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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 718

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This is the grave of Robert Casey.

Born in 1932 in Jackson Heights, Queens, Casey grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania. His father was attending Fordham Law after two decades working in the coal mines of northeastern Pennsylvania. He was an excellent baseball player and was offered a contract by the Phillies after he graduated from high school. He turned it down and went toward a career in the law and politics instead. He went to Holy Cross on a basketball scholarship, where he was a teammate of Bob Cousy, who is in fact still alive. After graduation, he got his law degree from George Washington in 1956. He worked for a D.C. firm for a couple of years before returning to Scranton to start a law practice of his own.

Casey was always interested in politics. He ran for the Pennsylvania state senate in 1962 and won. He served three terms. He was the mainstream Democratic candidate for governor in 1966, but lost the primary to an independently wealthy self-funding businessman. He attempted to run for governor in 1970 and 1978 but lost those campaigns too. Still, he won a race for auditor general in 1968 and reelection in 1972. He was widely considered very successful in this role, professionalizing the state accounting system, fighting corruption, and auditing the many state contracts given out, which oddly had never actually happened before. This made him plenty of enemies of course.

Casey also had a problem with people having the same name as he running for office and winning simply because voters thought it was him. Another Bob Casey won the position of state treasurer in 1976 this way and in 1978 yet another Bob Casey became lieutenant governor! When he ran for governor yet again in 1986, he actually advertised himself as “The Real Bob Casey.” And this time he won. In doing so, he put his trust in two young political consultants that guided him to victory: James Carville and Paul Begala. The careers of two very annoying media presences were also born. Casey defeated Ed Rendell in the primary and then Bill Scranton in the general. Scranton was an interesting dude–basically a hippie Republican. Posters appeared that called him a “dope smoking hippie.” Casey denounced this, but it pretty obviously came from his campaign. Later, Carville had a TV ad designed that made fun of Scranton’s practice of transcendental meditation. It was effective for a Pennsylvania population a lot more comfortable eating Scrapple than thinking about eastern religious practices.

As governor, Casey worked toward expanding health care, especially for children. He pushed through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that would later be the model for federal CHIP pushed through by the Clinton administration. So Casey definitely deserves a good bit of accolades for this. He pushed recycling as central to his agenda, making the Keystone State the first big state to mandate the practice. He also pushed through a rather silly program to run the state’s business from different cities around the state for a day each in order to get local residents to understand how their government worked. In 1990, Casey ran for reelection against a liberal Republican. Abortion was the key issue in the race–she supported it and Casey was vehemently opposed to it. Being Pennsylvania, this helped Casey win reelection.

Much of this was framed by Casey pushing the Pennsylvania legislature in 1989 to pass the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act, which gave the state some of the most restrictive abortion laws in a northern state. This included a 24-hour waiting period, notices to parents of women under 18, and mostly notably approval from husbands for married women. This is the law that led to Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which nearly overturned Roe v. Wade in which an extremely divided court found for Planned Parenthood in part, throwing out the spousal notification piece of it, but not the rest, after Anthony Kennedy surprisingly changed his mind.

Casey then fought to get a big speaking slot at the 1992 Democratic National Convention. Considered a pariah by most Democrats–for good damn reason–due to his anti-abortion platform, Casey wanted to stress that Democrats could also be anti-abortion. I completely side with Democrats who not only refused this but also basically taunted Casey by specifically giving pro-choice Pennsylvanians speaking slots. Simply put, you don’t have to personally support abortion to be a Democrat. But you have to support it remaining legal. Casey said the party was throwing good people out by its strict pro-choice stance. I don’t know, maybe it was. But what is politics without standing for some core principles? Casey became an avatar for the culture wars and what those bad liberal Democrats were up to. He didn’t help himself by refusing to campaign for Clinton in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, Casey said that liberals were just anti-Catholic. In his autobiography, he wrote, Because I’m pro-life, my religion is always thrown in there like some little code word to the reader saying ‘Watch out for this guy. He’s a Catholic. He’s one of those people.'” Sure thing Bob. Lemieux has written on the ridiculous way Beltway centrists used Casey’s convention issues as a way to talk about those bad libs.

When John Heinz died, Casey had to fill the Senate seat. He had two necessities for anyone he would name. First, the person had to hire Carville to run their next political campaign. Second, they had to be anti-abortion or at least support his draconian anti-abortion law. That ended up being Harris Wofford. When Wofford did not want to support an anti-abortion bill, Casey told the senator that he would either support the bill or not get his support in his upcoming election, which turned out to be against Rick Santorum. Wofford caved, but then lost to Santorum anyway. It would be Bob Casey, Jr., who finally put the nation out of its misery of having Rick Santorum in the Senate by defeating the scumbag in 2006.

In his second term, Casey’s health declined. He had a heart attack and quadruple bypass in 1987, but recovered from that. In 1991, he was diagnosed with hereditary amyloidosis, which is a rare organ disease. Just a few days after the announcement of his problem in 1993, he underwent a double heart-liver transplant, leading many to wonder which not famous person did not get these organs who had been waiting for so long. This probably wasn’t quite true. In the aftermath, he became a national leader in promoting organ donation. He managed to recover from this more or less too, enough that he considered a primary run against Bill Clinton in 1996 to rally his beloved anti-abortion Democrats. Luckily, he put that bad idea aside. However, Casey still struggled with the amylodosis and died in 2000, at the age of 68.

Bob Casey is buried in Saint Catharine’s Cemetery, Moscow, Pennsylvania.

This grave visit was sponsored by LGM reader donations. Many thanks!!! If you would like this series to visit other governors elected in 1986, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. H. Guy Hunt is in Cullman, Alabama and Henry Bellmon is in Billings, Oklahoma. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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