Sunday, September 30, 2007

Big Shot Alert

On Monday at noon the Speaker of the House will be in PA. Even more startling our junior senator will be making an announced public appearance:

Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-8th District) will be joined by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty in calling for green energy technology and job creation. At a press conference at the Keystone Industrial Port Complex in Falls Township , Pennsylvania , Pelosi, Casey, Murphy and McGinty will praise the federal renewable energy portfolio standard and call for more state, local and federal partnerships to increase the amount of green energy technology and green energy jobs in Pennsylvania . By working together with business and labor and at all levels of government, we can create a greener environment and stronger economy.

For those whose schedule requires them to be elsewhere at noon on a workday, the press conference will be rebroadcast on PCN at 8 p.m. tomorrow night and probably at subsequent times as well.


Those whacky kids in DC have a new blog out, called govgab ( which, so far, seems to highlight information resources made possible through your tax dollars. It looks like it has definite possibilities.

Uh Oh!

This week's issue Parade Magazine has a small item that might be of real concern to someone. In the "Ask Marilyn" section, a reader from Camp Hill, PA writes in with this question: "I believe it should be possible to reconstruct shredded documents -- tedious and time-consuming, but possible. Do you agree?"

Do I hear a few people starting to lose sleep?

PA in the WSJ

This is a list of articles regarding Pennsylvania in this week's Wall Street Journal. Chances are I missed something, but these are the articles that caught my eye.

It should be noted that I routinely do not read the editorials in the WSJ. So any discussions of the state, its elected officials, businesses, or citizens, in editorials will not be mentioned here.

PA Politicians

Nary a peep.

PA Businesses

“Unisys denies coverup of security breaches,” by Robert Block (9/25)

“Rite Aid cuts outlook amid wider net loss,” by Russ Britt (9/28)

“Custom bikes for the masses,” by Nancy Keates (9/28) discusses the bicycle industry but somehow neglects to mention Fuji Bikes, whose worldwide headquarters is in Philadelphia. The article does note the increase in bicycle purchases among those who are married with children, white, over 40, and with household incomes averaging $86,000. With Pennsylvania’s aging population this is maybe something we should pay more attention to.

Other PA

An entire story about Philly – “In the inner city of Philadelphia, Horsey set bridles,” by Sarah Nassauer (9/25), on the stables used by African American horse owners and riders within the city being pushed out by developers and gentrification. Surely they add something extremely valuable to the fabric of the city!

In “Business schools forgetting missions?” by George Anders (9/26) we read:

At the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, almost half of the 800 first-year students attend career chats about what it would be like to work for hedge funds or private-equity firms. Four years ago, such formal briefings didn’t exist.

The gist of the article is that business students are no longer trained to run businesses. Interesting.

St. Joseph’s University has a brief mention in “Helicopter parenting: a breakdown,” by Sue Shellenbarger (9/27)

The National Board of Medical Examiners is based in Philadelphia is mentioned in “Student wins her appeal on medical-exam breaks,” (9/27).

Another connection we don’t need. Raffaello Follieri, who schmoozed with Bill and Hillary Clinton and is now in hot water, supposedly bought properties from churches, including two in Philadelphia, and renovated them. “How Bill Clinton’s aide facilitated a messy deal,” by John R. Emshwiller and Gabriel Kahn (9/26)

The Great Expectations School by sometime teacher sometime Inky reporter Cynthia Asquith is reviewed in “The Blackboard bungle,” by Roger Kaplan (9/29)

Other Interesting Tidbits

“Why CHIP is bogged down,” by Sarah Lueck (9/27) offers some real insight into the bill passed this week:
In some ways, after difficult negotiations, the bill turned out to be an unusual example of cooperation. In talks with two Senate Republicans, House Democrats compromised. They cut new spending from $50 billion to $35 billion, gave up an effort to cover legal immigrants and young adults, and dropped cuts to private health insurers operating in Medicare.

The final deal includes many nods to Republicans – though most Republicans in the House and Senate oppose it as an irresponsible expansion of government spending. It reduces federal funding for states that enroll children from families with incomes above about $60,000 a year for a family of four; it bars the federal government from allowing any more states to use CHIP funds to cover parents; and it phases out coverage of childless adults that some states include in CHIP.

To tilts the program toward poorer children, the bill calls for states not meeting enrollment benchmarks for the lowest income children by October 2010 to give up CHIP funds for enrollees above 300% of the poverty level.

