Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Am I serious about being elected? Ask the Grand Jury.

I’ve been asked by some people, including some of my biggest supporters, if I am serious about my run for the 85th District State House seat. They can’t believe that I would refuse to play the big-money, business-as-usual political game in order to win such a prize. To begin with, let me say again that I would love to have the job – I think I’d make an excellent legislator and make my constituents in the 85th District proud. Having said that, though, allow me to direct you to the just-released comments of the 28th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury, Involving General Recommendations to the General Assembly. This investigation was commenced in August, 2007, as the result of allegations of corruption and criminal misconduct against House members of both parties, and was released on May 24th, 2010 by presiding judge Barry Feudale. The entire report may be viewed on the PA Attorney General’s website at: http://www.attorneygeneral.gov/press.aspx?id=5328.

The grand jury consisted of 23 citizens of Pennsylvania, whose occupations are: office clerk, used car salesman, information technology technician, group coordinator, research technician, retired supervisor, chemical engineer, teacher, 3 retirees (no occupation listed), tax collector, IT logistics analyst, sheet metal mechanic, machine operator, school district paraprofessional, highway department, business analyst and data management. Other than a lack of medical professionals, I think we can agree that this is a pretty diverse group.

Here is a summary of their findings and recommendations:

Taxpayer-funded political caucuses must end;

Reduce the number of legislative employees;

Return to the pre-1980 bi-partisan, single print shop;

Form a single, bi-partisan information technology department;

Legislators should stop acting as go-betweens for constituents with PennDoT;

Stop hiring legislative staff on a purely partisan political basis;

Consider making legislators part-time employees;

Make the budget process open and transparent;

Reform the system of per diem and allocation of caucus funds;

Each legislator should have equal staff and only one taxpayer-funded district office;

Ban the use of the same vendors for both legislative and campaign purposes;

Increase a state representative’s term from two to four years;

Institute term limits;

Reform “comp time” and “leave without pay” practices;

Ban legislative staffers from the House Democratic and Republican Campaign Committees’ premises during the normal legislative work day;

Provide standardized written ethics policies for the entire General Assembly;

Hold a limited constitutional convention to accomplish these reforms.

With the exception of instituting term limits, I strongly agree with every single one of these recommendations, and heartily applaud the Grand Jury for their thoughtful analysis of what is wrong in the PA General Assembly and how we might fix it. As for term limits, like with any complicated job I believe that one can become a better legislator with experience, and I am against instituting the need to “throw the bums out” as a constitutional requirement of modern politics. Rather, I think we need to make the process of running for office more accessible and reasonable. At the moment, as the Grand Jury notes, running for the House is a full time job all by itself. This means that only the wealthy, dishonest or overly-ambitious can even consider running for the General Assembly. None of us wants to be represented by only such people – everyone wants common sense and competence to be represented in the General Assembly as well as the advantaged, the connected and the driven.

This buck has to stop somewhere, and I don’t think we can afford to wait until a Constitutional Convention. That’s why I’m saying in my campaign, the buck stops with me. If elected, I will pledge to work to enact every one of the Grand Jury’s recommendations (except term limits – I will instead pledge to work to institute publicly funded campaigns so that everyone has a level playing field in trying to get elected). In the meantime, I will continue to hold myself forth, in word and deed, as a part-time citizen-legislator with nothing to hide, beholden to no one except my constituents, my conscience and my god.

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