About twenty years ago, Democratic Leader James Manderino passionately tried to persuade the House Democratic Caucus to vote with him on an issue. Just about every single legislator who got up to speak in the meeting strongly disagreed with him. Finally, after an hour or two of internal debate, Manderino yielded to the Democratic members.On the House floor that afternoon, Manderino made an emotional speech arguing for the very position he had tried unsuccessfully to persuade his Democratic colleagues not to take earlier that day. Every single Democrat voted with his new position, the original position of the vast majority of the Democratic Caucus members. A long-time lobbyist then told me "Manderino's amazing. He really controls his caucus."Official records do not always tell what the truth about a subject really is.
July 20, 2007http://www.phillyblog.com/philly/showthread.php?p=535846#post535846
The Pennsylvania Legislature is one of the few full-time state legislatures in America, and its informal motto could be described as "preparation counts." We plan, we deliberate, we pass balanced budgets, and occasionally we do something--like establishing senior citizen low cost prescriptions, a state system for encouraging organ donation, Martin Luther King's birthday as a state holiday, mail voter registration--that puts us in the forefront of national leadership for the worthwhile, progressive causes.
This session has begun with two rather earthshaking events. First came the election, of social services advocate Republican Dennis O'Brien as Speaker as the Democratic nominee over incumbent Republican Speaker John Perzel following the late December official certification of a narrow 102-101 Democratic majority due to major gains in Eastern Pennsylvania.
Then came the dramatic, disturbing, and somewhat puzzling 139 count indictment of Democratic Senator and long Senate Appropriations Committee Democratic Minority Chairman Vincent Fumo on charges of misappropriating over $2 million of State Senate and non-profit funding for his own use. Fumo is a man of formidable intellect, and a net worth of about $25 million, largely earned while in the Senate in a series of brilliant busines deals.
Politically, Fumo is a formidable mixture of outspoken liberalism against the war in Iraq, for a woman's right to choose and gay rights, and pragmatic center-right leadership on issues of gun control and business taxation. He claims to delivered about $8 billion worth of funds to Philadelphia during his years in Senate, beginning in 1979.
The first order of business in the O'Brien Speakership has been the creation of the Speaker's Commission on Legislative Reform, which I am the senior member of. We are initially focused on making the rules of the House making the rules of the House lead to operations that are more transparent to the public and more internally democratic. Our goal is to be able to present at least a preliminary report to the House for the essential operating rules by March 12, 2007.
Serving on this commission, and being free of the hassles of dealing with an active calendar of important legislation during our start-up period, has given me an opportunity to reflect on both the big issues of internal governance and the factors that led me to serve in the legislature and stay in the legislature for thirty-three years now. My retrospective and introspective thoughts have been strengthened by numerous conversations with our 50 new legislators--a longtime high for one session--in which I have endeavored to compare my pre-election motivation and experiences with theirs.
"We are a decision-making body and not a debating society," I said at one point in our commission deliberations. My point was that we have to focus on how our procedures affect legislative outcomes, and not just on encouraging debate. Some of the most active legislative debaters in the House are on this commission: myself, Democrats Greg Vitali, Curtis Thomas, Kathy Manderino, Bob Freeman, and Tom Tangretti, and Republicans David Argall, Curt Shroder, and Sam Rohrer quickly come to mind in this category.
But a high school debating society got me to really focus on the possibility of active political involvement when I was in high school: I was a floor leader and the secretary of the Political Union of Central High School.
I had been canvassing for Democratic candidates in my home election division under my father's direction since I was five years old, and had the social awareness to volunteer to tutor poverty-stricken kids in North Philadelphia at the Clara Baldwin House. The Political Union--modeled upon the Yale Political Union which had a similar influence upon John Kerry a few years earlier--also led me to get involved actively at age 15 in seeking donations of books for Mississippi black school children, who in the early and mid- 1960's often were encouraged to drop out from the public schools before reaching high school.
The Political Union also focused me on practical politics. After I was assigned as a college freshman to interview members of the Philadelphia City Council, I concluded--with a mixture of accurate understanding and the typical self-confidence of Ivy League students--that they were burned out and largely clueless.
I was the first to urge my father David Cohen, then a newly elected Democratic wardleader with an extensive record of community service and a good mixture of labor, business, civic, and civil rights clients as an attorney, to run for a newly vacant district city council seat.
I was quite active in his successful campaign, and in each of his ten subsequent campaigns for Philadelphia municipal office from 1967 through 2003. I was also can active volunteer in his Council office while in college, helping initiate the now-traditional City Council practice of taking stands on major national issues. I helped him with research on air pollution and zoning questions, and stimulated his actions against Nixon's ultimately defeated nomination of G. Harold Carswell.
When he returned to City Council as a Councilman at Large in 1980, I used my knowledge of state legislative rules reform--which I had first been a leader of in 1979--to help him reform the City Council rules. The modern and regularly updated Mason's Manual superseded the much vaguer Jefferson's Manual as the Supreme legislative authority, and numerous brass knuckle stratagies and rhetorical attacks were suddenly out of order.
I continued to help him on various City Council projects throughout his record nearly 26 year tenure as Councilman at Large, culminating in my initiation and his relentless pushing for passage of a wage tax cut--finally enacted in 2004-- for low-income Philadelphians.
Participating actively in politics as a college student in the Vietnam War era--and having a father who regularly spoke at peace demonstrations--made me more engaged and less alienated than the vast majority of my fellow students. Before my father was elected to City Council, I was appointed as a Congressional intern by Congressman, later mayor, William J. Green, and after his election I won a statewide competition run by a non-profit organization headquartered at Franklin and Marshall college to serve as an intern to Senator Joseph S. Clark.
I signed up on the Penn campus to participate on the advisory committee for the 1970 White House conference on Children and Youth, an opportunity to contrast my experience as a somewhat privileged college student with the experiences of many others in less fortunate circumstances. I was one of the first fourteen students elected to the University Council, the advisory board for Penn President Gaylord P. Harnwell, the former head of the physics department and an authority on atomic energy and education in various foreign countries such as the Soviet Union and Iran.
I also began to develop ties to Pennsylvania state government, serving on outgoing Governor Raymond P. Shafer's Youth Advisory Council and on Governor to be Milton Shapp's campaign staff.
February 13, 2007http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/2/14/01439/3622
Anti-Perzel, Anti-Legislature, Pro-Santorum Leader Bob Guzzardi Hails My Understanding of His Goals
by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA
Sat Jan 13, 2007 at 08:10:39 PM PDT
Bob Guzzardi, an anti-Perzel, anti-legislature, pro-Santorum political maverick who occasionally funds Democrats whose elections he believes strategically advance his political goals, has given me a rare accolade: I understand what motivates him and many of his cohorts.
Writing on the conservative grassrootspa website on December 31, 2006, in the midst of furious politicking over the House speakership in which he participated to some degree as a critic and an opponent of ultimately defeated House Speaker John Perzel, Guzzardi wrote:
"Mark Cohen has understood, correctly, that it is the pro growth limited government, economic freedom and every expanding intrusion of government into private business decisions that is infuriating to many of us, and the unconstitutional nature of slots and payjacking and the constant dealmaking undercutting economic freedom....
A Perzel defeat, he said, would remove "a major obstacle not only to open records and real Lobbyist Disclosure with effective implementation, but also an obstacle to individual initiative, individual empowerment--personal freedom."
Guzzardi's quote in the Grassrootspa archives is apparently unlinkable--or at least beyond my capacity to link--but it is comment number 5 recorded at 7:13 a.m. December 31,2006 to the Grassrootspa posting "Capitolwire:Other House Members May Not Vote for DeWeese, Perzel" posted at 10:09 p.m. on December 30, 2006.
