Posts Tagged public affairs

What’s My Line?


There is an old television game show entitled “What’s My Line?” The game featured celebrity panelists questioning contestants to determine their occupations.  Let’s play a Pennsylvania version of the show: Who are Otto Voit, Joe Torsella, John Brown, John Rafferty and Josh Shapiro?  The answer is they are all currently running for statewide office in Pennsylvania.

Next question: Can you correctly identify the office for which they are running?  The answers are Voit and Torsella are running for state treasurer; Rafferty and Shapiro for attorney general; and John Brown, along with incumbent Eugene DePasquale are running for auditor general.

When it comes to statewide offices in Pennsylvania it is either feast or famine.  This year’s ballot will feature a veritable buffet for voters from President of the United States to U.S. Senate to the already mentioned three statewide constitutional offices. But next year statewide politics goes on a strict diet with only appellate court seats on the menu.

Voters respond accordingly.  Turn-out for the 2012 election topped 58% in Pennsylvania.  The following year, 2013 sported only one statewide race – a seat on the state superior court – and voter turn-out plummeted to less than 17%.  As a side note, that 2013 judicial race was won by Victor Stabile who has the distinction of being the only Republican to win a statewide election in the past four years.

In 2012, President Barack Obama powered a sweep of statewide offices as Democrats were elected state treasurer, auditor general and attorney general. It was the first time since attorney general was made an elected position back in 1980 a Democrat won that office. Four years later, however, former Attorney General Kathleen Kane and former state Treasurer Rob McCord have been convicted of high crimes and await sentencing.  Auditor General DePasquale, it should be noted, has served scandal free.

Corruption in these statewide constitutional or “row” offices is unfortunately not uncommon in Pennsylvania.  Former state Treasurer Barbara Hafer was recently indicted for alleged improprieties dating to her time in office.  Going back a bit further, former Auditor General Al Benedict and former state Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer were convicted of crimes. Benedict admitted his guilt, Budd Dwyer died proclaiming his innocence.

Of course it is impossible to know whether or not a candidate will be honest in advance, but it is clear the currently system has not provided voters with the opportunity to learn enough about the candidates.  While tens of millions will be spent on this year’s U.S. Senate race between Pat Toomey and Katie McGinty, candidates for the row offices will likely be lucky to have a couple of million to present their credentials to voters.

It is unreasonable to expect voters to pay attention to who will be state treasurer, auditor general or attorney general in a year when a presidential campaign dominates the news.  You aren’t going to see Otto Voit and Joe Torsella on the front page of the paper every day – in fact they’ll be lucky to be in the paper at all.  And no television station is going to go live and lead from an appearance by these candidates.  Many voters will go to the polls not even knowing their names, much less with a full understanding of their credentials and plans for the offices they seek.

This will continue to be the case for however long these offices are filled in a presidential election year.  So here is a thought: move the election of these three offices to the year following the presidential election.  In the four year cycle of elections the “off year” following presidential balloting is the lowest profile year.  Only statewide appellate court seats are on the ballot, and – except for home rule counties – there aren’t even county commissioner races to capture voter interest.

By moving the election of the treasurer, auditor general and attorney general to the off year they would become the marque races.  The news media could devote more attention to the candidates.  Fundraising would be easier.  Party activists could devote more time to their campaigns. Voters would be able to focus.  They would go from being a side salad in the electoral buffet to the main course.

With a brighter spotlight on these offices we would hopefully end up with more voters at the polls, and fewer of the officials elected in jail.

(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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Road to Ruin: PennDOT Drains Turnpike Cash


The Pennsylvania Turnpike is America’s first superhighway.  It also has become one of the most expensive roads in the country to travel.  If you are in a passenger car driving the entire length of the turnpike from the Delaware River Bridge in the east to Gateway in the west it will cost you $42.30 if you pay cash, $30.32 if you have an E-Z Pass.

Traversing the Pennsylvania Turnpike gets more expensive for truck traffic, significantly more expensive.  That same east-west trip for the heaviest and largest of trucks costs $1,634.35.  As if that isn’t bad enough, recent annual fare hikes are projected to continue into the foreseeable future.

Pennsylvania is known as the Keystone state and for good reason.  Geographically we are centrally located for both north-south and east-west traffic destined for some of the nation’s most populous cities.  For decades the turnpike has been a key traffic route, but now both freight haulers and passenger cars are seeking out other routes – such as Interstate 81 that, while a bit out of the way for some, charge no tolls.

These facts have not escaped the attention of state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale who recently sounded alarm bells over the turnpike’s fragile fiscal situation.  In his audit of turnpike practices DePasquale said: “The plan for the turnpike’s financial future relies on projections calling for a 215% increase in toll revenue between 2015 and 2035 and a 44% increase in traffic volume through 2044.  However, traffic volume has remained relatively flat over the last decade.”

