Monday, August 14, 2006

The Pep Boys II: Paul, Patrick and Ed

This afternoon I drove over the Croyden for a veteran’s rally featuring Gov. Ed Rendell, running for re-election, and Patrick Murphy, Democratic candidate for the 8th congressional district. Paul Lang, Democratic candidate for the 6th State Senate district introduced Murphy. Tony Melio, Democratic incumbent for the 141st State House also made a few remarks. John Galloway, Democratic candidate for the 140th State House district was also in attendance.

Rallies are one of my favorite forms of political events, in part because they are free, and also because they are somewhat unstructured and you can move around at will. Keeping in mind that I’m not a trained journalist, here are a few of my observations.

The rally was held at the Joseph Schumacher VFW, formed in 1928 and the oldest post in the county, where Murphy is a life member. It was scheduled to start at 3:00 p.m. The governor was only 40 minutes late this time so thing got underway around then. Lang was there when I arrived and seemed to know most of the people clustered in the shade of a large picnic shelter. Murphy arrived a little later and was quickly surrounded by supporters, not to mention cameras and reporters. I counted somewhere between 50 and 60 people but it was tough to get an accurate count since people were often in motion.

Shortly before the governor arrived everyone was shifted from the picnic shelter to the memorial, where a podium with television microphones attached. Tony Melio spoke first, acknowledging Murphy, Lang, and Galloway. He read “Thank a Veteran,” a lovely salute to those who have served in uniform.

Paul Lang then introduced Patrick Murphy.

Patrick Murphy then spoke briefly, acknowledging local officials in the audience. He also mentioned that Gov. Rendell is a veteran (news to me, but I checked and he’s right; Rendell served in the Army National Guard). After mentioning some of Rendell’s accomplishments, such as doubling the death benefits paid to the family of National Guard members who die as a result of their duties from $50,000 to $100,000, he introduced the governor.

Rendell again impressed me with his speaking ability. He really is good at this and once or twice seemed to get a little choked up. I still plan on voting for him. I still have some reservations.

He started off with a good story. A year ago Murphy went to see him and said he wanted to run for Congress. Rendell told him he didn’t have a chance and to run for the state legislature instead. Rendell then recounted all the times that the same thing had been told to him and he had gone on to win. He said Murphy would fight hard in Congress. Too many just want to go along to get along and won’t fight injustice in Washington, D.C. but that Murphy would. Rendell also said we need to elect new voices in Harrisburg to advance a progressive agenda.

The governor listed a number of items he has supported that relate to veterans. There was also a handout, providing even more information. I can’t find a copy of it on his campaign website but it may show up there later. Here are some of the things he mentioned:

A 7th veterans home will be built in the state, in central Pennsylvania, which currently does not have one.

Each county has a veterans affairs director. In the past they have not been trained well but that has been improved and the state has gone from 23rd in the country to 8th in the average annual compensation payment for new VA disability claims.

He has added 40% to the budget for transporting disabled veterans to hospitals.

The Pennsylvania Soldier’s and Sailor’s Home in Erie will have a new unit for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.

Supporting a retrospective $500.00 bonus to WWII Merchant Marines. (They were exempted a the time and this “fixes a 50 year old mistake.”)

Signed a bill to put back on the ballot a bonus for veterans of the First Persian Gulf War (it was connected or caught up with other issues at the time and voted down).

Currently disabled veterans don’t pay property tax but their surviving spouse does. He is working on a provision to exempt the surviving spouse as well.

He wants to extend the amount of time current servicemen have to pay off student loans, etc., and provide tax breaks to businesses that cover the difference between a Reservists civilian pay and their military pay when activated.

He signed a bill keeping funeral protestors 5000 feet away from services.

When the Pennsylvania National Guard went to New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina he received many letters thanking him for their spectacular help.

Rendell mentioned that when possible he tries to attend National Guard departure ceremonies. He also told the story of Mark Phelan who decided not to return with his unit but stay on in Iraq with another unit. His expertise was in working with Iraqi businessmen. He was killed by an improvised explosive device. Rendell told the story very movingly. Over 253 of the Iraqis Phelan worked with sent emails to the Phelan family expressing condolences. He said these are the stories you don’t hear on the news.

That sort of wrapped things up. Reporters clustered around the candidates to ask questions and take photos. People chatted and started to leave.

Please take note that twice in a few weeks I’ve been able to hear the sitting governor of the state speak (okay, he’s running for reelection so he’s going out and about more), at free events. It can be done. My thanks to the Lang and Murphy campaigns for posting information on this event on their campaign sites and with sufficient notice for me to alter plans and attend.

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