Guzzardi is a self-proclaimed Reform Conservative. He hopes to defeat many members of the legislature in the 2008 Republican primaries and take control of the House in 2008 with an anti-governmental spending Republican majority. He was a key player in the defeats of 13 legislative Republicans in the 2006 primaries, including Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer and Senate Majority Leader Chip Brightbill.
Currently, Pennsylvania legislative Republicans often oppose Democratic spending plans for the low-income, but counter them by proposing other spending--often greater than the spending that they oppose--to benefit middle class, upper middle class, and wealthy Pennsylvanians.
Expanding the clientele for governmental spending--Guzzardi and I both agree--is hardly the way to curb governmental spending. I have argued on the House floor that, since Biblical times, helping the poor has been a core factor in maintaining the legitimacy of governments.
One challenge we Democrats face in the Pennsylvania legislature is the bait and switch tactics so widely employed by the right, and sometimes by others in the political system. It is now a commonplace saying in Washington that the Republicans promise to end abortion and deliver tax cuts for the rich. Similarly they promise democracy in the Middle East, and deliver a potentially endless war in Iraq that will soon have added over $1 trillion to the federal deficit.
In Pennsylvania, we are treated to endless discussion about the legislature's procedural flaws, some of which, indeed, raise valid points.
But for a good number of people like Guzzardi, the real issue is the overall direction of the public policy that the legislature makes, and not sideshows like the legislature's habit of meeting in the wee hours of the morning, or not immediately posting the text of floor speeches on the Internet.
This session will be a session of reforms--perhaps the most concentrated session of reforms ever. But we have to keep in mind what our public policy goals are, and whether or not the reforms advance or hinder them.
We also have to keep in mind that for many people like Guzzardi, reforms are not the real point. It's great when we Democrats can find solid reasons to make common cause with people of opposing ideology, but we have to recognize the differences in underlying goals at the start, and study the actual issues motivating right-wing attention to the legislature in the first place, and not assume that the internal workings of the legislature are the fundamental grievance.http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/1/13/222437/141
Pennsylvania House Republican Leader Sam Smith Backs "Representative Form of Democracy"
by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA
Thu Jan 11, 2007 at 09:25:54 PM PDT
January 2, 2007 was the historic day in Pennsylvania political history in which Democratic-backed Republican Dennis O'Brien defeated Republican-backed Republican John Perzel to win the hotly contested race for Speaker in the narrowly (102-101)Democratic Pennsylvania House. The events leading to this election, the election itself, and the analysis and aftermath of this election have all been chronicled by me extensively in numerous Daily Kos diaries.
In the broad sweep of American social, technological, and political history, though, there is a chance that the most important event on the House floor that day was the speech of Republican Minority Leader Sam Smith, likely composed on the spur of the moment to some degree due to the unexpected nature of the day's events.
Smith referred to the increasing role of the Internet in both business and politics. He said that "The challenge is going to be about" whether the legislature "will ultimately devolve into some kind of electronic town meeting and a pure democracy." "I would argue, Mr. Speaker," Smith said, "that the challenge for us is to maintain this great Commonwealth and this great country of ours as a representative form of democracy."
"I have been saying for the last year and a half or two years that one of the real challenges we have before us is how we go about doing this business," Smith said. "You know, 15, 18 years ago you got a few letters from constituents, handwritten letters; you knew what that meant. If you got a few phone calls, you knew what that meant. If you got a petition that was signed by 40 or 50 people, you knew what that meant.
"In the last few years, while it has changed in the business world, the world of the Internet, the world of communications, of bloggers, and all of those reams of writing that are out there, our world that we conduct this business in has changed....Who would have thought 10 years ago you would buy a car over the Internet, and just in the last few years, Mr. Speaker, that challenge has come to this body, to the world of legislation, the fact that you can be sitting on the (House) floor and you have constituents emailing you about the debate that is before you at the very moment.
"You know," Smith continued, "when this representative democracy was created and the Constitution was put forth and the days were put into the calendar for dealing with the issues...it was, you know, a couple days' ride to your district, perhaps in many cases, and today it is a couple seconds ride over the internet."
Smith's analysis is stated in the conversational from of debate that dominates the legislature, in which generalizations are made with little or no sourcing. For the last several years, all state house members have had internet accessible laptops on their desks, so they can get the text of bills and amendments before them, do quick research on the subject matter of legislation, and correspond with constituents who have emailed them in quick order. Multi-tasking has come to the House floor and made it sometimes a somewhat quieter place.
Smith's concern is the uncertainty that legislators feel about how to weight the significance of the constituent contacts they now receive. If five handwritten letters was once considered an avalanche of constituent outpouring, how should 50 emails be rated? To what degree has communication with elected officials become so easy that it has become devalued?
As the legislator with the most active record of participation in online communities, I believe that there are both similarities and differences between the online communities and the traditional constituencies with whom legislators are used to dealing.
Like the traditional constituencies, the online communities are composed of sincere people who a legitimate concern for public policy. But I have found that email correspondents are both more opinionated and better informed, more ideological and less deeply rooted in their neighborhoods, more interested in discussions and less likely to want to meet face to face than traditional constituent advocates. They are probably less representative of their fellow constituents, but more likely to have meaty factual content behind what they believe.
These generalizations may not be true everywhere, and certainly will be less true over time as easy internet access and use of the blogosphere becomes closer and closer to first being widespread, and ultimately being nearly universal.
One thing that I think is indisputable is that the range of public discussion has deeply widened, and more and people are available to enter the public square and help shape our common future. It matters who these people are, and what they say they want, but the rise of the Internet, the blogosphere, and email are all steps in the continuing democratization of America and the world.
To the best of my recollection, Smith's speech is the first one given on the floor of the Pennsylvania House about the role of the Internet in our deliberations. My guess from attending National Conference of State Legislatures meetings and seeing the widespread lack of Internet savvy among my colleagues present there is that it is at least one of the first given in any legislature anywhere.
Smith deserves credit for beginning this discussion among state legislators, because it is difficult to understand the environment of which one is a part. As the great communications theorist Marshall McLuhan wrote decades ago, "No one knows who discovered water, but it probably was not a fish."http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/1/12/02554/0802
Republicans Name Perzel Speaker Emeritus, Give Him Staff and Leadership Office Space
by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA
Tue Jan 09, 2007 at 09:57:13 PM PDT
In a move that demonstrates the ever-resilient nature of John Perzel, Republican leaders in the State House have voted to name him Speaker Emeritus, and give him extra staff and leadership office space.
This means that Perzel has, depending on his wishes, either a graceful position from which to exit the Pennsylvania House for a much more lucrative private sector career, or a platform from which to launch another bid for a third term as Speaker.
This should be an easy agreement to sell to rank and file Republican members, because it does not require any incumbent Republican leader to be bumped out of his position, nor does it require any Republican caucus committee chair to be removed.
It is also a sign that the opposition to him in the House Republican Caucus, which goes far deeper than the six Republicans willing to join Dennis O'Brien and the Democrats, has limits in scope and intensity.
Perzel, like George Bush, epitomizes big government Republicanism. He used state grants for local projects to win the support of many Democrats for key pieces of the Republican agenda, and played a key role in getting six legislators elected on the Democratic ticket to switch to the Republican Party, and three other Democrats to vote for him for re-election as Speaker. It was the Democratic countermove of backing an available Dennis O'Brien, a Republican social services advocate who has long been distanced from Perzel, for Speaker that drove him out of power. Earlier diaries of mine have discussed this in great detail.
