Thursday, August 10, 2006

188: DR Rates Rendell Candidacy

[see # 189: DR Rates Swann Candidacy for comparison.]
Once again Tim Potts and Democracy Rising PA are out in front of the issues, and the candidates. DR combined with several other organizations to put together a survey of the candidates for Governor of Pennsylvania. Here is Ed Rendell's response:
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Democracy Rising PA News
August 2, 2006

tim@democracyrisingpa.com
717-243-8570

SPECIAL REPORT: RENDELL RESPONDS

Last December, a Democracy Rising PA coalition of eight statewide organizations (see below) asked candidates for governor to respond to a questionnaire about public integrity, a Constitutional convention and appointments to judicial vacancies. We asked for responses by the end of January.

The first to respond, Jim Panyard, subsequently dropped out of the race. The second, Russ Diamond, responded the day before he announced his candidacy as an independent.

Following an article by Harrisburg Patriot political reporter Sharon Smith noting that both Democrat Gov. Ed Rendell and Republican candidate Lynn Swann had failed to respond to the survey, both campaigns promised to provide their candidates’ views. On Monday, Rendell fulfilled that promise, and on Tuesday, Swann did as well.

We have summarized Rendell’s responses below with a few comments from Democracy Rising (DR) and the Commonwealth Foundation (CF). Tomorrow we’ll do the same for Swann in another DR News Special Report.

With the apparently successful petition drive by the Green Party, we also have again asked their gubernatorial candidate, Marakay Rogers, to participate in the survey. When she responds, she will receive the same treatment afforded the other candidates.

Attached is Rendell’s complete response. To see the questions and the full responses of every candidate, side-by-side, go to the Democracy Rising PA web site at
http://www.democracyrisingpa.com/bulletins/response.asp.

Overall DR Comment: It’s a good thing that Rendell responded to these questions. But the responses don’t give us much hope for any real improvement. Although he says he agrees with “the goal of giving Pennsylvania the highest standards of public integrity in America,” none of his proposals would do so. There is no commitment to making Pennsylvania’s government the best in the nation on any standard of public integrity, value for tax dollars, transparency, or earning the confidence of citizens.

Especially disappointing in the wake of the Constitutional abuses of the past few years – by all three branches of government – is Rendell’s apparent fear of allowing citizens to improve their government through a Constitutional convention. Democracy Rising PA has gathered more than 120 ideas that citizens want to debate at a Constitutional convention. Many, perhaps most, are better dealt with through normal laws, but that still leaves a lot more than the three meaningful changes Rendell thinks should comprise the entire reform agenda for our Constitution. Incredibly, he proposes no improvements to our judiciary.

Legislative Districts:
Rendell proposes “ending incumbent protection by amending the Constitution to vest the power to redraw legislative districts in the hands of a nonpartisan independent commission and to enact legislative term limits.”
· The independent commission could not include elected officials, “political party operatives or lobbyists.”
· Lawmakers should be limited to eight years in office, “consistent with the 8-year gubernatorial term limit.”

Rendell calls for these constitutional changes to be introduced next January, “so that they can be ratified by the voters as early as the primary election of 2009 and no later than the primary election of 2011.”

CF Comment: We are highly supportive of both of these proposals. The goal of the decennial redistricting of legislative districts should be to increase the competitive nature of elections rather than protect incumbent legislators. The structure and the details outlining the creation of this commission will truly determine whether or not it is “nonpartisan” and “independent.” Term limits are necessary because of the power of incumbency that suppresses electoral competition. Only term limits will guarantee a return to citizen-led legislature.

Size of the Legislature:
Rendell proposes “right-sizing the legislature by reducing the number of members in order to cut costs and improve productivity.”

The proposal notes that, “The average size of the State House or Assembly in the five states with a larger population than Pennsylvania is 124, compared with 203 in the Commonwealth.” There is no recommendation for the size of the Senate.

