Wednesday, June 28, 2006

178: “An Update from Democracy Rising”

Good friend Tim Potts at DemocracyRisingPA sends along these alerts and reminders to keep you posted on the hucksters we have elected to the General Assembly:

Democracy Rising PA News
June 28, 2007

In this issue:
· Another Fast One -- Lobbying Control Rushes Through the House
· Defending the Indefensible – Perzel and Smith
· Tick, Tick, Tick

Another Fast One – Lobbying Control Rushes Through the House
Last week, the PA House pulled another fast one with a lobbying control proposal, House Bill 700 by Rep. John Maher, R-Allegheny. Introduced last year, it languished for 364 days on the House calendar before being sent to the Appropriations Committee for 61 days. Then it was back on the House calendar for nine days before a significant last-minute amendment and a vote on June 22 with just two hours notice to representatives and citizens. The procedure is similar to the way the pay raise, the gambling law, and other important legislation passes the House.

Despite 434 days of “legislative consideration,” citizens once again had no opportunity to tell their representatives their opinion about the final proposal before it was too late. As Barry Kauffman, executive director of
Common Cause/PA put it, “It was highly inappropriate to conceal a so-called good government bill from representatives and the public until just two hours prior to the vote.”

The final vote was 190-1. The lone “no” vote was Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware. Vitali alone argued against the fast-track while all other representatives who were present (12 were absent) were content to vote for something they didn’t have time to understand and that barely moves the needle of public integrity.

No Excuses:
There are no good reasons to compromise public integrity; there are only bad reasons. Here are three common excuses lawmakers give for failing to give PA the best lobbying control law in America.

1. “Sure it could be a lot better, but it’s better than nothing.” Some things are not better than nothing. Think of an insurance policy that doesn’t pay when your home is destroyed. Think of a pension plan that goes bankrupt when you’re ready to retire. You’ve paid into the policy and the plan for years, but you wind up with nothing. That’s not “better than nothing,” and neither is a law that fails to protect you from corruption by public officials as every lobbying control proposal now in the General Assembly fails to do.
2. “Sure it could be a lot better, but it’s the best we can do.” Would you take that excuse from a mechanic who couldn’t repair your brakes? Or would you find another mechanic – especially if the first mechanic (like today’s incumbent lawmakers) created the problem in the first place?
3. “Sure it could be a lot better, but the perfect is the enemy of the good.” This is one of Rep. Maher’s favorites. When it comes to integrity, the perfect is not the enemy of the good; it is the measure of the good. The harder we try to achieve the perfect, the more likely we are to get something good, perhaps the best in America.

Defending the Indefensible – John Perzel and Sam Smith
After firmly planting his feet in his mouth about the pay raise once again, House Speaker John Perzel, R-Philadelphia, incredibly told Capitol reporters he would not have anything more to say about it. This is, you may recall, exactly what he said a year ago when hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians signed petitions demanding the repeal of the pay raise and Perzel tried to stonewall us.

This time, though, he says he means it. “I have been defending something that the people have determined to be indefensible,” he said.

But if he does mean it, he needs to amend his actions as well as his words. His mea culpa occurred on the same day that The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Mario Cattabiani reported that the state has spent more than $1 million of taxpayer money on lawyers to defend the indefensible. Not surprisingly, instead of using the dozens of lawyers already on the state payroll, the three branches of government have hired outside counsel at a cost of up to $625 an hour. Coincidentally or not, many of the outside lawyers are contributors to the campaigns of those who hired them.

More than half of the money -- $561,000 – was spent to defend Sen. Robert Jubelirer, R-Blair, and Sen. Chip Brightbill, R-Lebanon. Both lost their primary elections last month.

But it was House Majority Leader Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, who tried hardest to justify the cost. “I understand why people think it is a waste of money, but if we think we are right about the process, we have to defend it,” Smith said.

Harrisburg Patriot, in an editorial titled, “Just another outrage,” takes it from here:

“But let’s look at the process… The 15 percent to 54 percent pay increase for legislators, judges and high administration officials was approved late at night at the last minute, without public hearings or open committee meetings, in violation of the clear language of the Constitution intended to avoid the very tactics lawmakers employed to fill their pockets. And they further violated the Constitution – not to mention a decent respect for the opinions of their constituents – by collecting the increase before the finish of the term.

“That the taxpayers are now being called upon to pay for the Legislature to defend the indefensible is nothing short of an outrage, and another in a long list of reasons why the people need to reclaim their representative government.”

As we have suggested before, the three branches of government can and should stop wasting our money by dropping their opposition to the lawsuits against the pay raise and by deciding to work according to the Constitution they swore to obey.

Tick, Tick, Tick
· Days since the pay raise of 2005: 356
· Days until Election Day: 125
· Roadmap reforms enacted: 0

Read the
Roadmap to Reform at

Tim Potts, DemocracyRisingPA

Thank you Tim. As usual you bring us the ammunition with which we will be holding these hucksters’ feet to the fire.


“Kick the hubris out of Harrisburg!”

“Be steadfast in your anger, be sure in your convictions, be moved by the right and certainty that abuse of power must be defeated at every turn; uphold Liberty as the just reward of a watchful people, and let not those who have infringed upon that Liberty steal it away from you. Never loosen your grip on Liberty!"

“Legislation without representation is tyranny.”

Remember in November! Before you vote,

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