Posts Tagged policy

R.I.P. PA Constitution 1968-2016


Governor Tom Wolf has been in office for just over a year, but already we know historians will put the words “budget crisis” in their lead paragraph.  But a far more ominous phrase may get top billing: “constitutional crisis.”

Like his authoritarian counterpart in Washington, D.C., Governor Wolf is willing, in fact may prefer, to shred the constitutional separation of powers and enact by executive fiat that which the legislative branch is unwilling to do.  The commonwealth has entered its ninth month without a completed state budget and that has spawned a growing debate over the limits of gubernatorial power.

Days before Christmas the legislature again passed a state budget.  This time Governor Wolf signed off on most of the spending plan but “blue lined” or line item vetoed about a third of the items thus extending the budget crisis.  Three months later, there is no resolution, but the administration is spending money anyway.  This, many lawmakers argue, is a clear violation of the state constitution.

The Governor, and his appointed State Treasurer Timothy Reese argue there is a competing requirement for the state to keep certain agencies operating – especially those involved with ensuring public safety.  But Treasurer Reese has gone far beyond that even authorizing a “loan” from the state treasury to House Democrats to pay their staff during the ongoing budget crisis.

The public safety argument is nothing more than a distraction from the main issue which is can a governor spend taxpayer dollars without explicit authorization from the General Assembly?   It is a clear violation of the state constitution and one which will explode into a full blown crisis, especially if the governor’s illicit spending extends outside the realm of public safety.

The budget, however, is not the only area in which Governor Wolf is willing to trample on legislative powers.  He is trying to shutter the Public Employees Retirement Commission (PERC), an obscure state agency that earned his ire when it disagreed with his view of the pension crisis.  The agency was created by an act of the General Assembly and signed into law by a previous governor.  Lawmakers have sued in court to block executive dissolution of PERC pointing out it would take legislative action to do so.

This week Governor Wolf again by-passed the General Assembly on the issue of the state’s minimum wage. The governor has called for an increase in the state minimum wage, but the legislature has refused to go along.  So, he signed an executive order unilaterally raising the minimum wage paid to state employees to $10.15 per hour.  The action applies only to state workers, but will be extended to those companies doing business with the state.  The minimum wage hike does not extend to private business.

However, the impact on small businesses will be significant.  Neal Lesher, legislative director for the National Federation of Independent Business-Pennsylvania, points out that the governor’s executive order effectively prevents many small businesses from entering the bidding process for state contracts.  “Some small businesses simply cannot afford to pay inexperienced, entry level workers that much more per hour,” Lesher explained.  “This creates an unfair playing field that favors larger companies.”

Having fully bought into the Obama “pen and phone” style of governing there is no indication Governor Wolf plans to return to a constitutional model any time soon.  His “budget address” to the legislature last month was hostile and confrontational and had the effect of solidifying Republican opposition which at times had shown signs of wavering.

It is clear crisis government is now the new normal in Harrisburg.  With no resolution to the current budget impasse in sight, and the deadline for adopting a budget for the next fiscal year less than four months away, the governor is content to act as if the legislative branch of government does not exist.  But legislators will not sit idly by and be consigned to irrelevance.  If the governor continues on his current course the constitutional crisis will explode into the courts, and possibly even lead to impeachment proceedings.

(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.)

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A New Way Forward


There is an old saying that battle plans are effective until the fighting starts.  That is true in politics. Once the campaign actually begins anything can – and usually does – happen.  This explains why establishment favorite Jeb Bush is being over-run by Donald Trump and a socialist senator from a small state is giving Hillary Clinton a run for her money.

At this stage of the presidential race in 2008 conventional wisdom held that the General Election match-up would be a contest between Hillary Clinton and Rudy Guliani.  Four years ago, Herman Cain held a commanding lead in the polls to take on incumbent Barack Obama.  Clinton, Guliani and Cain all failed to win their party’s nomination.

