Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Bizarro World of Pennsylvania Political Debates

When I was a girl I used to read my older brother’s comic books. One of my favorites was the Bizarro World version of Superman, where everything was backwards. Sometimes this election year seems to be from Bizarro World Pennsylvania. It is a commonly accepted truth that challengers want to debate incumbents and incumbents try to avoid debating challengers. Adopting the local version of a “Rose Garden” strategy, going about their legislative business, incumbents deny challengers the equal status that sitting together in public in identical chairs of equivalent heights, or talking together on the radio, provides. It’s just how things are done.

And yet, this year, in Bizarro World, it is the incumbents who are crying for debates, and lots of them, and the challengers who keep saying “Allright already! Sheesh!” Even after the challengers have agreed to debates the incumbents keep yammering for more or different or something.

As evidence I provide three examples.

In the U.S. Senate race we have incumbent Republican Rick Santorum repeatedly, like a jack in the box, hopping up and demanding that Democratic challenger Bob Casey, Jr., debate not only him, but any number of other people. Last November he was calling for as many as 10 debates, but seems to have toned it down lately. See press releases here and here. (via politicspa)

In the 8th congressional district, incumbent Republic Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick keeps asking Democrat Patrick Murphy for debates. Even after Murphy has agreed, Fitzpatrick’s chief of staff breaks into a press conference call to demand Murphy agree to debates he has already agreed to. Last Friday even though Murphy had a well-publicized lunch fund raiser with Nancy Pelosi, Fitzpatrick showed up at the local radio station where the two had debated the week before, to try and debate Murphy again. (here, here, and here)

In the 6th state senate district, incumbent Republican “Tommy” Tomlinson issued a press release asking why Democratic challenger Paul Lang had not agreed to debates that Lang had already agreed to. Lang had notified the sponsoring organizations that he would appear at Oct. 11th, Oct 20th, and Nov. 2nd debates.

According to the press release (via politicspa):

Paul Lang stated, It is no surprise to me that Tommy failed to find out that I had, over the last few weeks, already accepted each debate and notified the appropriate point of contact.


Lang continued, Tommy has mentioned that he is eager to defend his record. I look forward to his answers for his 50% pension increase, his failure to follow the state ethics rules, and his dismal record on reform.

More evidence of Bizarro World? Santorum has been seen out in public in short sleeves and casual clothes. Fitzpatrick has changed his stance on the Iraq War. What can be next? In a year where incumbents, who traditionally slide into reelections without a care, are scrambling to distance themselves from the president and calling for debates even after debates are scheduled, there’s just no telling.

Learning the Ropes

The Center for Progressive Leadership offers a part-time 9 month Pennsylvania Political Leaders Fellowship. Information and a video can be found here. The Class of '06 looks impressive, including Philly area names Marc Stier of Neighborhood Networks, state house candidate Tony Payton, Jr., Wilkes Barre's J. J. Murphy, and Russ Shade, state house candidate for Lehigh and Northampton Counties (read his interview on this blog here). (via politicspa)

Rothenberg Rates PA House Races

This past Tuesday, the Rothenberg Political Report released their rankings of 2006 House races. Four Pennsylvania races were listed.

In the "Pure Toss Up" category we find the 6th congressional district, currently represented by Republican incumbent Jim Gerlach, who faces Democratic challenger Lois Murphy. In the 7th congressional district it's Republican incumbent Curt Weldon against Democratic challenger Joe Sestak.

In the "Toss Up / Tilt Republican" category Rothberg lists another two congressional districts. In the 8th, Republican incumbent Mike Fitzpatrick faces Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy. In the 10th, Republican incumbent Don Sherwood is finding himself having to fend off Democrat Chris Carney.

Gerlach narrowly defeated Lois Murphy two years ago and their rematch is expected to be close again this year. Weldon, Fitzpatrick, and Sherwood seemed to expect easy victories. All three have found themselves in for a fight against Fighting Dems. Sestak, Patrick Murphy, and Carney are all veterans who are making the Iraq War a central part of their campign.

Two PA Notes on Mydd

Two interesting PA postings on mydd today.

David Slavick, Democratic candidate for the 109th state house seat, whose interview on this blog was posted just this past weekend, has a very illuminating essay on how the state political party views state house races. He also discusses what led him to run for office (don't read the trailer factory story while eating). Interesting stuff.

Patrick Murphy wrote a thoughtful blog post thanking the netroots for all their help and fundraising efforts. He includes a personal note that leads me to believe someone in his house read the same Wall Street Journal article that I did.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Blog Round Up

Howie from Down With Tyranny has put together a short song with accompanying video. Rickie Lee Jones, Tom Maxwell and Ken Mosher provide the vocals. Listen here. Read Howie's narrative here.

Howard Mortman has an interesting post on a Specter / Santorum appearance at the Grange Fair. (read here).

Matt Best (maybe his middle name is Howard) would like to propose that it be illegal for legislative staffers to work on political campaigns. He'd like to know what you think.

PA in the WSJ

There were a few mentions of Pennsylvania in last week's Wall Street Journal. I probably missed some but here are the ones that caught my eye.

PA Politics

Two mentions of incumbents who lost primaries as a reflection of a wider anti-incumbent voter sentiment. (“Alaska Primary Reflects Unease with Incumbents,” by Chirstopher Cooper, Aug. 24, p. A4)

An editorial on the Santorum / Casey race (“Incumbent on the Brink,” by Jason L. Riley, Aug. 24th, p.A11) covers a lot of territory. Riley does say he thinks Rendell will be re-elected “easily.” He also points out Santorum’s many mistakes and refers to Casey as an “underwhelming campaigner.” One note on Santorum: “He’s backed medical savings accounts and pushed for Social Security personal retirement accounts long before George W. Bush. That takes chutzpah for a senator from a state with a higher percentage of senior citizens than anywhere but Florida.”

PA Businesses

Blair Corp (Warren, PA), distributor of apparel and home products. (“Noted…” Aug. 25, p. A16) further info: trades as BL, corporate website:

Novavax Inc. (Malvern, PA), a vaccine company (“Noted …” Aug. 22nd p., B5 ) further info: trades on NASDAQ as NVAX, corporate website:

“Toll Cuts Outlook as Profit Drops, Seeing No Sign of Market Bottom,” by Janet Morrissey, Aug. 23rd, p. A3. I think this was in the Philly papers, too.

Other PA

In an article on older Americans making a career change and driving trucks for a living, there is a mention of a couple from rural Pennsylvania who became truckers. (“The Over-50 Crowd Takes to the Road in Paid Big-Rig Gigs,” by Stephanie Chen, Aug. 24th, p. A1

“Johnston, Pa, is home to one of the nation’s fastest growing [motorcycle] rallies, Thunder in the Valley.” In 1998, its first year, 3500 people attended. This year they expect almost 200,000. (“Their Economic Engines are Harleys,” by Peter Schroeder, Aug. 24th, p. D8)

Remember the recent lawsuit that nearly shut down the Blackberry network? The man who sued Blackberry is a Penn State grad. (“In BlackBerry Case, Big Winner Faces His Own Accusers,” by Christopher Rhoads, Aug. 23rd, p. A1)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

PA on Bill Maher

This past Friday was the season premiere of Bill Maher's tv show. Pennsylvania politics was mentioned twice. Maher referred to Curt Weldon's comment about fighting terrorists in our grocery stores. Max Cleland was one of the panelists and he mentioned that he would be back in Pennsylvania at the end of Sept. to campaign for John Murtha (press release). Cleland has also campaigned for suburban Philadelphia candidates Bryan Lentz (161st state house), Paul Lang (6th state senate) and Patrick Murphy (8th congressional district). No word on whether or not he will stop by our area on his next trip.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Mark Warner's Campaign Stop in Philly Last Week

Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner has been seeing a lot of the country lately, including a recent stop in Pennsylvania. He appeared at fundraisers for three local Democratic candidates: Patrick Murphy (PA-08), Lois Murphy (PA-06), and Joe Sestak (PA-07). Warner, honorary chair of the Forward Together PAC is considering a presidential run in 2008. Here are a few excepts from news articles and a local blog on his visit:

Daily news

Warner made a fortune in cell phones and left his term as governor of Virginia, a predominantly Republican state, with an 80 percent approval rating.
Warner said his background is distinct from "a lot of candidates that might be just coming out of the Washington experience."

