Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Montco I: Note from Hoeffel

from the inbox on 2/07, from Friends of Joe Hoeffel

Bipartisanship Trumps Civility

February 7, 2011

Everybody likes bipartisanship.

We believe our public servants represent us better when they cast aside partisan motives and work cooperatively across the party divide. We bemoan the hyper-partisanship in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. that leads to government gridlock. We applaud when our federal representatives pair up and sit together, Republicans next to Democrats, to hear the State of the Union address.

Everybody likes civility in government.

We believe that people ought to get along and treat each other respectfully. That is how our mothers taught us to behave. We want our elected officials to be civil to one another and to calmly accept opposing points of view.

But what happens when the very bipartisanship we want is the cause of the incivility we don't like?

That is what we have in Montgomery County. A county government that works effectively in a bipartisan gridlock-free manner, but is uncivil because the Republican Party can't stand that a Democrat is sharing power.

I submit that the daily bipartisanship of Montgomery County government is far more important than our occasional, albeit spectacular, incivility. What counts is what we achieve.

Jim Matthews and I, in this first-time-ever bipartisan coalition, and over the frequent vocal opposition of Bruce Castor, have passed balanced county budgets that have reduced spending and trimmed the county bureaucracy three years in a row with no increase in taxes. We have maintained our commitment to core county obligations for human services and public safety. We have started prudent and highly successful economic development and transportation programs responsible for 600 more jobs in Norristown and five traffic-easing projects around the county. We have reduced political activity in the courthouse, expanded our ethics code and strengthened the competitive selection of professional vendors.

The fact is that while the people love bipartisanship, the political bosses hate it, because they lose control. We hire workers, award contracts and select professionals through a competitive process that we recently improved and codified. Neither party headquarters is controlling those decisions and they don't like it.

Frankly, there has been lots of civility through the years in Montgomery County government, when one party dominated government decisions. That civility masked and hid from public view years of one party rule, patronage abuses and no-bid contracts to political donors. Those days are over.

I know we should do better and be nice to each other. I always try to be respectful to friend and foe alike in public and, frankly, I'm not doing the name-calling in Norristown. But if I was, so what? Civility is beneficial, but not essential, to good government.

So the next time Bruce Castor calls Jim Matthews names, don't worry about it.

The next time Jim Matthews responds in kind, let it slide.

The next time Bruce Castor refers to me as a hypocrite, a liar, and corrupt, as he routinely does, just laugh it off. That's what I do (at least in public).

We have important work to accomplish in Montgomery County this year. We have to operate effectively in a continuing recession. We have to decide whether tolling is needed to fix US 422. We have to get state funding restored for the new Norristown turnpike slip ramps to encourage development of the Norristown riverfront. We must fund a major upgrade of our emergency radio system. We need to switch our open space funding toward promoting the Schuylkill Greenway proposal.

If the past is any indication, these and other good government steps will usually occur with 2-1 votes, with one Republican and one Democrat working together, and one Republican screaming bloody murder. So be it.

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