Trump and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders would appear at first glance to have absolutely nothing in common.  Trump is the embodiment of free enterprise having made billions in real estate and other ventures; Sanders is an avowed socialist. But there is a common thread: each has tapped into the deep tide of discontent with the malaise that has engulfed both our domestic economy and foreign policy.  To be sure Trump and Sanders prescribe diametrically opposite solutions, but the feelings of discontent run strong on both the Left and the Right.

The challenge for Republicans, and especially for conservatives, is to present a path forward that will be both realistic, yet appeal to the nation’s desire – as Trump puts it – to make America great again.  The only certainty is that the old approach has failed.  Milquetoast nominees like Mitt Romney and John McCain spouting establishment rhetoric inspired nobody and resulted in the ideologically driven presidency of Barack Obama.

Conservatives are viewed by many voters as heartless money grubbers willing only to cut spending and kick the “lesser of these” to the streets.  But a new approach is emerging, with a presidential candidate and a think tank president leading the way.  In their own way, they have laid the ideological groundwork for a message that more accurately reflects the conservative heart.

The Conservative Heart is a new book by Arthur C. Brooks who is President of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.  The stated purpose of the book is to challenge “the liberal monopoly on fairness and compassion.”   And Brooks does just that by explaining how free enterprise and conservative solutions have lifted more people out of poverty than any other economic system known to man.

Rick Santorum, the former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania and 2012 GOP Presidential runner-up is known primarily for his outspoken positions on social issues.  But, it is on economic issues where Santorum actually may have the most impact.  He too has written a book, Blue Collar Conservatives, in which he argues that conservatives must talk about the “blue-jeaned” worker as well as the CEO.  Santorum argues: “Conservatives give the impression they are unconcerned about the millions of hurting and vulnerable Americans” and concludes “Our country needs opportunities for all not just the financiers on the East Coast or the high-tech tycoons on the West.”

All of this, according to Brooks means we must change the focus from the Left on equalizing the “finish line” to placing emphasis on “making the starting line more equal for the vulnerable by improving education, expanding the opportunity to work, and increasing access to entrepreneurship.”  And for him, that includes fighting “cronyism that favors powerful interests and keeps the little guy down.”

Powerful interests, of course, abound in both political parties.  But they are small in number compared to the “blue collar conservatives” to which both Santorum and Brooks argue the GOP must appeal.  It would be a bold new approach and a departure from the past.  But having lost the last two presidential elections, for conservatives and for Republicans a departure from the past would be a good thing.

(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.)

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Immigration Focus Misses the Problem


Donald Trump’s comments on illegal immigrants have ignited the latest firestorm to engulf the herd of candidates seeking the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.  But by continuing to focus on illegal immigration the debate misses a much larger problem: the sad state of America’s relationship with our neighbor to the south.

Two wars and instability in the mid-east, Russian aggression, and Chinese economic warfare have pushed U.S.-Mexican relations to the foreign policy back burner.  David Shirk, a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, D.C. summed it up well saying: “I think the challenge, the problem is that Mexico is actually quite important to the United States, but (President Barack) Obama is so embattled on so many fronts that he hasn’t been able to give Mexico the bandwidth that it deserves . . .”

U.S. – Mexican relations have been fraught with difficulty and conflict for centuries.  President James K. Polk, out of a sense of Manifest Destiny, fought the Mexican-American War which ended in 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo establishing the Rio Grande as the border between U.S. and Mexico and giving the United States what is now the American southwest.

It’s hard to tell whether or not Mexico still harbors a grudge against losing nearly one-third of its territory centuries ago, but the current state of relations between the two nations is hardly what one would expect given our close economic ties. That bond was strengthened by enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement during the Clinton Administration making the United States Mexico’s top trading partner.

Census data shows that since 1980 Mexicans have been the largest immigrant group into the United States.  From 1990-2010 more than 7.5 million immigrants, many illegal, have poured over the border into this country.  Some have moved on, to Canada, Spain and even Guatemala, but most have stayed.

The scope of the problem is clear, but upon even casual reflection so too are the causes.  The Mexican economy is in the dumpster and the nation is riddled by internal conflict between the government and drug cartels, and among the drug cartels themselves.  Add in a healthy dose of government corruption and it is clear the Mexican state is dysfunctional leading many citizens to give up hope and move north in search of a better life.

