Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tim Potts: Leadership After the Bonus Scandal

Leadership After the Bonus Scandal
In what we'd like to think is the stunned silence that attends monumental events, the great majority of PA lawmakers have barely breathed a word about the bonus scandal.

Then there are the few who still feel a sense of outrage and urgency over allegations of public corruption and have offered leadership to restore citizen confidence.

On Monday, Reps. Chris King and John Galloway, both D-Bucks, called for a referendum this November on whether to have a constitutional convention in 2009. Delegates to the convention also would be elected in November. Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin, in January introduced legislation, Senate Bill 1236 , authorizing a referendum for a constitutional convention. Others who have called for a convention include Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Allegheny, Senate Bill 291 ; Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, Senate Bill 1290 ; and Rep. Craig Dally, R-Northampton, House Bill 467 and House Bill 649 .

Today, Piccola takes another step. At a capitol news conference, Piccola and a group of integrity advocates, including Democracy Rising PA, will renew a call first made in this session last December for a Special Session on Public Integrity. See the January 14 edition of DR News for details.

Gov. Ed Rendell refused to convene the special session, so Piccola is taking another tack. Under the Constitution, if half of the members in both the House and Senate sign a petition, they can force the governor to call a special session.

Immediately after today's news conference was announced, some lawmakers began panning the idea. Even though the lawmakers themselves determine whether a special session is a success or failure, many lawmakers predicted that nothing would happen.

"I think it's more grandstanding than substantive, at the end of the day."
-- Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill.

"You're going to pay us to do a special session ... because it looks good to the public?"
-- Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Allegheny

"I'd have to be convinced it's more than just a press release."
-- Rep. Steve Nickol, R-York

Some lawmakers referred to a special session on property tax relief as proof that nothing can happen. No bills were passed in that special session, but taxpayers have seen no comprehensive property tax relief from the past 30 years of regular sessions either.

Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo repeated the governor's opposition to the idea, at least not until he gets his way on some policy matters, a position that some say has its own ethical challenges.

Other lawmakers see the opportunity to improve some of the worst and weakest laws on public integrity in America.

"I think it's in the public interest, and what better time to do it as we're into Pennsylvania's version of Watergate?"
-- Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon

Does the prediction that nothing can happen at a Special Session on Public Integrity amount to yet another indictment of our legislature? Or is it merely an admission of incompetence on the part of those who make the prediction?
Is it beyond Sen. Fontana's imagination that a special session could actually be good for the public, not just look good?
Where do other lawmakers stand on whether to have a special session? Since regular sessions of the legislature have failed to produce meaningful improvements in our laws, what do lawmakers have to lose by trying a new approach?

DR in the News
The need for a constitutional convention was the subject of an op-ed by DR President Tim Potts in Tuesday's Centre Daily Times in State College. Click here to read the reasons.

DR on the Road
Today: DR's president travels to Lancaster to speak to the Lancaster Rotary Club. The event marks a repeat performance from July 18 of last year, when Potts presented the case for raising the standards of public integrity in PA.

July 21: Potts travels to the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. for a five-hour roundtable discussion about governmental practices in PA. Potts is one of two presenters to set the stage for the discussion about whether PA's low standards of public integrity affect public policy decisions. The other presenter is Rick Stafford, former head of the Allegheny Conference, now teaching at Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz School of Public Policy.

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