These two projections are inherently contradictory as basic economics dictates that consumers use less of a product as prices rise – especially if prices rise at a much faster rate than the income of the purchaser.  Thus, we can expect the past decade’s “relatively flat” traffic volumes to either remain so, or perhaps even decline as such significant toll hikes continue to be implemented.

It would be easy to blame mismanagement and the turnpike commissions’ often criticized hiring and contracting practices for these annual rate hikes.  But, in this case the problem has been caused by the state legislature, not by turnpike administration.  Act 44 of 2007 requires the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to make payments of $450 million per year to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT).  PennDOT then spends the money on highway maintenance and on subsidizing mass transit operations.  Since the passage of Act 44, $5.2 billion in fare revenue has been diverted from turnpike operations to PennDOT.

Act 44 was passed with the unrealistic expectation that Interstate 80 would be converted to a toll road operated by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. That revenue would offset the mandated subsidy to PennDOT.  State officials appealed to both the Bush and Obama administrations for approval of the scheme, but were rejected. As a result the turnpike has been saddled with making annual payments to PennDOT and no source to fund those transfers except annual fare hikes.

The legislative mandate is also having another impact: the turnpike is reducing planned spending on maintenance, improvements, and expansion. An ambitious rebuilding plan that includes expansion of the turnpike to six lanes in many areas has already been reduced by $1 billion over the next ten years.  DePasquale pointed out the folly of the situation stating: “You can’t cut back on construction and increase traffic 44%, especially while jacking up the toll rates.”

The subsidies to PennDOT are scheduled to end in 2022, but by then the turnpike’s financial situation will be dire. Worse, legislators will then have to determine how to fund the insatiable appetite for subsidies required by the state’s money-losing mass transit systems.

This problem should have been addressed two years ago when the legislature passed and Governor Tom Corbett signed into law a defacto 30-cent per gallon increase in gasoline taxes.  That would have been the time to end “haphazard funding gimmicks” such as Act 44 and placed both the Pennsylvania Turnpike and PennDOT on solid financial footing.

It didn’t happen then. But it needs to happen now before, as Auditor General DePasquale concluded, the system collapses “and leaves the turnpike and people who rely on public transit systems across the state in a world of hurt.”

(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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2016 Republican Delegate/Alternate Delegate Survey: Supreme Court, Terrorist, Constitutional Rights Top Delegate Concerns


Pennsylvania’s delegation to the 2016 Republican National Convention rated U.S. Supreme Court nominations, terrorism and protecting constitutional rights as the most important issues facing the nation while viewing the GOP-controlled congress as having failed to effectively counter the policies of President Barack Obama.

The Lincoln Institute’s quadrennial survey of delegates and alternate delegates found economic issues outweighed social issues and foreign affairs in their selection of a presidential candidate, but 60% said a combination of all three issue sets factored into their decision.

That was reflected in the importance given to the various issues facing the nation.  No social issues topped the delegation’s list of important issues.  A clear concern over fundamental rights emerged from the survey data as the selection of nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court topped the importance scale with 90% saying the seating of justices was a very important issue.  Concerns over ISIS/terrorism rated as second most important, but protecting constitutional rights followed closely as the delegation’s third most important area of concern.  Jobs and the economy, the budget deficit/government spending and illegal immigration rounded out the top concerns.

Pennsylvania’s delegation hues to traditional Republican positions on President Obama’s job performance.  Eighty-seven percent say his administration’s foreign policies have made the United States much less secure; only one delegate thought those policies have made the nation more secure.  When asked if President Obama was on the right track or wrong track in responding to the threat of ISIS and international terrorism there was unanimity – 100% said wrong track.  Until the threat of ISIS/terrorism has ended, 64% of the delegation thinks the U.S. should ban entry of citizens from countries that are hotbeds of terrorist activity; 26% want to ban all Muslims from entering the country; 13% say current laws are sufficient. Eighty-nine percent of the delegates/alternate delegates strongly disapprove of the Obama Administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, another 8% somewhat disapprove.  Only 3% expressed approval.

When asked if the U.S. economy is on the right track or off in the wrong direction 97% said wrong direction.  Ninety-two percent of the Pennsylvania delegation to the Republican National Convention places the blame for the nation’s economic ills on President Obama, but majorities also fault labor unions and congress.  There is strong support, 72% with another 26% somewhat supporting lowering tax rates as a means of stimulating economic growth.

