Monday, March 06, 2006

104: “Testimony, Part 1”


In GettysBLOG 103: “This is Very Important”, we passed on information about a hearing to be conducted today in Harrisburg. Stalwart friend Tim Potts from Democracy Rising has sent us his comments. Without further ado, here are Tim’s comments from today’s hearing:

Statement by Tim Potts, Co-Founder
Democracy Rising PA
On the passage of Act 71 of 2004
March 6, 2006

Good morning. I’m Tim Potts, co-founder of Democracy Rising PA, a coalition of organizations working to give Pennsylvania the best state government in America.

Democracy Rising PA has never taken a position on the merits of gambling. While we may care deeply about certain aspects of Act 71 – or about Act 71 in its entirety – that’s not what brings our organizations together.

The founding organizations of Democracy Rising PA are the League of Women Voters of PA, The Commonwealth Foundation, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, Common Cause/PA, and Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania. During the campaign to repeal the pay raise, we affiliated with even more organizations including Young Conservatives of Pennsylvania, Rock the Capital, Pennsylvania Citizens for Legislator Accountability, and PA Clean Sweep.

These organizations are new and old; large and small; left, right and center.

What brings us together is our belief that Act 71 was enacted in an unconstitutional manner, an idea that is conspicuous to most Pennsylvanians but invisible to our Supreme Court justices. They saw nothing wrong with the way Act 71 became law, despite a process of lawmaking that we believe violated at least four separate provisions of our Constitution. These include provisions that most people recognize as a requirement for laws to be considered on at least three different days in the House and three different days in the Senate.

Here is what happened.

This is the original House Bill 2330, which ultimately became Act 71. It’s a page and a half. It was considered for 47 days without amendment in the House and 100 days without amendment in the Senate – 147 days total.

Then, on a holiday weekend, House Bill 2330 was amended with 146 pages of language the public had never seen before. In a matter of hours, lawmakers passed it to a governor who was proud and eager to sign it.

And this (a blank sheet) is every word that the original bill and the final law have in common. This is every word that actually got three days consideration in the House and three days consideration in the Senate.

On issues as important as this – on all issues, frankly – there is no excuse for excluding citizens from the chance to participate in their own government’s decision-making. This is not national defense. No one’s life was in jeopardy had they taken the time to follow the unambiguous language of the Constitution and show a little respect for their constituents.

This is the age of the Internet, when finding out what constituents think is easy and convenient. There is no excuse for conducting the people’s business in a way that makes it impossible for citizens to do their duty.

And the governor and lawmakers know it. The reason they passed this law as they did was that they knew people would want to express their opinion about it, and our political leaders just didn’t want to hear it.

The only people they wanted to hear from were the lobbyists, who were and are effectively unregulated in this state to our national shame.

This is no way to enact laws that 12.8 million people have to live with and pay for. This is no exercise in representative democracy. This is no display of fealty to the Constitution they swore to obey. This is no way to treat people.

But thanks to our Supreme Court’s rulings, this is the way any law on any subject could be enacted in Pennsylvania. What’s the worst thing state government could do to you, your family, and your community? Whatever it is, it can be enacted overnight before you have any chance to object because of the way the Supreme Court has misinterpreted our Constitution.

In fact, the Supreme Court’s ruling on Act 71 gave the “all clear” for last year’s pay raise. Just two weeks after the court ruled on Act 71, lawmakers and the governor used exactly the same process to give officials in all three branches substantial pay raises without public knowledge, without public hearing and without public debate.

At Democracy Rising PA, we recognize that without such bad behavior, we wouldn’t have much to complain about. To which we say, “Go ahead. Put Democracy Rising PA out of business by giving Pennsylvania citizens the highest standards of public integrity in America.” We’ll take that deal any day.

Until then, we can take strength from the growing engagement of people around gambling and other state government issues. Pennsylvanians are learning that state government doesn’t have to be as bad as it is here. In fact, just about every other state practices representative democracy better than we do.

The integrity of a democracy is measured by how it controls lobbyists, opens government budgets and records to public view, holds lawmakers accountable for their complete voting record on Election Day, prohibits “ghost voting” by lawmakers, makes it easy for citizens to participate in their government, whether as candidates or as voters, controls the illicit influence of money on elections, and many other things.

As people learn how awful Pennsylvania is, they’re starting to re-assert their power in the voting booth and reclaim a democracy worthy of the name. Last year 806,000 fellow citizens removed a sitting Supreme Court justice for the first time in our history.

This could be the start of something good. This year and next, voters will have many opportunities to reward deserving public officials and to remove those who just don’t get it. People are becoming committed to integrity.

With regard to Act 71, if we are committed to integrity, we could repeal Act 71 and start over, making the people of Pennsylvania the first partner in knowing and guiding what any new law will contain. We could have statewide discussions about who decides where slots parlors are located. We could find out how much taxpayers could receive if licenses were sold at auction. We could find out how much gambling companies will save if they don’t have to buy machines through a state-based broker. We could learn what can go wrong for children and families and communities in time to prevent it instead of just clean up after it.

Or we can amend Act 71 to ensure Pennsylvania citizens that their law is the best of its kind in America, providing the clearest transparency, upholding the highest ethical standards, and guaranteeing help for both the compulsive gamblers and he inevitable innocent victims that always accompany gambling on a large scale.

We citizens can do it. All of our public officials were elected, so we have already exercised our power. It is our hope at Democracy Rising PA that more citizens will exercise and increase their power by choosing public servants who work to ensure we have the best government in America.

If we’d had enough public servants of that kind in 2004, we wouldn’t be here today. We might still have slots gambling, but at least we would have confidence that a majority of our fellow citizens made an informed choice about such a monumental change in public policy. And most likely, we would have a better law that the one we have.

We wish you well as you continue to shine a light on what’s wrong and lead the way to what’s right.

Thank you.

No. Thank you, Tim Potts. Your eloquent statement has put so much in perspective. We finally see the connection between Act 71 and the Midnight Pay Raise. We finally see that the hubris in Harrisburg is so thick one can hardly breathe. We finally see that it isn’t just the legislators, but the governor and the supreme court that are all complicit in this insult to the Pennsylvania Constitution, and the citizenry of Pennsylvania.

Please visit Democracy Rising to see what you can do to put ethics and integrity back into state government.

And before you vote, GettysBLOG!

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“Kick the hubris out of Harrisburg!” --
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1 comments:

Randy said...

I have to say that I greatly admire your tireless efforts to advocate for the preservation and protection of the Gettysburg Battlefield along with your consistent ability to continuously and effectively keep so many current concerning an impressive number of very relevant issues. Thank you.