Thursday, November 10, 2005

No, We Don't Want Your Firstborn

In today's Inky, on p. 18, in a continuation of a front page story on the legislative payraise repeal, we find this paragraph:

[Rep. Frank] LaGrotta intially voted for the raise, took it, and just last week voted to repeal it, given the public's anger. "I voted to repeal it. What else do they want from me?" a frustrated LaGrotta asked. "Do they want my firstborn child?"

You see, he's started to get emails that he was the next to go. While I don't live in Lawrence County (not even sure where it is in the state), I can take a stab at answering his question.

No, voters do not want your firstborn. Some of them are having trouble taking care of the children they have. They're lucky to get the kind of cost of living raise you get annually, let alone a nice plump raise. I'm also willing to bet that if most of them turned in expense account vouchers without receipts, in order to take the raise early, they'd be fired.

Another quote from the front page:

Rome is burning and the empire is crumbling," said State Rep. Thomas C. Petrone (D, Allegheny), who took the raise but later donated it to charities, including those for the widows of two U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq. "I hate the thought that I made one mistake over 25 years that could wipe out all my good accomplishments."

I had a commuting buddy, that I would sometimes walk and talk with on part of my travels to and from work. He had a low level job at an apartment complex. I was away on another assignment for awhile and when I came back he was nowhere to be found. I asked around and found out he'd been fired. I wonder how many mistakes he made. A receptionist once told me that someone came into her building and complained that a groundskeeper had intentionally sprayed her. The receptionist called in the complaint. The supervisor she called said "Okay, we'll fire him." That was it. Not "we'll ask his side of the story" or anything. He was just fired.

A lot of people are fired every day for making no mistakes at all. Marriages dissolve because someone made one mistake over 25 years. I read the statements from these legislators and the sense of entitlement that comes through astounds me.

As for Judge Russell Nigro, who was not voted in for another 10 year term on the state Supreme Court, let me link to a posting at the Inky's blog, blinq. Here is a brief excerpt from Blinq, taken from a John Baer column:

During one week, last April 11 to 18, he [Nigro] spent $1,280 at restaurants in Philly, Ambler and Pittsburgh. This, to me, seems abusive.

In an interview, Nigro says he eats out more than others because he's not married. He says meals charged to taxpayers are for "court-related business" with other judges, lawyers or law clerks, some in fairly large groups. He says, "I don't like lawyers buying me anything."

A lot of unmarried men (and women) go home and have cold cereal for dinner, or open a can of something. Soup is popular, I hear. As for me, I go out for lunch about every 6 weeks with a group of women from work. If we spend more than $10.00 each, it's a big deal. On days that I don't pack in leftovers I buy a slice of pizza ($1.99), two tacos (about $2.00), or a mid-morning breakfast sandwich that serves as breakfast and lunch ($3.25). Sometimes I splurge and get a tuna sandwich and a bag of chips (I won't say what that costs, in case Mr. Jane reads this.) What Nigro spent on meals that one week would pay my mortgage for a month. I can understand his not wanting the lawyers to buy his lunch, but is he implying that he bought everyone else's? Split the check!!!


Anonymous said...

I know of no business which pays for its employee's lunch. Neither should our government. If a person does not get paid enough to buy his own lunch, brown bag it or get another job.

AboveAvgJane said...

Yes, indeed. Plus, if someone with his salary can't afford to buy his own lunch or figure out how to live on his income, maybe he's not smart enough to be a judge.

ACM said...

But really, aren't these complaints reasons to reform the voucher/oversight system? It seems that there's way too much "slush money" at every level of government -- the City Hall stories are pretty galling, e.g. Is the right response really to remove each individual from office, or to require that High and Mighties be held to the same standards as Everyman?

just askin' . . .

Rep. Mark B. Cohen said...

I hope anybody who is hurt by a narrow loss on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will remember the great victory of defeating a progressive centrist judge on the basis of his expense vouchers. Many thousands of individual Pennsylvania citizens--perhaps even millions of Pennsylvania citizens--will suffer financial losses far greater than Nigro's expense vouchers as a result of his loss.

As a result of his loss, the weaker financial party will be disadvantaged in areas ranging from divorce to governmental benefits to individual dealings with corporations and governmental agencies.

It ain't about expense vouchers, folks. It's about whether you want a Democratic Supreme Court and all the policy which that imnplies or an all Republican Supreme Court by 2020 as Republicans probe for weaknesses in Ralph Cappy and Max Baer in future elections.

The attitude of "I am for the Democrat as long as there is nothing he or she can be attacked on" is the attitude that is the most effective form of Republican propaganda yet devised. If a Democrat is alive, there is something he or she can be attacked on.

In California, Democrats had the sense to know that empowering right-wing Republicans is not a good idea. Some day, hopefully soon, Pennsylvania Democrats may reach the same conclusion. If we don't, we are doomed to be an insignificant minority in Pennsylvania despite our voter registration lead, and our core constituency will suffer greatly.