The delegation, reflecting the views of its presumptive presidential nominee, opposes free trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).  Sixty-nine percent oppose TPP with 31% expressing strong opposition.  In terms of balancing the federal budget, 79% would do so only by cutting spending; 21% would employ a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts.  Concern was voiced over the viability of the Social Security system: 57% think the system will be around for future generations – but only with substantial changes.  Forty percent think Social Security is headed to bankruptcy; only 4% think it will survive without changes. To provide for the nation’s energy needs, 93% favor more domestic drilling as a solution; 50% support development of alternative fuels and 30% urge conservation.

Illegal immigration has been a dominate issue in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.  The Pennsylvania delegation to the Republican national convention reflects his stance on the issue.  Fifty-six percent of the delegation wants immediate deportation of illegal aliens; 23% would accept granting permanent worker status.  Not a single delegate favors granting illegal aliens full citizenship.

Also spurring Donald Trump’s march to the Republican Presidential nomination was grassroots frustration with the ineffectiveness of the party’s elected officials in Washington, D.C.  Eighty percent of the Pennsylvania delegation said the Republican-controlled congress has been ineffective at checking President Obama’s executive power.

As a result, over two-thirds hold a negative view of the job being done by the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.

A strong anti-government thread is woven into the state’s delegation as 97% said they view the federal government as an adversarial force when it comes to helping solve problems. Only two delegates view the federal government as a positive force.  Likewise, 97% say our basic rights as Americans are God-given; only two delegates view our rights as granted to us by government.

State Issues

The Lincoln Institute’s survey of delegates/alternate delegates to the 2016 Republican National Convention found 92% want Republicans in the general assembly to continue holding the line on more spending and higher taxes.  Ironically, those views were expressed as the GOP-controlled legislature approved a state budget which dramatically increased spending and included a wide array of tax hikes.  Ninety-six percent agree with the strategy – now abandoned by Republican legislative leaders – that cost drivers like pension reform should be addressed before the general assembly considers any increase in taxes.

Sixty-five percent of the delegation feels the property tax-based system currently utilized by school districts, local and county governments to fund services is unfair to taxpayers. There is little agreement though on how to otherwise raise revenue.  Twenty percent favor a higher state sales tax rate while 16% would support a more broad based state sales tax at the current rate.  There was nominal support for local sales taxes, local earned income taxes or a higher state income tax.  On a related note, 61% favor allowing vouchers or grants to students who wish to attend a public school in a district other than their own, 32% do not.

Generally speaking, 60% of the delegates/alternate delegates think the state income tax rate is too high, another 41% say it is about right. Eighty-seven percent feel state business taxes are too high, only 13% think taxes on business are about right.  When it comes to economic development, 96% favor having the state cut business taxes and regulation.  Just 4% favor having the state borrow money to help select business ventures.

There is strong support among Pennsylvania’s delegation for a Right to Work Law, which means that a worker cannot be fired or kept from having a job for either joining or not joining a labor union. Eighty-five percent favor the adoption of a right to work law.  On a related issue, 76% support enacting a ban on public school teacher strikes.

Delegation Composition

Pennsylvania’s delegation to the Republican National Convention is a very conservative one.  Forty percent say they are very conservative, another 47% say they are somewhat conservative.  Thirteen percent proclaimed themselves to be moderates, and one delegate adopted the very liberal/progressive title.

The delegation is skewed to higher age demographics.  About a third are over the age of 65, another third between the ages of 50-65.  Twenty-eight percent fall in the 30-50 age group, while only one respondent was under 30.  Of the delegates responding to the survey invitation 62% are male, 38% female.

Methodology

The Lincoln Institute survey of delegates/alternate delegates to the 2016 Republican National Convention was conducted electronically between June 28 and July 14. 2016.  A total of 73 delegates/alternate delegates participated in the survey.  Complete numeric results are available on-line at www.lincolninstitute.org.

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A New Shade of Blue


Residents of Penn’s Woods are about to experience history in the making: the start of a new state budget year with the previous year’s budget still unresolved.

Governor Tom Wolf guaranteed the anomaly by line item vetoing almost a third of the budget passed by the GOP-controlled legislature just before Christmas.

The official start of the budget process comes in early February when the governor delivers his budget address to a joint session of the Pennsylvania General Assembly.  For a variety of reasons the remaining unresolved budget issues from the current fiscal year are likely to remain that way well past the governor’s budget speech currently scheduled for February 9th.

Governor Wolf began the current impasse last winter by proposing a massive increase in state spending and demanding a package of tax hikes that exceeded the tax increases proposed by the governors of all 49 other states combined.  The governor asked this of a legislature not only in control of the opposite political party, but one that holds historically high majorities and one which has become significantly more conservative in recent years.

It is a common strategy for both sides to stake out their most extreme position at the beginning of negotiations.  That leaves room for compromise, which is what always happens during budget talks.  Governor Wolf asked for $3.4 billion in new spending, the GOP preferred spending cuts.  Ultimately, Republicans agreed to a $1 billion increase, including significant additional funding for the governor’s top spending priority: public education.  The governor, however, wants everything he asked for and he wants in now.  Thus began the budget impasse which persists to this day.

