Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Not a Party Girl

Not a Party Girl

The title of this entry is not a reference to my admittedly dull lifestyle, but to party affiliation. For all of the time I’ve lived in Pennsylvania I’ve been a registered Democrat, except for six months when I changed parties to volunteer for an extraordinary Republican. My reasons for being a Democrat will be the subject of a future entry. Other than voter registration and general voting behavior there is little that will identify me as a D, although some relatives and friends will be quick to note that I am easily spotted as an ass, the next best thing to being a donkey. I don’t go to party meetings. I no longer contribute to the state party. I often don’t vote a straight ticket. I even signed off the local D email list.

Why? Well, the parties seem to demand absolute loyalty without offering much in response. I used to send the state party a little money whenever they called. Then they sent out some mailings against a local Republican officeholder that were fairly quickly identified as being complete fabrications. When confronted state party officials said it was the result of bad research. Horse puckey. It wasn’t bad research; it was flat out lying. I wrote the party a letter about this and said I would no longer be sending them any money, but supporting individual candidates instead, people I could check out myself. The party still calls and asks me to support them and help elect D’s statewide. I picture Bill Rieger and John Lawless and say no and explain why. That the party could still support Bill Rieger after the articles appeared outlining his financial shenanigans, such as having his district office in someone’s basement and paying them more in rent than their mortgage, and his adventures in ghost voting, is an affront to the people of his district. Someone should have taken him aside and told him it was time to go. But, no, he was supported and other D’s helped derail the primary campaigns of some very promising young candidates. So much for getting new blood into the party. As for Lawless, one day he’s evil incarnate, and the next, when he has switched parties, he’s our new best friend. I’m too logical to grasp that one. If he was a louse when he had an R next to his name, he’s still a louse with a D.

These are not the actions of an organization with integrity or any sense of accountability to the rank and file. On October 2003, the AP reported that both party leaders spent an average of $5000 a month on lunches, or $60,000 in 12 months. That’s more than the average Pennsylvanian makes in a year! Honestly, how can party leaders think it is okay to call and ask for money without even making an effort to use it well? I don’t want one red cent from my pocket going to print and mail out known untruths or to pay for expensive meals. I’d be a lot happier and a lot more willing to give if the party sent around pictures of Bill DeWeese eating a brown bag lunch.

If a group is known by its actions and its leaders, both parties are in trouble. However, I’m focusing on my party, going with the premise that you should have your own house in order before picking on someone else’s. What am I doing to clean things up? Well, I try to support independent thinking, honest candidates, and hope that they will keep those qualities as they work and move up the political landscape. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Using my modest resources I try to aid those officials, of either party, who have shown integrity and concern with constituents. It’s not much but it’s what I’ve got to offer. I’ve asked about being a local committeewoman and was told that one of the rules was to speak no ill of any D. That’s not a promise I can make. So, while I am registered with a party, I’m in no way a party girl.

Monday, November 22, 2004

A Tale of Two Houses

Everyone seems to be chiming in on Senator Santorum’s cyber school situation so I’ll add my two cents as well. First off, let me say that I don’t really like the senator. I don’t care for many of his policies but beyond that I just don’t like him personally, and for the reason that we often like or dislike people we don’t actually know, he reminds me of someone. In this case it’s the basketball star in my college Latin class who talked about the great job he had lined up as a stockbroker after graduation and suggested I sit in front of him so he could look over my shoulder during exams. I shifted to a chair across the room. So, knowing my prejudice, I have tried to look at the Santorum situation with as objective an eye as possible.

However, looking at the news stories on Sen. Santorum’s two residences what came to my mind was how the heck did he get a mortgage on a house that cost close to $700,000 when he bought it. Santorum served in the US House from 1990-1994 and in the senate from 1994 to the present. When he joined the senate the salary was $133,600 and is now $158,100. Mr. Jane and I have gone through the mortgage process twice and it was my understanding that banks didn’t like to offer a mortgage for more than about two or three year’s salary, unless you were getting an unusual mortgage, one with a balloon payment or an interest only mortgage. My household brings in about $125,000 a year and I’m pretty sure that our bank would not be willing to sign off on anything more than a $300,000 mortgage if that.

So how does the Santorum household have a $700,000 house in Virginia and a $80,000 house in Pennsylvania? Did either of the Santorum’s inherit a lot of money to be used as a large down payment? Santorum himself didn’t practice law that long before running for office and many people who have gone to graduate school carry student loans that need to be paid off.