The Perzel era brought new power to the Republican Party, as his dealmaking as Majority Leader and Speaker disempowered the Democratic Party under Republican Governors Tom Ridge and Mark Schweiker. Under Governor Ed Rendell, who took office in 2003, Perzel worked to make Rendell pay the highest possible price for support of his initiatives. Rendell was a key player in the recruitment of O'Brien as the Democratic Speaker candidate for Speaker.
A fearsome fundraiser, a master manipulator,a successful strategic takeover specialist for ailing Philadelphia governmental functions, a European style Social Democrat of sorts seeking more governmental funds for the middle class, a quintessential improvisational post-modern politician, John Perzel has already left quite a legacy in Harrisburg and Philadelphia with his innovation and cunning during 18 years as an elected Republican leader.
Until recently, Perzel was given the lion's share of the credit for restoring the Republicans to majority status after twelve years in the minority, and then keeping them in the majority for another twelve years.
But more recently, conservatives have started looking askance at the fiscal costs of his maneuvers, and have used Perzel's lack of articulateness as a weapon against him, blaming him for the Democrats' 2006 resurgence.
While Perzel's strengths and weaknesses obviously have had an impact, the fact remains that Perzel gained majority power in a national period of Republican legislative dominance, and lost majority power in a year of nationwide Democratic gains. National political trends play a lot bigger role in Pennsylvania politics than Pennsylvania politicians like to admit.
In the Fall of 1994, my fellow Democratic leaders and I had lunch with Lieutenant Governor Mark Singel, then the Democratic candidate for Governor. Singel had previously served about a year as Acting Governor due to Governor Robert P. Casey's serious medical conditions, and would later serve as Chairman of the Democratic State Committee.
Singel reviewed his own campaign polls, which showed that he and running mate U.S. Senator Harris Wofford were decisively beating Congressmen Tom Ridge and Rick Santorum at the same time as national polls were showing Democrats going down to defeat in virtually every state.
Singel said he hoped the polls were right, but added "It's hard for me to believe we are strong enough to withstand a national landslide." He and Wofford ultimately were not, and Ridge and Santorum won.
Whatever blame Perzel deserves for losing the state house to the Democrats, and whatever credit the Democrats deserve for our campaign skills and strategies and excellent roster of qualified and overqualified candidates, we must not forget to credit the man who I believe is the single most important reason for our success: George W. Bush.http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/1/10/01022/5028
Moving Offices Due to New Majority Status Brings Back Memories
by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA
Mon Jan 08, 2007 at 09:28:22 PM PDT
Today was moving day for me and the staff assigned to me, and the staff and the movers did a great job in getting us from the 4th Floor--the minority office locations--to the first floor--the majority office locations. The issue is not the quality of the office space (there is nothing wrong with the minority offices) but the symbolism involved in moving from the somewhat out of the way 4th Floor to the much-traveled 1st Floor.
Democratic Caucus Administrator Dan Surra, a legislator from Elk County in rural Pennsylvania, had tried mightily to get the Republicans to vacate their offices in mid-December and speed up this process. But Republican Speaker John Perzel was busy wooing Democrats to ignore the will of the Democratic caucus and re-elect him instead. All of Perzel's scheming came to naught when Democrats united on Republican social services advocate Dennis O'Brien for Speaker, and secured control of the agenda, the commmittees, majority status, and office space.
In my 33 years in the legislature, this is the third time I have gone from minority status to majority status. The first was 1974, when I had been in the legislature as a member of the minority for 5 and a half months. The second was 1982, when I had been a member of the minority for four consecutive years. And now, with the Democrats regaining the majority in 2006, I have been a member of the minority for twelve consecutive years.
How long we stay in the majority depends on individual choices and chance occurences beyond anyone's control. For instance, Democratic Rep. Robert Freeman is considering running for Mayor of Easton against the Republican mayoral incumbent in 2007. His victory and resignation would create a vacancy. Hopefully, one or more Republicans is also considering for running for municipal office this year.
A feature of the minority offices for elected leaders not shared by the majority offices for elected leaders is some common office space which is subdivided among the leaders. Sometimes this is a nuisance because the noise level can get high. But sometimes this leads to helpful collaboration as well.
One day in May, 2003, I got a call from Bill O'Reilly's office challenging me to debate him on my position opposing the banning of French wine in Pennsylvania liquor stores, a position I had written on extensively in letters to fellow House members.
My initial inclination was to turn it down. But one of my staff members argued strongly that I should go on. Two staff members from other leadership offices then interjected themselves into the discussion and argued that I should accept, saying that I probably knew much more about the legal issues involved than O'Reilly did, and that I could win the debate. Outvoted 3 to 1, I accepted the debate, prepped extensively for it over the next 72 hours, and did well enough to have O'Reilly say I "might have convinced" him, and never received another invitation from O'Reilly again.
The majority offices have no common private space. Going from one office to another inevitably involves the public. Depending on who one runs into, this can have consequences either good or bad. Last week, for example, on the swearing in day in which we elected our Speaker, a Philadelphian from a neighboring legislative district ask me to pose for pictures with members of his family. I posed for several different pictures, and this perhaps impressed a wandering Philadelphia television reporter who had never interviewd me before, who then interviewed me at length about the Speaker's election.
The office I am in was the office filled by the prior majority caucus chair, Republican Eleanor Z. Taylor of West Chester. It was her retirement after 30 years in the legislature that gave the rising Democrats the ability to win the open seat by a final margin of 28 votes in the town which proudly hosts West Chester State University. Certainly, boosting student registration there will be a major priority there for both political parties.
Our Democratic winner--the woman who put us in the majority--is Barbara McIlvaine Smith. She is the fourth member of her family to serve in the legislature, but the first since the 1920's, when one of her ancestors was one of the early women to serve, shortly after women gained the right to vote. Other family members of hers served in the legislature in the 1800's and the 1700's.
After we unload the boxes and get this office into good shape, one of my first priorities will be to invite Barbara into the office that she gained for me. She is a great woman, and will undoubtedly give her constituents the kind of vigorous representation that they deserve. Our challenge as a party and as legislative body will be see that having a Democratic majority creates positive change in the interest of the people of Pennsylvania.http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/1/9/02822/63655
How Perzel Bullied O'Brien Into Becoming the Democratic Standard Bearer for PA House Speaker
by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA
Fri Jan 05, 2007 at 11:24:44 PM PDT
As former Republican House Speaker John Perzel thinks about his downfall and ponders whether to plot a comeback to a House leadership post or an exit strategy from the House, he must be having some second thoughts.
How was he to know without having a cyrstal ball that the unstated taunt he threw at fellow Northeast Philadelphia Republican Dennis O'Brien year after year, decade after decade, would someday lead to one of the most incredible events in Pennsylvania politics? How was he to know that at the precise moment in which he would most need O'Brien's support, O'Brien would become the successful candidate of the Democratic Party to oust him from the Speakership?
The inherent question of bullies everywhere--What are you going to do about it?--was dramatically answered by O'Brien on January 2, 2007. On that date, shortly after 12:00 noon, the Democrats handed him an army of supporters--99 votes in all, with just 102 votes need for him to become Speaker--and, given that a handful House Republicans were looking for a Republican Perzel alternative to back, made him the instant favorite for Speaker. As unwarned Republicans looked on with stunned horror, O'Brien beat Perzel 105 to 97, with O'Brien's own vote not recorded in his favor due to his young son's monkeying with the switch.