The governor has made it clear he is not interested in compromise.  After vetoing the on-time, no tax hike, balanced state budget passed by Republicans last June he immediately sanctioned television ads blasting GOP lawmakers.  In another departure from tradition Wolf vetoed the entire budget.  In the past governors have signed the budget then blue lined or line item vetoed the parts with which they disagreed.  Wolf, however, wanted to ratchet up the political pressure on Republicans so he trashed the entire thing.

Since then there have been numerous votes on alternative budgets, proposed tax hikes, and so-called cost drivers including pension reform and a plan to partially privatize state liquor stores.  GOP lawmakers have passed these bills only to have the governor wield his veto pen.

Governor Wolf and his allies in the liberal media have taken to castigating Republicans, especially House Republicans for being “extremists” because they will not support a broad-based tax hike.  Largely unreported by the media is the fact Democrats in the legislature have been equally obstinate in their support of the governor’s tax and spend agenda.  Vote after vote has fallen along party lines with only a handful of defections on either side of the aisle.

This (aside from the governor’s stubborn streak) gets to the core of the impasse: Democrats have been reduced to a largely urban party that allows no deviation from its Left-wing agenda.  Conservatives dominate in the Republican caucus, but there is a group of moderate, mostly southeastern Pennsylvania legislators, who often fracture party unity by siding with Democrats.

And look for Democrats to become more ideologically rigid after this year’s elections.  State Representative Nick Kotik of Allegheny County is one of only a very few so-called blue dog Democrats and he is retiring.  The term blue dog originated because the Left strangles their moderate brethren blue to force compliance.  This canine is about to become extinct in the Pennsylvania legislature.

In its place is another shade of blue: that being the governor’s face.  He is determined to hold his breath until he gets his way.  He has called Republicans stupid, extreme and their most recent budget “garbage.”  By remaining in campaign mode rather than maturing into governing the governor’s strategy ensures not only that the current budget impasse will continue, but that Pennsylvanians are in for three more years of fiscal chaos.

(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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Harrisburg, We Have a Spending Problem


Pennsylvania state government has a structural budget deficit of $1.2 billion dollars.  This somewhat mystical figure is agreed upon by just about everyone.  Given this rare point of agreement, why then is the ongoing budget impasse focused on spending increases rather than spending cuts?

When the working families of Penn’s Woods sit down to pay their monthly bills and income is less than expenses then the family cuts back on spending.  That is because ordinary people can’t just walk into the boss’s office and say “I don’t have enough money to pay my bills so you will pay me more next month.”  And certainly, faced with a deficit, working families – and even most businesses – don’t go out and spend more.

But, that is exactly what Governor Wolf is proposing.  He wants a $4.7 billion increase in state taxes.  If you accept that there is a $1.2 billion structural deficit, then he also wants to increase spending by $3.5 billion.  It is an unrealistic proposal and the reason why the state budget impasse has dragged on for five months.

The governor, however, has won on this front: Republican counter-proposals have focused not on spending cuts, but on increasing spending by less.  Given everyone has bought into the structural deficit number the goal should be to reduce spending to bring actual income and expenditures into balance.  That is what happens in the real world.

Government, however, does not live in the real world.  At no point has a budget been put forward that would even slow the growth of state government let alone cut spending.  The battle has been all about how much bigger state government will become, not about living within our means.

Driving this irrational approach to budgeting is spending on K-12 public education.  The biggest lie since “if you like your health insurance you can keep your health insurance” is that Governor Tom Corbett took a meat axe to education spending.  A cabal of Democratic politicians, labor unions and their media apologists perpetrated that lie during last year’s gubernatorial campaign even though actual spend numbers prove state tax dollars spent on public education increased to record levels under the former governor.

Governor Wolf has never shifted out of campaign mode, and in an effort to repay the unions who financially backed his campaign has made historic increases in education spending a key demand.  Education is a motherhood and apple pie issue.  After all, who doesn’t want our children to have the best education possible?  We all do.  The rub is little of the increases in spending actually benefit children, going instead to pay for bloated administrative bureaucracies and skyrocketing pension expenses.

To their credit, legislative Republicans are insisting on structural reforms to the state’s pension system before agreeing to any spending increase.  But, they have accepted without as much as a whimper the governor’s premise that spending must go up.  Wolf is already crowing that he has gotten Republicans to agree to a “historic” (meaning massively large) increase in state spending on education.

Yet even today, as the budget that should have been done before Independence Day fireworks remains unresolved as we shop for Thanksgiving dinner, not one single party to the budget debate has put on the table any serious menu of potential spending cuts.  Even the GOP’s on-time, no tax hike budget which the governor vetoed included significant spending hikes.  No effort was made to cut spending to match projected income.