And even more interesting is this tidbit from “Democrats ready push for labor,” by Kris Maher (9/25):
At the same time, unions have complained that executive pay and compensation have remained largely protected. One provision in the proposed legislation would modify or eliminate pension plans for certain top executives, if worker pensions are eliminated.

Mr. Bernstein, who represents companies in bankruptcies, said that provision could make it harder for companies facing bankruptcy to retain executives.

Color me unsympathetic to the plight of overpaid executives.

Those following the controversy over the FAA sending more flights over Delco might enjoy “Why even sunny days can ground airplanes,” by Paulo Prada and Scott McCartney (9/28). One thing mentioned in the story that we haven’t heard much about is the growth in smaller regional and private jets which are given as much air space as an airliner full of passengers.

How cool is this? There is a wiki for Latinists. Visit it at The last sentence in “Latin isn’t dead; online, it’s veni, vidi, vicipaedia” by Lee Gomes (9/29) is “Latin isn’t dead; it just smells funny.” That’s so true for many of us.

“Congress nears boost in public-debt ceiling,” by David Rogers ( 9/28) points out that when Pres. Bush took office the debt limit was at $5.95 trillion, as it had been since August 2007. It has been raised 5 times since he took office and now stands at $9.815 trillion. But we can still afford tax cuts for the most wealthy Americans?

State candidates use of ActBlue is highlighted in “More Democrats tap web,” by Amy Schatz (9/28).

My Life in Song

I had never heard of comedian Anita Renfroe until Mr. J sent me this link, but she has condensed much of what I say in a 24 hour period into a 2:55 minute lyric sung to the William Tell Overture, called "Mom's Overture." Hilarious. Someone please tell me if she has an appearance in the Philly area in the near future.

Friday, September 28, 2007

weekly legislative update

A few more items passed the Pennsylvania House and Senate this week. Things should pick up soon.

Our accountant friends at PICPA had a new weekly update.


HB 487 Prior Printer's No. 543. Printer's No. 1411. An Act providing for notice of motor vehicle event data recorders and for information retrieval; imposing penalties; and providing for evidentiary rules.


SB 490 Prior Printer's No. 1331. Printer's No. 1390. An Act amending Title 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, providing for the definitions of "electronic mail address" and "instant messaging screen name"; further providing for registration procedures and applicability and for duties of Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hillary, Bill, Chips, and Carrots

Earlier this week I commented on the current fad of presidential campaigns picking the names of a few supporters to share a meal with the candidate. This aspect of political theater has reached the point where it is ripe for parody or satire.

One digression -- in recent years mass emailing programs have allowed each message to be personalized with individual names. It is supposed to give the reader the illusion that the message was meant just for them. There are unintended consequences, however, especially when used on the local level. Imagine my reaction when, a few years ago, I received an email from a candidate that I had spoken to earlier that day in a casual setting, which had the subject "why I must see you this Friday." It took me two readings to figure out it was not, indeed, a personal invitation, but trying to get a crowd to show up at a campaign event.

So this week I had a sense of deja vu when Bill Clinton, or his email drone, sent an email with the subject line "You, me, a TV, and a bowl of chips." It starts out:

Dear [Jane],

There are two things in this world that I love more than anything else -- my family and politics. So you can imagine just how fired up I get when Hillary is on the stage debating the issues that matter to our country.

So here's an idea: why don't you and I share that excitement together during an upcoming debate. Hillary's campaign will pick three people -- each invited with a guest to watch one of the upcoming presidential debates with me. We'll sit down in front of a big TV with a big bowl of chips, watch the debate, and talk about the race. If you enter before the Sunday midnight deadline, you and a guest could be the ones to sit down with me to watch a presidential debate.

There are just so many things to work with here that it's hard to pick a starting point. Before this email could scroll off the front screen, a follow-up from Hillary arrived:
Dear [Jane],

I hear you might be watching a debate with Bill -- can I ask you a favor?

Bill mentioned "a big bowl of chips" in the email he sent you Tuesday. If you are one of the three people who get the chance to join him, can you make sure he eats carrots, not chips?

I know I can rely on you for this -- because you've been there for me this entire campaign. I've relied on you and more than a million of your fellow supporters, and you've never let me down.