The bullying to which Perzel subjected O'Brien was an example of the overpersonalization that sometimes occurs in politics. O'Brien, an extrovert's extrovert, exuded warmth and self-confidence. Four years after being elected to the State House, he had nearly defeated incumbent Republican Congressman Charles Dougherty in the Republican primary with the active support of the leadership of the Republican City Committee.
His near success in the Republican Congressional primary came with a price however: he surrendered his seat in the legislature, and John Perzel became the senior Republican legislator in Philadelphia in terms of consecutive legislative service. Not even O'Brien's return to the legislature two years later could change that.
Whereas success seemed to come easy to O'Brien because of his personality, goals, and achievements, success for Perzel meant grindlingly hard and repetitious work. From day one as a candidate for the legislature, Perzel felt he had to woo each voter, each worker, each contributor, individually. No one worked harder as a political mechanic than Perzel did, or showed more pride in his work ethic of persistent individual outreach.
The year O'Brien first was elected to the House, 1976, on his first try, was the year Perzel lost his race for the House. But Perzel relentlessly kept on working, and, in the Republican year of 1978, ousted the Democratic incumbent Francis Gleeson, a passionately Democratic attorney who suffered from the seemingly quaint notion that legislators should study issues in depth and make at least some decisions on the merits and not on the basis of politics.
Perzel's relentnessness and political zealotry came with the cost that people who opposed him REALLY OPPOSED him. Gleeson, for instance, would dutifully campaign for every Democratic opponent of Perzel from 1980 through 2006. So Perzel learned that he had to find ways to help the people he hurt.
The classic Perzel maneuver was the takeover. He used the authority of the legislature to give himself the power to appoint the controlling people for the Philadelphia Parking Authority, the Philadelphia School District, and the Philadelphia Convention Center.
A key motive in all these takeovers was patronage in the form of jobs and contracts, but Perzel took care to operate within the zone of responsibility and innovation, and to offer side payments to his victims. Philadelphia teachers lost significant union bargaining rights, for instance, but gained a 25% pension increase. Some teachers felt this was a fair trade, and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers morphed from angry critic to enthusiastic Perzel supporter.
Perzel got on the intoxicating treadmill of creating and then appeasing numerous enemies in a dazzling series of bold strikes and creative maneuvers, becoming one of the most powerful legislative leaders in the history of Pennsylvania and one of the most powerful politicians in the history of Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, Dennis O'Brien was busy being Dennis O'Brien, a nice guy who cared about the disabled, the retarded, the autistic, the crime victim, the accident victim, a guy who didn't need a lot of power to win because everybody liked his personality, his platform, and his record of achievement and results.
In 2000, the year the increasingly powerful Perzel won by less than 100 votes against a wheelchair bound crime victim who had become a passionate advocate for the disabled--the kind of guy who would never run against Denny O'Brien--O'Brien did not have a Democratic opponent for the first time.
In 2001, Perzel led the Republican redistricting efforts for Philadelphia, and I led the Democratic redistricting efforts for Philadelphia. For different reasons, we both agreed on abolishing the vacant seat of recently elected Republican Judge Christopher Wogan, but Perzel surprised me with an inquiry to our staff negotiators: what did we think about abolishing O'Brien's seat as well? Before we could formulate a response, Perzel dropped the idea, but not until he had it leaked to the press and given O'Brien a copy of a map with his district cut up into little pieces.
Perzel had first won election as a Republican leader in 1988, after earlier defeats. O'Brien would have liked to have been a Republican leader too, but Perzel's presence in the Republican leadership team in a caucus with only a handful of Philadelphians pretty much elimated his chances. And Perzel clearly outworked and outmaneuvered O'Brien to gain political power: Perzel wanted to be number one most of all and O'Brien most of all wanted to help people who needed help.
If Perzel could have merely accepted that his approach to politics and life was different from O'Brien's, he would likely be Speaker of the House today. But he could not do that. Throughout his life, he had climbed out of poverty and dysfunctional family circumstances through working harder than just about anyone else. He had accumulated far more political power than O'Brien, and for some inexplicable reason, it became important to him that O'Brien face the reality of Perzel's power on a daily basis.
So Perzel would regularly organize press conferences with other Northeast Philadelphia Republican Northeast Philadelphia legislators, and O'Brien would not be invited to participate. Perzel would regularly make clear to media, Republican activists, and Republican campaign contributors, how close other Northeast Philadelphia legislators were to him and the vast power he came to wield--all except O'Brien.
One day my close friend Frank Oliver--the ranking Democrat (Democratic Chairman in Pennsylvania legislative language)--on the Health and Human Services Committee--complained to me that he needed other committee assignments because Perzel was not allowing any significant number of bills to be referred to the Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by O'Brien. Serving on the Health and Human Services Committee had become almost meaningless, he said.
Years later, however, when Perzel had allowed O'Brien to serve as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, my close friend Babette Josephs--the Democratic Chair on the State Government Committee-- would express happiness that the State Government Committee gained jurisdiction from the Judiciary Committee over tort reform issue, because Perzel knew that O'Brien would not rubberstamp Republican policies on these issues.
Before becoming President, Senator John F. Kennedy told his wife Jacqueline that "Sometimes party loyalty asks too much." Dennis O'Brien had reached his breaking point before John Perzel--the master of the politics of using power to entice support one person at a time--had convinced Tom Caltagirone, the Democratic Chair of the Judiciary Committee--to bolt the Democratic Party decision to back Democratic leader Bill DeWeese for Speaker.
Suddenly, the Democratic Party needed Republican allies it could work with to accept the verdict of the voters that it was the party that should govern the House.
Despite the political perils that opposing one's party on a high profile issue like control of the House potentially pose, Dennis O'Brien was available.
James Madison, the constitutional architect of the theory of checks and balances, the theory of ambition being made to combat ambition, would have been proud. The system worked to sharply reduce the power of the man who had exploited the system all too well for personal and partisan gains.http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/1/6/0730/97939
Democrats Salvage Majority Control of Pennsylvania House By Electing Social Services Leader Speaker
by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA
Tue Jan 02, 2007 at 09:56:22 PM PDT
(From the diaries. Best to get the skinny on the drama in PA today from the horse's mouth, so to speak -- kos)
In a dramatic come from behind victory, the Pennsylvania House Democrats salvaged majority control of the legislative calendar, committee make-up, and legislation by electing House Judiciary Chairman Dennis O'Brien-- a Republican long a leader in efforts to increase funding for autism victims, the mentally retarded, and the physically disabled--as Speaker of the House.
O'Brien defeated incumbent two-term Speaker John Perzel, whose 18 years as a Republican House leader have been full of intrigue, Machiavellian maneuvers, patronage power grabs, guerilla warfare both against Democrats and against House traditions of responsible party government, the naked display of ruthless political power, and a series of dumb statements.
It is not that Perzel's methods never produced anything good. As Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell noted, Perzel was ultimately a key player in increased educational funding, improved environmental protections, expanded property tax relief for senior citizens, and increasing the Pennsylvania minimum wage. But the tortuous maneuvering that was often required to gain Perzel's support, coupled with all his negatives, led Rendell to help recruit O'Brien to be the Democratic nominee for Speaker.
The process of recruiting O'Brien began New Year's Eve, after Democrat Tom Caltagirone had infamously publicly pledged to support Republican John Perzel. With the Democratic lead of 102 to 101, the Caltagirone defection would have been decisive were it not for Republican disillusionment with Perzel.
We had hoped, from public and private statements, that angry Republicans would have supported Democratic leader Bill DeWeese for Speaker. Failing that, we hoped we and they could have agreed on another Democrat. But those talks did not pan out,and supporting O'Brien became our only option to regain the power of the majority that Tom Caltagirone had taken away from us.
