Thursday, March 30, 2006

115: “Why Pennsylvania is the Laughingstock of the Nation”


It is a process not unlike the way vultures circle while selecting which carcass they will carve up among themselves. They come into an area far in advance of any development. They look around and see who is pro-development. After getting to know some people, they pick several out, as worthy candidates. They encourage them to run for township supervisor. They pay for their campaigns. They instruct them on what to do to get elected. Eventually, the hand-picked ones get elected. They are usually small business owners or construction contractors. They may have a direct connection to development, or they may not. If not, they do once they are elected. The candidate may even be a farmer who wants to retire and has a developer waiting for a rezoning of the property so it can be sold for five times the value of the actual farm. The farmer wins. The developer wins, and the community loses.

Welcome to the Third Political Party. They are king makers, for those who shine at the township level get the group blessing for a run at County Commissioner, or even State Representative if they show real talent. Their capital is not political, it is financial. Need $10,000 to run for State Rep? “No problem, why don’t we make it $12,000?” Need $25,000 to run for State Senate? “No problem, I’ll write you a check for $15,000 right now, and introduce you to my good friend from XYZ Bank, who has a 2% second mortgage for you for $20,000 more. Take your wife on a cruise.”

Third Party. It’s a cartel of developers and investors, and they have more political clout than the governor of the state. Their money and influence will back any party. That is, as long as they continue to vote pro-development. These people don’t even care what you say…as long as you vote right. Hence the supervisors who sit in a public meeting and decry the devastation of development, and then vote to change a zoning ordinance to allow development. Anyone who has ever been to a Straban Township Supervisor’s meeting and seen the now retired Roy Thomas at work knows exactly what I mean. “Oh, this is just a terrible thing, but I was forced to vote for it.” Sound familiar? They call it progress, economic development. Well, a little of that goes a long way. It is not needed in the amount they want to do. This will destroy Pennsylvania if left to go on unchecked.

There is a fourth party that is a coalition of groups that are fighting the casinos, from preservationists, to anti-gambling organizations, to community concerned citizen groups, to religious groups, to people who simply do not want to see runaway development (for those around Gettysburg, when you mention runaway development, think Bob Monahan, Dave Sites). The casinos proposed around the state have generated a number of these groups. Their problem is they remain fragmented, and thus they expend too much energy on their local fights, and not enough on the root cause. Coalesce into a statewide organization and you will have the power to defeat this monster called gambling. And if you defeat gambling you can defeat anything.

Last fall, a State Supreme Court Justice suffered the unheard of result of being voted out of office, with a second justice barely being retained. This was a clear and unequivocal message from the taxpayers and voters of the Commonwealth. The message was to the state legislature: repeal the pay raise! Enough of them got the message that they repealed it several days after the election.

Voter anger is still high. Many who accepted money early are keeping it despite the repeal, thus providing instant vulnerability on the campaign trail for themselves. (Thank you Steve Maitland!). Operation Clean Sweep is in full stride, with a slate of candidates that will put an enormous dent in the legislature if elected. And many of them will be elected.

The climate is right for those who are fighting the casinos to climb on board the Operation Clean Sweep campaign and help out, and thus gain a statewide voice for the repeal of Act 71 legislation that enables gambling In Pennsylvania.

We have pressed for the joining of the various anti-casino groups into a statewide grassroots organization several times here publicly, and have done so privately directly to a number of those groups. The fate of your communities is better served by a statewide effort to repeal the gambling act than by fighting the local fight. No Casino Gettysburg seems to have chosen to put its eggs in the basket of Steve Maitland, who has collected their hearts and minds by writing a piece of legislation prohibiting a casino in a county the size of Adams. The legislation, attached as an amendment to a large package of gambling related revisions, and additions, is currently gathering dust in the Senate after passing unanimously in the House. The Senate is allowing the Gambling Lobby to spread more money around while it searches for a poison pill to place in the legislation that will require the governor to veto the whole package. That would be the last anyone hears of Mr. Maitland’s bill. And he won’t be around after November to submit any more after he committed political suicide by keeping the raise money that was repealed.

Repeal. It is the only hope for all these grassroots organizations fighting proposed casinos in their back yards. Give back the $50 million collected as application fees, and tell the investors to write off any expenses as a tax loss. Dismantle the new Gambling Control Board agency, with 30 day pink slips. Tell Pittsburgh that if they can’t drum up their own support for an ice hockey team, they deserve to see the Penguins go to another city.

Then you can begin the business of reestablishing control over your state and local government. More than anything else, there need to be immediate changes made to the structure and rules of the State Legislature. No one should occupy a position of leadership for more than four years – total. No benefit or gain from financial expenditures by lobbyists, and that means, no dinners, no golf outings or hunting trips, no vacations, no Broadway shows, no personal loans, or gifts of cash, or any other thing of any value at all…not even a ball point pen! It also means no deposits in a legislator’s kid’s college fund account, no payments made to your bank for a legislator’s mortgage, and no sweetheart contracts for a legislator’s cousin, or for a staff member of any legislator. If you want something passed in the legislature, you make an appointment with your legislator and sit down and explain to him or her why it should happen. Then move on to the next legislator. All who lobby the legislature must file a complete detailed accounting of their financial dealings weekly, reviewed by the Attorney General’s office. Any lobbyist in violation will be barred from future lobbying, fined a minimum of $5,000, and charged with attempted bribery. Any legislator caught in violation will be removed from office on conviction of accepting bribes, and fined a value of ten times the amount received, not to be less than $5,000.

Another important change would be full public declaration of all campaign funds, none of which may be collected past a date three weeks prior to an election. Full declaration means a complete detailed list of all donations and their source, the occupation and employer of the source, and any direct or indirect relationship either by blood or by employment between the source and the candidate. The time schedule may not be amended, nor are corrections allowed at a later date. Failure to comply results in removal from the ballot for that election. This would apply to any elected office in the state, including down to district justices, township supervisors, zoning board members, municipal council members and the like, all the way up to and including governor. Everybody has the same rules. Want to run for office? Comply.

Still more, such as a recall petition process for every elected office in the state, reversion to part time legislature, reducing by half the number of representatives in the House, eliminating for all time, the travel allowances, meal allowances, and per diems for the legislature, and the courts. Allow legislators to ride any public ground transport for a token charge of $1. Redraw the legislative districts to conform to county lines, with a minimum of one, and a maximum of three house members from each county. In the cases of first class cities which correspond to a single county, the number shall be six. Each county shall decide, and be responsible for transportation costs incurred by the representative on transport between his home office and Harrisburg only.

Graft in our government will never be cleaned up, but only get worse, unless you take the problem seriously, and take direct action to get it out of government. With the combined efforts of all the anti-casino groups in the state and Operation Clean Sweep, Pennsylvania can start lifting itself from the bottom of the pile where it stands in effective, honest, open, graft-free government, where it has been the laughing stock of the nation for the past three years.

Our fourth President, James Madison, once said,

"I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations."

He is referring to graft and corruption. It is rampant in Harrisburg, it is rampant in many counties, and in many townships, boroughs, and cities. And it is bleeding you, the taxpayer dry. You pay for it.

Draw the line, and stand your ground. Gather together statewide to make massive changes in the legislature. It all starts there. Let this “Third Party” know their money is no good here any more.

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