CF Comment: This measure is more symbolic than substantive. In fact, as a stand-alone reform, it could possibly exacerbate the current problems in the current system. While we are not opposed to this idea, we believe that other reforms MUST be incorporated with it if a reduction in the size of the legislature is to have a positive impact on the legislative process.
http://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/research/index.cfm?section=commentaries&articleID=1682&articleType=29.

Campaign Finance:
PA alone does not limit the amount of money that individuals can contribute to political campaigns, a status Rendell would change. “Pennsylvania should enact limits on how much can be donated to campaigns, using the federal limits as a model.” Current federal limits are $2,000 per individual for election (primary and general).

However, Rendell does not embrace proposals to limit how much money legislative candidates can raise from outside their districts.

CF Comment: Reducing citizens’ Constitutional rights to free speech through their political giving is not the answer to high-priced campaigns. The answer is complete and immediate transparency.

Lobbying Control:
Rendell calls on the General Assembly to pass a law requiring lobbyists to report, “who is lobbying, on what issues, how much they have spent to lobby, whether they have given any gifts to members, and, if so how much and to whom.”

DR Comment: States with the toughest lobbying control laws, such as the Commonwealth of Kentucky, prohibit gifts to public officials.

CF Comment: PA should strive to be the standard-bearer on the issue of lobbyist control.

Open Records:
“I support…appropriate extension of the Open Records law to include the Legislature and Judiciary.”

CF and DR Comment: Not only should the Open Records law apply to the Legislative and Judicial branches, but it should be vastly improved to provide greater access to the average citizen.

Roadmap to Reform

Constitutional Convention:
Rendell opposes a general convention under all circumstances. He supports a convention limited to proposals for redistricting legislative districts, reducing the size of the legislature and imposing 8-year term limits on lawmakers, but only if theses proposals are blocked in the legislature. “If there were a Constitutional convention, it should occur after all other attempts at enacting good government reform by the Legislature have been exhausted.”

Rendell does not support a constitutional convention organized and operated by citizens. “There is no provision in law for an independent Constitutional convention. As has been done each time a Constitutional convention has been held in the Commonwealth, the Legislature must pass and the Governor must sign legislation authorizing the convention…”

DR Comment: Citizens do not need the government’s permission to change their government. Article I, Section 2 of the PA Constitution states: “All power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their peace, safety and happiness. For the advancement of these ends, they have at all times an inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think proper.” This sounds like a “provision in law” to us.

CF Comment: Article 1, Section 2 reminds us that we the citizens of Pennsylvania—not the governor or legislators or judges—have to power to “alter, reform or abolish” our government. Whether or not it is time for a constitutional convention remains to be seen. Many of the reforms we have called for would indeed require constitutional changes. We believe that a constitutional convention should be considered if/when the governor and General Assembly fail to move the necessary reforms through the amendment process in a timely manner.

Judicial Appointments:
Rendell rejects the idea of a Judicial Nominating Commission to recommend candidates for appointment to vacancies on the courts. “I…consult on a nonpartisan basis with Pennsylvanians from all different parts of the Commonwealth in order to ensure that my nominees reflect the Commonwealth’s rich diversity.”

CF Comment: Our courts should not be political playing fields. Pennsylvania’s highly politicized system has effectively neutered an important check and balance in state government. One needs to look no further than the Court’s blessing of lawmakers’ practice of unconstitutionally increasing their own pay through “unvouchered expenses” as an example of the need to increase the independence of the judiciary from the legislative and executive branches.

Note:
In addition to Democracy Rising PA, the other organizations sponsoring the gubernatorial survey are:
· The League of Women Voters of PA
· Common Cause/PA
· The Commonwealth Foundation
· The Pennsylvania Council of Churches
· PA Clean Sweep
· Rock the Capital
· PA Citizens for Legislator Accountability
Tim Potts, Co-Founder
Democracy Rising PA
P.O. Box 618,
Carlisle, PA 17013
717-243-8570

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Thanks to Tim Potts at DemocracyRisingPA for forwarding this survey. This is important stuff. Compare Rendell's answers to those of Lynn Swann in the next post!

[see # 189: DR Rates Swann Candidacy for comparison.]

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