Problems begin with the government itself.  “Corruption and weakness in Mexico’s judicial and police sectors have largely allowed the drug trade to flourish,” concluded a report by the Council on Foreign Relations.  And flourish it has; 90% of the illegal drugs entering the United States originate or arrive via Mexico.  Mexico is the prime source of marijuana and methamphetamines sold in the U.S.  This trade comes at a significant cost, as more than 60,000 Mexicans have died in domestic drug-related violence since 2006.

U.S. – Mexican relations hit a low point last year when the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto allowed U.S. Marine reservist Sgt. Andrew Tahmoressi to languish in a Mexican prison for 214 days after he inadvertently wandered over the border.  The irony of Mexico holding one American who crossed the border while millions of Mexicans cross into the U.S. unfettered was not lost on many.

With its economy in shambles, corruption rampant and the drug trade pervasive immigration to the United States, legal and illegal, has continued at a brisk pace slowing only during the Great Recession when U.S. job opportunities also dried up. As the U.S. slowly recovers from that recession, the pace of immigration is also likely to accelerate.

All the while the American political establishment continues to fixate on the symptom rather than the cause of the problem.  Unless and until Mexico can get its own affairs in order, immigrants will continue to stream north.  Mexicans would be less likely to leave family and cultural ties behind to face an uncertain fate in the United States if they were safe, secure and had economic opportunities in their homeland.

Much of this, unfortunately, is outside the ability of the United States to fix.  Massive corruption and political instability are matters which Mexico must address internally. But U.S. foreign policy must focus more intently on our southern neighbor to quash the drug trade and to foster a more robust Mexican economy.  By so doing we will stop addressing symptoms and begin to cure the cause of the immigration problem.

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

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A New ‘Team of Rivals’


Once again this week the field of contenders for the 2016 Republican Presidential Nomination continued to grow. There is great diversity in what is shaping up to be a historically large field of would-be presidents.  Diverse not just by gender, race and ethnicity, but collectively the candidates bring a wealth of experience and expertise to the contest.

A few years back the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin penned a book entitled Team of Rivals which went into great detail as to how President Abraham Lincoln brought those who competed against him during the nomination process into his cabinet.  President Lincoln was both secure enough in his own abilities, and wise enough to recognize his erstwhile opponents had talents the country sorely needed.

If Republicans reclaim the White House, the large field of contenders will give the new president a deep pool of qualified individuals from which to pick his, or her, cabinet.   Just for fun, let’s take a look at the Republican presidential contenders and see how they might fit into a new administration:

The big four cabinet posts are State, Defense, Treasury and Justice.  U.S. Senator Marco Rubio has emerged as one of the leading voices on foreign affairs making him well qualified to become the next Secretary of State.  Both the current Secretary of State John Kerry and his predecessor Hillary Clinton had competed for their party’s presidential nomination and served in the U.S. Senate prior to becoming the nation’s top diplomat, so Rubio would be following a well-worn path.

For Secretary of Defense U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham would be a perfect fit.  He, along with Senator John McCain, for a decade now have traveled extensively to the mid-east and other areas of global conflict.  He would be well positioned to begin restoring the confidence in America’s resolve which has been lost over the past six years.  And George Pataki, the former New York governor who led his state in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, would be an excellent fit for Secretary of Homeland Security.

Nobody on the campaign trail speaks as well or argues as effectively as the U.S. Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz.  His passionate defense of conservative principles and strict adherence to the U.S. Constitution would make him an ideal candidate to become the next Attorney General of the United States.  And, who better to be Secretary of the Treasury than the man who has made an $8 billion personal fortune – The Donald, Donald Trump?

As we continue to build the ideal GOP presidential cabinet let’s put the former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum in as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.   Santorum cares passionately for families and could walk in the innovative footsteps of another conservative icon, Jack Kemp, who proved that housing policy could be compassionate and realistic at the same time.  Along those lines, Dr. Ben Carson – a highly respected neurosurgeon, would be an ideal fit as Secretary of Health and Human Services.