Warner acknowledged that trips such as this one would help a presidential run by enabling the building of relationships with potential donors and three grateful congressional candidates and their supporters. Source: Philadelphia Daily News Wed, Aug. 23, 2006, “Ex-Va. guv stumps for Dems here: Warner, eyeing White House run, aids 3 congressional hopefuls,” by Dave Davies (full text here)

But the biggest winners could be the presidential contenders themselves. They get to make contacts, build alliances, and promote their ideas in a battleground state as they decide whether they have the vision, the will and the money to land the country's top job.

"You pick up chits, you show you're willing to support other people, and you get exposed to different people who might not be focused yet on the next cycle," former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner acknowledged in Philadelphia yesterday at the first of three fund-raisers for House Democratic candidates Patrick Murphy, Lois Murphy and Joe Sestak.

It was his third trip to Pennsylvania since the fall.


The first event, for Patrick Murphy, was hosted by the law firm of Dilworth Paxson. The firm, its partners and employees have contributed at least $256,000 since 2003 to state Republicans and Democrats. The second fund-raiser, for Sestak, was held at the Wynnewood home of Richard and Barbara Schiffrin. The Schiffrins, and Richard Schiffrin's law firm, have contributed just shy of $160,000 in that same period. The third event, a reception for Lois Murphy, was at Aronchick's home in Narberth.

Patrick Murphy raised about $50,000, spokeswoman Carrie James said. Aronchick said he expected to raise $30,000 to $40,000 for Lois Murphy. Source: Philadelphia Inquirer Aug. 23, 2006 “Presidential contenders keep dropping in Pennsylvania, with 21 electoral votes, is critical for winning in 2008,” by Angela Couloumbis and Thomas Fitzgerald (full text here)

Booman Tribune

And Warner was very, very impressive. He keeps improving every time I see him, and I would characterize his performance as just shy of Clintonesque. He was inspiring. (full blog post here).


Mark Warner was at the event. I can tell you right now: he is going to raise a ton of money in 2008. He really knows how to communicate with this type of crowd. Joe Sestak came after Warner. Since I spent a little more than a decade closely connected to the literature and poetry world, his speaking style immediately struck me as crossing between the two world I have lived in. Sestak makes his delivery very much in a poetry reading / spoken word style, specifically with the cadence of his voice (several people I talked to said the same thing without me even prompting them). I have never seen anything quite like it in politics before (maybe on the West Wing). (full blog post here)

A flickr photo set is here.

An Interview with David Slavick (PA 109th House District)

The 109th state house district contains all of Columbia County except for Benton Borough, Benton Township, Locust Township (part), Franklin Township, Centralia Township, Cleveland Township, and Conyngham Township.

David Slavick is the Democratic candidate for the 109th state house district (Columbia County). Slavick, who was raised in the district, went to law school at the University of Pittsburgh, and is a current member of the Berwick Borough Planning Commission. He has extensive experience in economic development and legal reform, including work with the UN in Serbia and Montenegro. His opponent is current Republican incumbent Rep. David Millard. Slavick recently agreed to take part in an email interview.

You’ve worked abroad and traveled quite a bit. Will you be content to “stay down on the farm once you’ve seen Paree?”

Not surprisingly that’s a question I have gotten before, but I must admit that despite my travels I am a hometown boy at heart. Actually, my work in Serbia was one of the major reasons I began getting my feet wet in local politics. While helping draft trade legislation at the USAID/WTO Accession Project for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, I had the opportunity to work with talented and dynamic people who were in their twenties like myself. I realized that unlike in the United States, in the FRY the circumstances of regime change and of attenuated war had created a perfect storm where the “next generation” was leading today. The energy and enthusiasm of the twenty-somethings leading the charge for reform was something I fully embraced and I carry with me today.

The experience of working in an environment where young talented people could take leadership roles, and help achieve noticeable progress in the public sector, was indescribable. The only domestic experience that I think could be comparable is that of the culture of the technology industry during the dot-com boom of the late nineties. The culture of the public sector in the U.S., with some notable exceptions, has been one where twenty-something employees have been relegated to rank and file positions. Having the opportunity to achieve the level of responsibility Serbian public sector officials held in their late-twenties would take thirty-plus years in our country. The realization that we in the United States were squandering the untapped resource of young leaders pushed me to stay in Berwick and to fight for a more progressive public culture in Pennsylvania.

What lessons have you learned from your international work that can be transferred to representing Columbia County?

There are two lessons, in particular, that I learned abroad that will serve the people of Columbia County. First, and most important, was to measure the public achievements of a government by how they use creative solutions to overcome the burdens of scarcity, rather than, by the ability of a government to undertake majestic public works in a time of abundance. The second, lesson I learned while working in Serbia, was that in order to ensure that a government is accountable to its citizens we not only need to have a new generation of leaders who are brave enough to stake out a progressive agenda for reform, but also to be brave enough to achieve their political goals through the integrity of their diligence; not the corrupt practices of their predecessors.

While working in Serbia, I saw how young leaders of all political parties, worked in a united way, to tackle the problem of improving a public infrastructure decimated by war. This unity came from the shared understanding that progress transcended their political affiliations, and from the common understanding that each of their skills would be needed to stake a claim in a globally integrated future. One way that these young leaders overcame the burdens of scarcity was by finding practical applications for new technologies as a means to improve public infrastructure.

For example, in Belgrade, shortages in public funds for infrastructure development made installing parking meters unfeasible, leaving an incredible parking shortage in the center of the city. The city government was caught in a Catch 22 situation, where it could neither afford to lose parking revenues, nor could it afford to pay for the extensive policing of parking infractions. Belgrade’s young urban planners overcame this obstacle by instituting a parking payment system that allowed its users to pay parking costs by debiting airtime credits from their mobile phones. These ambitious new leaders took advantage of the fact that mobile phones had flourished in the post-Milosevic era, as many landlines still lay in the rubble resulting from the NATO. Working together, with a shared vision, these young leaders used creative means to overcome the problem of scarcity, and while doing so, resisted the temptation to abuse the public trust by making parking fee collection a “pet project” for a friendly contractor, as could have been the case in the earlier days of post-communist Yugoslavia.

Based upon my experiences in Serbia, and what I see happening politically in the United States, I believe we need a new generation of leaders to help dislodge the rampant political corruption that is affecting not only Pennsylvania, but our entire nation. In order for places like Columbia County to have the agility to overcome the crises of scarcity that exist today, the next generation of leaders in Pennsylvania state government must embrace a mindset that makes decisions based upon a forward-thinking vision and the ability to come up with creative solutions.

I understand how vital this mindset will be. I feel that we as a nation are making a transition from a resource abundant country, to one that is increasingly dealing with issues of scarcity in nearly all sectors of society. As Americans, each day we read in our newspapers about yet another crisis of scarcity in our country, ranging from the availability of health insurance to funding for state-funded pensions. In my representation of Columbia County, I will embrace the lesson I learned from the young leaders in Serbia, that only through a thorough rejection of the excesses of our political predecessors could progress truly move forward. That means that more than their mutual addiction to campaign donations from special interests must unite both major parties.

Like in Serbia, I believe it must be ambitious young leaders in the Democratic Party that step up and lead our state back to a place where it is truly accountable to its citizens. However, new Democratic leaders running for office in Pennsylvania must lead the charge against corruption by resisting the temptation of accepting campaign contributions from corporate interest groups. This makes winning much more difficult. Judging by the last general election, incumbent Republican David Millard, will likely be funded by the HRCC and a wide range of corporate interests to the tune of over $100,000, and unfortunately for him he will likely need every penny of it. This is because like the college students who protested during Milosevic’s final days, who stood in the face of police who were paid to quash their resistance, I do not fear any opposition who cannot win on the battleground of ideas, but must buy their support to win. Despite the overwhelming disparity in campaign funds, I feel that there is strength to be had in keeping my promise not to accept any corporate contributions and by earning the support of the voters the old fashioned way. Like anyone in a struggle who is out-gunned, but not out-smarted, you must go with your strengths and I realize that I couldn’t maintain my integrity while going blow-for-blow in raising corporate PAC donations against an incumbent who is already hardened by the culture of corruption in Harrisburg.

Locally, achieving sustainable solutions to challenges affecting Columbia County and throughout Pennsylvania will require that new leaders push for policies that take advantage of the local strengths of our diverse state. For instance, I believe that in Columbia County our natural and human resources make us a prime candidate to be a thriving “exporter” of renewable energies. Despite the limitless possibilities to capitalize on alternative energy production for Columbia County, our current Representative David Millard, has not embraced this vision for our county’s future. His voting past correlates to his receiving numerous large donations from political action committees funded by the coal and oil industries.

