Tuesday, August 02, 2005

36: “The November Surprise”

This is Pennsylvania, where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were the first words uttered by the new United States of America, where equality was promised by the tolling of a bell inscribed with the Biblical passage “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land.” Pennsylvania, home of the first capital of the United States, and the second, and the third. Pennsylvania, where what is considered to be the greatest assemblage of philosophers of the rights of man worked to create the nation that shines as a beacon of freedom, liberty, and justice throughout the world, is now a foul and sinking ship, going down under the burden of arrogance of power, and greed.

There is a movement afoot in Pennsylvania to clean house. By that, it is meant that the desired goal is the complete defeat of every incumbent elected state, county, and municipal official in the next election. From the governor, right on down to the township supervisors, the borough aldermen, and city council members across the state – OUT! Go find a real job. Try something different like working for a living. A pretty good comedian once had a schtick in his act that was about eating in a Chinese buffet. He concluded the segment with the buffet owner coming out and yelling at him “You’ve been here four hours! You go now!” To the elected officials throughout Pennsylvania, “You’ve been here too long! You go now!” And that is too bad, really, because there are some very good, decent, honest people among that segment of our population: elected officials. Unfortunately, there are not enough of them to make a whit of difference, and they are often too hard to find because they fear the machinations of the several political machines that operate in the state.

Pennsylvania has become the ethical laughingstock of the nation. This once great Commonwealth has become the poster-child of greed and corruption. Names? No names. Let’s just say it’s the “system” that is corrupt, and that it corrupts individuals caught up in it. We won’t even begin to try to describe the political corruption in our two largest cities, where Federal investigations seem to have become a permanent fixture. But, when our state legislature enacts two pieces of legislation such as Act 71 and Act 72 of 2004, which together are so corrupt, and corrupting, and without a basis in real ethics, or reality, the time may have arrived for Operation Clean Sweep (see the links section of the sidebar).

Started just about two weeks ago, Operation Clean Sweep already boasts nearly 1500 member signed up to help organize a grassroots level campaign to effect a clean sweep of all the state elected positions in November. They do not ask for money, they ask for volunteers to run against incumbents. They offer support, advice, and help with election laws, and campaign issues. They hope and pray that the same outraged newspaper editors across the state who ranted in their editorials recently about the 16% pay raise the legislators voted themselves, will still be outraged in November. Without that voters themselves have short term memories. With about three months to go, the problem will be keeping the flames fanned.

The aim is to put a totally new set of elected officials in place who are under no obligations to anyone except the citizens of this once great Commonwealth. Once there, they should be free (for a while at least) of the graft and corruption that now permeates our government in Pennsylvania. John Adams once said,

“The way to secure liberty is to place it in the people's hands, that is, to give them the power at all times to defend it in the legislature and in the courts of justice"

Past members of the legislature and other elected officials throughout the Commonwealth have failed miserably at upholding this dictum. Something happens to them when they get sworn in, apparently. Perhaps they are seduced by the trappings of power that those who went before them voted for themselves and left in place. Truly, the magnificent Capitol building is not a place conducive to having the residue of a pasture tracked through its halls, and God forbid is should ever find its way into the chambers of both houses! (Frankly, it would be indistinguishable from the current ambience there!) Perquisites, expenses, and a salary pale in comparison to the advantages gained by these people from businesses and lobbyists alike. They had to write an ethics law. It is not a very good ethics law.

Worse still, there is no lobbyist disclosure law. Pennsylvania is the only state in the Union without one. Even the Federal government has one.

It is the sincere hope of this blogger that should Operation Clean Sweep be successful, that they would accomplish a number of things the current elected bodies would not dare do. (This is my wishlist.)

  1. Repeal the latest pay raise.
  2. Reapportion the entire state to cut the House of Representatives in half.
  3. Outlaw all lobbyists. If an individual or businessman needs help with something, let them write a letter to their Rep or their State Senator.
  4. Unless they are elected officials, or on the staff of elected officials, bar all attorneys from conducting business anywhere on the grounds of the State Capitol, unless they are acting on behalf of a court, or themselves.
  5. Repeal Act 71 of 2004. Repeal Act 72 of 2004.
  6. Rewrite the Sunshine law to require all agencies, boards, and commissions, at all levels of government within the Commonwealth, when conducting public meetings, provide a transcript of those meetings to the local newspapers within 48 hours, allow public comment without restriction at all public meetings, preclude the use of Executive Session immediately prior to, after, or during a public meeting, and post an agenda for the meeting one week prior in the same newspapers where the transcript is published. Enact funding grants to local participating newspapers at a rate of $1.00 per subscriber/per month to pay for the space.
  7. Cut 15% out of the state’s annual budget. Start by eliminating 50% of all Economic Development grants, leaving the balance of the money for distressed areas, and redevelopment. Any grants for new development must meet a litmus test requiring public input, and full disclosure of all financial arrangements.
  8. Rewrite the state ethics law as the Ethics In Government Act, forbidding the receipt of gifts of any kind whatsoever by any elected, or appointed officials, or by civil service employees. Clearly outline and define what constitutes a conflict of interest, and MAKE IT ILLEGAL, providing a stiff penalty for violations.
  9. Enact a law that any new development project requiring modifications to a municipality’s infrastructure, or additions to local schools including the hiring of new teachers, additional law enforcement, emergency services, and their equipage and facilities, will be fully funded by the developer, for one year, shifting the burden from the tax payers for this, and that such infrastructure changes will be put in place first, before the development project is commenced, with funding guaranteed by bonding.
Developers will be able to afford this because they will no longer be required to provide illicit payments to government officials. Franklin D. Roosevelt said,

"The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism -- ownership of government by an individual, by a group."

We have this situation in Pennsylvania now. Political power is concentrated in the hands of an arrogant few who dictate their self-serving whims to the people. Change will require a three-step process:

  1. Remember in November. Keep your anger red hot for the next three months.
  2. Keep your hands off the party lever in the voting booth.
  3. Educate yourself to the issues, and the candidates. Resolve not to cast a vote for any incumbent.

Pay a visit to our friends and neighbors from around the state who are flooding to join Operation Clean Sweep. It definitely smells clean, and fresh, and holds a promise of positive change.


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Randy said...

Thank you very much for the information on Operation Clean Sweep. That plus your seemingly boundless energy and determination are much appreciated.