Posts Tagged general assembly

Tinkering with the System


Days before the November election I was listening to a radio talk show and the topic of discussion was a prominent Democrat who suggested that congressional terms should be made longer.  Specifically, he suggested having U.S. Senators serve for eight years rather than six and electing members of the U.S. House of Representatives to four year terms instead of two.

The reasoning behind suggesting such a change was to limit the number of opportunities voters have to impact the system to ensure more stability in the federal government.  Prompting the discussion was voter propensity to deal President Barack Obama mid-term electoral set-backs compromising his ability to enact his policy agenda.

Interestingly, when someone dislikes the verdict of the voters or an elected official misbehaves the search goes on for a systemic weakness to blame.  Inevitably, the “solution” to such non-existent problems is to remove from those rascally voters the ability to express their will through the electoral process.

Such is the case in Pennsylvania where recent episodes of elected officials behaving badly have prompted calls for systemic change that, in the end would erode the power of voters and diminish the ability of “We the People” to impact the composition of our own government.  Specifically, structural “reforms” that would enhance the power of elites to the detriment of grassroots voters include reducing the size of the state legislature and enacting the merit selection of judges.

The recent forced retirement of state Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffrey for excessive use of the send button on his computer has re-energized the merit selection movement.  Presumably, a merit selection committee would have asked McCaffrey if he liked to forward along pornographic e-mails, he would have admitted such, and thus been eliminated from consideration.  Likewise the last justice to be impeached, Rolf Larson, would have admitted his addictions to the merit selection committee and informed them of his plan to use staff to acquire prescription drugs illegally.

It is folly to believe a merit selection committee would be error free in its choices.  The only sure outcome of merit selection is that the selectors and those who select the selectors would gain incredible influence over one-third of state government with no voter oversight or recourse.  True, voters are often ill informed when it comes to judicial candidates, but the same can be said for many other offices as well.

Reducing the size of the General Assembly is another “reform” that would diminish the impact of voters while giving leaders greater control.  A smaller legislature would mean larger districts.  Candidates must spend more to be elected in larger districts, thus the role of campaign cash would grow while the ability of less well financed candidates to compete through grassroots campaigning would be lessened.  Do we really want to make money in politics more important?

At the national level, lengthening the terms of congressmen and senators would severely curtail the ability of voters to express their will.  The framers of the U.S Constitution intended for the House to be volatile, representing the momentary views of the people.  Senators were granted six-years terms to be the “cooling saucer” of those who could take a longer term view.  It was and is a good compromise that has served our nation well.

The old saying that our system of government is the worst there is – except for all the others remains true.  Constitutions are written and systems are established so the framework of government is timeless and not whipsawed by the winds of current events.  Any system is only as good as the men and women who serve within it.  The key to better government lies not in changing the system, but in being more vigilant on whom we select to represent us.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

 

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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This Week on Lincoln Radio Journal: General Assembly Returns


Radio Program Schedule for the week of September 13, 2014 – September 19, 2014

This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:

  • Eric Boehm has news headlines from paindependent.com
  • Matthew Brouillette and Katrina Anderson of the Commonwealth Foundation have a Capitol Watch look at the General Assembly returning to unfinished business
  • Lowman Henry has a Town Hall Commentary on why government regulators should stay out of the way of new ride sharing companies

This week on American Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with Veronique de Rugy from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University about the impact of the growing federal debt on the economy
  • Andy Roth of the Club for Growth has the Real Story on the increasing chance of the GOP reclaiming control of the U.S. Senate
  • Eric Boehm and Ken Ward have a Watchdog Radio Report on foreign nationals over staying their student visas
  • Dr. Paul Kengor from the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College has an American Radio Journal commentary on the passing of Chick-Fil-A founder Truett Cathy

Visit the program web sites for more information about air times. There, you can also stream live or listen to past programs!

http://www.lincolnradiojournal.com

http://www.americanradiojournal.com

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Crunch Time


It is crunch time in Harrisburg.

The next 60 days will likely be the most productive – or unproductive – period of legislating under the capitol dome this year.  From budgets and taxes to liquor privatization and pensions, a wide range of controversial and difficult issues vie for legislative attention.

Most importantly, the state constitution requires a budget be adopted by the close of business on June 30th.  Lawmakers don’t always fulfill their constitutional obligation.  Under former Governor Ed Rendell the commonwealth went eight straight years without passing a budget on time. It has been a source of pride for Governor Tom Corbett that his three budgets were done by the deadline, but revenue shortfalls and election year politics threaten that streak.

But this year, budget aside, June 30th looms as a very important date.  That is because the General Assembly traditionally adjourns immediately after passing the budget for a two and a half month summer vacation.  Last year, even with the governor’s top three legislative agenda items unresolved, the legislature left town.  When lawmakers return in mid-September the General Election will be just six weeks away.  With every member of the state House and half of the state Senate up for election, you can bet the mortgage nothing controversial will get done during the Fall session.

For decades the legislature would return to session for two weeks after the General Elections in a so-called “sine die” session to complete business.  However, such sessions have fallen into disrepute because they were often used so members who lost or were retiring could cast politically difficult votes knowing they would never again face the electorate.  As part of the meager reforms that took place during the backlash over the infamous middle-of-the-night pay raise vote, sine die sessions have either not been held or limited to routine administrative business.

Depending on the outcome of the gubernatorial election, this year could test the resolve of leaders to not call a sine die session.  Despite its control of both chambers the GOP has not been able to agree on key issues.  Should the Democratic nominee win the governor’s race, then the last chance to forge an agreement on such issues and get them signed into law will come in November.  After that, Republican dominance would end.  If, however, Governor Corbett is re-elected, sine die becomes irrelevant and legislative battles will wait until the new session convenes in January.

Adding to the drama is that each major issue is complicated by associated issues.  The budget, for example, also depends on the outcome of a Democratic push to enact a severance tax on Marcellus Shale drillers and lavish election-year spending on education.  Under the House-passed bill privatization of the state’s liquor stores would inject much needed cash into the system, but the Senate has yet to come up with the votes to pass that legislation.

Meanwhile other big issues are at play.  After decades of talk and debate there actually are two property tax reform bills gaining traction.  The problem is the bills take significantly different approaches to shifting property taxes to other forms of taxation triggering an internal battle over how to proceed.

And then there are key labor power issues.  Most notably there is a push for Paycheck Protection, or outlawing the automatic deduction of labor union dues from government workers’ paychecks.  That bill appears to have enough votes for House passage. But, organized labor has a stronger foothold in the Senate GOP caucus, so the fate of the bill is up in the air.  Governor Corbett has pledged to sign the legislation.

Illustrating how difficult it is to get anything accomplished in the current legislative and political climate is that a bill which would eliminate loopholes in state law that actually allow stalking, harassment and the making of threats to use a weapon of mass destruction during a labor dispute remains unresolved.  Polls show nearly 90% of voters want to make such actions illegal.  Both the House and the Senate have passed a bill to do so – but the Senate added some language that the House has yet to agree upon.

The failure to pass a law with such widespread support calls into question the ability of the legislature to deal with more complicated issues like pension reform.  The sad fact is it will take an enormous effort by the governor and legislative leaders to accomplish anything of substance given the political climate in which they are currently operating.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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