Can we just stop this silliness? No more raffles to share meals or excitement or anything else with candidates or their spouses or pets or who knows what.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Assorted News Items

A few news items:

Do we really need to hire someone to do this? Aren't there enough people on the state payroll? ("2 face investigation for Pa. film-lobbying role," by Mario Cattabiani Inquirer 9/25)

Good riddance to bad rubbish. The head of PHEAA is leaving. I've wanted to write about the waste and misbehavior there but every time I did my head would explode. As noted in today's Capitol Ideas blog:

Tragically named PHEAA boss Dick Willey will retire at the end of the year, the Associated Press reports this morning. He made his plans known in a letter to Rep. Bill Adolph, chairman of the gold-plated agency's governing board.
Willey, 61, said he'd planned to retire after serving for five years and completely wrecking PHEAA's reputation (kidding, we made that last part up. Turns out it was just an unexpected fringe benefit that went with the major medical care).
"Today, we have achieved extraordinary success by any measure, be it earnings growth, operational efficiency, or the $200 million annual public service gift we provide to Pennsylvania students and families each year," Willey said with what we presume to have been a straight face.
For those of you keeping score at home, Willey's base salary was $289,000, and he was paid a $181,000 bonus last month, the AP reported.

In lighter news, for those who will be in downtown Philly this Friday evening, Joshua Furst's fiance would like you to know that he will be reading from his first novel, The Sabotage Cafe at Robin's Bookstore at 6 p.m.

Damsker Hoeffel Position Papers

Earlier this month I took a look at the white papers posted by Democratic candidate for Delaware County Commissioner, David Landau. It would be sensible then to also look at proposed policies from other county-level candidates.

Incumbent Democratic Montgomery County Commissioner Ruth Damsker and running mate Joe Hoeffel have posted some of their plans on the campaign site. Let’s take a quick look.

Delivery of Human Services

Damsker’s background in social work shows in the 14 items listed here. For example, few people would stop to think about the transition of services for mentally and physically challenged people who reach 21. Personally I would like to see a similar point for foster children who age out of the state system and are suddenly on their own. Among the other points they have listed are trying to reduce or end waiting lists for mental health services, expand prevention problems for substance abuse, and encourage cooperation between existing public and private services.


Here there are several concrete suggestions, such as using compact fluorescent lamps in county buildings. They also have some larger changes in mind.

Damsker and Hoeffel said they would take two immediate steps upon election aimed at getting a running start on the environmental agenda. They would be tapping someone from the county health department or planning commission staff to serve as the county's Environmental Policy Coordinator (EPC), and establishing the Commissioners' Environmental Council (CEC), which would be comprised of key department heads, staff, community leaders and scientific and environmental experts.

The EPC would be responsible for leading the effort to lower Montgomery County's impact on the global warming and the environment. The person chosen would have three major responsibilities: 1) coordinating the "greening" of county government; 2) advise the commissioners on environmental issues and initiatives; and 3) advocate for local community groups fighting for environmental improvements and against neighborhood polluters.

The CEC would be a permanent advisory body to the commissioners and would investigate the viability of technologies and ideas that could possibly be used to help Montgomery County reach its environmental goals.

One thing that could have added to their plans is a way of tapping into the environmental advisory committees, volunteer groups that advise most township governments on environmental topics.

Fiscal Responsibility

There are a few more concrete suggestions here, such as having a chief financial officer and an inspector general, and the use of zero-based budgeting.

Best Practices

Seven items are listed under this heading. Here are my two favorites:

5. ONE IS NOT ENOUGH -- The county will make every effort to secure more than one proposal for every RFP, including re-soliciting and re-advertising of the RFP, and appropriate inquiry to RFP recipients who failed to respond to identify problems or possible bias.

7. A CONTRACT FOR EVERY ACCEPTED PROPOSAL -- The County Solicitor shall negotiate a written contract for every RFP proposal accepted and selected by the Commissioners.

Isn’t that just common sense?

I’ll check back from time to time to see if any other proposed policies are added to the site.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

An Interview with Scott Yates of

Recently I alerted you to a new database available for research on state legislation, I've been having a lot of fun kicking the tires and giving it test runs on various topics. The people at lgdb were really great at answering questions so I thought perhaps an interview would be in order. Scott Yates, the founder of the company, was willing, so here you go:

There is a Pro version but I am focusing on the currently free version.

Right now I can access the database for free. Are there any immediate plans to make it for fee only? Will accounts be required for searching, even if there is no fee (in other words, will I have to sign up to search the database)? Are there free options that one must sign in to access?

No, we'll never charge for looking at the data. Our philosophy is that governmental data should not only be available, but easy to use. It also helps our business that everyone can find everything on our site so easily.