For Secretary of the Interior, former Texas Governor Rick Perry would be ideal. Western states need an Interior secretary who will fight for their interests. Perry is steeped in the issues, a passionate and effective advocate for his causes, and as a westerner would be widely acceptable in that role.  Alternately, he would fit well as Secretary of Energy.

Conservatives would applaud the appointment of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker as Secretary of Labor.  Walker has successfully battled the labor unions in Wisconsin and intrinsically understands how the nation’s current labor policy environment is hindering the economic recovery.  Pair him with Carly Fiorina as Commerce Secretary and they could put the nation’s economy back on the right track.

His support for Common Core standards aside, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was an innovator and strong supporter of school choice making him a good pick for Secretary of Education.  Ohio Governor John Kasich would be effective as White House Chief of Staff.  And, to really make liberal heads spin, let’s put Senator Rand Paul on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Finally let’s appoint New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as Secretary of Transportation.  Who better to rebuild our nation’s roads and bridges . . . OK, well, maybe not.

Those are my presidential cabinet picks.  Of course, one of these folks would have to end up as president, and another likely vice president, but the bottom line is the GOP has a wealth of talent which could be called into service if the party prevails in November of 2016.

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

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

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Epic Failure in Baltimore


The real victim of the riots in Baltimore is the Left-wing philosophy of cradle-to-grave big government that has inevitably collapsed under the weight of its own faulty theories and inept implementation.  It wasn’t just a drug store that went up in flames; it was generations of nanny state public policy that got incinerated in Lord Baltimore’s burg.

If ever there was a poster child for a progressive Utopia it would be the city of Baltimore.  Nestled by the bay of the most liberal state in the union, Baltimore has been ruled by Democrats of the most Leftist variety for a half century.  As a majority black municipality, Baltimore is governed by an African-American mayor and city council.  The police chief is African-American as are three of the six officers involved in the tragedy that sparked the violence.

There is no way to claim racial under-representation.  Yet mostly young blacks took to the streets out of frustration to protest, and then riot in a desperate bid to be heard. With race not being a factor, the only conclusion that can be reached is that those governing the city, and the policies they champion, have failed.

Let us set aside for now the fact many of the rioters were simply taking advantage of the situation, and that the mayor’s handling of the riots was incompetent.  Rather, we should examine the root causes of the city’s failure, of which there are at least four:

The most significant factor contributing to the crisis is the decline of the family unit.  It is rare in such an instance of societal meltdown for one image to encapsulate the solution to the problem.  The mom who saw her son rioting, went out into the street, literally smacked him upside the head (repeatedly) and then dragged him home represents the ultimate solution.

Young people need somebody who cares; somebody who will be both a mentor and a disciplinarian.  The skyrocketing rate of out-of-wedlock births has deprived many children of a stable two-parent household, and sadly in all too many cases, not even one responsible adult is present.  Policies that foster stronger family ties, rather than seeking to replace the family with government programs are a foundational step that must be taken.

Second, it is time to admit public education in our cities is a failure.  Federal, state and local school district spending on public education has far outpaced the rate of inflation for decades, yet our inner city public schools continue to fail.  Teacher unions and bloated bureaucracies, rather than students have been the prime beneficiaries of this taxpayer largess.  In some cities – Washington, D.C. is a prime example – charter schools have provided students and parents with choices.  But union opposition has kept charter schools from realizing their full potential and trapped students in under-performing schools.

Third, good job opportunities are a must.  The unemployment rate among African-Americans is more than double the national average, worse in urban cores.  Decades of overtaxation and hyper-regulation have driven business and industry out of cities.  As the good jobs have left, so too have the people qualified to hold them; leaving a largely unskilled workforce which serves as an additional disincentive to economic development.

And speaking of disincentives, our system of public welfare must be reformed to encourage recipients to seek the education or training that leads to employment.  Arcane and complex public assistance formulas often create welfare “cliffs” that make it more profitable for recipients to stay on welfare than to enter the work force.