There is an old saying in sports that you can’t win by simply playing defense.  That is what has happened as the budget game goes into triple overtime.  At no point has there been an offense designed to cut spending, just defense over spending increases.  So the taxpayers of Pennsylvania have already lost the game, the only hope now is that the final score is not too lopsided.

(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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The Charlie Dent Effect


Establishment Republicans are in a panic over the enduring popularity of Donald Trump.  If Trump ends up being the GOP nominee party regulars can blame one of their own: Congressman Charlie Dent.

Congressman Dent (PA-15) has emerged as a spokesman for one of the most endangered species on Earth: moderate members of the U.S. House of Representatives.  His votes consistently defy the view of the party’s base and his rhetoric is what is driving the current national grassroots revolution against the party establishment.

Dent hails from the Lehigh Valley-based district once represented by Pat Toomey.  Toomey became a conservative darling and used the district as a base to successfully launch a campaign for United State Senator.  The region is known for being politically schizophrenic and is one of the true “swing” areas of the commonwealth in statewide and national elections.

The apostasies of Dent are many.  He is staunchly pro-abortion in a party that views defense of life as a litmus test issue.  On fiscal issues he ranks in the bottom quarter of the entire Republican conference with a 2014 Club for Growth scorecard rating of just 37%.  On the more broad-based American Conservative Union (ACU) scorecard, he scored just 54%, again making him one of the more liberal members of the conference.

Briefly put, Charlie Dent is the personification of what Republican voters across the nation are rebelling against in the presidential race.  Having elected a House majority in 2010 and a Senate majority in 2014 voters are fed up with the tepid course charted by legislative Republicans.  They see congressional Republican leadership as ineffective at communicating a coherent party message and outmaneuvered legislatively at every turn by Barack Obama and the Democrats.

The most recent Real Clear Politics average of national polling in the presidential race finds Donald Trump and Ben Carson holding onto 47% of the vote.  Add in the ten percent supporting Carly Fiorina and the “outsider” vote tallies 57%.   U. S. Senator Ted Cruz, technically not an “outsider,” but perhaps the most solidly conservative candidate in the race pulls 8%.  Meanwhile, establishment favorites Jeb Bush and Chris Christie have fallen into also-ran status.

The resignation of House Speaker John Boehner has given members of that chamber the opportunity to change the dynamic of both feckless legislative leadership and the presidential race by electing a speaker who can become an effective voice for the party over the next year until the election of a new Republican president.

Instead the House Republican caucus has descended into chaos.  Rather than put forth bold new leadership, Plan A was simply to fall back on business as usual and move everyone up a step on the leadership ladder.  When it became clear the real conservatives in the conference would not go along, heir apparent Kevin McCarthy withdrew from the race.  Plan B is to elevate 2012 Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan to the seat, but Ryan appears unwilling to go along with the procedural reforms conservatives are rightfully demanding as the price for their support.

Enter Congressman Dent who suggested Republicans should meet with Democrats and come up with a “bipartisan coalition to elect the next speaker.”  What?!?   At precisely the time the party’s grassroots are practically shouting from the rooftops of Iowa and New Hampshire that they want a strong new voice for the party Dent proposes the exact opposite.

Dent and his diminishing band of fellow moderates would rather share power with Democrats than accommodate conservative members of their own conference and hear the very clear message being sent by the party’s grassroots.  Nothing could be worse for the GOP than the spectacle of the next speaker being elected by the moderate faction of the Republican conference joining with Democrats against their conservative brethren.

The result of such an outcome would be twofold:  First, any possibility of the GOP being an effective counter to President Obama’s “pen and phone” government would evaporate effectively rendering congress a useless appendage for the next year.  Second, look for Donald Trump’s polling numbers to skyrocket as voters flock in ever larger numbers to the one man who they increasingly view as being able to fix things.

And, when Donald Trump stands in front of the Capitol building and places his hand on the Bible to take the oath of office as the next president of the United States, he should give a front row seat to Charlie Dent and the other Republican congressmen who made his victory possible.

(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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Thomas J. Smith: An American Life


From the minutemen of the American Revolution to the settlers of the old West to the housewives who poured into the factories during World War II to the Tea party movement of recent years our nation began and thrives when ordinary Americans step up and do extraordinary things.

Since the beginning of our Republic the concept of a “citizen legislator” has been the ideal.  Our founding fathers realized that professional politicians are more concerned about their careers than “we the people” posed a threat to our liberty.  Four score and seven years later, President Abraham Lincoln eloquently called it a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Now special interests and professional politicians dominate both Washington, D.C. and Harrisburg while the interests of working families, small businesses and senior citizens take a back seat.  But there are those who are willing to leave the comfort of their private lives and fight to preserve, protect and defend the God-given rights upon which our nation was established.