We charge for the tracking and notification tools typically used by associations or lobbyists who have at least one full-time person tracking legislation.

Puerto Rico isn't on your list of states. True, it isn't a state, but do you plan to include them in the future?

Yes, and we also get a lot of requests for Canadian provinces, so we'll be getting to those as well. Also the District of Columbia.

How many states are included in the database presently and what is the planned rollout date for future additions?

As of today we have nine. We are on target to have all the states that have legislative sessions in 2008 online before the next session starts. That is, there's no plan for a legislative session for Texas in 2008, so Texas may be a month or so behind the others.

Any plans for retrospective additions?

I think what you mean is, "Will we have legislative histories going back in time?" If so, the answer is yes. This is crucial for us.

You don't highlight search terms in results or in the text of bills pulled up. It is easy enough to search using the "find" function in the browser but any chance of this being an enhancement?

We have had this request, and it's on our list. We always have a bit of back and forth between filling out the database and adding useful features. Right now the focus is on getting all the states on line, but we expect to start adding more features early in 2008.

I found that the ? works as truncation symbol but this isn't explained anywhere. Does it only do plurals or only one letter or is it a true truncation symbol? For people who are not familiar with such things, how would they know?

You are way ahead of 99.9 percent of typical users, who will find our Advanced Search feature meets their needs. To get to that you just search for anything and then on the results page click the brown "advanced search" button. We will be adding a link to that on the home page soon.

All terms are "anded" so all terms must appear. Is it possible to "or" synonyms or create more complex search strategies? In searching for Pennsylvania's HB 1093, which concerns loan forgiveness for physicians, you cannot find it searching for loan forgiveness and doctors.

Here again I recommend using the advanced search to do an "or" search. That said, if you do a search for "forgiveness doctor pa" in the regular search bar, that bill does come up.

If a bill passes or doesn't get out of committee during a legislative session, how long will it stay in the database? Will there be a moving wall, where data is deleted after it is so many years old or will the database eventually build up a significant backfile? Will date searching be available then?

We're working on that now because we have nearly 50,000 bills from 2007 in our system, and we'll have many more than that coming in 2008. We will keep the old bills, but allow our pro users to display just current bills on their "bill sheets." You can already limit your search to just current bills in the advanced search.

You have several instructional videos imbedded in the site. Have you had any feedback on them?

Most people think I have movie star good looks. Well, two people. Well, OK, really only my mother. My wife doesn't like my hand gestures.

Some people have found them helpful. We did a kind of a seminar here in Colorado that people found useful, so we are planning on doing another one of those and taping it so everyone can see. We are also planning on doing some live web training. Other people just like the free two-week trial so they can try it for themselves. There are probably as many techniques of getting the information transmitted effectively as there are people.

It's really a trick because LgDb really does ask that people radically rethink how they interact with legislative information. Legislatures in general are so bound by tradition that I think that carries over to people who work with legislative information. They think that they have to spend hours cutting and pasting client reports together. We don't just make it easier, we can eliminate that job all together.

What other enhancements would you like to add?

Zillions. On the data side we want to have it all, city and county governments, and then other governments around the world. On the feature side we want to have more social interactivity, more ways to compare bills, more tools for bloggers and anyone with a web page to show what's going on with the topic that the blogger is interested in. It's a long, long list.

We've come a long way in a year, but we still have a long way to go.

Each week when the legislature is in session I compile a list of bills that passed the state house or senate. Any chance lgdb would ever let me do that with a few clicks?

Maybe. We've never actually had that request before, typically people have a list of bills they are interested in. We do have a list now of all the active bills for a state, and that can sorted by last action, etc., so I think that might show you what you are interested in. Try it out, that's all part of the free side of the site, and you can't break our site by clicking on anything, so just click everywhere and try stuff out.

Thanks, Scott!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Trouble in Paradise

Current Montgomery County District Attorney and Republican candidate for Montgomery County commissioner is in the news again. When he declared his candidacy Castor had a hand-picked running mate, Melissa Murphy Weber. However, he has found himself yoked with incumbent Republican commissioner Jim Matthews. It was not a political marriage made in heaven.

Things got a little rough this week. John Morgan at The Pennsylvania Progressive posted a blog entry on the Castor Matthews campaign accepted money raised by a felon; the issue of such things having been in the news lately.