Last year, Millard voted against the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard, that would expand renewable energy investment in Pennsylvania. Mr. Millard has abused the public trust by allowing his personal political interests, to overshadow the profound economic benefit this policy could have on Columbia County. Millard prioritizes the interests of his campaign contributors ahead of the needs of Columbia County’s workers, manufacturers, and farmers. This type of shortsighted and self-interested thinking has caused many of the local problems throughout the state. Whether or not Pennsylvania’s current problems will repeat themselves in the future will depend on whether the next generation of leaders has the courage to expel the influence of corporate money from our State capital.

You support public pensions shifting to a 2 tiered retirement system with new employees getting lower benefits. Would you be willing to accept a lower pension yourself if you are elected?

Yes, I would be willing to accept a lower pension, as my feelings regarding legislative pensions are analogous to those in other areas of the state government. I believe in fiscally responsible government, as well as, the idea that we need to uphold the promises given to employees when they began their employment. I think one way of ensuring our state government is fiscally solvent and to deliver on our promises, is to offer pensions to new legislators that are in line with the financial realities of today.

Would your proposed adoption legislation include a termination of the father’s rights to avoid the kind of a adoption disasters we’ve read about where a father decides to sue for custody of an already-adopted child.

This question addresses one of the many issues that make our current adoption system as cumbersome as it is today. I have met numerous adopting families that have helped me become more informed regarding their personal experiences with the adoption system in Pennsylvania. One story stood out in my mind that will at least, in part, answer your question. The woman I spoke with was attempting to adopt a five-year old boy whose father was a convicted arsonist, and was currently on parole for a child molestation conviction. The woman alerted me to the fact that under Pennsylvania law, a father who because of his status as a convicted child molester, is not legally allowed to be close to children. The father retained the right to obstruct the boy’s foster parents from adopting him. In this case my opinion regarding the father’s rights is quite clear-cut. Convicted child molesters should lose their say in who gains custody of their biological child. As for the many other instances where this could be a problem, I am exploring these issues by consulting with several long-time social service providers.

You are making use of social networking computer programs like MySpace and Friendster. Are you in favor of any kind of regulation on the use of these and similar programs?

In addition, you are using a lot of high-tech campaign methods – a blog, social networking, interactive maps. What percentage of your prospective constituents regularly use these tools?

Despite being a fairly rural area, Columbia County has a broadband penetration rate of well over 24%. This figure does not include the thousands of people in the county who access the Internet from work. This is a vast untapped marketplace of ideas, where candidates can gain personal access to voters who are desperate for alternatives to the status quo. It is vital that we give those voters the information they need to make an informed decision. One thing that I’ve learned about the voters in Columbia County, while door knocking for the last several months, is that they are just as savvy as voters anywhere else and desperately want to be treated as such by their politicians. I’m hoping to fill that gap by giving them the ability to access many of the same campaign tools available to urban voters. As for social networking programs, like MySpace there are over 3,000 MySpace members in the Columbia County area between the ages of 18-35. This is the largest market of untapped potential voters anywhere in the county, yet in reaching out to younger voters, candidates must treat them as equals. This has not occurred in the past.

I believe that 99.9% of the regulation of what a child accesses on the Internet should be regulated by the child’s parents. We should not succumb to the “nanny state” in order to protect parents who refuse to be diligent in protecting their children from content on the Internet they find offensive. I agree with the American diplomat, Clare Booth Luce’s quote that "censorship, like charity, should begin at home; but unlike charity, it should end there."

The 109th house seat has seen a lot of upheaval in recent years. The current incumbent was elected in a special election and the previous representative switched parties and went on to the state senate. What kind of stability could you offer?

One thing is for sure; I will not switch political parties like our current state senator has. I believe that if a politician in either party sees aspects of the party structure they dislike, they should be brave enough to promote reform from within. If your beliefs change drastically enough that you want to change parties, you have a duty to inform the voters that you are going to change parties before the primary election, not after you have been elected. I feel that abusing the support of the loyal voters of one party, while knowing you were going to crossover to the other side of the aisle, is fundamentally dishonest.

The 109th district contains Bloomsburg University and 35% of your constituents have some kind of higher education. Are you able to keep the Bloomsburg graduates or do many of them leave the area?

Bloomsburg University has done our area a great service by helping bring new blood in our county. However, we have a terrible record for retaining our college educated young professionals. In our county, people work hard to send their kids to college, but the unfortunate reality is that their children will have to relocate for a job. This is due to the shrinking number of white-collar jobs in our area, a trend that must end in order to retain our young people, and to provide a sustainable future for everyone in the county.

It is interesting to look at demographics. Roughly half of the population in your district is between 25 and 64 years old, with 15% over 65 and 35% under 25. What would that mean for your legislative priorities?

The broad age range in our county requires that we insure the integrity of current lifestyle while planning for the future. Our demographics have created a difficult situation for funding the local schools. We have a high student population in our schools in comparison with the number of people paying property taxes and because of this situation a heavy property tax burden is falling on our senior citizen population. Despite being a senior citizen, representing 15% of the population, they represent as much as 30% of the homeowner population in many school districts in our county. This reality makes funding our schools a difficult task, we are literally making the decision to shut down excellent performing schools in order to ensure that we do not tax our senior citizens out of house and home. This is an unacceptable situation, one that requires that when elected I push for property tax legislation that helps areas move more smoothly through these demographic shifts.

What aspect of your work on the Berwick Borough Planning Commission are you most proud of?

I am proud of all the work we have done on the planning commission in the past year, but am most proud of our work on the Patriot Metals factory in the Berwick Industrial Development Association complex. Patriot Metals capitalized on an opportunity created by a monetary grant they received through Gov. Rendell’s office. This expanded their product line and employed many more workers. We helped capitalize on Patriot Metal’s entrepreneurial initiative by working through some difficult zoning and land transfer issues to ensure that we have more good-paying jobs in Berwick. Having the opportunity to help local entrepreneur’s make their goals a reality is something I am truly proud of.

What question didn’t I ask that you would like to answer?

Why is this race important to people beyond your district?

First, it has long reaching implications as a litmus test for where our country is headed politically. Columbia County is primarily rural, voted for Bush overwhelmingly in 2004, yet is traditionally a Democratic stronghold. Currently there is only a 300-voter registration margin between Democrats and being the majority party in the county, like much of "Red America" its tipping to the Democratic Party, it merely needs some momentum and some outside funding assistance to become a Democratic stronghold again.

We have the momentum, now we need the outside assistance. If Pennsylvania counties in the "T" become Democratic seats now, we as Democrats will be well served in creating an environment where a Democrat can become President in 2008. That's why all eyes are on the Santorum-Casey race, Pennsylvania has typically been a microcosm for our electoral college and truly tells a great deal about who can win in a presidential race. Winning this seat could be a huge psychological victory for the Democratic Party, we would have the opportunity to say "We can win in rural areas on the issues, we have a dynamic farm team of young leaders that spreads beyond the urban and suburban areas, and we can win everywhere."

Finally, this race is not only a referendum on the state of the American political climate, but will help determine if Democrat's can win on ideas like alternative energy, protecting the middle class, and fighting corruption. Winning this race will not only be an indicator of whether a Democrat can win in 2008, but is a battle to fill the White House with a Democratic candidate that has more in common with FDR than Joe Lieberman.

My thanks to David Slavick for taking the time to answer these questions!

Get Your 15 Minutes of Fame: Guess the Election Outcome

For those who crave public acclaim, here is your chance. PoliticsPA ( is having a contest to see who can correctly guess the outcome of the November elections. Results will be posted Oct. 24th. Survey form here. The winner(s) get all the fame and glory they can eat.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Bryan Lentz Wins PA HDCC Contest

Earlier this month I wrote about an online contest sponsored by the Pennsylvania House Democratic Campaign Committee. You could vote for selected state house candidates. The winner would receive additional volunteers for a "campaign invasion" on Sept. 9th. More than 2,500 people voted so we can probably expect more of these things.

The first HDCC Campaign Invasion came right down to the wire. The candidates on our list mobilized their base, energized their troops and, along the way, spread their message to thousands of voters.

In a heated battle that went back and forth all week, Bryan Lentz, our challenger in the 161st District, just edged out Barbara McIlvaine Smith, who will take the open 156th District this fall.

Congrats to Lentz!

Off Topic: A Family Trip to NYC

As a last hurrah for the summer we took the kids up to New York City this weekend; they’ve never been to the Big Apple before and we thought it was time. Trying not to overschedule we limited our agenda to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. If time allowed we’d take in parts of Central Park, and if the opportunity presented itself, a play. In our care (and kid) free years, Mr. J and I used to go up to New York, usually around our anniversary, and take in a museum and a play. We’d stay at the Hotel Edison and see whatever we could get tickets for at the TKTS booth. By letting fate make our theatre selection we saw some excellent performances that we would never have knowingly picked.

