Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Scranton, Lackawanna County
Bob Casey, Sr. was Pennsylvania's 42nd governor, 1987-1995.
Robert P. Casey was born in Queens, New York, in 1931. His family then moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he would live for the rest of his life. In 1953, Casey got married and together he and his wife had eight children. He began his career as a politician as state senator in 1962. He then became auditor general. In 1986, after three failed attempts at running for governor, Casey won the election and became the governor of Pennsylvania. After two terms in office and overcoming a rare disease in 1993, Casey died in May of 2000 of an infection.
Robert "Bob" P. Casey was born in Jackson Heights in Queens, New York on January 9, 1932, to Alphonsus Casey and Marie Cummings Casey. His father, Alphonsus Casey grew up working in the mines near the Scranton area. His parents died when he was in his teens and he was left to take care of his younger siblings but still managed to complete his schooling. Alphonsus was admitted to the bar when he was 40-years-old. Due to his father's hard work and desire to rise out of poverty, young Bob was instilled with a desire to want to help the working man. He never forgot his roots.
Casey's parents returned to Scranton shortly after his birth and his younger brother, John, was born three years later. Scranton would remain Casey's home throughout his life. He went to school at Scranton Prep, a Jesuit high school and at 14-years-old he met Ellen Harding, who would later become his wife. With high school graduation approaching, Casey had to make a decision about schooling. An avid baseball player, he was approached by a scout for the Philadelphia Phillies looking to sign him as a pro. Chance would intervene, however, and after a call from one of the priests at Scranton Prep and a tryout with the coach, Casey was accepted to the College of the Holy Cross on a basketball scholarship. While there, Casey excelled in his studies and won the election for senior class president. On June 27, 1953, just two weeks after graduating from college, Casey an Ellen were married. The couple then moved to Washington, DC, so that he could attend law school at the George Washington University Law School. Shortly after moving here, their first of eight children, Margi, was born. Casey's father died in 1956, missing his son's admission to the bar by two months.
In 1961, while he was practicing law in Scranton, Casey received a phone call requesting that he come to the office of Richard Conaboy, the Democratic Party's Lackawanna County chairman. When he got there, Lackawanna County Commissioner Michael Lawler was also present. At this meeting, Lawler asked Casey if he'd like to run for the open State Senate seat. After talking it over with his wife, he agreed and went on to win the election in 1962. During his time in Senate, he also practiced law part time at Casey, Haggerty and McDonnell and did so until he was elected auditor general in 1969. His first cause as state senator was to make a law in Pennsylvania that tested babies at birth for PKU, a disease that, if unnoticed, can cause mental retardation.
His first attempt at running for governor was in 1966, but he lost in the primary to Milton Shapp. Shapp's campaign was the first in Pennsylvania's gubernatorial history to spend money on campaigning and massive media. Shapp lost the election in November. Casey was elected as the state's auditor general in 1968. He ran for governor in 1970 and again lost the primary to Shapp. Casey then returned to his job as auditor general and was reelected in 1972. In 1974, he was accosted by ex-governor William Scranton who offered him the opportunity to run for governor as a Republican. Casey declined stating, "I appreciate the gesture but all Caseys have always been Democrats." In this election year, Casey decided not to run for state treasurer, which was the typical next step after serving two terms as auditor general. Instead, Robert E. Casey of Cambria County, when learning that Bob Casey would not run, decided to run and ended up winning the election without doing any campaigning. He had the largest amount of votes from Lackawanna County, site of Bob Casey's hometown of Scranton.
A similar thing happened in the gubernatorial election of 1978 when Casey decided to give the governorship one more try. Another Robert P. Casey, this one from Pittsburgh, decided to run for lieutenant governor and Robert J. Casey, also from the Pittsburgh area, joined in the race for Congress. Robert P. Casey from Pittsburgh who had never ran for state office before, and who spent little to no money campaigning, ended up winning the primary for lieutenant governor, while Robert P. Casey from Scranton spent thousands and lost to Pete Flaherty for the Democratic nomination.
In 1985, after living for seven years as a private citizen, Casey made the decision to run for governorship one more time. Things needed to be different this time; they would need to run a mass media campaign with full-time pollsters and professional consultants. In 1986, Casey realized that Pat Caddell was right for the job as his political pollster seeing that he was the premier one for the Democratic Party. He chose State Senator Mark Singel, who shared his pro-life views, as his running mate. They won the primary against Ed Rendell and his running mate Pete Flaherty. Now he was up against an even tougher battle, William Scranton III, from the family after whom his hometown was named. This was a fierce competition filled with negative campaign ads from both sides. This became a strain for Casey whose campaign was broke after the primary election. Scranton vowed to take the "high road" against Casey and stop the negative ads. However, shortly after this, his campaign committee mailed out 600,000 negative ads about Casey. Near election time the campaigning got fiercer, but in the end, Casey pulled ahead. He had finally won the election for governor in 1986.