As reported in today's Inquirer ("Emails expose Montco dispute," by Thomas Fitzgerald, 9/24)

Castor sent several e-mails Friday to the Pennsylvania Progressive - - in response to a blog item that said Asher was raising money for the GOP team. Blogger John Morgan questioned why Castor went along with it, since he had made Asher's backing of an opponent an issue in Castor's unsuccessful 2004 bid for the Republican nomination for state attorney general.

"Believe me, the outrage is there, just not expressed in public," Castor responded. "One correction: Matthews/Castor is NOT accepting Asher money. Jim has his own campaign account (I do not). That is where the money is going . . . I have never taken a dime from Asher or Asher's PAC for this or any other campaign. I simply think it is wrong that a person convicted of political corruption hold a position of such power and influence in the Republican Party."

Morgan had gotten Castor's approval to post his emails before making them public, but Castor later seemed to retract his permission. See more details at The Pennsylvania Progressive.

Very very strange.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

End of Campaign Finance Quarter Coming Up

In case you have not been inundated with requests for money, let me tell you that Sept. 30th is the end of the third quarter campaign finance reporting period. Federal candidates (president, senator, congressional representative) have to file their reports by Oct. 15th, for the July - September quarter. So candidates are beating the bushes looking for money. I went to one fundraiser this quarter and plan to drop a little money in two other buckets. If you think kindly of a candidate, this would be a good time to empty out the penny jar and contribute.

John Edwards is getting some cash out of me again. Last time it was because of that video of Joe Trippi, wearing an apron that looks very like mine (except mine shows evidence of use and his looked new), trying to bake a pie. This time around it is the campaign's variation of a popular theme going around the presidential campaigns. Earlier this summer Barack Obama had dinner with one or more campaign contributors. They more or less draw names out of a hat, from the list of people who contributed that quarter. Hillary Clinton is doing the same thing, and Bill sent around an email saying he might drop by as well. I didn't respond to either of these efforts. I could listen to Barack Obama for hours but don't have much to say to him and the idea of trying to actually eat while cameras are recording every move is daunting. Double that for the Clintons. Edwards, however, is mixing it up. They are drawing five names out of the hat and those five people will be sent to New Orleans to participate in a rebuilding project with Edwards. That's right, he's going to put the five lucky winners to work. Even better, they will have props for all the cameras. What would you rather be photographed holding, a fork or a hammer? Of course, given my poor contest karma it is a moot point. In any event, it captured my interest enough to rummage around for my credit card.

PECO -- Looking for Love

A marketing company called this weekend with a very long survey on PECO. It was primarily about how hard we thought PECO was working to bring us reliable service at a good price and how good we thought their customer service was. Did we have outages, how long did they last, have we read anything about PECO lately, what was it, and so on. Most of the questions were opinion oriented. I have no idea how hard they are working. I do wonder, now, exactly what's going on, and what was the rational behind the survey.

PA in the October issue of Money

Three families in Wallingford, Delaware County, are highlighted in "Life and debt on Willow Lane," by Stephen Gandel in this months' issue of Money Magazine. It doesn't appear to be online. Speculating about the financial situation of your friends and neighbors is a fairly common way to pass the time and this article lets you go behind the scenes for these households. It's interesting.

Stewing in PA

A few leaves in our trees are starting to change colors and there was a nip in the air one or two days this week, so at the grocery store today I looked around for some new recipes to liven things up this fall, just in case we are able to lure people over again at Thanksgiving. The checkout clerk said something about football. Was there a game this weekend?

In any event I ran across some Pennsylvania cooks in the magazines I picked up. Christina Wilson of Lansdowne shares her Autumn Cranberry Beef Stew on p. 180 of the October Cooking Light. Linda Gaido of New Brighton and Helen Vail of Glenside have recipes in Taste of Home / Mom's Best Meals

Saturday, September 22, 2007

PA in the WSJ

This is a list of articles regarding Pennsylvania in this week's Wall Street Journal. Chances are I missed something, but these are the articles that caught my eye.

It should be noted that I routinely do not read the editorials in the WSJ. So any discussions of the state, its elected officials, businesses, or citizens, in editorials will not be mentioned here.

PA Politicians

Okay, he’s not an elected pol, but he has some power nonetheless. From “Rate cut has foes on main street,” by Greg Ip (9/18):

The Fed must allow “necessary corrections in asset prices,” Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia President Charles Plosser said in a speech earlier this month. “To do otherwise would risk misallocating resources and risk-bearing, as well as raise moral-hazard problems. This could ultimately increase, rather than reduce, risks to the financial system.”