The time has come for a complete reassessment of urban public policy.  Decades of experimenting with government centered solutions have clearly failed.  These progressive policies that trap people in poverty must be tossed out and replaced with a realistic approach based on time-proven principles that will help people move from poverty to prosperity.

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

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GOP Launches a New ‘War on Poverty’


In his 1964 State of the Union Address President Lyndon Johnson launched what became known as the “war on poverty” saying: “Our aim is not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it, and above all to prevent it.”

Like the war in Vietnam, which he simultaneously fought, Johnson lost the “war on poverty.”  In 1964 the U.S. Poverty rate stood at 17.3%, after a half century with spending totally in the trillions of dollars, that rate today is stuck at 15%.

The “war on poverty” has been lost because the central theme of Johnson’s address got subverted to the cause of big government.  Anti-poverty programs sought not to “relieve the symptom of poverty,” but rather to entrap poverty stricken families in a web of government dependency.  At that the “war” has been successful as, for example, a record 47 million U.S. households today receive food stamps.

Although President Johnson’s anti-poverty initiative failed in its stated goal, it has been a resounding political success for his party.  Under the guise of compassion, Democrats have been successful in creating an entire class of voters dependent on government.  As a result entitlement programs now make up an unsustainable percentage of the federal budget and are driving trillion dollar budget deficits.

Conversely, Republicans have been portrayed as modern day Scrooges who care more about the bottom line than about the needs of poor Americans.  While the negative fiscal impact of deficit spending is real, the GOP has enhanced this reputation by failing to provide realistic solutions to fighting poverty through the provision of human services.

That, however, is changing.

In what is shaping up as a major change in how Republican policy-makers deal with poverty and the confusing and inefficient labyrinth of human service programs designed to combat it, major initiatives are underway at both the state and national level to develop a new – and hopefully more effective – anti-poverty paradigm.

At the national level Congressman Paul Ryan, the GOP’s 2012 Vice Presidential nominee, has spent years researching and developing hisExpanding Opportunities in America program. Ryan proposes reforms to the nation’s educational and social safety net programs.  He also wants a review and streamlining of the thousands of federal regulations that frequently are a roadblock to providing effective services.

Funding for human services trickle down to the state, and ultimately to the county level where many such programs are actually implemented.  So, in addition to federal bureaucracies a level of state administration gets overlaid on human service programs before the dollars actually get to the counties and nonprofit organizations providing service.

State Representative David Reed, who serves as Majority Policy Chairman, last year launched his Empowering Opportunities: Gateways out of Poverty Initiative.  Reed returns to Lyndon Johnson’s original promise saying: “With more than 1.6 million Pennsylvanians struggling in poverty today, our responsibility is to begin the discussion anew on the most effective and successful means of transitioning our citizens from a life of poverty to self-sustainability.”

Congressman Ryan and Representative Reed have thus laid the groundwork for a major change in the way our nation and state address dealing with persistent poverty.  But, bringing about such systemic change will not be easy.  Defenders of the status quo will predictably claim the proposals lack compassion, and some conservatives will balk at a continued major role for government in combating poverty.

After fifty years of failure it is crystal clear that what we have been doing simply hasn’t worked. Ryan and Reed are proposing a way forward that could begin the process of actually addressing the root causes of poverty in a way designed to lift people out of government dependency.  At this point we have nothing to lose and everything to gain by trying.

(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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It’s for the Children


Unsurprisingly, in the realm of politics and public policy folks often say one thing while meaning something entirely different.  For example, when a public official decides to retire to “spend more time with the family,” you can almost always assume it is because he or she has decided running again would lead to certain defeat and retirement is a preferable option. It’s not that elected officials don’t value their families, or cherish time spent with them; rather the citing of family obligations is more often an excuse rather than a reason.

The most often used catch phrase – usually uttered when all other arguments have failed – is that it is “for the children.”  By throwing in that line the user immediately places any opponent on the defensive.  After all, who among us is against children?  It is a rare unifying trait that people of all political persuasions, ideologies and backgrounds care for their children.  Among the admirable attributes of our society is that we universally strive to protect and nurture the youngest among us.  So, by claiming a policy objective is “for the children” the user cloaks any argument in difficult to assail body armor.