Thomas J. Smith was one who has answered his nation’s call.

Tom Smith, who passed away on Saturday at the age of 67, was an American success story.  At the age of nineteen, when his father became ill, Tom decided to postpone college and run the family’s Armstrong County farm.  He mortgaged his existing property to purchase a coal mine and – by risking capital and his financial security – successfully expanded his business operations over a 20 year period eventually mining more than a million tons of coal per year and employing over 100 people.

Along the way, Tom and his wife Saundra had three biological children. Then, the Smith’s adopted a family of four children from Texas allowing the siblings to be raised together.

After selling his mining interests in 2010 and becoming alarmed over rapidly expanding federal intrusion into our lives, Tom was in the vanguard of the Tea party movement and helped to found the Indiana/Armstrong County Patriots.

But that level of activism was not enough for Tom Smith.  In 2012 he decided to run for the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat from Pennsylvania.  The sitting governor and state GOP endorsed another candidate, but Tom persevered dealing the party a rare defeat and besting five other candidates to win the nomination.  Despite his best efforts, the headwinds against the GOP in Pennsylvania that November resulted in the re-election of the incumbent.

This is the point where most people give up.  But not Tom Smith.  He was only getting started.  Tom became involved in a wide range of state and national policy battles serving on the boards and financially contributing to a wide range of organizations fighting for individual liberty and personal freedom.

In the summer of 2015 Tom was again planning to enter the political fray as a candidate for congress when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.  That cut short his political career, but Tom remained involved fighting for the issues about which he cared deeply until his final days.

Ronald Reagan once said that “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Thomas J. Smith did his part to ensure that freedom endures for the next generation.  His life and career will continue to serve as both an example of what citizen activism should be and as an inspiration to the rest of us to step up and continue the cause which he has “thusfar so nobly advanced.”

(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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Public Opinion Court: Unions Yes, Special Union Privileges No


A recent Public Opinion Court focus group session empaneled by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc. on Worker Freedom and Economic Progress found a generally favorable opinion of labor unions, but a lack of support for the special privileges that unions currently enjoy within the Pennsylvania political and policy structures.

The Public Opinion Court is a research vehicle developed by the Lincoln Institute to allow for more in-depth probing of an issue area than can be accomplished by a public opinion poll.  Members of the focus group are not told in advance what issue they will be discussing.  Thus they come into the session with common knowledge of the issue.  The process begins by having the focus group take an entry survey.  Following the entry survey an advocate addresses each side of the issue.  The advocates speak separately, with focus group members given time to ask questions.  After each advocate speaks, the group engages in a roundtable discussion on the issue.  The focus group then concludes with an exit survey designed to measure how opinions may have changed as the group went from common knowledge of the issue to being more informed.

For this Public Opinion Court session the issue advocates were Rick Smith, host ofThe Rick Smith Show, a labor union-backed public affairs radio program.  David Taylor, President of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association advocated for the pro-growth position.  Each speaker was given 20 minutes to make a presentation, followed by 10 minutes of Q & A with the focus group participants.

The Public Opinion Court focus group session was held on Monday, September 19, 2015 at the Reckner research facility in Chalfont, Bucks County.  The focus group participants were recruited from the five county Philadelphia metropolitan area. The focus group was balanced by age, gender, race, political party affiliation and, to the degree possible urban/suburban.  The goal was to make the group as closely representative of the state at-large, although it more accurately reflects the composition of the electorate in southeastern Pennsylvania.

A major theme that emerged from the group discussion was the lack of information voters in southeastern Pennsylvania receive about state government.  While all of the participants were able to correctly identify Mitch McConnell as the leader of the U.S. Senate and John Boehner as the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, none could identify Joseph Scarnati as the President Pro Tempore of the Pennsylvania Senate or Mike Turzai as Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.  The group agreed that media coverage of state issues in southeastern Pennsylvania is inadequate.

The group was more familiar with bigger picture labor power issues, such as Right to Work, but significantly less familiar with state-related union power issues like dues deduction and carve-outs for activities such as stalking, harassment and threats to use a weapon of mass destruction.  They were also largely unaware of the influence labor unions wield over politics and public policy in Pennsylvania.

Included in the focus group were two individuals who currently are members of a labor union and two participants who are retired, but were labor union members during their careers.  Of the two currently enrolled as a union member, one is a member by choice and the other a member as a condition of employment.

