Thursday, April 27, 2006

137: “Latest from Democracy Rising PA & Tim Potts”


Great friend Tim Potts of Democracy Rising PA is one of our Citizen Patriot Heroes. He is still out front leading the fight against ‘Harrassburg’ and its incumbent hubris filled elected officials, legislators and judges. Tim takes a practical stance against the state’s "gambling bill” it was passed in the same unconstitutional stealth mode as the Midnight Pay Raise last July. [We wonder if PCN is ready for the ratings pop it will get this July when the legislature tries to cram a year’s worth of business in one overnight session. What a disgrace our legislature has become. The laughingstock of the nation.

Here's Tim Potts from Democracy Rising PA:

DR News April 27, 2006
In this issue:
Yes? Did I Say Yes?
The Citizens’ Constitution Convention – Two Views
Snake-Eyes for the Gam(bl)ing Board
The Question for 2006: Kiss or Kick?

Yes? Did I Say Yes?
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s online edition reports that the House changed its mind about slot machine suppliers. Here’s a segment of the report by Tom Barnes and Tracie Mauriello:

“[Last month] the House voted on an amendment -- voted on it twice, in fact -- regarding the issue of slot machine suppliers. These newly created firms will be middlemen that will buy the gaming machines from slots manufacturers, add a markup and re-sell them to casinos. A lot of legislators don't see the need for the middlemen, so they tried to amend the 2004 law to make their use optional rather than mandatory.

“On the first vote, the House did, in fact, change the law to make suppliers optional. The outcome was 102-96. But then after 90 minutes, when some legislators had private discussions outside the chamber with lobbyists representing would-be suppliers, the House reversed itself and voted 111-89 to retain the mandatory use of suppliers.”

Three Republicans flipped:

Michael Diven (Allegheny), Dennis O’Brien (Philadelphia) and Elinor Taylor (Chester).

Fourteen Democrats flipped:

James Casorio (Westmoreland), Thomas Corrigan (Bucks), Paul Costa (Allegheny), Tony DeLuca (Allegheny), Ted Harhai (Westmoreland), Frank LaGrotta (Lawrence), Daylin Leach (Montgomery), Anthony Melio (Bucks), John Pallone (Westmoreland), Frank Pistella (Allegheny), Larry Roberts (Fayette), Ken Ruffing (Allegheny), Stephen Stetler (York), and Tom Tangretti (Westmoreland).

Remember that our House of Representatives is the only legislative chamber in America with absolutely no control over lobbyists. There is no limit to the gifts and entertainment and secret deals House members can cut with lobbyists, and no limit to the campaign contributions incumbents can accept.


The Citizens’ Constitution Convention – Two Views

1. Commonwealth Court on Monday dismissed a lawsuit by activist and Lt. Gov. Candidate Gene Stilp. The suit sought to require the Auditor General to audit the legislature. Currently, the legislature essentially audits itself through a Legislative Audit Advisory Commission whose members consist of – you guessed it – four lawmakers and four others appointed by lawmakers.

The commission hires an “outside” auditor but limits what the auditor can audit. For instance, the auditors are unable to tell taxpayers:

Whether contractors hired by the legislature actually did what taxpayers paid them to do (How many times have you heard lawmakers talk about accountability for others?)

Whether lawmakers legitimately use the money that they charge for postage, office furniture, travel, meals, and entertainment (Didn’t know you were paying for entertainment, did you?)

Whether lawmakers follow the same bidding procedures they require other branches and agencies to follow when buying goods and services (“Lowest responsible bidder” has no verifiable meaning in the General Assembly.)

The Commonwealth Court ruling means that this sham of public accountability will continue indefinitely until the citizens change the Constitution to require a full and independent audit of the House and Senate.

2. House Majority Leader Sam Smith (R-Jefferson), on the same day as the court ruling, told the Harrisburg Press Club that a Constitution convention isn’t in the cards. Here’s how a Harrisburg news service reported the question and Smith’s answer:

Question: Do you support a constitutional convention?
Smith’s Answer: No, not at this time. I have serious concerns with having a constitutional convention when the atmosphere and the people are polarized.

Smith has it exactly wrong. Thanks to the pay raise, the people are united, not polarized, about the need to re-invent our government and require such fundamental elements of integrity as full and independent audits of the General Assembly.

Smith and his colleagues only think people are polarized because most of us stand at the opposite pole from most of them.


Snake-Eyes for the Gam(bl)ing Board
The slots gambling law was the model for the pay raise. Passed without public hearings, with no real opportunity for citizen input, when there were (and are) no limits on lobbyists, late at night on a holiday weekend, it insulted any common-sense reading of the Constitution. Yet our Supreme Court validated the law and two weeks later, the General Assembly used exactly the same procedure for the court-negotiated pay raise.

Regardless of how you feel about gambling, the way the law came into being – and was ratified by the Supreme Court, including former Justice Russell Nigro – remains a travesty.

Few of us like the idea that lawmakers can own up to 1% of multi-billion-dollar gambling businesses. Few of us like the idea that our communities can be colonized by a slots parlor even if community opposition is overwhelming.

And few of us are happy that the state Attorney General is not allowed to investigate the Gam(bl)ing Control Board now that yet another employee of the board has been arrested. This makes four in a year, including two employees charged with getting drunk and fighting at Harrisburg nightspots, one charged with homicide in the death of a young woman, and now a fourth arrested for lying on his job application.

State Police arrested a former police officer for falsely claiming he had a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice administration. In fact, he had a $700 piece of paper from a diploma mill. He admitted buying no books, talking with no instructors, attending no classes, and writing no papers.

Gambling Control Board Chairman Tad Decker apparently doesn’t mind that his $64,000 a year employee falsely swore to supposed facts on his job application, although the board did suspend the employee without pay. Said Decker, “He never claimed he graduated from Harvard or Stanford.”

Diane Berlin, coordinator for CasinoFreeePA, puts it in perspective. “We, the citizens of Pennsylvania, are paying these board members $145,000 a year for what most of them consider part-time jobs and this is the best performance we can get? If such serious mistakes were made repeatedly at a private business, it would be ‘four strikes and you're out’ for the management by now.”

And if citizens had been able to participate meaningfully in the passage of the gambling law, it undoubtedly would be a better law and one that more people could support.

The Question for 2006: Kiss or Kick?
Speaking to a group of Bucks County business people, Gov. Ed Rendell gave yet another explanation for why he supported last year’s secret, shameful and unconstitutional pay raise.

“If I didn't sign it, I might have been governor for the next five years but I would have gotten nothing done, literally, because I need the cooperation of the Legislature,” he said. “... So you have to kiss a little butt.” (Reported by Allison Hawkes in the Doylestown Intelligencer yesterday.)

Yo, Ed. We don’t need a governor who kisses butt. We need a governor who kicks butt – 253 of them to be precise. If you’re not up to it, make way for someone who is.

Especially those particular butts!

And for the record, I absolutely refuse to use the euphemism ‘gaming’…it is gambling, pure and simple. And the only people who will make any money out of gambling in Pennsylvania are a few investors, and a few elected officials.

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