Just like a politician retiring to spend time with one’s family is cover, so too are arguments claiming a policy’s end goal is “for the children.”  If the policy being advanced benefits children it is typically a by-product of the proponent’s real goal, and not the central objective.  We are all, of course, pleased when children benefit, even tangentially, so this argument often achieves the desired goal of garnering support.

President Obama recently gave interviews to major television networks bolstering his request for congress to authorize him to take military action against Syria.  You might think bombing a third world nation even further back into the Stone Age would be detrimental to children, but not so!  During his interviews the president claimed he was acting to “protect” the children of Syria from chemical weapons. It is true children were victims of the Assad regime’s chemical attack, and nobody doubts President Obama wants to prevent further deaths – children or adult. But the driving factors behind the proposed Syrian attack have more to do with the regional power struggle underway in the mid-east and the Obama Administration’s credibility on the world stage.  Preventing the deaths of more children is certainly a goal, but one stated much more often as the other arguments fail.

Here in Penn’s Woods teachers in a number of school districts are attempting to nurture young minds by going on strike.  Pennsylvania is a perennial national leader in teacher strikes. This year organized labor is working hard to defend that title by staging several walk outs.  Of course young Johnny and Suzie cannot prosper academically if their teacher doesn’t get regular pay hikes and continue to receive Cadillac health insurance benefits without contributing a co-pay.  Never mind that many moms and dads in the private sector have seen wages stagnate and health care costs escalate, teacher compensation is “for the children” therefore taxpayers must fork over whatever is asked.

The sad fact is teacher union contracts have virtually nothing to do with “the children.”  Former Governor Tom Ridge said it best when he claimed the next teacher union to care about the kids will be the first.  Teacher unions are especially well positioned to play the “it’s for the children” card, but in reality their main objective is the preservation of union power and the special privileges, like using school districts as dues collection agencies, they now enjoy.  Teachers don’t go on strike for better books or technology for the kids; they go on strike to enhance themselves economically.

The political Left is far more adept at playing the “it’s for the children” card than the Right.  Part of the Leftwing narrative is that conservatives don’t care for children.  This despite the fact conservative policy proposals are aimed at empowering parents and strengthening families.  Actually, the Left uses the “it’s for the children” line more frequently because all other rational arguments fail. Global warming revealed as junk science?  OK, let’s argue we must preserve the planet for our children.  Congress set to reject military strikes on Syria?  We must do it to save the children.  School district unable to meet contract demands?  They must do it “for the children.”

So the next time you hear someone argue that a policy or political position is “for the children,” stop, look deeper, because typically it is about anything and everything – BUT the children.

 

(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.)

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Uncivil War


Although much ado has been made about the Republican Party’s need to reach out to emerging constituent groups amid the mainstream media’s caterwauling about the need for conservatives to moderate, it is the agenda of the Left that has stalled – especially at the state level.

The re-election of President Barack Obama, which supposedly heralded a new era of progressive (i.e. Left-wing) government, has actually been limited to the usurpation of congressional power by the executive branch. Despite Democratic control of the U.S. Senate and a RINO-run House of Representatives, congress has done little more this session than raise taxes on every American.

At the state level, where the GOP controls 30 of the 50 state governorships, the conservative agenda is advancing. This has been particularly true in the upper mid-west where Michigan and Indiana have become Right-to-Work states and Wisconsin enacted legislation that diminished the power of public sector labor unions.

Proof that the Left is losing comes from the fact that when they fail to accomplish their policy goals by engaging in serious debate, they turn to bully tactics and even violence. Regrettably, both are escalating.

As the Pennsylvania House of Representatives considered a bill to privatize the state’s antiquated monopoly liquor store system advocates of change staged a news conference in the Capitol Rotunda. As David Taylor of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association spoke he was shouted down by Wendell Young, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. The spectacle was caught on video, posted on the internet and went viral. Young’s thuggish antics, revealed for all to see, backfired. The House voted for privatization.