I was in charge of making arrangements for this trip and the Edison was booked up by the time I checked; there were no weekend seats for the plays I thought the kids would like. We ended up at a chain hotel that was a few blocks away from a corner of Central Park. They had quoted me a price of $209 for the night over the phone, which didn’t seem too bad. However, when I signed in the registration said $249, which I assumed included tax, etc. Nope, the final tally Sunday morning was $279. I think we really got hosed there, especially considering that the cold water didn’t work in the sink and the shower was hinky, so next time around I’ll start much earlier and hope for the Edison.

We drove to Trenton and left the car in the garage there ($24.00 from mid-morning Saturday to about 4 p.m. Sunday) and took New Jersey Transit to Penn Station. If you try this, ask how old kids have to be before you have to buy a ticket for the. On the trip up I bought tickets for everyone from a machine (2 adults for $17.00), and on the trip back (2 adults tickets from a teller at the window for $23.00, no idea why the difference), and discovered the kids could ride free. Live and learn.

Admission to the museum was $40 for 2 adults. As a note of caution, be aware that you can’t check luggage at the museum. Our plan was to avoid going to the hotel until we could get into the room (3:00 p.m.), so we took our one bag with us. This proved to be a mistake. We went through the Egyptian gallery, the Mayan exhibit, Renaissance and Modern Art before the kids were “arted out.” In the household division of world knowledge, Mr. J has all of art (along with all things scientific, Shakespeare, and Spanish), and he would gather the little Janes before selected paintings and explain why it was important and tell them they would see it in a lot of textbooks. We spent far too much money in the gift shop.

The day was overcast to start with and got colder and wetter in the evening. No one wanted to wander through Central Park in drizzle and it was too cold to go to the rooftop hotel pool. Since we didn’t have play tickets Saturday night we ended up staying in our room watching a movie. I thought it would be too scary for the kids but was outvoted by everyone else. This may have been the little Janes’ favorite part of the weekend.

Sunday we woke up early and took public transit down to Battery Park to catch the Circle Line boats to the Statue and Ellis Island. Entry to the parks is free, though you need timed tickets to get into the Statue of Liberty. The boat ride out is $11.50 per adult and age graduated prices for kids. Usually in late August a cruise would be beastly hot but today, with a chilly breeze and occasional rain, it was bracing. I wish we had brought jackets (not to mention long sleeves and more than one umbrella). Nonetheless it was a pleasant trip with great scenery. The kids really enjoyed it. We had to go through security to get on the boat and through more stringent security to get into the Statue. You walk through something that looks like a metal detector, but isn’t. It blows puffs of air on you. Mr. J assumed that there were “sniffers” in the gate to detect particles of suspicious substances the puffs of air loosened, but we have no confirmation of this. Some people were visibly startled by this. The park service employees were marvelous. The young man who gave us an introduction to the park was very enthusiastic and one ranger, whom I saw manning three different positions while I was there, a Mr. Morse I believe, was also exceptional. If we are going to look at people on the public payroll who work for very little and manage to do without car allowances or per diems, let’s consider park rangers. I’ve never met a park ranger who didn’t seem to really love his or her job. Just thought I’d throw that in. (I found a Pennsylvania pay schedule dated 2000, which gave the starting salary as $25,000 annually. After 28 years a supervisor could earn $50,000.)

The kids raced through the Statue but enjoyed it. Back to the boat and then on to Ellis Island. The exhibits were interesting but geared for either more studious or older children than the ones in my house. Back to Battery Park, public transit to the hotel. It was really raining by then so we splurged for a taxi to Penn Station. Trenton. Home.

All in all, it was a good overnight trip, other than lapses in patience by parents and some excessive spirits by the kids (the two may have been related). We hope to go back once a year or so. With taxi fares, etc. we probably spent around $500. It could have been done for less if we had shopped around for hotels, shown more restraint at the museum gift shop, and asked more questions about train fares. Next time we’ll know better. I had been doing some preliminary new sofa shopping but that’s kind of down the drain now. However, in my book experience is always a better purchase than things.

Friday, August 25, 2006

legislative update

So far in August a few bills have been shuffled off to committee. The daily legislative updates have included a few bills that were passed earlier in the year. They all look significant to me and merit further study but time does not allow at the moment. Both the Pennsylvania State House and the State Senate passed the following bills this spring:

HB700Prior Printer's Nos. 917, 4350, 4417. Printer's No. 4350. An Act providing for lobbying registration, regulation and disclosure; conferring powers and imposing duties on the Department of State, the Office of Attorney General and the State Ethics Commission; imposing penalties; establishing the Lobbying Accountability Fund; and making a related repeal.

SB881 Prior Printer's Nos. 1180, 1368, 1402, 1414. Printer's No. 1738. An Act amending Title 26 (Eminent Domain) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, providing for limitations on the use of eminent domain; and making a related repeal.

SB1090 Prior Printer's Nos. 1492, 1885, 1887, 1913, 1957. Printer's No. 1973. An act amending the act of January 17, 1968 (P.L.11, No.5), known as The Minimum Wage Act of 1968, giving effect to Federal changes in wage rates; providing for preemption; and making editorial changes.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

HB2444: Sex Offenders Must Notify Library Staff of Status

Every day I receive one or more emails from the state of Pennsylvania telling me what bills were introduced, voted on, etc in the state house and state senate. (This isn't a special favor to me, anyone can sign up for it on the state's general assembly page.) Sometimes for some odd reason a bill isn't listed until months after it is acted upon in some way. In today's email the only bill mentioned is HB2444 which was referred to the Judiciary committee on February 8, 2006. It wouldn't have really drawn my interest if it weren't the only one listed and sent out so long after going to committee. So I looked at the synopsis:


Printer's No. 3520.

An Act amending Title 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, providing for library notification by offenders and sexually violent predators.

What exactly does that mean? I looked at the full text of the bill (here). This is the meat of it:

(a) Duty to notify library.--Upon each entry into a public library, offenders and sexually violent predators shall notify a library staff person of their status as an offender or sexually violent predator. For purposes of notification, offenders and sexually violent predators must have a valid form of government-issued photoidentification available for the inspection of the library staff person. The library staff person shall document offenders' and sexually violent predators' names and date and time of attendance in the public library.
(b) Penalty.--An individual subject to notification under this section who fails to notify a library staff person commits a misdemeanor of the third degree.

My first thought was that this would not be much fun for the library staff who, as I understand it, aren't very well paid to begin with. My second was that this would allow for better tracking of computer usage by sex offenders, at least those who could not afford to have a pc at home. They could still visit their skeevy friends who did but it might cut down a little on Internet use to lure children. It would also perhaps dissuade sex offenders from using the public library as a place to meet and groom potential victims. My third thought was to wonder if this impinged on the civil rights of sex offenders.

It is interesting legislation and I will make a point to follow it, providing it ever gets out of committee where it has been sitting for 6 months. If you have any thoughts on it and your legislator is on the Judiciary committee (see link above for list or go to the state house's page and check the committee listings), you might let them know.

Update: In discussing this with Mr. J, he wonders why the focus is on libraries. What about malls? Internet cafes? Public parks? All very valid questions.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

April PA Senate Journals

I've been remiss in posting information on the PA Senate Journals. The April Journals are up. This year April was calm not cruel and there was very little debate. The 8th and 15th issues has some debate on cell phone tax and property tax. On the 25th Sen. Fumo again gives a long speech (pp.6-8) on the Iraq War, while memorializing two PA soldiers who have recently died in the war. Even though I share Sen. Fumo's sentiment I don't think he should inject his opinions into a public statement on someone's death, unless you have the express consent of that person's family. Just my views though. You can read for yourself here.

A quick note to any senators reading this -- make sure that if you take a temporary leave, your return is noted in the record. I've noticed one senator in particular who asks for a temporary leave and no mention is made of his/her return; same senator tends to not show up for other reasons, too. It just looks bad and I'm going to start keeping a careful record of leaves when the legislature returns in Sept. We can read the journals online now and take note of when you are and are not at work.

A Call for Action: Democrats Need to Get Busy

Originally WSJ notes were going to be compiled into one post, but this seemed like something that should be read before the weekend, and give people a concept to ponder on Labor Day.