The main bait for O'Brien was that he would suddenly be in a powerful position to achieve goals in improving social services safety nets for the disabled, the retarded, and those with autism, as well as continuing his lifelong work to improve law enforcement.
He did not agree to switch his registration to the Democratic Party, but he did not refuse to do so either. He expressed concern about his longstanding relationships with Republicans, and he obviously wants time to consider what to do next. "I'll take it one step at a time," he told what was probably the best attended press conference he ever had.
O'Brien represents parts of the northern part (the Bucks County border area) of the same part of the city of Philadelphia that I represent--Northeast Philadelphia. His area, although it has a Democratic registration majority, is more Republican than mine. But many of the Republicans in the district are Republicans largely because they like the constituent service and personality of Dennis O'Brien.
As one who has occasionally been on the receiving end or his persistent persuasive efforts, I can testify to his relentlessness. Once, he asked me to support one of his efforts because "I always support you." I gave him a large number of cases where that was not true. "Alright, I don't always support you," he said with exasperation and fear that my list of differences would go on for a long time,"but you ought to to support my bill because it's the right thing to do for the public."
As best as I can remember, I supported, and spoke in favor, of his bill.
Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, long a passionate believer in encouraging Northeast Philadelphia Republicans to join the Democratic Party, was helpful in encouraging O'Brien to accept our Speaker nomination. He publicly praised O'Brien for having "a passion for change....a passion for trying to help people....(and) fundamental fairness."
In placing O'Brien into nomination, Majority Leader DeWeese, himself the choice of House Democrats for Speaker, called O'Brien "a fine-hearted idealistic Republican." He said his election would lead to "a rennaisance for this chamber."
The O'Brien nomination took House Republicans totally by surprise. I am told on good authority that a House Republican caucus that ended less than an hour before the Speaker's election began did not even consider the possibility of an O'Brien candidacy. Those who watched Perzel's facial expressions saw him in a state of utter shock when O'Brien was placed in nomination by DeWeese.
In the first speakership election I participated in, in 1975, the Democrats had 114 seats out of 203, and the Republicans nominated an anti-abortion Democrat against the pro-choice Democrat who was the choice of the Democratic caucus. The choice of the Democratic caucus got enough Republicans on his side to prevail.
It is a sign of where Pennsylvania politics has been that 32 years later our choice was between two Republicans. But hopefully it is a sign of the future that the winning Republican was the candidate of the Democratic Party.http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/1/3/01556/83136
When the legislature raised its base salary to $81,050, howls of indignation were heard. How can the legislature truly represent the people while earning more than the average citizen, it was asked. The legislature five months later then repealed the salary increase, with only one dissenting vote from a legislator who would be defeated for re-election.The total silence concerning the $107,000 a year or so that City Council members will receive in 2008 is one of many, many typical examples of the politically motivated selective indignation that create the "surreal" political atmosphere you have complained about. One reason that it is difficult to motivate people to engage in political activities is the large numbers of political activists year in and year out who attempt to turn indignation on and off like a light switch.$81,050 is outrageous for legislators who have sessions and committee meetings year around but $107,000 is fine for City Council members who usually have no official meetings in July, August, and most or all of September. The legislative base salary, after the repeal, is now about $73,600. I seriously doubt any Council candidate has pledged, or will pledge, to keep his or her salary at the legislative level or below.And, if John Longacre is "not against the casinos themselves," what is his position on them if Philadelphia gets to decide their fate? Does he want Philadelphia to approve them at their currently approved locations, at different locations, or not at all?http://www.phillyblog.com/philly/showthread.php?t=36090&page=2
Jewell Williams and John Myers are both dedicated members of the Pennsylvania House. Myers has been ahead of the curve in pushing to limit gun trafficking. Williams has long engaged in extraordinary outreach to his disproportionately low income community, trying to build a strong sense of community responsibility and service there. The negative comments about them have no factual basis.
October 1, 2006http://www.phillyblog.com/philly/showthread.php?t=24786
Various schemes suggested above to avoid budget deadlocks miss the vital point that budgets have to be balanced (except at the federal level) and no one knows for sure how much revenue will come in until the end of the current fiscal year. Further, revenues from the current fiscal year influence the statistical validity of revenues for the next fiscal year.The state does not know what the revenues are because the revenues are a result of individual decision-making. How much money anyone spends on sales tax depends on questions like: how often do you go out to eat? Do you buy a new car this year, or put it off for a year or two?How much income tax anyone pays depends on questions like: should I seek to work more overtime? Should I get a second job? A balanced budget is a very difficult goal to attain. Requiring early budget decisions would only make it even more difficult, as there would be far more reliance on statistical projections and far less reliance on verifiable facts.
July 7, 2006http://www.phillyblog.com/philly/showthread.php?p=277692#post277692
It's interesting to see the support of NewDealDem, TalkRadioBug, and RuggerAl for term limits. Elected officials get elected one term at a time, and voters are able to throw them out if they choose. Certainly, the voters are capable of throwing out incumbents if they choose to, as shown by the defeat of the Senate President Pro Tempore, the Senate Majority Leader, the Chairman of the House Labor Relations Committee, the Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee,the Chairman of the House Finance Committee, the chairman of the house select committee investigating the appropriateness of faculty political expressions (I forget its exact name), the Vice Chair of the Appropriations Committee, and numerous others.But mandating term limits would be a big mistake. It would convert the legislature into a bunch of people whose primary motivation would be finding a job when they leave the legislature. It is far better than legislators focus on earning the support of their constituents than earning one or more job offers from employers who have their own axes to grind which may well not be in the public interest. Rather than empowering the public, term limits takes power away from the public because the relevance of average citizens to a legislator's future is reduced.Term limits also dramatically reduce the knowledge base a legislator has--both in terms of the details of many issues and the competence of his colleagues. Rather than reducing the influence of political machines, it increases the influence of political machines, because legislators who do not know each other well lack the capacity to make decisions about leadership elections and committee appointments.Term limits are a bad idea whose time has passed. Certainly, advocates of term limits can oppose any incumbent they like for re-election, but the voters should retain the right to make the final decisions as to who goes and who stays. Keeping this power in the hands of the voters strengthens them, while taking it away from the voters weakens them.
June 26, 2006http://www.phillyblog.com/philly/showthread.php?p=271502#post271502
In April, 2006, the Republican-controlled House passed my bill raising the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.15 in two steps ending in 2007. This benefits over 800,000 people and adds hundreds of millions of dollars in income to low-income families. I have been publicly promised Senate action by the end of this month.Earlier this month, the Senate passed my previously passed House bill allowing direct electronic access by organ procurement organizations to verify an individuals organ donor status. Any individual willing to be an organ donor upon his or her death may have body parts that can help many other people. Many thousands of people needing transplants of body organs or tissue should benefit by this step cutting bureaucracy in the organ donor process. It should also save Pennsylvania some money, as there will be far less need for Pennsylvania employees to help organ procurement organizations.Later tonight, the House will vote on House Bill 39, which has been amended by a conference committee and passed by the Senate after I vigorously denounced the original version which gave a very low percent of its revenues to Philadelphians. House Bill 39 in its current form raises the number of Philadelphians receiving property tax rebates from over 20,000 at the current times to over 80,000 upon passage. It will dramatically increase the amount of money given to the current extremely low income beneficiaries while simultaneously increasing the number of beneficiaries by raising the ceiling on income earned by senior citizen beneficiaries from $18,000 to $35,000. All told, it will be $1 billion dollars in senior tax relief, plus a reduced wage tax for the working citizens of Philadelphia, which will be funded by gambling revenues when they are available and current lottery ticket sales (which have doubled during the Rendell Administration). Along with other Democratic leaders and active Democrats, I have been pushing property tax reduction from state funds for many years.