Union angst led to violence several months ago when the construction site of a Quaker Meeting House in Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill was torched. The vandalism occurred after unions objected to the hiring of a merit shop (non-union) construction firm. The act was particularly ironic given the fact Quakers are noted for their adherence to non-violence.

Radical environmentalists have also gotten in on the act. The Left has been unable to stop the development of the Marcellus Shale gas field. Gas production has been an economic boom to parts of Pennsylvania, much to the dismay of the environmentalists. Unable to stop the development, shots were fired recently at a Royal Dutch Shell drilling rig in Northwestern Pennsylvania. A witness said the shots came from a pick-up truck whose occupants were shouting obscenities.

It is not just Republicans who have been targeted. A few weeks ago Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter attempted to give his annual budget address to the city council. Union members created such a disturbance the Mayor was forced to abandon his speech. Highlighting their lack of intellectual ability, the unions towed a giant rat and a photograph of the mayor doctored to look like Bozo the clown to the event. All of this occurred because the mayor, facing budget constraints, would not yield to union contract demands.

Such behavior by unions and other components of the Left is likely to become more common. The fact is organized labor is on the verge of becoming extinct in the private sector, leaving the public arena as the venue for its last stand. Taxpayers have grown weary of paying government salaries larger than their own, and the Great Obama Recession has resulted in smaller or no pay hikes, under-employment and stubbornly high unemployment.

The fact is government employees are not exempt from the factors at play in the general economy. And, when opportunities such as Marcellus Shale development present themselves, most Americans opt for a balance allowing for development of such resources with appropriate environmental safeguards.

Despite the Left’s chest-thumping over results of last November’s elections, it is becoming increasingly clear the nation is gravitating to a more conservative policy path. Lacking the ability to make their case through rational argument, the Left is turning increasingly to violent and uncivil acts.

As the pendulum swings back toward more rational economic policy, look for advocates of big government to continue losing ground. Regrettably, their boorish behavior is likely to get worse, rather than better, as they watch their efforts fail.

(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.)

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Co-Equal Branches?


By Lowman S. Henry

The judicial branch of government has been in the news a lot lately for matters unrelated to actual litigation. The conviction of a sitting state Supreme Court Justice on felony charges for using state employees to conduct campaign activities has generated well-deserved headlines. And, some of the judges have decided to contest the validity of a requirement that they retire at age 70.

Highlighting the 70-year-old mandatory retirement issue is the fact that the Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Ronald Castille, will turn 70 just a year after he begins his next ten-year term, assuming he is retained by voters this November. Judges at other levels, approaching mandatory retirement, have initiated suit essentially claiming age discrimination.

One of their arguments is that elected officials in the executive and legislative branches are not subjected to such a mandatory retirement age. This is a rather disingenuous argument coming from a branch of government that otherwise revels in special treatment, supposedly because they are fair and impartial. For example, judges serve ten year terms. Their counterparts in the executive and legislative branches serve four or two year terms. Theoretically this isolates the judiciary from the taint of politics, although few can assert that with a straight face. The judiciary further benefits from running in a “yes” or “no” retention election rather than a partisan re-election campaign. Thus, barring exceedingly rare and unusual circumstances election to a judicial position has become essentially a life-time job.

So for the judges to argue that mandatory retirement is a hardship visited upon them and nobody else in government rings rather hollow. But, those of us who believe the three branches should be co-equal – and who feel the judiciary is accorded unmerited special treatment – this is an opportunity to level the playing field. Let us go ahead and eliminate the mandatory retirement requirement. Let judges serve until whatever age the voters turn them from office. But, only on the condition that all members of the judiciary – from Magisterial District Judge to Supreme Court Justice – run for four year terms and then stand for re-election just like the executive and legislative branches. That would be equality.

A hue and cry would go up that would politicize the judiciary and taint the judicial process. The dirty little secret is that the judiciary is as political as the other two branches of government, it is just their politics are hidden behind a cloak of false pretense. As for tainting the judicial process the conviction of a sitting Supreme Court Justice, the recent “kids for cash” scandal in Luzerne County, and the antics of the Philadelphia Traffic Court prove that judges are as susceptive to corruption as are members of the other branches of government. Regrettably, no branch has a monopoly on bad actors.