"The Fertility Gap," by Arthur C. Brooks (8/22/06, p. A12)

He starts off talking about efforts to get young people to vote, especially by Democrats who assume that younger people will vote Democratic. Then he veers off into this:

But the data on young Americans tell a different sotry. Simply put, liberals have a big baby problem: They're not having enough of them, they haven't for a long time, and their pool of potential new voters is suffereing as a result. According to the 2004 General Social Survey, if you picked 100 unrelated, politically liberal adults at random, you would find that they had, between them, 147 children. If you picked 100 consevatives, you would find 208 kids. That's a "fertility gap" of 41%. Given the fact that about 80% of people with an identifiable party preference grow up to vote the same way as their parents, this gap translates into lots more little Republicans than little Democrats to voter in future elections. Over the past 30 years this gap has not been below 20% -- explaining, to a large extent, the current ineffectiveness of liberal youth voter campaigns today.


The fertility gap doesn't budge when we correct for factors like age, income, education, gender, race -- or even religion. Indeed, if a conservative and a liberal are identical in all these ways, the liberal will still be 19 percentage points more likely to be childless than the conservative.

I know there are plenty of flaws in his logic. It's just food for thought.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

From the Slush Pile.....

I actually sorted through one of the many piles of paper in my possession last week. Most of it went straight into the trash. It's just amazing but all the stuff that seems urgent when you get it becomes obselete if you let it gather dust for a year or two. In the pile was an article from the Sunday Patriot-News in Harrisburg. "Top of the List on Capitol Hill," 6/15/2003 (no author given, maybe no one wanted to take the blame!)

The survey is described this way:

To pierce the veil and find out the most -- and least -- influential state lawmakers, the Patriot-News sat down with 153 insiders -- mostly lawmakers, lobbyists and staff -- and, on condition of anonymity, peppered them with questions about the men and women who make Pennsylvania's laws.

It's a long article. I went through it with an eye for legislators in the tricounty area, and cannot claim an impartial eye. There's a lot of interesting stuff in the article. I'm just picking out a few things. Please do keep in mind that those voting may not have had an objective mind or pure motives for their choices. That being said, here are a few of the prizes awarded:

Biggest Senate Promise Breaker: Joe Conti (R-Bucks, not running for re-election this year), 50 votes. 2nd place is a tie between Terry Punt (R-Franklin) and Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery), with 21 votes each.

Least influenced by campaign donations:

In the House: [Greg] Vitali, 18 votes, [Paul] Clymer, 17 votes, [Sam] Rohrer, 16 votes

Most influenced by campaign contributions:

In the House: [John] Perzel, 31 votes, [Tom] Gannon, 24 votes, [Bill] DeWeese, 16 votes

The #1 Most Dudley Do-Right Lawmaker in the House was Greg Vitali (D-Delaware)

The votes were taken over 3 years ago so this is just presented for entertainment value. If you want the rest of the tallies you'll have to track down the full article -- it doesn't appear to be online.

Two Miles, Uphill Each Way

You know that joke about parents telling their children they had to walk to school, two miles, uphill each way, in 3 feet of snow? You may or may not be aware that there are official rules on how far away a family has to live before their kids can be bussed to school.

The Philadelphia Bicycle News blog reports on proposed legislation, HB 2679, that would reduce the distance elementary school kids have to walk from 1.5 miles to .75 miles and for older kids from 2 miles to 1.5 miles. Note that these are the maximum distances and that individual school districts can reduce them or do away with them in individual circumstances. I know of one school that busses all children because there aren't any sidewalks around it and it is therefore unsafe for any children to walk to it.

Many schools currently forbid children from riding their bikes to school for safety reasons (and probably to avoid getting involved in bike theft). About five years ago I inventoried all the public elementary schools in my school district to see which ones had bike racks and surrounding sidewalks. I found that if there were no sidewalks there were no bike racks. There are also an inverse correlation between the affluence of the neighborhood and sidewalks. The higher the income level, the fewer the sidewalks. No idea if this holds true for other areas as well.

The bill is being proposed by Rep. Gene McGill (R-151), who is holding a meeting on the legislation August 29. (details on the bill, his views, and the meeting here).

The Patriot News has a very insightful editorial on the topic here.
It points out that kids need more opportunities to exercise not less. Gas prices may be another consideration.

McGill faces Democrat Rick Taylor in this November's election.

I know this will be a contentious issue for many people. It is a moot point for me personally. We live approximately .8 miles from the elementary school, as the car drives, so busses are out of the question. You can reduce the distance by cutting between my house and a neighbor's house and then through the neighbor's yard (okay with us, okay with the neighbor). Stop by my house any school day around 3 p.m. and you can meet many of the kids who live on my street and some of their friends. One of the kids routinely pulls the trash can back up to the garage on trash day. Since the youngest little Jane is still very young we do drive them to school and pick them up there from the after school program, but I'm sure that at least some days this year they will walk. There are crossing guards at the major intersections and a veritable parade of children walking.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Monday, August 21, 2006

New Political Blog Off to a Great Start

A big bloggy welcome to Pennsyltucky Politics, a new blog from the Harrisburg Patriot News. It is off to a great start. If you want to know what Chuck Pennacchio is doing now, Pennsyltucky has the scoop.

Joe Sestak's Reponse to Bush Speech on Saturday

Daddy Democrat has links to an audio file and a transcript of Joe Sestak's response to Pres. Bush's weekly radio address.

Comments on the Fitzpatrick / Murphy Debate

Last Friday incumbent Republican Mike Fitzpatrick and Patrick Murphy, his Democratic challenger for the 8th congressional district, debated on a local radio station, WBCB. I wasn't able to hear it on the radio or get a live feed on the Internet, but the Murphy campaign has provided me with a transcript.

The post will have a few general nitpicks and an overview of the topics discussed.

For the general nitpicks. Rep. Fitzpatrick mentioned four times in the debate that he is a "life-long resident of" or has "lived his entire life in" the 8th district. He does this to contrast himself to Murphy who has been in the military for some years. And yet, Fitzpatrick, whose house biography gives his age as 41, went to college in Florida and to law school in Carlise, PA, neither of which are in the 8th district. If he took the traditional amount of time to complete a BA and a law degree that is at least 7 years, or nearly 20% of his life. If he exempts his time out of the district for college he should exempt the years Murphy was in college out of the district. Is he counting Murphy's military service as time out of the district? That might lose a few veteran's votes.

Fitzpatrick also says he was asked to run for Bucks County Commissioner. Actually, he was appointed to fill out the last year of Mark Schweiker's term when Schweiker was elected to be lt. gov. (See "One Meeting Into Office, Fitzpatrick Wants Full Term," by Leslie Kelin Funk Morning Call 1/26/95). He was re-elected in his own right after that, but his initial time as a commissioner was the result of an appointment.

Now for the topics discussed. They each had about 2 minutes to give a biography and overview of experience, followed by 2 minutes on the most important issues facing the 8th district. Murphy said people don't believe in government anymore. Mentions he is a veteran of the Iraq War. Says he is against privatizing Social Security. Says Medicare Part D is flawed. Third issue is law enforcement.

Fitzpatrick says people are looking for someone they can believe in. Mentions (twice) he has lived in the district his whole life. Says he is an independent voice (i.e. not always in agreement with Bush). Puts all three issues in one sentence: succeeding in war against terrorism, illegal immigration, "protecting our families and protecting our freedom" (no idea what this last one means).

The first caller asks multiple questions. The moderator limits answers to their positions on the proposed veterans cemetery in Bucks County. Fitzpatrick discusses his work on the project but does not provide a lot of detail. Murphy mentions that he himself is a veteran as is his father and three uncles. Says Fitzpatrick announced the cemetery was a done deal when in fact it is not. Fitzpatrick responds and discusses local zoning issues need to be dealt with. Murphy reiterates that Fitzpatrick and Santorum announced that the cemetery would be coming to Bucks County when it was not yet decided.

The second caller asked about their experience putting away dangerous criminals. Murphy mentions his father was a Philadelphia Police officer for 22 years. Discusses his work in the military as a prosecutor, including prosecuting child predators. He brings up the MySpace bill that Fitzpatrick introduced. Fitzpatrick says he is also from a family of law enforcement but does not provide details other than his own work in government. They go back and forth on the MySpace bill.

The third caller askes if they would support an Israeli pre-emptive strike against Iran. Fitzpatrick says yes. Murphy asks him to confirm that. They go back and forth. Murphy mentions he is a veteran. He says Israel should defend itself but we should not encourage pre-emptive strikes.

The fourth caller asks about ANWR. Murphy says we should not be drilling in ANWR. Fitzpatrick says he has voted to protect ANWR. They go back and forth.