In both the entry and exit survey the participants held a generally positive view of labor unions.  Entering the session two had a very favorable impression of unions, seven a somewhat favorable view. Four offered a somewhat unfavorable opinion; nobody viewed unions very unfavorably.  There was only slight movement in the exit survey, so no major shift in opinion occurred as a result of the group discussion.  Entering the session, six participants agreed with the statement that labor unions were needed at one time to ensure workplace safety standards and fair wages, but are not generally needed in today’s society.  Seven disagreed with that statement.  In the exit survey one person switched from agreeing to disagreeing with the statement.

Although viewing labor unions favorably, there was strong support for a Right to Work law.  When asked if they favor or oppose enactment of what is commonly known as a Right to Work law, whereby a worker cannot be compelled to join or pay fees to a labor union as a condition of employment, in the entry survey four strongly favored such a law, eight somewhat favored a Right to Work law.  One person somewhat opposed such a law.  Nobody changed their opinion on the exit survey.  This result is significant given there were two active and two former union members in the focus group indicating opposition to a Right to Work law by union leaders does not trickle down through union membership.

Significant time was devoted to a discussion of exemptions in state law that allow stalking, harassment and threats to use weapons of mass destruction during a labor dispute.  The group was in disbelief that such carve-outs in state law even existed.  There was a lack of knowledge that labor union leaders have been blocking legislation in Harrisburg that would eliminate those carve-outs.  The group unanimously – in both the entry and the exit survey – indicated the carve-outs should be eliminated.

The group also unanimously agreed that there is never a circumstance in which acts of violence are justified to force a company to use union labor on a project.  The group was split, with six having heard of and seven not knowing about the recent case in Philadelphia involving the indictment and conviction of numerous Iron Worker union officials for crimes including violence, threats and vandalism.

Currently governments at all levels – state, county, school district and municipal – at taxpayer expense deduct labor union dues from members’ paychecks and forward the money to unions.  There is legislation being considered in Harrisburg that would end the practice and require labor unions to collect their dues money through private, rather than government means.  Nine members of the focus group oppose such forced deduction of labor union dues, four favor it.  Views did not change in the exit survey.

When a group of employees are voting on whether or not to form a labor union they currently do so by secret ballot.  Labor union leaders would like to change to law to make the voting process public.  Such a move raises concerns that the lack of anonymity would put pressure on employees to vote in favor of unionization.  The Public Opinion Court focus group unanimously agreed in both the entry and exit survey that such decisions should be made by secret ballot.

Raising the minimum wage, however, resulted in a split decision.  Nine entered the session favoring an increase in the state’s minimum wage, four opposed.   But, when asked if raising the minimum wage would result in fewer jobs and/or less hours being available for minimum wage workers, support for raising the minimum wage dropped to four participants with nine indicating opposition.

During the group discussion phase of the Public Opinion Court session several issues arose that were not included in the entry/exit survey process.  Several times the group returned to the state budget impasse.  While there was general knowledge about the stalemate, the group was largely unaware of such significant developments as the partial veto over-ride attempt, the second budget offer made by legislative Republicans or a then-pending vote for a stopgap budget.  The group also lacked comprehensive knowledge of the size and scope of Governor Tom Wolf’s proposed tax hikes.

The state’s public employee pension crisis also arose during group discussion.  There was general awareness of the problem and its significance to taxpayers.  The group was in unanimous agreement that those already retired and those currently employed should remain in the current defined benefits pension system and that the state should honor its pension obligations.   However, the group also unanimously agreed that the current system is unsustainable and that the state must move to a 401k-style defined contribution system.  Most were unaware of the passage of legislation last June to do just that and the fact Governor Wolf vetoed that legislation due to opposition by labor union leaders.

On each occasion when the group discussed government dysfunction, the participants fell back on one prescription for change: term limits.  Term limits were not mentioned in either the entry or exit survey, nor were they brought up by either speaker or the panel moderator.  Despite that, the group repeatedly and unanimously and with enthusiasm felt that career politicians were at the heart of the state (and national) government’s woes.  For example, when discussing the state’s pension crisis and the cost of legislative pensions to taxpayers, the group offered term limits as a solution which would make legislative pensions obsolete.

Conclusion

Efforts in Harrisburg to curtail special treatment for labor unions have failed repeatedly due largely to an alliance between Democrats and suburban Philadelphia Republican legislators who unite in opposition to such reforms as enactment of Right to Work legislation; ending union dues deduction and eliminating carve-out that allow for harassment, stalking and threats to use weapons of mass destruction during labor disputes.

That handful of suburban Republican senators and representatives who have stymied reform efforts claim they are representing the views of their constituents and must vote with organized labor in order to win re-election.   Results of this Public Opinion Court focus group session indicate that argument is not valid.  While labor unions are generally viewed favorably, on issue after issue the focus group supported reform measures, with even some current and former union members in agreement.  The political equation in Harrisburg has changed with the coming to power of enhanced Republican majorities in the current legislative session reducing the influence of union-backed GOP members.  However, Governor Tom Wolf – whose campaign was heavily financed by organized labor – now wields a veto pen over labor policy reforms.