Anonymous said...


I get that government should be reformed, but people have been getting that for decades, and many of them have been hitting their heads against brick walls trying to get it accomplished. As long as people in the branches of government are more concerned with protecting their pay and perks than actually serving the public, only drastic statements are going to be heard.

Is it unfortunate, as Mr. Cohen suggests? Yes, but unless our jaded public servants start seeing the writing on the wall, their behavior will never change, and the only real power the voter can wield in that case is to deny them their jobs.

And reactions like LaGrotta's don't illustrate this perfectly, I don't know what will -- a lot of these representatives (sadly, mine included) have reacted as if they are entitled to this level of compensation and how dare we question it!

Mr. Cohen,

You're not my representative (I often wish you were), but you have to understand that if progressive voices like yours can't find a way to be heard, and heard with consequence, all this talk of Democratic loyalty is just another cloak to keep the politicians living high in both parties.

I understand you don't enjoy hearing folks rally around ideas that include blindly voting others out of office, but what was the difference between Republican and Democrat in this pay raise debacle? Who stood up and rallied the Democratic representatives against this money-grab? And who in the Supreme Court called them on it? If you did stand up against it, I commend you, but unfortunately, your voice was not heard by many others.

If the rules, not the people, need to change, when is that going to start happening?

It's sad, indeed.

Rep. Mark B. Cohen said...

I appreciate Howard's kind praise of me, and I agree that he is right about the fact that most Democrats and most Republicans supported the legislative pay raise (and have since voted to repeal it).

I strongly feel that the purpose of government is to help advance the welfare of the average citizen. Doing so is a difficult task, and a task that is generally made easier by the election of dedicated and well-qualified men and women who have the ability to earn significant salaries in other jobs.

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.

Anonymous said...

If, as you seem to be suggesting, all of the qualified people who are serving in the legislature are inherently more likely to strive for higher pay rates, then perhaps those qualified people (with some help from the voters of Pennsylvania) have chosen their careers poorly.

The insinuation that we get what we pay for doesn't wash, especially considering the service provided in other states whose legislators are not as well-paid. I don't think that the people of Pennsylvania would so begrudge you and your colleagues a generous salary if they felt they were getting their money's worth. Please remember that in the end it's the citizens who are footing the bill, and they certainly have a right to complain, whether it's about the service they receive, or the money you're making.

I think it's a valuable lesson for our lawmakers to understand the self-destructive capacity of calling their constituents idiots.

Rep. Mark B. Cohen said...

Nothing in anything I have ever said on this post or any other statement says that the voters are idiots. The voters are extremely intelligent people who ultimately will get what they want.

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.

Rep. Mark B. Cohen said...

To further respond to Howard, 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.

AboveAvgJane said...

I can only assume that someone is impersonating one of our state legislators as I find it hard to believe anyone elected to office would say these things in a public forum with name attached.

Anonymous said...

Jane - your response to "Rep Cohen" was priceless...he's been an apologist for excessess of our legislators - including himself - from the get go.

Anonymous said...


You make an interesting point, and I'm starting to agree with your suspicions myself.

That said, I have not accused Representative Cohen of calling voters idiots. Many others certainly have, and the person posting here under that name is creeping closer to it.

For whoever would suggest that the idea of a better-functioning, modestly-paid legislature is a myth, I have to wonder. Since PA is (and has been) ranked among the highest paid legislatures in the nation, is this a suggestion that all those legislatures who happen to be less compensated are also less competent?

ACM said...

funny, I don't get Jane's reponse here. I mean, I frequently disagree with Rep. Cohen on this issue (and occasional others), but that doesn't mean that I think his arguments are based in anything other than an attempt to give a realistic assessment of how things look from inside the legislature. he may be overstating the case (probably from exasperation at what he sees as the naivte of latecomers to the political fray), but I hardly think he's said anything that he (or any public figure speaking in a debate-styled forum) would be ashamed to be associated with.

mystefied in center city.

Anonymous said...


I think Jane picked up on something about the commenter labeled as "rep. mark b. cohen." Namely, that this commenter's blog profile differs from the blog profile associated with the real Representative Cohen's blog.

I certainly didn't notice, though from previous communicative contact with Mr. Cohen, I felt that one or two of the commenter's statements didn't seem to fit.

As far as the statement of the commenter in question, there's nothing outright offensive about them, but there's certainly something indelicate about them -- the worst of which is the idea that people with less than a post-graduate education are incapable of holding down jobs. The clearest example, to me, is when he or she refers to "...poorly educated candidates with records of having been repeatedly fired from the jobs..." -- it's a statement that's neither necessary nor respectful of millions of Pennsylvanians, many of whom might have a better representative impulse than their more highly educated counterparts.