June 14, 2006http://www.phillyblog.com/philly/showthread.php?p=265732#post265732
The biggest change during my tenure in the legislature has been the rise of the individual legislator. Time and again, individual legislators have shown that they have answers for pressing problems that command the support to be enacted into law.http://184.108.40.206/search?q=cache:VFf5v_JRC5QJ:www.answers.com/topic/state-legislature+%22MARK+B+COHEN%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=106
Pennsylvania has many difficult challenges to overcome, now and in the future. Working together-- across the lines of party, country, region, demographic groups--we can give the people of Pennsylvania the secure, prosperous, and exciting future they deserve.http://220.127.116.11/search?q=cache:pYWGamMOnGsJ:www.keystonepolitics.com/UserInfo-RepMarkBCohen.html+%22MARK+B+COHEN%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=110
The House and Senate each have access to statements made in the course of floor proceedings and access to the text of bills. The Senate site has some extras. Both the House and Senate sites link to each other. The Senate site is more up to date: it has Journals through March 22, 2006, while the House site has journals only through the end of 2005.These Internet postings only began in 2005, so journals from prior years have to be searched in libraries.The link for the Senate is: http://www.pasen.gov/index.cfm
The link for the House is: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/hj/hj.cfm
The general practice in both bodies is that bills that are uncontroversial or unimportant but undefeatable should not be debated. This is usually but not always adhered to. For instance, when I introduced an appropriations amendment for $100,000 in spending for a public awareness campaign on suicide prevention earlier in 2006, it seemed appropriate to get free public awareness on PCN (which covers all floor proceedings and many committee proceedings) for this issue, and so I spoke in favor of a measure that I knew would sail through anyway.
May 26, 2006http://www.phillyblog.com/philly/showthread.php?p=256509#post256509
Shawn Flaherty has the honesty, integrity, creativity and experience to be a great state legislator. I look forward to him being a dramatic improvement in performance over his predessessor from day one of his legislative tenure.http://www.keystonepolitics.com/index.php?name=News&file=article&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;thold=-1&mode=flat&order=0&sid=3015#4569
Recent Northeast Times editorials have been increasingly angry and full of name-calling. As a general rule, I object to this style of public debate. Public debate should encourage participation of those who are the most informed, and those who are the most inquisitive. A pattern of denunciation discourages such participation. Whatever clarity is gained by verbal assaults is offset by drastic reductions in balance, objectivity, fairness and credibility. Further, a sense of community is built when people talk to each other.As Bill Clinton once said, "We have to stop pointing fingers at each other so we can join hands."A sense of community is destroyed when discussion of public issues is reduced to bitter, distorted and inaccurate public attacks.Building community has long been the Northeast Times’ most important product. This new editorial tone seriously undermines that creation of community at a time when many new people are moving into our neighborhoods and starting to read the Northeast Times for the first time.These reflections are directly stirred by the editorial of Aug. 4. I deeply regret that I did not step up earlier as a clear pattern was building. I guess I hoped that the editorial anger would fade out. Instead, it appears to have become institutionalized.Dealing directly with the Aug. 4 editorial, Northeast Philadelphia legislators are obviously not "bums" and Ed Rendell is obviously not "a pansy," whether that word is used to mean a weak or effeminate man, or that word is used to mean a homosexual. (Many homosexuals are deeply offended by the use of that word to describe them.)Nor are Philadelphia legislators "naughty," whether that word is used to mean dishonest or that word is used to describe the immoral sexual behavior. Using words with these kinds of dual meanings is at best poor writing and at worst an incitement to hatred that should not be repeated in the future.The Northeast Times seems most aggrieved at the decision of the Pennsylvania Legislature to vote itself an immediate increase in unvouchered expenses despite the Pennsylvania Constitution provision banning an immediate increase in salary. But unvouchered expenses are not legally the same as salary.If I applied for a mortgage and I was asked what my salary was, I could be accused of fraud if I include the unvouchered expenses as part of my salary.Pennsylvania legislators are 253 out of many millions of Americans whose work requires them to expend personal funds out of the salary they receive. The average American teacher, for instance, expends about $1,000 a year out of his or her salary for classroom materials.Similarly, the average Pennsylvania legislator spends considerably more than $1,000 a year for organizational events, ads for organizational events, help for individuals in need, organizational memberships, credit card interest on reimbursable expenses filed late or processed slowly, etc.Unvouchered expenses will reimburse legislators for these costs of job related expenses not directly reimbursed by the legislature.Some legislators will be able to document to the IRS that they pay more out of their salaries than the amount provided for them in unvouchered expenses.Those legislators who cannot document that they pay more of their salaries in job related expenses will pay taxes on any money they cannot document as legitimate to the IRS.As anybody who has struggled with IRS-required record keeping knows, not being able to document expenses in accordance with the requirements of the IRS does not mean that the expense was never incurred. It may mean instead that the necessary receipts were misplaced or never obtained.Those who insist that unvouchered expenses are the same as salary, despite opinions of both the Commonwealth Court and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to the contrary, argue that the constitutional ban on immediate salary increases is so clear that the opinions of Commonwealth Court judges and Supreme Court justices should be irrelevant. These critics have either forgotten or never learned how judicial interpretation works.There are two basic theories of judicial interpretation. The technical term for judicial interpretation is judicial construction. The first theory is one of strict construction: the law means precisely what it says and no more than what it says. The second theory is one of liberal construction: the law means whatever its full social purpose is or what it can be argued to be.Generally speaking, strict construction has long been more popular among judges than liberal construction, especially in state courts throughout America.An important secondary theory of judicial construction is the theory of stare decisis, which means the decisions as to what the law means should stay the same over time.Pennsylvania’s constitution, like the constitution of states generally, is far longer than the Constitution of the United States. Strict construction has always been more popular on state courts, including Pennsylvania’s, than federal courts because of this.State constitutions are inherently about details, and therefore state judges tend to take careful note about what is included and what is not included when interpreting constitutional provisions.Gene Stilp, who challenged the legislature’s pay increase and increase in unvouchered expenses in 1995, has filed a challenge to the 2005 increase in Commonwealth Court hoping that new judges will reverse prior court decisions.Despite my friendship with Stilp and some of the other critics of the legislature’s action in increasing pay and unvouchered expenses, I firmly believe that the legislature acted in the public interest in doing so.I have little doubt that Pennsylvania courts will follow the theories of strict construction and stare decisis and reject any legal challenges filed by Stilp or anyone else. The increases in legislative pay and unvouchered expenses are in the public interest because they help the legislature retain and attract dedicated people, while increasing and maintaining ethical standards that are much higher than in many other states.In New Jersey, for instance, many legislators have other governmental jobs, and New Jersey law requires that other governmental employers give the New Jersey legislators paid time off whenever legislative business requires.New Jersey legislators also can receive payment for state governmental leasing of buildings they own or performing legal, real estate, and other professional services for state agencies. None of these forms of economic subsidy for legislators is allowed in Pennsylvania, nor should it be.In Arkansas, until recently, legislators were able to be paid as lobbyists while serving in the legislature. The same is true with the British Parliament.In Texas, even today, legislators are allowed to be paid for lobbying the executive branch, and their pensions are far higher than those of the Pennsylvania