Monday, April 02, 2007

Rendell: Hijacking the Reform Train

Great insights, as always, from PA Clean Sweep:
Governor Ed Rendell should step aside from his bid to become the state’s reformer-in-chief. While some of his ideas may have merit, the Governor has no more right than the average citizen to prescribe the structure of state government in Pennsylvania and his viewpoint is distorted by his position.

Perhaps his goal of a better open records policy is desirable, but his suggestion of creating an Office of Public Records Advocate might be just another plump patronage position to be filled by political pals. Maybe the people can come up with a better plan for making government more transparent.

Perhaps merit selection for state appellate judges is an idea worth considering, but what if the people would rather make all judicial races non-partisan affairs and ban contributions to those races by lawyers?

How could Rendell’s proposed Appellate Court Nominating Commission, dominated by a majority of legislative and executive appointees and confirmed by the Senate, improve the independence of the judiciary? Independence from the other two branches should be encouraged, but independence from the sovereign people at the voting booth should not.

Perhaps the Governor’s suggested campaign finance limits appear to level the electoral playing field. On the other hand, maybe the people of this Commonwealth realize that the voter revolt of 2006 would not have been possible under those limitations and that no financial ceiling could ever negate the current incumbency protection program.

Perhaps Rendell’s legislative term limits sound like a good idea, but reality in Pennsylvania suggests that if the General Assembly was truly part-time and was stripped of the unconstitutional perks it now enjoys, term limits would be utterly unnecessary.

Perhaps Pennsylvanians want a smaller legislature, but maybe they’d like a larger one, or to keep its size the same, with some of the above mentioned features and fewer expenses. Maybe they want to look at the other 49 states to see what others are doing before deciding which path is best for the Commonwealth.

Perhaps the time has come for citizen redistricting, but Rendell’s 11-member commission would include four legislators and three appointees of the governor, two of whom would be legislators. The remaining four would be appointed by - you guessed it - the four legislative caucus leaders. Pennsylvanians just might have a slightly different notion of how a citizens’ redistricting commission should look.

On constitutional issues in Pennsylvania, the governor’s opinion has no more real or deserved weight than the average citizen’s. Perhaps the Governor has some good ideas. Perhaps he doesn’t. Either way, today’s climate dictates that constitutional change should not be viewed only through the myopic lens of the chief executive.

The merit of Rendell’s ideas have should be discussed openly among citizens, not quietly between the three branches of government. Other citizens should be able to discuss their ideas as well. The proper forum for such a discussion is a constitutional convention. Surely, the Governor would be free to provide his vision for consideration at such a gathering.

“Citizens will not rest until there is an end to perks, an end to control by private interests and an end to political rules that shut them out of the process,” the Governor said in a press release. But his plan eliminates no perks, suppresses the freedom of speech in political races and utterly shuts the people out of the process of structural change.

Nearly two years after the reform train left the station as Ed Rendell signed the pay raise, the Governor is using his bully pulpit to try to hijack it. Perhaps he doesn’t realize that many other citizens were on board well ahead of him. Their voices on constitutional matters deserve an equally fair hearing.

In announcing his preferred reforms, Rendell expressed trepidation at the prospect of a constitutional convention, but if he truly believes in the right of self-governance as enumerated by Article I of the Constitution, a carefully crafted citizens’ convention provides no cause for hand wringing, anguish or hesitation of spirit.

A plan for such a convention of the people is available at

Citizens’ Constitutional Convention Act of 2007

Read the Governor's Proposed "Reforms"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Editorial | Reform in Harrisburg

Rendell's on board

Gov. Rendell's call for sweeping reforms of the legislature and of the state election system gives a valuable boost to a shakeup already under way in Harrisburg.

Rendell caused some observers to snicker when he proposed limiting
individual donations to statewide candidates to $5,000. After all, he's the mega-fund-raiser who spent $32 million to get reelected last year. Rendell collected 560 individual donations that exceeded $5,000, including 15 of
$100,000 or more. Even Rendell concedes that his conversion is a
Nixon-to-China moment.

Other proposals include toughening the state's open-records law, imposing term limits on legislators, instituting merit selection of appellate judges,
redistricting through a nonpartisan process, and trimming the size of the 253-member legislature.

Some critics accuse the governor of hopping aboard a reform train that has already gathered steam in the House and Senate. Who cares? When the governor and the legislature try to outdo each other with proposals for good government, citizens win.

Many of Rendell's suggestions will likely be considered this year by the special reform commission appointed by Speaker Dennis O'Brien (R., Phila.). The bipartisan panel already has made significant progress this year in changing House rules to shed more light on their work and limit the
influence of party leaders.

On another track, Sen. Jeffrey Piccola (R., Dauphin) is drafting a proposal to hold a citizens' constitutional convention. The plan, which would bar legislators from participating, would set a meeting of 150 delegates, likely
in the summer of 2008. Although the scope of such a convention isn't clear, delegates could consider ideas such as allowing a graduated income tax and providing a dedicated source of transit funding.

All of this movement toward cleaning up Harrisburg is the direct result of the legislative pay-raise scandal of 2005. More than 50 new legislators were
elected last year, many of them promising to change the way Harrisburg does business.

Before committing to a constitutional convention, it makes sense to see what this new wave of legislators can accomplish this year. One of their priorities should be restoring order to the state's campaign-finance system.
The current absence of contribution limits is an embarrassment that allows big-money donors to wield too much influence in individual races. Rendell's suggestion of a $5,000 limit for statewide races and $2,000 for legislative
seats is a sensible starting point.

Likewise, merit selection of judges is a needed change. Requiring judges to raise campaign money from lawyers taints all jurists with the same broad brush of potential conflict, and nobody knows it better than judges. Rendell
proposes a nominating commission to come up with a list of candidates. The governor would then nominate a judge, subject to Senate confirmaton.

Merit selection is a heavy lift politically; an overwhelming majority of respondents in a recent Keystone Poll said they wanted to preserve the popular election of judges. But the current setup undermines public confidence in the judiciary.

Term limits for legislators is one area where Rendell is off the track. He wants to limit representatives and senators to eight years in office, saying the legislature ought not to be a career. A more fair, nonpartisan redistricting process would help to keep elections competitive without imposing an artificial limit on candidates and voters alike.

Redistricting and trimming the legislature are not likely to get a warm reception from state lawmakers. There lies the challenge. Legislators can tackle these difficult subjects now, or face a new round of citizen revolt.