Thursday, July 28, 2005

35: “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished”

The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Harrisburg Patriot News are reporting today that 15 Democratic legislators who voted against the recent pay raise (discussed here in #29: Legislation without Representation is Tyranny”) have been demoted from their current committee assignments.

Historian, educator, politician, and philosopher John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton, once stated, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Pennsylvania Democratic Minority leader H. William DeWeese is an apparent example of such a sentiment. DeWeese is the man responsible for the aforementioned demotions. DeWeese is simply the most recent example of the loss of any ethical or moral guidance among our elected state and local officials. And it is not limited to the Democrats. That vote was taken in, and passed by both legislative houses of the State Assembly, houses which are controlled by a Republican majority. Nothing gets passed without the complicity of the Republicans. Adams County’s own legislators, Steve Maitland and Terry Punt, both Republicans, voted for the pay raise.

In his first lecture at England’s Cambridge University, Lord Acton said, "I exhort you never to debase the moral currency or to lower the standard of rectitude, but to try others by the final maxim that governs your own lives, and to suffer no man and no cause to escape the undying penalty which history has the power to inflict on wrong." Strong words, and a warning of undoubted wisdom that should be heeded by any and all elected officials.

In Adams County, the County Commissioners, (herein referred to as "The Addams Family"), finally returned from their hiatus in the Bermuda Triangle and promptly unveiled a plan to foster the formation of geographic clusters of municipalities in Adams County in order to help deal with development. The implication is that they are helping to fight development. In reality, the clusters are being formed in order to get the clusters money to help with land zoning planning for development. The money? Oh, that’s coming from, you guessed it, the Adams County Economic Development Corporation, those wonderful folks who (almost brought us WalMart – twice) and who have been funneling your tax dollars into the runaway development of Adams County, including the casino. But do not be fooled, they act on the orders of "The Addams Family".

Does anyone remember "The Addams Family" ever polling their constituents about development? Neither does this blogger.

From top to bottom, the above is symptomatic of what is wrong with our governmental processes. Understand this: people run for office because they have an idea of what is good for society, and they want to make a difference. Once there, what should occur is the blending of those ideas with their peers, based on feedback from their constituents. Instead, the people are treated to the arrogance of power, the elected officials deciding unilaterally what is best for the people, without garnering the opinion of those people. The abuses of power by "The Addams Family", "The Strabaddies", and other local officials do not occur in a vacuum. They occur in a climate enabled by the state legislators, courts, and the Governor.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, evening viewing on C-SPAN was dominated by two men, U.S. Congressional Representatives Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia), and Bob Walker (R-Pennsylvania). Night after night, for years these two men stood on the floor of an empty House of Representatives in Washington, and spoke into the Congressional Record, first detailing what was wrong with the philosophy of the four-decade old Democratic controlled House of Representatives. They transitioned into identifying the problems with the budgetary process, and finally, in the early 1990s, put forth the proposal for a “Contract with America”, which was, in essence, their idea of a solution. Indeed, according to Gingrich and Walker, the problem was massive budgetary allocations for huge government programs, like Public Welfare, for example, with little accountability, and no real way to measure the effectiveness of those programs. Instead, their “Contract” advocated the shift to what are known as Block Grants, allowing the states to administer the money with minimal interference from the Federal Government. Yes, there were strings. The states had to assure a certain amount of each grant actually got to the public, and had to provide performance agreements for those receiving the grants. Additionally, accountability for the grant money was both measured and monitored. In other words, the Feds told the states, “Here’s the money, meet these goals, provide proof, and do it as you see fit.” Among things they tied to the block grants were the highly successful Welfare Reform, which no longer simply handed out money to needy families, but required something in return – an honest effort to get off welfare. It was backed with money for educational and training programs, and for child care. Some states even tied child school attendance to welfare benefits, trying to break what was called the “Cycle of Dependency”. It worked. It was greatly successful. While Public Welfare was not entirely eliminated, it was greatly reduced, and the economy improved for it.

Gingrich and Walker did their homework. They could have played for the cameras and damned the Democrats until the cows came home, but chose, rather, to identify the problem, and devise an innovative, even radical solution to it. And they got feedback from the voters of America. People called and emailed C-SPAN to comment, The “Contract with America” grew, and became a Republican rallying cry until the 1994 elections arrived and presented the Party with the opportunity to prove their theories. And they did.

Now, in a very short time, the “block grant” system has become corrupted. They are used to line the pockets of developers, who in turn donate to the political campaigns of the legislators. And the people are appeased by all the new structures, malls, highways, and such in their districts. But they are not consulted. They do not get asked, “Do you want a new mall here?” This is legislative arrogance. In Adams County it reaches down to the township level.

From the innovation and creativity of Gingrich and Walker, millions of persons freed themselves from the Welfare rolls, and became productive members of society. But Gingrich and Walker had a following that let them know they were on the right track. They were in touch with the people. They offered a plan, and the public approved it.

None of the current state or local officials has come close to keeping in touch with the people on that level. None. Some try. Some make an honest effort. Some just pay lip service to the effort, then follow the political machine leaders. DeWeese, Fumo, Rendell, Samuel Smith, John Perzell, Brightbill, Mellow, Jubelirer, Catherine Baker Knoll, and others are responsible for this arrogant atmosphere.

How bad is it? Our President of the State Senate, Catherine Baker Knoll, the Lieutenant Governor of the State, recently showed up uninvited at the funeral of a Marine killed in Iraq. She made comments to the family to the effect that “our government is against this war!” This kind of arrogance should never go unpunished. Instead, however, the 15 Democrats who voted “no” to their own pay raise are punished by the loss of their committee status and the extra money that attended those positions.

Let’s put Lord Acton into context. He was writing at the time (1870) when the Pope had issued a dogma of Papal Infallibility…the Pope could never be wrong. His statement on this issue was, "Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end...liberty is the only object which benefits all alike, and provokes no sincere opposition...The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to govern. Every class is unfit to govern...Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Acton could just as easily have been talking about our elected Pennsylvania officials, from the township level to the Governor’s mansion.

“Legislation without representation is tyranny!”

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