Pennsylvania voters want a better state government
By throwing out 17 incumbent state legislators, including the top 2 Republican leaders in the state Senate, Pennsylvania voters send a clear message they're tired of business as usual.
One out of five incumbent Pennsylvania legislators facing primary challengers on May 16 lost.
On the surface, that may not sound like a big deal, but considering that the re-election rate of Pennsylvania legislators hovers around 97 percent, it was a historic weeding out of many career politicians.
And the housecleaning isn't over yet. Come Nov. 7, all 203 members of the House, 25 members of the Senate and the governor face re-election and almost all of them will have competition on the ballot. Voters will get another chance to fire a lot more deadbeat politicians.
Now that the initial shock of getting kicked in the rump by voters is over, politicians in Harrisburg have begun talking about ways to save their own skins come November.
It may be wishful thinking to expect meaningful property tax reform this year because the Republicans who control the House and Senate don't want Democrat Ed Rendell to campaign for re-election having delivered on his No. 1 promise — cut property taxes.
But the word "reform" is being heard everywhere in Harrisburg these days. If the incumbents who survived the primary don't start producing, many more of them will join their colleagues on the unemployment line.
To make sure that reform is more than just talk, an unusual mix of organizations has formed a coalition that is pushing a "Roadmap to Reform."
The campaign was announced last week in Harrisburg by nine organizations representing the left, center and right of the political spectrum. The coalition listed 10 ways the legislature can improve the way the people's business is conducted in Harrisburg and it challenged politicians to have the reforms in place before Oct. 1.
The organizations proposing the "Roadmap to Reform" are: Common Cause Pennsylvania; Commonwealth Foundation, Democracy Rising PA, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Citizens for Legislator Accountability, Pennsylvania Council of Churches, Rock the Capital, Stop the Illegal Pay Raise Inc. and Young Conservatives of Pennsylvania.
The "Roadmap to Reform" includes steps to make government transparent and elections more competitive, according to Tim Potts, co-founder of Democracy Rising PA. It also includes a call to convene the state’s first general constitutional convention since 1873.
Key elements of the 'Roadmap' include:
• Banning lawmakers from taking gifts and entertainment from lobbyists.
• Posting all legislative votes for the public within 24 hours.
• Passing an open records law for the legislature.
• Requiring the posting of lawmakers' expenditures and salary/benefits information online.
• Making lawmakers' health care insurance benefits consistent with the private sector.
• Banning fund-raisers while the legislature is in session.
• Authorizing and funding a constitutional convention to explore further reform.
It's an ambitious agenda, but why not shoot for the moon? The biggest obstacle to these reforms is the legislators themselves (and Gov. Ed Rendell) who like the status quo in Harrisburg. Now that the voters have the legislators over a barrel, there's no time like the present to make demands for better government.
The complete reform agenda can be reviewed at www.democracyrisingpa.com.
In the meantime, start calling your local legislators and demand that these reforms be voted on as quickly as possible.
If that means legislators bang down the door of Republican House Speaker John "Reform Stops Here" Perzel, start knocking. If that means legislators can't go on their annual two-month summer vacation, too bad.
These people make $150,000 a year in salary and benefits for a part-time job. They spend an average of 77 days a year in session in Harrisburg. If they want to keep their cushy jobs, they’d better start doing something for the voters.
And start asking the challengers who are planing to run in November, including the candidates who defeated the 17 incumbents in the primary, where they stand on these reform issues.
It's time for politicians to start working for the people who hired them — and who can fire them in November if they don't do the job.
Tony Phyrillas is a leading conservative political columnist and blogger based in Pennsylvania. He is a veteran journalist with 25 years experience as a reporter, editor and columnist for several newspapers. Phyrillas received recognition for column writing in 2010 from the Associated Press Managing Editors, in 2007 from Suburban Newspapers of America and in 2006 from the Society of Professional Journalists, Keystone Chapter. A graduate of Penn State University, Phyrillas is the city editor and political columnist for The Mercury, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning daily newspaper in Pottstown, Pa. In addition to The Mercury website (www.pottsmerc.com), his columns are featured on more than a dozen political websites and blogs. Phyrillas is a frequent guest (and occasional host) on talk radio and has been a panelist on the "Journalists Roundtable" public affairs TV program on the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN). Phyrillas was named one of the '10 Leading Greek-American Bloggers in the World' in 2007 by Odyssey: The World of Greece magazine. BlogNetNews.com ranked Phyrillas the Most Influential Political Blogger in Pennsylvania for three consecutive years (2007-2010). You can follow Phyrillas on Twitter @TonyPhyrillas