Closing arguments. Murphy says we need leaders not politicians. Says Fitzpatrick is a rubber stamp for Pres. Bush and that a change is needed. Fitzpatrick says he has lived in the district his whole life. Says he is an independent voice.

Hopefully the transcript or an audio file will be posted so you can read or listen for yourself.

Fitzpatrick Mentioned During Bush Press Conference Today

I caught the president's press conference on Lebanon this morning. During the question and answer section reporters asked about a wide variety of things. One female reporter asked if the president would campaign for Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (PA-08) since he had changed his views on Iraq. Bush said he had already campaigned for Fitzpatrick. Interesting.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Another Online Poll, This One PA-Centered

You know those online polls I have a don't-like-that-much-but-will-post-about-because-candidates-like-them relationship with? Well, there's another one. This one is focused on PA state house races. The PA House Democratic Campaign Committee is going to send a team of volunteers to knock on doors for the lucky winner.

Follow this link: and choose from among these candidates:

13 - Tom Houghton
156 - Barb Smith
167 - Anne Crowley
142 - Chris King
70 - Netta Young Hughes
53 - Jack Hansen
145 - John Norvaises
143 - Larry Glick
150 - Olivia Brady
151 - Rick Taylor
152 - Mike Paston
161 - Bryan Lentz
163 - Marie deYoung
170 - Brendan Boyle
172 - Tim Kearney
18 - Harris Martin

This page has links to state house candidate websites, if you want to check them out (I'm too lazy to add all the links in, sorry.)

An Interesting Turn of Events

BenPA has posted an entry over at Young Philly Politics highlighting a newspaper article the rest of us seem to have missed.

"Moneyman: Bob Guzzardi's Pennsylvania Agenda," by: Jim McCaffrey, The Evening Bulletin
08/02/2006 (full text here)

Check out this paragraph:

Guzzardi said he is targeting six races in southeast Pennsylvania this fall that he hopes can help tip the balance of power away from the current leadership. In four of the races he is supporting Democratic challengers over Republican incumbents. In every case he is supporting new faces over old incumbents.
Guzzardi is supporting Republican Monica Treichel in her race against Democratic incumbent Daylin Leach in the Upper Merion/Lower Merion District 149. He is backing Republican Tom Rolland against incumbent Democrat Kathy Manderino in the Philadelphia/Lower Merion 194th District. Guzzardi likes Democrat Brendan Boyle over Republican incumbent George Kenney in Philadelphia's 159th District. He's behind Democrat Brian Lentz as Lentz goes up against Republican incumbent Tom Gannon in Delaware County's 161st District. Democrat Rick Taylor is his candidate in a race against Republican incumbent Gene McGill in the 151st District of Montgomery County. Guzzardi is also supporting Democrat Chris King against Republican Matt Wright in a race in Langhorne's 142nd District.
He said he expects to give as much as $100,000 total to support these campaigns.

Interesting considering that Guzzardi is a Republican. Read the entire article or BenPA's post for a more complete picture.


For whatever reason, the Wall Street Journal has offered my household a year's subscription for an insanely low price, less than we spend per month on pizza, and we jumped at it. So now I will have steady access instead of the piecemeal freebies I've been getting by trading in unused frequent flier miles. I make it a point to read the Inquirer daily but the WSJ tends to pile up until the weekend when there's a little more time.

So, here are the Pennsylvania-related or other interesting tidbits from this past week. I probably missed some -- these are just what caught my eye.

PA Businesses

"Heinz Believes Pelta Failed to Win Five Board Seats," by Steven Gray and Christina Cheddar Berk (8/17/06, p. A3)

"Jones Apparel Pulls Itself off Auction Block," by Rachel Dodes, Teri Agins, and Dennis K. Berman (8/16/06, p. B10)

PA Politics

"A Test of Republican Resiliency," by Sarah Lueck (8/17/06 p. A5) On Santorum / Casey. nothing earth shattering, but interesting last paragraph:

Mr. Santorum dubbed his campaign trip through Pennsylvania in a recreational vehicle the "Keep Up the Fight" tour, and he gamely did, despite a series of symbolic setbacks. He smiled even as his canoe in Clear Creek State Park, with four children as passengers, got lodged on some rocks and had to be pulled in by a campaign aide. A flat tire on the RV also didn't seem to faze him. He left the RV by the side of the road, and its passengers piled into other vehicles on his motorcade. "I think it's going to be very close," Mr. Santorum told supporters at a picnic before the canoe trip. "It's going to be the people who want it the most" that win, he said.

Other PA

"Pennsylvania Drops Fee on '529' Plan," by Julian Mincer (8/16/06, p. C13)

"A Novel Way to Reduce Home Energy Bills," Sara Schaefer Munoz (8/15/06, P. D1)

While wind energy is commonly associated with massive turbines churning in desolate, windy areas, a new generation of smaller systems made for areas with moderate wind is hitting the market. The latest small turbines, which resemble a ship propeller on a pole, have three blades, are up to 24 feet in diameter and usually perched on stand-alone towers between 35 and 140 feet high. The systems have the potential to save consumers between 30% and 90% on their electric bills, manufacturers say, and promise to make no more noise than an air conditioner. But tapping so-called small wind using a high-tech windmill can be costly, and homeowners may find themselves battling zoning officials and annoyed neighbors who find the towering devices unsightly.


The systems aren't for city dewellers or residents of tightly packed suburbs. Those interested in small systems should have at least a half-acre of property, wind speeds of 10 mph and electric bills of $60 a month or more to make installing the system worthwhile, manufacturers say. It's helpful if they live in states with programs that can help offset the costs. California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin are among the states offering incentives.

Other Things That Caught My Eye

One of our veteran state lawmakers has gotten some flak for saying that he and his fellow legislators make less that dairy workers and tattoo artists. This week the WSJ had items on professions that require more education than legislators are required to have and whose salaries are lower (in general), and who are often also on the public payroll. For example:

"Pay Grade / Shhh ... Making a Difference, Quietly," by Aja Carmichael (8/15/06 p. B5). Librarians are usually required to have a master's degree in library and information science. The average starting salary, nationwide, is $39,079. The median salary for an experienced librarian was $55,250. In large cities the work week is around 50-55 hours.

"Amid Shortage, States Scramble to Hire Teachers," by Anne Marie Chaker (8/17/06, p. D1). Several quotes by Richard Ingersoll at the University of Pennsylvania, including the statistic that 46% of new teachers leave the profession after only 5 years. A school district in Illinois gives its starting salary as $28,352.

One parting thought. A column by Jonathan Clements, "Money and Happiness: Here's Why You Won't Laugh All the Way to the Bank," (8/16/06, p. D1), points out that once the basic needs are met and families are in the lower middle class, significantly increasing their income does not significantly increase the sense of satisfaction with their lives.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Off Topic: Milestones

Over the past several months we’ve had a number of family occasions.

First off, the kittens, now cats, turned one and shortly thereafter celebrated their first anniversary in our house. They were unaware of these events but appreciated the tuna nonetheless. Most cats attach themselves to one person in a household and are that person’s cat. With our previous cats one was mine and the other clearly belonged to Mr. J, even though I fed them both. The new cats are littermates and belong only to each other. The people in the house are secondary. It is not uncommon to find them curled up together napping or next to each other, one with a paw extended to touch the other. We are hoping they will continue to entertain and comfort each other. They are still young enough to chase each other around and we are used to sudden bursts of cat energy and mad scrambles around the house with long periods of quiet in between. I had initially thought they were in the “cute but dumb” category but they have since shown that they are as devious and sneaky as all their species. They are especially fond of waiting until I am engrossed in cooking dinner and either attack my shoe stings or, and this is particularly startling, run into the kitchen, jump up, sink their claws into my backside and then run away.

Another milestone affects me personally. I had a birthday and turned forty-[mumble]. The zero birthdays don’t bother me but the [mumbles] do for some reason. And this one is hitting really hard. Perhaps because any way you slice it there are now as many or more years behind me as there are in front. I married young, had children late, and in between took liberal advantage of employers’ tuition assistance programs and made judicious use of passport. With this birthday I seem have hit a midlife crisis, only instead of buying a red Ferrari and running off with the paperboy I set up 6 bottles of Diet Coke in the backyard and dropped Mentos in to watch them explode. I had my annual alcohol – 4 wine coolers in a 3 week period, pretty extreme for me. One day I went out for a belated birthday lunch with a friend. The diner had a tempting menu so I had an appetizer of onion rings, followed by a grilled cheese (two types of cheese on sourdough bread) with bacon, and French fries (hey, they came with the sandwich). Later on I had a bowl of ice cream with M&Ms added in. I spent the afternoon in my office listening to my arteries clog and coming to the realization that when you are forty-[mumble] you just can’t eat like that anymore. On the other hand I see the end of mortgage payments approaching, which brings a satisfaction that even vanilla ice cream with M&Ms added in can’t match.