On the day after his inauguration, he went to Monessen, Pennsylvania, then a rundown steel town. Here they set up sites that offered job training in attempts to get the town back up and running. They also joined with the private sector to create new jobs. Casey always remembered his blue-collar roots. During his governorship, he cut business tax several times and reduced the tax burden for working class families by lowering the state personal income tax four times. During his term, Pennsylvania ranked number one on collecting child support from deadbeat fathers. Casey also built up other programs for children's health and welfare. This includes starting the Children's Health Insurance Program, to provide healthcare to children who did not qualify for government aid but whose families did not have enough money for insurance. At the end of his term, over 50,000 children were covered under CHIP. Another positive for Casey during his candidacy as governor was that he reduced the cost of auto insurance during his term, which help to save people money. A big effort was made in environmental reforms that proved to be a successful recycling and clean-water program. He also intervened in labor disputes in the state in order to keep jobs from leaving. Casey then took a stand against the expansion of gambling in Pennsylvania, stating that gambling is "fool's gold" and is not a stable way for families to make a living.
Along with all of this success, Casey also failed a few times. One of his failures while in office included a tax reform act that he tried to make. He attempted to reduce the taxes for older people who were hit hard by property and school tax while they had a set income level. After being defeated in this reform, his status in the polls plummeted. He was able to redeem his standing by allotting $90 million to build up stronger law enforcement against drugs, better drug education, and better drug treatment. This comeback helped his standings in a positive way.
In the gubernatorial election of 1990, Casey beat Barbara Hafer, the pro-choice Pennsylvania Auditor General, by over a million votes, which was the biggest win in Pennsylvania history. During his first term as governor, Casey passed the Abortion Control Act of 1989, which required parental consent for minors seeking abortions, informed consent, a 24 hour waiting period, abortions due to gender selection, and third trimester abortions. On April 22, 1992, this act was upheld by the Supreme Court after Casey was sued by Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania. This was a big victory for Casey. Another big event occurred in 1992 when Casey was not permitted to speak at the Democratic National Convention where Bill Clinton and Al Gore were announced as the Democratic candidates. This was a humiliation for Casey.
Rumors spread about why Casey was not allowed to speak. Some said that Casey did not fully endorse the candidates, while others said that he it was a matter of timing and there was not enough time for everyone to speak who wanted to. However, the main consensus as to why Casey was not allowed to speak was because of the fact that he wished to deliver a pro-life speech. This was not a welcomed thing from pro-choice supporters Clinton and Gore. Casey noted in his autobiography that the Democratic National Convention was supposed to be about unity, inclusion, and even friendship. He stated, "I merely wanted a chance to speak, to offer a strong dissent based on the party's historical commitment to protecting the powerless." On the second day of the DNC, Casey took out a full-page ad in the New York Times, which was signed by pro-life Democrats, Republicans, liberals, and conservatives. The ad was entitled The New American Compact: Caring about Women, Caring for the Unborn. Also another blow to Casey at the DNC was the selling of pins that had Casey dressed as the pope. Casey said that these were a case of "anti-Catholic bigotry." Despite the humiliation from his own party, Casey remained a loyal Democrat.
Following winning the 1990 election, Casey was diagnosed with a rare disease called Appalachian Familiar Amylidosis. This disease had no cure and so little doctors knew about it that it was difficult for Casey to obtain facts about the disease. However, due to his persistence, he was able to find a doctor, Dr. Starzl, who said he could cure him. In order to do so, Casey would require a double-organ transplant, a new liver to get rid of the amylidosis, and a new heart to be able to tolerate the new liver. Ironically, the organ donor was a young man from Monessen, the town where his first term as governor began. This risky operation took place on June 13, 1993, and against all odds and amazing many skeptics, the Governor went back to work six months and one week later. During his absence, Lieutenant Governor Mark Singel took his place as acting governor.
During his two terms as governor, Casey accomplished many things for the people of Pennsylvania. He was not deterred in the face of adversity and held true to his beliefs despite frequent scrutiny. His oldest son Bob was quoted as saying, "Äü?He's gotten his head kicked in a couple times and he's kicked in some other heads and he's come out of it with an amazingly idealistic view of government, of people and just a tremendous reservoir of positive attitude.'" Bob Casey died on May 31, 2000, in Scranton of an infection at age 68. He was survived by his wife, Ellen; their eight children; and numerous grandchildren. After his death former President Clinton said he admired Casey's "commitment to principle." Casey always fought for the unfortunate and unprivileged and many continue to remember him for his hard work and dedication to the people.