legislators.In Alaska, the speaker of the house has earned hundreds of thousands of dollars a year doing work for companies regulated by the state. Again, none of this happens in Pennsylvania, nor should it.Despite claims that Pennsylvania legislators will have the second highest salaries of legislators from the 50 states, Pennsylvania legislators will receive income far less than many typical American state legislators receive.When I go to national meetings of state legislators from other states, I sometimes hear about the private planes they own; their extensive ownership of businesses, real estate, and stocks; and their extensive earnings from governmental agencies and businesses interested in influencing them. They earn far more than I do; they just earn it in ways that are entirely or somewhat hidden from the public.Rising salaries and unvouchered expenses keep the Pennsylvania legislature in the hands of middle-class people and out of the crosshairs of those who investigate systematical governmental corruption. It means that legislatures will not be dependent for income on executive branch governmental agencies or private businesses with their own legislative agendas.The Pennsylvania Legislature has significantly aided in the building of Philadelphia’s economic base through the funding and other help for the establishment and the expansion of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the Constitution Center, the civilian uses of the Philadelphia Naval Yard, the Avenue of the Arts, the Kimmel Center, riverfront development and alternative forms of public education such as charter schools and independent schools for children with discipline problems, as well as many neighborhood-specific programs. The Pennsylvania Legislature has both increased numerous criminal sentences and advanced a growing number of crime prevention measures, to protect citizens against murderers, rapists, sexual predators and numerous perpetrators of white collar fraud.The Pennsylvania Legislature is full of dedicated and decent people. Working with them in a constructive manner can expedite many future improvements for Northeast Philadelphia and its citizens.http://forums.philly.com/n/mb/display.asp?webtag=kr-localnews&msg=4322.15
Bill Rieger has gotten terrible press because of his minimalistic approach to the duties of the job--he focuses on what he thinks is important and lets a lot of other things go-- and because he is rarely at his district residence and is more easily found at his residence outside his district. He is a man who is easy to underestimate, but who nevertheless holds the record for House Democrats for the longest tenure in the history of Pennsylvania. In 40 years in the House, he never gave a speech on the House floor. Yet, many consider him one of the more influential members of the House. He is often persuasive as a Co-Chair of the Philadelphia (Democratic) Delegation; he is emphatic that no one vote against money for Philadelphia.He rarely talks to the press. Yet, as Chairman of the House Ethics Committee, he put out one of the most influential press releases in the history of the House, a press release that shamed a legislator attempting to sell his services as a communications expert to lobbyists into dropping the idea before a single penny was paid to him.He rarely introduces bills. But one who wants to know the history of issues over the last 40 years--what was tried, what succeeded, what failed, who the key players were--Bill Rieger is often a good source.A longtime wardleader and protege of former Mayor James Tate, Rieger has been generally considered to be a machine politician. But he beat a longtime incumbent in a Democratic Primary to win his seat in 1966. And in the battle to succeed himself this year, he gave decisive support to "outsider" candidate Tony Payton.He knows and likes a lot of lobbyists. But as Chairman of the Committee on Professional Licensure, he pushed through a bill giving the public membership on all the professional licensure boards.He never went to college. But served for many years on the Board of Temple University, whose hospital, medical, and dental schools are in his district and near his home. He is given a lot of credit by longtime Temple President Peter Liacouras and others for keeping the Temple Dental School alive.He rarely attacks anyone publicly. But privately, he volunteers numerous examples of ethical lapses that annoy him and--he makes clear--that others should always avoid. He is a moralist in his personal life too--always making clear that each night the legislature breaks at a reasonable time he goes home to his wife.He and I go back a long way. He knew my late uncle Al Lipshutz for decades before he entered the legislature. Al was an active Democrat, and was an early Tate choice to run for the seat that Rieger won. But he stunned Tate by turning down his suggestion, making way for Rieger. The year after he was elected, Rieger strongly backed my father for a vacant 8th District Council seat.Although we go back a long way, we are polar opposites in many ways. He delegates much more than I do. I enmesh myself in public policy debates, while he tends to avoid them. I led the successful effort to establish legislative district offices; for years, Rieger maintained perhaps the least visible legislative district office. I engage in many forms of outreach; Rieger thinks that it is better to have people seek him out. I was one of the first legislators to do the job full-time, which is now the norm; Rieger is still one of staunchest advocates for legislators maintaining another occupation.Rieger has been called a dinosaur, but he has survived because he has been responsive to changes. He morphed from a businessman to a backer of labor; from a champion of white ethnics to a staunch ally of the black community; from a man close to Mayors Tate and Rizzo to a trusted advisor to a much younger generation of political leaders; from a teller of ethnic jokes to an outspoken opponent of any slur.Rieger is a twenty-first century version of George Plunkett of Tammany Hall, who about a hundred years ago gave a series of candid observations to a reporter that are likely still used in political science classrooms today. Anyone who could persuade Rieger to talk into a tape recorder could put together another political science classic.We in the Philadelphia Delegation all will miss Bill Rieger's presence this year.For a short time, it looked like there might be no one on the ballot for the Democratic nomination to succeed him, because three of the four candidates to succeed him could not meet the ballot requirements, and a fourth was unsuccessfully accused of not meeting them.Tom Waring of the Northeast Times--who has never been able to interview Bill Rieger--asked me to comment on the race. "If Payton stays on the ballot, he is going to have an extraordinary opportunity," I said. "I'm sure he will make a fine legislator. But if he's kicked off the ballot, Bill Rieger's warming up in the bullpen."There was wishful thinking in that statement; Rieger made it clear once again at the retirement dinner that he was determined to retire. But I will miss his Harrisburg presence, and so will many in both Harrisburg and Philadelphia.
June 3, 2006http://www.phillyblog.com/philly/showthread.php?p=259453#post259453
Rieger was the first to arrive at the LaVigna dinner, and enjoyed every minute of it. It was a nice gesture of closure for him.I said we are polar opposites in many ways. My record is one of involvement in a far wider range of issues, and far greater proactivity than his is. There are clearly positive things about his record,however, and I pointed some of them out. I think you learn more about people and the political process if you ask what strengths enabled them to go as far as they did, instead of just bemoaning the fact that they are in office. This is especially true when they are leaving office and have conceded that someone else might do a better job in the future.If one looks at the ideal legislator as set forth by John Baer and other advocates of limited government, Rieger comes close to the ideal, unless you include term limits in the ideal. His attendance record in Harrisburg saved the taxpayers from paying for too many per diems; he never went to legislative conferences; he did not propose many bills costing taxpayers money; he always maintained another source of income throughout his 40 years in the legislature, staying connected to the business community; he was absent on the vote for the pay raise; he was modest in his view of what the legislature could accomplish. The limited government ideal does not include a disputed residency of course, but the passivity that is perceived about Rieger is definitely part of the ideal.Geno, one can come up with lists of projects that perhaps should have been in Rieger's district had Rieger been able to get state funds for them. But I am a little bit leery of the issue of neighborhood "decline." As some people frequently use that word, it primarily means the moving in of racial minorities, especially low-income racial minorities.That is inevitable, especially in areas of inexpensive housing such as Rieger represents. Our 21st century challenge is to accomodate the demands of minorities for housing while maintaining the quality of neighborhoods. I know from your prior posts that you are in general agreement with me on this perspective.