The kids had birthdays, too. The oldest little Jane is narrowing the gap in our heights with alarming speed. This past year saw the end of bedtime stories and “night songs” as we called them. Last year the oldest little Jane requested that goodbye kisses be given out at home and not on the schoolyard. Everyone in the house can read now, with varying degrees of ability. We put away the bedrail for good. As we approach the beginning of the school, with the bills for supplies and clothes, I wonder what will have fallen way and what will have been added by the time school ends.

Friday, August 18, 2006

A Few Points to Ponder (and a Chuckle)

From Capitol Ideas earlier this week:

Charity Begins At Home ...
During his speech, Bush praised Swann and his wife Charena for being "charitable people" with "big hearts."
So, we pause for a moment to remind you that, in 2005, the Swanns had an income of $1.06 million and donated just $6,600 to charity.
In contrast, Gov. Ed and wife Midge reported income of $618,560, and donated $49,869 to charity in 2005.
Not that anyone's keeping score.

While I'm normally inclined towards saving money, I found the Swann campaign's initial strategy of selling his published campaign platform a little much. The secondary strategy of putting it up on the web as a pdf file is an improvement but note tempting enough for me to pay for printing and paper.

For your amusement, this item from politicspa's "up and down" list this week:

The good news for Rick Santorum is that three new polls show him just six points behind challenger Bob Casey Jr. There's no doubt he is making gains. The bad news, for a guy that is "packing on the pounds" coverage of his onion ring eating and "I need some grease" shows he isn't addressing the small subset of voters who like Santorum because they think he's sexy.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

First Fitzpatrick / Murphy Debate on Friday

On Friday, Aug. 18th Mike Fitzpatrick and Patrick Murphy, candidates for PA-08, will hold their first debate. They’ll be debating the Iraq War, Social Security, Stem Cell research, and other topics at noon. The debate can be heard by listening to WBCB Radio 1490AM or online by clicking here.

Usually incumbents avoid these things like the plague, trying to pretend the challenger doesn't exist. I find it very interesting that current Republic Congressman Fitzpatrick has been so eager to debate Murphy that his congressional chief of staff takes a vacation day to call into a Murphy phone press conference to talk debate schedules. That says a lot and what is says isn't complimentary to Fitzpatrick.

2 More Online Ballot / Polls

Two more opportunities to get your name on a mailing list!! This is the price you pay to put another chicken scratch next to your favorite candidate's name in a national fundraising popularity contest.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee wants to reward three of the "hardest-working, most progressive campaigns who have shown they can win". No specifics are given so we don't know what they win. Four Pennsylvania candidates are listed among the 35 names on the ballot. By odd coincidence they are the same four that show up in the National Journal's House Hotline list of top 30 races. You can choose Chris Carney (PA-10), Lois Murphy (PA-06), Patrick Murphy (PA-08), or Joe Sestak (PA-07).

At the same time Russ Feingold and the Progressive Patriots Fund is offering a $5,000 donation to the one candidate of the 12 listed who gets the most votes. Your PA choices here are Patrick Murphy and Joe Sestak.

Both places close voting on Aug. 23rd.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Chris Carney Round Up

A few items relating to the PA-10 race. Chris Carney is the Democrat challenging incumbent Republican Don Sherwood (who has had some personal and legal issues that could affect voter attitudes towards him, details here from " Group: Disclose details," by Boryn Krawczeniuk in the Scranton Times-Tribune 11/15/05) .

Carney has been endorsed by 26 labor unions. (press release on politicspa)

He has also been endorsed by Vote Against Violence (press release on politicspa), excerpt:

"I am extremely honored to receive the endorsement of Vote Against Violence," said Chris Carney. "As an EMT during college, I saw what domestic violence can do to women and to families. We need to make sure that our society understands the seriousness of domestic and sexual violence, and one way to do that is to make sure prosecutions move forward to make sure people who abuse are judged by a jury of their peers and, if found guilty, punished."

The campaign has released it's first television ads (link imbedded in press release)

Do We Like Them? Do We Really Like Them?

Matt Best, my blogger buddy across the aisle at Courage of Conviction, has posted an entry theorizing that for higher level offices we elect people we like as opposed to those whose policies we necessarily agree with. I'm not entirely sure about this. He has a comparative list of presidential candidates and asks readers to think about which one they would rather go out for a beer with or have over for dinner. Personally I would have always wanted to talk with the Democratic candidate rather than the Republican. Regardless of party they tend to be the wonkier of the group and I can talk "wonk" better than I can talk "social butterfly." Their humor would also be a better match for mine, but maybe taking that into account proves Matt's point. Interesting thought, though.

National Journal House Race Hotline (PA is hot!)

The National Journal has released their latest House Race Hotline. Four PA races show up on the top 30. We had more house races in the top 30 than any other state.

PA-06 has moved up from #4 to #3. Incumbent Republican Jim Gerlach faces Democratic challenger Lois Murphy. National Journal comment: The entire Northeast looks like it's going to be rough going for the Republicans. And no district better represents the GOP's problems there than this one

PA-08 had the most dramatic shift, from #26 to #15. Incumbent Republican Mike Fitzpatrick faces Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy. National Journal comment: Fitzpatrick is distancing himself from Bush on Iraq, Social Security and, well, whatever else he can think of (except stem cells).

PA-07 moved up one from #17 to #16. Incumbent Republican Curt Weldon faces Democratic challenger Joe Sestak. National Journal comment: Sestak's gotten some bad press from his military history, and he's being stubborn in not taking advice from consultants. Still, the Dem wave in Philly may be too much for Weldon to sustain.

PA-10 moved up 4, from #29 to #25. Incumbent Republican Don Sherwood faces Democratic challenger Chris Carney. National Journal comment: Carney is not a gadfly candidate, and the stories of Sherwood's personal problems have circulated. If Carney can keep from being painted as a typical liberal, he should have a decent shot.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Golden Rule Democrat

In a comment to a previous post, Daddy Democrat mentioned the term "golden rule Democrat," and provided a link to one of his blog posts that discusses it.

This post from Street Prophets has a profile of Ted Strickland and includes his discussion of the term.

Interesting. I hope it catches on.

From the Horse's Mouth

Ryan Shafik, a former aide for Republican State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (12th district) is currently running for the state legislature in Maryland. In a recent newspaper profile ("Shafik favors term limits, opposes slots," by Loni Ingraham Towson Jeffersonian Aug. 8, 2006), he says this of Pennsylvania politics in general:

"but I saw how the system works, whether it's Pennsylvania or Maryland. It's the inside baseball that constituents don't see. It's not pretty.

"It's the way that money is spent. That's what's flawed. It's done without the basis of need, without serious evaluation. They keep forgetting it's not their money."

Democrat Jeff Albert is running against Greenleaf, who has been in the state senate for 28 years. An interview with Albert was posted on this blog earlier this summer.

Monday, August 14, 2006

More on Fitzpatrick Staffer and Murphy Press Call

Yesterday I wrote a short post on the unusual tactic of incumbent Republican Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick's (PA-08) chief of staff joining in a phone conference call, hosted by Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy and Sen. John Kerry. It was mentioned in today's Inquirer ("Crashing a News Conference," by Christine Schiavo) (h/t Carl). Note this:

Fitzpatrick, reached later, said he didn't tell Conallen to make the call, but was "proud" of him for "pinning Murphy down."

"That's what press conferences are for," he said.

Allrighty, people, that's what he thinks press conferences are for -- government employees on their days off to come in and ask scheduling questions about campaign events. Let's all remember that next time he has a press conference.

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.

Maybe Not Such a Good Idea.....

On Friday morning, John Kerry and Patrick Murphy (Democratic candidate for the 8th congressional district) held a phone press conference to discuss the Iraq War. The chief of staff for Mike Fitzpatrick (incumbent Republican congressman for the 8th district) decided to call in and try to talk about campaign debates. Keep in mind he is the chief of staff for the congressman, not for the campaign. There is, at least theoretically, supposed to be a wall between congressional staffers and campaign staffers. Congressional staffers are paid by tax dollars. The lines do get blurred sometimes but there is at least a public pretence of distinction.