Mrs. Santorum has written two books and has worked as a consultant for Brabender Cox although the amount she earned there is difficult to determine exactly. (read more). She also won a malpractice suit against a chiropractor in 1999. The original award was $500,000, reduced to $150,000 and then settled out of court (read more). So it is possible that some of this money could have been used towards the down payment. What is interesting about this case, other than Sen. Santorum’s belief in a cap on malpractice suits, is that the senator testified in the trial that his wife’s injuries prevented her from accompanying him on the campaign trail. (read more) Yet, his reasoning for having his children in the cyberschool was that the family could accompany him when he campaigned or traveled in Pennsylvania.

I also wonder how the family travels with him as he visits all of Pennsylvania’s counties. I have a minivan that seats 7 and to get larger than that you would need a pretty good sized vehicle. For the Santorum family (2 adults, 6 children) to all be in the same car they would have to have a very large van or a specially designed vehicle of some kind. And where do they all stay? In hotels? You’re going to be either pretty spread out or pretty cramped. I’m not sure when he visited my county. If there were announcements or a public meeting of any kind I missed it entirely.

Logically it is fairly clear that if he purchased a 2 bedroom home in Pennsylvania in the mid or late 1990’s it was to be used primarily as a residence on paper only. At that time the family had 3 children and were expecting another. The 4th child died shortly after birth and is the subject of Mrs. Santorum’s second book. Putting 2 adults and 3 or 4 children in a 2 bedroom house is usually not done by choice, especially considering that the family had the money for the larger home in Virginia. Currently the family has 6 surviving children and I have to wonder how often they actually all stay at that house at the same time. Since another family also claims the address as a residence there are at least 1 or 2 others to squeeze in, too.

A number of senatorial families live apart during the workweek while the legislature is in session. Both Joe Biden and Arlen Spector ride Amtrak to and from Washington. John Kerry and Edward Kennedy fly back and forth frequently. In his autobiography Tip O’Neil wrote about the separation from his family during the legislative session. Joe Hoeffel’s children went to school in or around Philadelphia and he traveled back and forth. A lot of families do this. And let’s face it, Congress isn’t in session all that long. Don’t they have a lengthy summer recess, time off over the holidays and other extensive gaps in the calendar?

Several families on my street have made difficult decisions regarding career and family. One family has been separated for over a year as the husband has been serving in Iraq and the wife is left home with 3 and 6 year old children. Two other families adopt a split shift where one parent works nights or weekends and the other days so someone can be home with the kids. Some choose to live on one income so a parent can be home full time, although this usually several impacts the size of house they can afford. When the Senate was considering expanded funding for daycare Sen. Santorum, opposing the funding, said “making people struggle a little bit is not necessarily the worst thing.” (source) Well, the senator chose to keep a paper residence in Pennsylvania that another family besides himself claims as a residence, and keep his children close to him, while using Pennsylvania taxpayer’s money to pay for a cyber school. I think he was letting others struggle, or at least foot the bill, for his family’s choices.


Friday, November 19, 2004

Above Average Jane

Above Average Jane

Many of the people who regularly read this site are professional politicos. I’m not. I’m a civilian, a citizen, a voter, involved in my community. In the primary election my household make political contributions in the amount of $30.00, the general around $175.00, split among 3 candidates, so I’m not a high roller by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. In years past I’ve stuffed a few envelopes or made a few phone calls. In one election cycle I played a noticeable behind the scenes role. That’s the extent of my active involvement in politics.

Two of the candidates I contributed to this time around won. Like many voters I stood in the voting booth, pulled the lever and said a silent prayer that if my candidates won they wouldn’t turn into jerks or power hungry thugs. Maybe they already are and it just doesn’t show. Voting is always a crapshoot. The candidates are always around just before the election but the day after? You just don’t know until it’s too late; once entrenched it’s almost impossible to get rid of someone.

Trying to find out about candidates or elected officials is tricky. Savvy voters go to debates, forums, public events, but finding out about them in advance can be difficult. Often only the party faithful are informed of these things and newspaper announcements are usually in small print and appear a matter of days before the event. Working people find it hard to attend daytime events with short notice. You can find candidates at community events, but it isn’t always easy to find out which ones, and they are walkabouts where a handshake and a sentence or two are all you get. It’s almost a game for interested voters – tracking down the wily candidates and trying to find out what they think of the issues. To further muddy the waters candidates will focus on 2 or 3 issues they think most likely to appeal to the voters (and donors). Very few candidates make good use of electronic communication. Web sites are all too frequently graphic rich and content poor. This time around we heard mostly about the war, medical malpractice and property taxes. What are the chances that any of these will be resolved in the next congressional (state or federal) term?

So, as voters rejoice at the end of those awful recorded phone messages and settle in for Thanksgiving feasts, there is the niggling doubt in the back of our minds, the buyer’s remorse that comes after elections. I’m hoping my elected officials turn out to be the quality, intelligent, compassionate people I believed them to be when I pulled the lever. We’ll see.