Demographics

The Public Opinion Court focus group session on labor power issues was balanced by gender, seven males and six females.  There was at least one participant in each age group, with the largest participant group being between 50-65 years of age.  Income skewed high, as expected in the Philadelphia suburban region, but did include those in the middle income categories.  The group included seven Democrats, five Republicans and one Independent.  The focus group included four members with graduate degrees, six with a four-year degree, one with a post-secondary certificate, one with a high school degree, and one with secondary education.   Ten of the participants lived in a suburban area, two in an urban area and one in a rural area.

(The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc. is a 501c3 nonprofit educational foundation based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania that focuses on pro-growth economic issues.)

Permission to reprint is granted providing author and affiliated are cited.

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Governor Wolf, You’re No Barack Obama


Imitation, the saying goes, is the most sincere form of flattery.  So either Governor Tom Wolf is in the running for president of the Barack Obama fan club, or the Wolf Administration lacks the capacity for original thought.   In ways big and small Tom Wolf has copied the Obama governing strategy.  The problem for the governor is that the Obama approach relies heavily on levers of power available to the president, but not to governors.

President Obama and Governor Wolf each ascended to the chief executive’s office with skimpy political resumes.  Obama had been a U.S. Senator for only two years when he ran for president. Wolf’s only public service was as secretary of revenue in the Rendell Administration.  Both interpreted their elections as mandates that simply didn’t exist.  Obama’s election resulted from voter backlash over George W. Bush’s unpopular wars.  Wolf won simply because he wasn’t Tom Corbett.

Their campaign organizations were similar.  Barack Obama bested Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic Presidential Nomination in 2008.  Clinton loyalists populated the Democratic National Committee and were salted throughout the party structure.  Obama built his own campaign apparatus, Obama for America, which allowed him to essentially bypass the official party.  When Jim Burn refused to step down as state Democratic Party chairman, candidate Tom Wolf formed Fresh Start PA, again running his campaign outside of the formal party machinery.

Seeking to build upon their phantom mandates, both Obama and Wolf took office espousing grand ideas.  Having tacked hard to the Left to win a competitive primary, Wolf named two erstwhile opponents, Katie McGinty and John Hanger as chief of staff and policy director.  McGinty and Hanger are two of the most left-wing policy wonks in the state and immediately proposed a massive expansion of spending, along with a complex reworking of the state’s tax structure that – if enacted – would result in the largest tax hike in state history.  The scope of the proposed tax increase is so large it alone is bigger than the tax hikes proposed by governors of the other 49 states combined.

President Obama also came into office with big ideas.  Most of those grand schemes failed, with the notable exception of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, which became law but triggered massive Democratic congressional defeats the following year.  In fact, Obama lost so many legislative battles he settled on a new strategy – bypassing congress and governing by executive order.

Governor Wolf’s copying of the Obama playbook fails to take into account that Democrats controlled both houses of congress during his first year in office.  Wolf has no such luxury.  In fact, he began his term with Republicans solidly in control of the state senate and holding a historically high number of seats in the house.  In another major departure from the Washington model, the GOP majorities in Harrisburg are cohesive with effective leadership, unlike the hapless Republicans in congress.

Like Obama, Tom Wolf has opted to run a perpetual campaign rather than trying to govern.  Obama for America became Organizing for America as the president attempted to politically bludgeon Republicans into bending to his will.  Likewise Governor Wolf has set up his own PAC and called in help from the Democratic Governors Association attacking Republicans for blocking his tax and spend agenda.

The problem with this strategy is it leads to gridlock.  Washington has been beset by a series of high profile budget battles. Wolf vetoed the GOP-passed state budget and talks are at a stalemate.  Worse for Wolf, the president’s ace in the hole is his bully pulpit.  Obama can count on a compliant national news media to beat the drums against Republicans.  At the state level few media organizations have reporters at the capitol and state issues gain little public attention.  That makes it considerably more difficult for Wolf to put voter pressure on a legislature that simply won’t give in to his demands for more spending and higher taxes.

Finally, President Obama has consistently out-messaged national Republicans framing issues to his advantage. Tom Wolf has failed to do so.  More spending and higher taxes play well in the Philadelphia region, but nowhere else.  It is a message that quite simply won’t sell statewide.

By not grasping the structural differences between the Obama approach and governing Penn’s Woods Tom Wolf has wed a policy agenda that cannot be achieved.  Thus the budget stand-off in Harrisburg will continue until the governor realizes he is no Barack Obama and accepts the reality that Harrisburg is a very different place than Washington, D.C.

(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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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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