So this may not have been a good idea on the chief of staff's part. Here is a press release from the state Democratic party. Here is a blog posting from eRobin with a partial transcript (she is good at this stuff).

I have a copy of the audio tapes from the call and hope to listen to them tomorrow.

To Lentz, Too Late

My apologies for not writing about this sooner.

On Thursday, July 27th the Delaware County Times ran a copy of a letter from the chairman of a veteran's museum in Media to Bryan Lentz, Democratic candidate for the 161st state house district. The writer focused on a visit to the museum by Max Cleland, former Senator from Georgia on May 30th. Cleland was accompanied by Lentz. The museum director stated that the tour was turned into a political event and rally, which endangered the museum's 501c3 nonprofit status.

Before the May 30th event, I was sent information indicating that Cleland and Lentz would tour the museum and a rally would be held at the neighboring Iron Hill Brewery. I was able to attend the event at the brewery and wrote about it in this blog entry. I arrived early, parked my car next to the brewery and did some window shopping. This entailed walking by the museum, crossing the street, up one block, across to the opposite side of the street, back past the museum (passing a very interesting looking bookstore), and across the street again to the brewery. At no time did I hear anything that sounded like a rally. At no point did I see any crowds or gatherings. After checking the parking meter status again, I went into the brewery, found a growing group of people, took a seat and a glass of water and waited about 5 or so minutes until Lentz and Cleland arrived. I don’t recall seeing a crowd come in with them. The rally didn’t start until after a reporter interviewed both of them. If there was a political event at the museum there was no evidence of it from the outside and no mention of it from either Lentz or Cleland. Since the reporter interviewed them in the brewery I assume no interview took place in the museum. All the photos I have seen of the event were taken at the brewery.

What I found most interesting was that no complaint was mentioned until 2 months after the event. It is also interesting that the incumbent state representative for the 161st district is on the honorary board of the museum.

Being involved with local nonprofit organizations is tricky. I’m on the board of one and have been an active participant for a number of years. Our bylaws also state that we do not endorse candidates, etc., but we all know how the game is played and most everyone on a board has been squeezed in one way or another. You hit your elected officials up for support and money during election years because they probably aren’t going to pay much attention to you in off years. (I do have to issue a disclaimer that my state reps have been pretty attentive even in off years, but there have been extenuating circumstances.) If they want to do a big pr event with one of those oversized cardboard checks during campaign season you smile and go along. We all pretend it’s an incumbent doing their job not a candidate trying to win votes. Have you ever noticed that you see more of those things in the months before election than during all of the off year? Amazing how that works out.

At one point I found myself in a very awkward situation. Candidates A & B were running for office. Local official Z wants to have a big kickoff event to celebrate a project that I had been very involved with, but was not completed yet, and would not be completed until after the election. Candidate A had played a pivotal role in a previous incarnation of the project years earlier. Official Z wants candidate A to speak at the event. I and some other folks balk as it could appear to be a campaign event. Z says A speaks or there’s no event. I talk with candidate B’s people who tell me that if A speaks and B can’t we are showing favoritism and there will likely be repercussions if B is elected. There is mention of our nonprofit status being at risk. Z won’t delay the event until after the election. We were between a rock and a hard place. I can’t help but wonder if the museum director wasn’t in a similar spot; if, say, there hadn’t been a few pointed phone calls coming his way.

This scenario is played out any number of times during every campaign season. I also see letters like the one in the Delco Times near the primary and general elections. Someone was in a parade they shouldn’t have been in. Someone wore a uniform they shouldn’t have worn. Any time a challenger talks in public it is called a campaign speech and deemed inappropriate. Incumbents handing out goodies and getting their pictures in the paper say they aren’t campaigning, just doing their job. It is a shame that local organizations are used in this way but it is a fact that they are. If you wonder why people are wary of volunteering their time for projects and groups, this is one reason. Now being older and wiser I’m not sure I would accept another board position for anything that crossed paths with politicians. You just become more cannon fodder.

The museum director has my sympathies. To be honest, though, I can't see anything wrong with Cleland and Lentz touring the museum together and a veteran of Cleland's stature doing so is surely newsworthy. It is an election year and if he weren't here supporting local candidates he probably wouldn't have been here to tour. The museum was aware Cleland was coming. He was a US Senator, an elected Democrat. Any time someone of that importance is visiting you should expect local officials and candidates to be present. From what I could tell, though, all the politicing took place at the brewery.

Just my take on things.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

PA in the WSJ

A few tidbits from the Wall Street Journal concerning our fair state:

"Incumbents appear on the outs with voters," by Jeanne Cummings (8/10/06, p. A4). Here are the relevant PA parts:

In Pennsylvania, a backlash against the state legislature for its late-night approval of a pay raise, as well as anger over other issues, prompted voters there to toss out 17 state legislative incumbents in a May primary.


For example, public unease in Pennsylvania has four U.S. House Republicans and Republican Sen. Rick Santorum scrambling to protect their political careers from strong Democratic challengers and a concerned state electorate.


Brian Nick, a spokesman for the National Republic Senatorial Committee, said his incumbents are being advised to focus their campaings on local issues. That's why Mr. Santorum in Pennsylvania is talking about his work to pass a Child Custody Act, and Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, also facing a tough race, is talking about the Water Settlement Act.

In this atmosphere, incumbents can't even find comfort in their bulging campaign kitties. Mr. Lieberman, Ms. McKinney and Mr. Schwarz raised more money than their opponents and still lost.

I love it when that happens.


"Vishay names M*A*S*H actor to the board," (8/11/06), p. 11

Wayne M. Rogers, known to generations of television fans as Capt. "Trapper John" McIntyre from "M*A*S*H," is joining the board of semiconductor masker Vishay Intertechnology Inc.

Vishay is based in Malvern and trades on NYSE as VSH. (Lawyer note: I do not individually own stock in this company, nor does anyone in my household, although it may be represented in commercial retirement products whose holdings I do not follow carefully.)

About a year ago I was visiting a sibling and saw Wayne Rogers on a tv investing show. When I scoffed the sib told me that Rogers had become a real money whiz. Another sign that there is a second life out there for all us.

Off Topic: Modern Living

Over at Karl's I ran across a link to this interesting view of life in the 20th century.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Montco Elected Officials Pay Scale

Rummaging around to research another interview I came across an article ("Montco officials approve pay scale," by Margaret Gibbons Times Chronicle Aug. 2, 2006).

The first paragraph gives the gist:

Starting in 2008 and for the next three years, Montgomery County's elected officials will receive pay hikes equal to no more nor no less than the average salary increase received by county employees.

I applaud the county government for putting this into writing.

Repost Note

Just an administrative note. I have reposted four older blog entries temporarily to include them in the feed. These are posts that I think are significant and have sufficient content that a broader audience may still find them useful. Tomorrow morning I will delete the reposts but the original posts will remain in the archives. My apologies for any inconvenience.

The posts are interviews with Patrick Murphy and Paul Lang, and those entitled "Reading Patrick Murphy" and "Meeting Patrick Murphy."

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Sabato List PA Seats As Probable / Possible Demoratic Pickups

Larry Sabato (and David Wasserman), noted Virginia-based political analysts, have given their list of probable / possible party changes in Senate, House, and Governorships in the 2006 elections. I found reference to it at mydd, which linked to Taegan Goddard, which linked to Sabato's orginal post.

Pennsylvania races listed are:

Senate probable Democratic pick-up (that would be Bob Casey, running against incumbent Republican Rick Santorum).

House probably Democratic pick-up: PA-06 (that would be Lois Murphy, running against incumbent Republican Jim Gerlach).

House possible Democratic pick-up: PA-08 (that would be Patrick Murphy, running against incumbent Republican Mike Fitzpatrick) and PA-10 (that would be Chris Carney, running against incumbent Republican Don Sherwood).

PA-07 Update

Two items on the 7th congressional district race between incumbent Republican Curt Weldon and Democratic challenger Joe Sestak.

Rep. Curt Weldon and his campaign called the police, fearing a group of protestors might appear outside his office. The officers arrived to find one lone Eagle Scout (not that one lone Eagle Scout can't be fierce -- they just aren't normally given to rabble rousing). It doesn't look good for a sitting congressman to seem fearful of civic-minded teen, on his lonesome, doing nothing more than standing around taking notes. (as reported in the Delaware County Times "Weldon camp calls cop on Sestak volunteer standing near office," by Cindy Scharr, Aug. 5, 2006).

Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy Wade Sanders has a column up at denouncing Weldon for his "swiftboat" attacks against Joe Sestak. See the full posting here.

(h/t Colin)