Ridge had endorsed every Republican presidential candidate until 2016 when he remained silent, endorsing neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton. That silence was something of a statement in itself, but as the 2020 election approaches it is becoming clear that silence is no longer sufficient for Ridge.

It began in May as President Trump advocated “liberating” various states including PA whose governors had issued stay-at-home orders to suppress the virus, leading to armed protests at various state capitals. Tom Ridge wrote in USA Today to criticize those protesters, calling them “selfish” and “self-absorbed,” adding the following:

What are they planning to do, shoot the virus with their AR-15s?

Former PA Governor Tom Ridge (R) in USA Today, 5/11/2020

More recently, Ridge signed a letter in praise of current PA Governor Tom Wolf’s approach: “All Pennsylvanians should heed the Wolf administration’s directives to wear a mask when outside of the home,” said Ridge.

Trump’s coronavirus response is not all that’s led Ridge to speak out. Last week, Ridge said in an interview “it would be a cold day in hell before I’d consent to an uninvited, unilateral intervention into one of my cities,” and added “you’ll never be able to take a reality TV approach to solve such serious problems” as those presented by the Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, OR and around the country.

Ridge and the president have also butted heads on the issue of the upcoming election. While President Trump has baselessly suggested this November’s election would be rigged due to increased mail-in voting as policy makers seek to minimize in-person voting during the pandemic, Ridge used his position of authority as co-chair of the bipartisan group VoteSafe to push back.

I think it’s very sad and very disappointing that with almost five months to go, the President seems to try to delegitimize the November 3 election. It just seems to me that this may be an indication he’s more worried about the outcome than he’s worried about fraud.

Ridge’s criticisms are not the tepid “I wish he wouldn’t have said that” offered by so many other Republicans of today. There is no equivocation in Ridge’s statements. Ridge seems to view the president as not only wrong in many of the issues of today, but as acting in bath faith. Ridge’s voice is an important one not only for Erie and Pennsylvania, but for the country as we grapple with whom to believe with the stakes higher than ever.

So this week’s something good is the clarity offered by someone who’s simple humanity impressed me when I was a kid, when Tom Ridge had nothing to gain by showing me a moment of kindness. Now, Ridge has plenty to lose by staking out positions so contrary to the current leader of his party. In so doing, he is once again showing us all the very best of politics by acting on principle instead of expediency – an increasingly rare act that deserves recognition.

Tom Ridge is making it clear that you can be a Tom Ridge Republican or you can be a Donald Trump Republican, but you can’t be both.

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