Read Tim Potts Email from Monday – the clock may have run out.


This is from Tim Potts on June 23rd of Democracy Rising.

Time’s Up: Second-Worst and Going Down
Today is the last day that re-districting reform can happen without someone (probably legislative leaders) going to court. They will claim that any subsequent action is too late to meet advertising requirements for a Constitution amendment before November’s Election Day. While some believe that those requirements could be met if legislation passes by mid-July, today is the last date on which there is a consensus that anything passed today would withstand a legal challenge.

The problem with a legal challenge, especially one where legislative leaders are the plaintiffs, is that it ultimately goes to the PA Supreme Court. The problem with the PA Supreme Court is – how to put this gracefully – that it often behaves like a wholly owned subsidiary of the legislature when there is a conflict between what the legislature wants and what the Constitution requires or the citizens have a right to expect.

For more than a decade, our Supreme Court has been complicit in depriving citizens of the right to know what their government is doing before it happens. Prime examples include the plainly unconstitutional enactment of the slots gambling law and the pay raise. Few who understand the court believe that the current panel of justices has either the political will or the civic integrity to oppose the legislature on something so central to legislative power as re-districting. Most of those who do understand this are lawyers and are afraid to speak out against court abuses for fear of being subjected to Chief Justice Ronald Castille’s intemperate outbursts threatening their ability to practice law. Click here for last month’s example.

Top 3 reasons why re-districting reform hasn’t happened.
1. The PA Supreme Court. See above.
2. Legislative leaders will not willingly give up power. It has to be taken from them. Yet those we elect to protect us against the abuses of legislative leaders, namely our own representatives and senators, continue to elect the same leaders who gave us the second-worst system of re-districting in America. The only leaders from 2001 who are not around today are those the voters removed from office in 2006.
3. Pennsylvania is not now, and has not been for some time, a representative democracy. When a majority of elections are uncontested, and when lawmakers routinely enact laws that disenfranchise voters and make competitive elections less likely rather than more likely, you can’t call it a democracy.

A message for the rank and file.
Remember the wry aphorism describing the relationship between lawmakers and lobbyists: “If you can’t take their money, drink their liquor, eat their food, dally with their women and then vote against them in the morning, you don’t belong in politics.” Substitute “leaders” for “lobbyists.”

A Personal Reflection.
Once during floor debate in the 90’s when I worked for then Minority Leader Bill DeWeese, D-Greene, there was a lengthy debate over an especially contentious issue. A rank-and-file lawmaker named Babette Josephs, D-Phila., said during debate that lawmakers don’t have to worry about casting tough votes if they do the right thing. It’s only when lawmakers do the wrong thing that it’s a tough vote, I recall her saying.

Now as chair of the House State Government Committee, the burial ground of public integrity, Josephs has been casting a lot of tough votes.

Quote of the Day
In a Sunday story about the impending indictments of lawmakers and staff in the Bonusgate scandal, Harrisburg Patriot-News reporter Charlie Thompson quoted an unidentified former DeWeese staffer. He or she was one of seven employees DeWeese fired last November as the Attorney General’s investigation picked up steam.

“Nothing I ever did…ever hurt anybody,” the former staffer said.

No doubt this quote is part of a longer conversation with Thompson, and it may be true. That particular former staffer may be entirely innocent of any wrongdoing.

Even so, it is reminiscent of a culture in which political corruption, even possible criminality, is defended as victimless, as though the lack of a bleeding victim makes corruption and criminality OK. It also is typical of some political leaders, whether elected officials or staff, who have lost any understanding of what it means to be an ordinary citizen. For the record:

It hurts candidates who oppose incumbents when the incumbent uses tax dollars, which are not available to the challenger, to compete.
It hurts taxpayers when their money, taken from them by force of law, is used for illegal or corrupt purposes instead of necessary government programs.
It hurts all of us when the promise of a vital democratic system is compromised by the very people who take an oath to defend it.
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