Thursday, June 19, 2008

Book Review: Tip of the Spear

One of the things we take great enjoyment in is reviewing books, and doubly so for those who are friends. We have been extremely remiss in this activity over the past year and are far behind in our reviews. We plan over the next few weeks to remedy that, starting right now.

Russ Diamond became our friend a few years back when he launched perhaps the greatest voter rebellion in the history of our nation. He had a great deal of help in moving this along, primarily from the inept and hubris-filled members of the Pennsylvania State Assembly, and the Commonwealth Judiciary. When the legislature passed a pay raise for themselves and the state's judges in the wee hours of the morning during budget negotiations in July of 2005, hardly anyone noticed. But when the news hit the next day it was greeted with absolute outrage across the state. The legislature had not only voted itself and the Judiciary a huge pay raise, but had violated the state constitution by allowing the members to immediately benefit from the raise instead of waiting until the next session of the legislature in January. This was done by means of a particularly ugly little device called an "unvouchered expense", which members grabbed up right away, and which eventually counted toward their retirement funds.

The source of this device, and the advice to the legislature, again violating laws [as the League of Women Voters has now sought to remedy by accusing the former Chief Justice of the Commonwealth Supreme Court of collusion with the legislative leadership], was allegedly Chief Justice Ralph Cappy.

The legislators later repealed the raise, and many, but not all, gave back the unvouchered expense money they drew. The Justices fought off a legal challenge to their right to keep the raises -- in their own court, thanks mostly to Chief Justice nominee Ron Castile.

All of this is detailed in Diamond's new book,
Tip of the Spear, just out from Raintree Books [ISBN 978-0-9801079-0-6].

Tip of the Spear is a fascinating chronology of every step of the seventeen month battle between the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, represented in large part by Diamond's organization, Operation Clean Sweep, and the greedy, hubris-filled members of both houses of the State Assembly. Along the way, personal roadblocks were thrown in front of Russ which would have derailed a lesser person. But with dedication, and an enormous amount of personal will, Diamond dealt with a family debacle, compounded by over-reactive police. While Diamond will not point to politics as the cause for the problems, one can easily see the connections.

Nor was Diamond's road to success with Clean Sweep a smooth one, as the organization eventually fell into internal strife of the most bitter kind. Through it all, Russ Diamond remained undaunted, and eventually ran for Governor of Pennsylvania.

But the measure of his success comes in the form of Clean Sweep victories at the polls. First up was a sitting Supreme Court Justice, Russell Nigro, who was voted out of office in the November, 2005, General Election, and a close call for another sitting Justice, Sandra Newman. This forced the legislative leadership to sit up and pay attention. Hubris, while still present in abundance, suddenly started to melt away. The legislature saw the growing list of candidates who signed on to Clean Sweep's slate and realized they must take action to placate the voters. Nevertheless, in spite of repealing the pay raise [while leaving the raise in effect for the Judges, and the "unvouchered expense" in place for the legislators] just before the General Election [with one dissenting vote - unrepentant House Majority Whip Mike Veon] they continued on their "privileged" way, burying their heads in the sand, and doing nothing to finish the job of the repeal.

The following spring in the Primary Election, several dozen legislators were ejected from their potential candidacy for reelection by still-angry voters, with Clean Sweep candidates winning many nominations. [We joined in this effort by devoting much space and time to unseating a particularly glaring example of legislative greed in Representative Steve Maitland, who unapologetically kept his unvouchered expense money, and used it to pay off his swimming pool, and his tuition to law school. But at least he is no longer drinking from the Public Trough in Harrisburg! He was replaced by hard working Dan Moul who hit the ground running and has not stopped, sponsoring more good legislation in two years than Maitland did in fourteen.] But President Pro Tem of the Senate Bob Jubelirer, and Senate Majority leader Chip Brightbill lost their reelection bids in a shattering denouncement by the voters of the Commonwealth.

Operation Clean Sweep was far from finished.

By the fall General Election, Clean Sweep candidates were on the ballot in dozens of districts throughout the state, and running for either the House or the Senate. And many of them won. When all was said and done, scores of incumbents were either defeated in the Primary, defeated in the General Election, or chose not to face the wrath of the voters at the polls and retired. The effort culminated in the defeat of another member of the Pay raise cabal, the Zoot Suit-wearing Mike Veon, House Majority Whip, and a very close call for Bill DeWeese, the House Minority Leader. The leader of the cabal, Speaker of the House John Perzel faced a post election rebellion in the ranks, and lost his speakership.

The people had spoken. Legislative leadership was turned out of office, and other guilty incumbents joined them. Also Clean Sweep scored a sitting Justice of the Supreme Court, and a near miss on another one.

In
Tip of the Spear, Russ Diamond names names, takes no prisoner, and pulls no punches. This book is a political thriller from real life, and John Grisham could not have written it any better.

We urge all of you to buy, borrow, or otherwise obtain this book and read it. It will eventually become a primer for citizen involvement in the electoral and legislative process. Diamond's leadership shines through as he sustained a successful effort to maintain citizen involvement for seventeen months, through three elections. In the end, when you finish the book, you'll do what we did: cheer!

Bravo to Russ Diamond and Clean Sweep, and bravo to Diamond for
Tip of the Spear!

You can purchase
Tip of the Spear directly from Raintree Books [click here].

We expect a movie to be made out of this!

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