How my gym teacher might have saved the Republic

In a long outdated school in Pennsylvania's coal country, its entrance flanked by two decommissioned WWI machine guns, Fred Shupnik taught me seventh-grade gym.  The year was 1970.  Mr. Shupnik was a World War II Navy veteran who didn't smile much.  As I recall, he also coached the rifle team.

He was frequently absent.  On those days, Mr. Murgo took over.  His friends knew him as "Snoggy."  He was missing several fingers on one hand.  A war injury?  We didn't dare ask.

I later learned that both men were legendary local coaches.  I also learned that Fred Shupnik was my representative in the Pennsylvania state House.  He served from 1959 to 1982.  That explained his absences from gym class.  At age 13, I didn't even know what state representatives did.

Now I do.  They set budgets; make proclamations; and, on rare occasions, ensure the survival of the republic.  At least, that was the original plan.

We marvel at the wisdom of the Founding Fathers.  How could they have foreseen so well the crises their handcrafted new nation would face in the distant future?  How could they have predicted the sheer mendacity inspired by lust for power?  Perhaps their prescience should not surprise us; as people of faith, they could study through the lens of Scripture the flaws of the human race since Adam's fall.  They understood, as my wife points out, that across time, people are the same.

When they structured our Constitution, they dealt most artfully with the election of the president.  The highest office was a diadem of untold value, vulnerable to theft by the powerful and the clever.  Whom did they choose to stand guard over it?  State legislatures, in the form of the often misunderstood Electoral College:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress…

The Legislature alone controls the time, place, and manner of national elections.  Not the governor.  Not some unelected Board, Office, or Commission — at least not until the willful and largely unopposed violations of the Constitution this year.

But does the Constitution say, "Except in the case of a pandemic or other emergency…?"  Emphatically, no.  State legislatures always control national elections, including Fred Shupnik, a gym teacher from Luzerne, Pennsylvania, a town of 3,000, founded 20 years after the Constitution was written.  Madison, Jefferson, Adams, and Hamilton entrusted the likes of him with oversight of the election of the chief executive and commander-in-chief.

Why them?  In part, as we know, so smaller states were justly represented.  New York boasted 350,000 residents in 1789, Rhode Island less than a fifth of that.  Perhaps more importantly, because the great minds who oversaw America's birth trusted their local counterparts — the famers, coopers, and cobblers who bore the burden of state governance.  They should know the concerns of their neighbors.  Common sense and decency would lead them to do the right thing.  After the voting was over, they would choose the electors who chose the president.  What could go wrong?

Everything, of course.  The framers of the Constitution foresaw that, too.  The words of the prophet Jeremiah were not lost on them: "The heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked."  Dividing and regionalizing the supervision of presidential elections made it more difficult to seize the office by craft or deceit.  The more people involved, the more you need to fool.

The deck of an aircraft carrier is far too short to land a fighter jet.  Landing is possible only because a hook deployed from the tail of the aircraft snags one of four "arresting cables" mounted on deck.  Pilots aim for the second cable.  Should they misjudge the incredibly delicate maneuver, they may still catch the third or fourth.


Public domain photo.

The state legislatures are the first arresting cable meant to stop a stolen election.  Legislators have the sworn duty to exercise their constitutional power to block any action prior to Election Day that would expose the process to fraud.  In 2020, they did not.  No less an authority than former president Jimmy Carter warned in a comprehensive 2005 report that mail-in ballots, lacking chain of custody and a strong means of verification, posed the greatest threat to free and fair elections.

When the dust of Election Day (now Week) has settled, legislatures must withhold certification of electors if fraud has affected the outcome. This year, none did so, despite factual evidence of fraud on a massive scale.  It was presented formally to the Legislature here in Pennsylvania, among others.  There were audible gasps.

My state senator told me no action was possible.  My state representative, occupying the seat once held by Fred Shupnik, denied seeing evidence of fraud.  Dead voters? Statistical anomalies? Ballots returned before mailing? Benford's Law? All escaped his notice. Both legislators acknowledged an outpouring of concern from constituents. Both are Republicans. Neither will get my vote in a future primary.

We thought there were more arresting cables. The Department of Justice or the FBI might have taken an interest, since election fraud is both criminal and hugely injurious to the nation. Like Sergeant Schultz in the old sitcom, they saw nothing – nothing!

Any state or federal court could have allowed evidence to be presented. None did.

The Supreme Court, ultimate arbiter of interstate disputes and the source of resolution in Bush v. Gore just twenty years ago, found this one above their pay grade, and took a pass.

Some hoped the Vice President was the last cable. He disagreed.

The fighter jet, our treasured republic, is sliding under the waves, to our horror. We, its former pilot, ejected safely, with no idea where our parachute will take us.

Why did state legislatures fail at the task entrusted to them by the sages of 1789? Some, no doubt, were co-conspirators. They will answer to God, though to no one else. Some are Democrats who chose partisanship over integrity. But what is to be said of Republican state legislators who did nothing as the election, and with it all future elections, were stolen?

I sympathize, truly. Any legislators who did their constitutional duty this November would have been sentenced to daily death threats and terrorism by the masked vigilante mobs of the Left. Today's state legislators aren't the Minutemen of 1776. They didn't sign up for that. They couldn't foresee themselves on the front lines of a war for the future of the nation. When the attack came, they retreated, as we might expect.

Nonetheless, I feel betrayed. The heroes of the American Republic expected more of them, so long ago.

Fred Shupnik's crowning achievement was the creation of a state park, around a man-made lake where people hike, kayak, and fish. It's a lovely spot, surrounded by picnic pavilions and campgrounds. Birders and Boy Scouts meet there. Fred's final resting place overlooks the park he championed. He did some good with his office. Perhaps he would have lived up to that office better than those who succeeded him.

It's a comforting thought.