There are those who argue for the exact opposite course: merit selection of judges. The weakness of that argument is that merit selection depends on the integrity of those doing the selecting. All merit selection would do is take the politics out of the hands of We the People and put it into the hands of a select few politicians – politicians more easily controlled by the judicial and legal elite. A quick glance at the prison roster shows even more legislators than judges currently sitting behind bars. Do we really want these people controlling the selection and confirmation of our judges?

Government works best when it is closest to the people. By reducing judicial terms to four years, and making judges stand for re-election rather than for retention, we vest in voters much more control over that branch of government. It is time we stopped pretending the judiciary is something special, more pristine, or more important than the other two branches of government. It is not. Yes, the judiciary is vital to the functioning of our system of checks and balances, but it is not any more vital than the governor or the legislature. The time has come for us to put the “equal” back in “co-equal.”

(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.)

 

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PSEA & The Art of the Bargaining Chip


By Lowman S. Henry

One of the most common rhetorical techniques used by politicians to disguise the true nature of a proposed policy is to give legislation a name implying something totally different.   For example, the health reform measure popularly known as Obamacare is officially entitled the Affordable Health Care Reform Act of 2010. It is about government control, not health care; and the results have been anything but affordable.

So it was that the president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association – which is really a teacher union, not an education association – audaciously claimed that: “Using public school students as a political bargaining chip is a bad idea.” Mike Crossey was talking about Governor Tom Corbett’s plan to dedicate new revenue generated by the privatization of the state’s antiquated liquor store system to grants for public education.

The PSEA’s suggestion that “using public school students as a political bargaining chip is a bad idea” is the public policy equivalent of a Jedi mind trick. For the cinematically-challenged that means to claim something is other than what is actually standing in front of you. The fact is the PSEA has shown a remarkable willingness to use as a bargaining chip whoever and whatever is necessary to achieve its union power goals.

The PSEA bludgeons local school boards, taxpayers and parents by going out on strike if they don’t get what they want in contract negotiations. The degree to which students are held hostage is evidenced by the fact that Pennsylvania perennially leads the nation in the number of teacher strikes. If Mr. Crossey and the labor union he leads truly were appalled at the thought of using students as bargaining chips, they would support legislation aimed at making teacher strikes in Pennsylvania illegal.

And, students are not the only ones the PSEA will hold hostage to achieve its political goals. The union opposes the right of parents to decide for themselves which public, private or parochial school their child should attend. PSEA wages war against other forms of school choice such as the establishment of charter and cyber charter schools. As a result, hundreds of thousands of students are trapped in failing schools. If Mr. Crossey and the labor union he leads truly were appalled at the thought of using students as bargaining chips, they would support legislation that empowers parents with full school choice rights.

Not only does the PSEA hold the threat of strikes over the heads of taxpayers, but they force taxpayers to subsidize the collection of union dues via payroll deduction. This adds administrative cost to school district budgets, dollars which could otherwise be dedicated to student education. If Mr. Crossey and the labor union he leads truly were appalled at the thought of using students as bargaining chips, they would collect their own dues rather than have taxpayers foot the bill.

The current instance of PSEA caterwauling about the governor’s plan to dedicate new revenue from a privatized liquor system to education further illustrates its commitment to union power over serving students. Their true concern here is not education dollars; it is preservation of the jobs of their union brethren in the state store system. Unions now represent less than 12% of all American households; those are mostly in the public sector. The PSEA’s true goal here is to prevent further erosion of union membership and lucrative dues dollars.

Governor Tom Corbett has been subjected to a steady barrage of bashing by the PSEA for so-called cuts to public education. State dollars have, in fact, remained rather constant. The “cuts” have come from federal stimulus dollars that were temporary. So, the real blame for the “cuts” lies on Barack Obama and the federal government, not Tom Corbett and state government. The Corbett liquor privatization plan finds a way to help replace some of those lost dollars.

You would think the PSEA would applaud such a move, but then again you would have to believe that that an organization built on using students as bargaining chips would actually care about their well-being.

(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.)

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