June 3, 2006http://www.phillyblog.com/philly/showthread.php?p=259755#post259755
Those who express random thoughts to legislative committees are oftensurprised and appalled to find themselves the instigators of law.http://18.104.22.168/search?q=cache:M0KWWu8qzjoJ:mail-archives.apache.org/mod_mbox/httpd-dev/199601.mbox/%253C199601260001.TAA00488%40telebase.com.%253E+%22MARK+B+COHEN%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=158
I favor increased state funding for all urban school districts, increased funding across the state for special education, extracurricular activities, after-school tutoring, school libraries, and encouraging parental participation. We need new programs for pre-school, for all children, magnet schools before high school, and greater efforts for dropout prevention and re-entry.http://22.214.171.124/search?q=cache:oDCKLsnUz0cJ:pa.lwv.org/philadelphia/voterguide.html+%22mark+b+cohen%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=236
Government is not like a private multinational corporation which stockpiles many billion dollars of reserves. A balanced budget is required by the state constitution; the state government tries to spend what it receives in taxes.Therefore, all times are "fiscally troubled" times. There is never enough money to solve every problem, especially in times like the present when the federal government--run by Republicans in the House, Senate, and White House-- cuts hundreds of millions of dollars (about $350 million in state aid in 2005-2006).What the Pennsylvania government spends its revenues on depends upon the will of the citizens, as expressed by whom they send to represent them in Harrisburg, especially what party they send to represent them in Harrisburg. Unfortunately, most legislative districts in both the House and Senate are represented by Republicans who have very limited empathy for the plight of the less fortunate and who often run without opposition. Dissent from their extremely conservative policies in their home districts is rather rare, creating the rebuttable presumption that they are indeed speaking for their constituents.With the pay raises, the base salaries for Pennsylvania legislators are lower than that of many thousands of other public sector workers: experienced and well-credentialed teachers and principals, police who put in a lot of overtime or obtain advanced rank, professional aides in city and state departments in both the legislative and executive branches of the city, state, and federal governments, heads of departments and the vast majority of their deputies, etc. The bill raising legislative salaries also raised the salaries of judges, district attorneys, cabinet members, and the Governor, whose salaries were generally far higher than the legislature's before and after the pay raises.I believe that legislative salaries should be high enough to attract many persons of competenceand integrity to seek the positions and work at them full-time and overtime when necessary or advisable.It sent the wrong message when people like my Widener University School of Law law school classmate Kelly Lewis (R-Monroe County) resigned from the legislature immediately after winning re-election to take a well-paid lobbying job. It sends the wrong message in Congress when the number of former Congress members working as lobbyists exceeds the number of members sitting in the current Congress.The people control the decision as to who their legislators are. That decision is more meaningful--and the people are hence more powerful--when the job is financially worth winning. When the job entails a significant financial sacrifice to the winner, the public's power over the winner becomes somewhat attenuated. Denying a person the chance to make a financial sacrifice is hardly the heaviest of punishments.
July 5, 2005http://126.96.36.199/search?q=cache:sY2Thxvoej4J:youngphillypolitics.blogspot.com/2005/07/kudos-to-john-street.html+%22mark+b+cohen%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=257
The main difference between Pennsylvania and other state legislatures is the degree of time and expertise that goes into legislative decisionmaking.The National Conference of State Legislatures says that Pennsylvania is one of the four most full-time states in the country, based upon how many legislators have significant outside income and how many days they spend on legislative business.Pennsylvania is classified with New York, California, and Michigan in this top-ranked category. While Pennsylvania's legislature is far from perfect, and far too conservative in my judgement, we do function with a high level of competence.California's notorious inability to come even close to balancing a budget or to regulate utilities led to the recall of Gray Davis and the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger.New York has frequently failed to pass a budget for most of the year the budget is to cover, and has failed to get all too many of its members to adhere to ethical standards in financial and personal matters.Michigan, like Pennsylvania suffering from massive deindustrialization, has failed to deal with the problem of developing a new employment base as well as Pennsylvania or other states have.With a Democratic majority and more progressive Democrats, the Pennsylvania legislature could do better things. But what it does, it does competently because of significant attention to detail. (I do not deny that further improvements are possible.)In the days of the Soviet Union, they got by with their legislative body meeting all of three days a year and merely rubberstamping whatever they were given to vote on. Until the 1950's, the Pennsylvania legislature often came uncomfortably close to the Soviet model. No comparison with other states is valid unless there are considerations of time spent and outside income earned.Income disclosure of legislators is generally limited to souces rather than amounts, so exact comparisons are difficult. But in many other states it is quite common for legislatures to composed of highly paid attorneys,other professionals, businesspeople, and association executives, who earn far more each year than do the vast majority of Pennsylvania legislators.Pennsylvania may be the 2nd highest paid legislature in terms of base salary paid for out of state funds, but I doubt we are anywhere near the top tier in terms of average income earned each year by members of the General Assembly.I believe it is far better in terms of public policy to have legislators financially dependent on taxpayers than on employers or partners with significant legislative agendas of their own.
July 5, 2005http://188.8.131.52/search?q=cache:sY2Thxvoej4J:youngphillypolitics.blogspot.com/2005/07/kudos-to-john-street.html+%22mark+b+cohen%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=257
Being a good legislator requires skills in writing and interpreting the law, communicating with other citizens, helping others solve sometimes complex personal problems, communicating with the media, managing governmental staff,helpoing private sector leaders, and engaging in persuasive speech with many people who are experts in different fields. These skills have significant market value and are often found most readily with those who have advanced degrees.There are no educational requirements for the legislature, yet the voters have repeatedly elected people with one or more graduate degrees for the positions. There are no minimum hours required, yet the voters have repeatedly elected men and women who regularly work sixty hours or more a week.Those who believe the greatest of all possible injustices in this society is having a legislature that is well-paid compared to the average citizen or (to say the same thing differently) adequately paid for a professional person should aggressively seek poorly educated candidates with records of having been repeatedly fired from the jobs they have held to run for the legislature. Such people probably won't do very much, but they will be very grateful to serve in the legislature if somehow elected and will be highly unlikely to vote to raise their salaries.
November 10, 2005http://184.108.40.206/search?q=cache:ag8RK7lYcOcJ:aboveavgjane.blogspot.com/2005/11/no-we-dont-want-your-firstborn.html+%22mark+b+cohen%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=310
If what the voters truly want is a legislature that will not seek to raise its salary, it should vote for legislative candidates whose dismal record of performance and low level of credentials will not lead them to think they are worth more money. If what the voters want is a high performing legislature--which, contrary to the angry rhetoric is what they have now--they should understand that people who work extraordinarily long hours, spend many weeks a year away from their families, and have the ability to earn more money if they leave the legislature, are likely to think themselves worthy of pay raises.
November 10, 2005http://220.127.116.11/search?q=cache:ag8RK7lYcOcJ:aboveavgjane.blogspot.com/2005/11/no-we-dont-want-your-firstborn.html+%22mark+b+cohen%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=310
I would say that the belief in the highly qualified, hard working,honest and responsive legislators in other states who have earned the enthusiastic support of their constituents is a myth that has not been documented at all by any opponent of Pennsylvania legislative pay raises.The fact is that many state legislatures around the country are riddled with legal corruption, conflicts of interest, and part-timers who do not have the ability to adequately serve their constituents.
November 10, 2005http://18.104.22.168/search?q=cache:ag8RK7lYcOcJ:aboveavgjane.blogspot.com/2005/11/no-we-dont-want-your-firstborn.html+%22mark+b+cohen%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=310
I dispute that Democracy Rising is in any meaningful way a liberal organization. It's platform of calling for a smaller legislature that meets less frequently in which candidates are to be made more dependent on personal wealth due to restrictions on out of district campaign contributions is hardly a liberal platform.Democracy Rising has leaders with liberal roots, but they have clearly moved far, far to the right--right of even the Commonwealth Foundation, which does not approve of reducing the size of the legislature.