PA Businesses

Is this business we want? In “U.S. farmers rediscover the allure of tobacco,” by Lauren Etter (9/18) we read:
In big tobacco-producing states like Kentucky, and in smaller ones like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, many tobacco farmers are enjoying renewed prosperity. Tobacco production in Pennsylvania has more than doubled since 2004.”

“Free IBM software is bid to challenge Microsoft Office,” by William M. Bulkeley (9/18) Amy Wohl an office-software consultant in Narbeth is quoted as saying “This is the moment, if IBM ever wants to do this.”

Radius, Inc of Kutztown makes dental floss infused with cranberries, according to “Can cranberries treat bacterial infections?” by Laura Johannes (9/18)

One of my favorite Pennsylvania businesses, a company whose products are present and often used in my house, K’Nex, located in Hatfield, gets some good press in “Toy makers make it hard to miss what’s U.S.-made,” by Nicholas Casey (9/19). Seriously, go buy some of their stuff. Especially, but not only, if you have kids.

Brief mentions: Amerisourcebergen (Valley Forge, on 9/18)

Other PA

A mine tunnel cave in in Wilkes-Barre in June 1919 is mentioned in “It was ‘safety first,’ but critics worried folks were going soft,” by Cynthia Crossen (9/17)

A variety of PA MBA programs are included in ranking lists and charts accompanying “Recruiter’ top schools,” by Ronald Alsop (9/17)

A company, Dial Directions, Inc., is offering a service that allows you to call a set number, state where you are going, and receive directions. Philadelphia is listed as one of the cities to be added to the service in the next month. (“Directions are a cellphone call away,” by Walter S. Mossberg, 9/19)

A bishop in Pittsburgh is quoted in “Episcopal church dissidents seek authority overseas,” by Andrew Higgins, 9/20.

A soldier from Harrisburg (and some time recruiter in Philadelphia), is a pivotal character in “How a base in Iraq went to the dogs,” by Yochi Dreazen (9/20)

Kleenex alert! “A beloved professor delivers the lecture of a lifetime,” by Jeffrey Zaslow (9/20) tells the story of Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch, given just a few months to live, delivers a “last lecture.”

Pennsylvania comes out in well in the charts accompanying “Late mortgage payments continue to climb,” by Ruth Simon. The mortgage delinquency rate for the state as of Aug. 2007 was between 2.01% and 3.5%. The change in delinquency rate for the 12 months preceding through August 2007 was .51% to 1%. Not bad.

Two residents of Freedom, PA, are trying to get the entire country to do a “towel wave” next July 4th. Read more in “How two guys plan to unite America on July 4,” by Clare Ansberry (9/21)

H J Heinz of Pittsburgh purchased HP Sauce, as noted in “Foreign owners may be secret of U.K’s success,” by Jason Singer and Alistair MacDonald (9/21)

Tory Burch of the Philadelphia area is mentioned as a working heiress in “Heiresses get down to business,” by Robert Frank (9/21)

Pennsylvania is one of the states the AFL-CIO will be targeting in election year 2008, from “Unions bolster election budgets,” by Kris Maher (9/22)

Former Philadelphia resident and University of Pennsylvania Law School grad Howard Gittis is memorialized on 9/22

Other Interesting Tidbits

A quick lesson in political “bundling” in “Donors’ records stir questions about bundling,” by Brody Mullins and Ianthe Jeanne Dugan, 9/20). I’ve never understood why you wouldn’t want your contributions to stand alone, instead of making someone else look good.

Using military service as a pathway to citizenship is the focus of “Dream solution to recruiting?” by Miriam Jordan (9/21). Excerpt:
”The military would love to recruit more qualified noncitizens,” says Beth Asch, a Rand economist who specializes in military manpower. “This is a potentially very recruitable group.”

This just seems kind of slimy to me.

Sen. Barack Obama’s primary foreign policy advisor is in the Naval Reserves and has been called up for active duty. “From the campaign to the battlefront,” by Monica Langley (9/22)

Friday, September 21, 2007

weekly legislative update

The Pennsylvania state legislature is getting back to work. Sort of. One bill passed the Senate this week. Things should pick up now.

HB 483 Printer's No. 540. An Act establishing the Mine Families First Program; providing assistance to persons whose family members are trapped, injured or waiting rescue during an underground mine emergency and for duties of the Department of Environmental Protection.

Save the Date

Candidates for Delaware County Council will have a debate next Thursday 9/27 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Delaware County Chamber of Delaware County Chamber of Commerce
602 East Baltimore Pike, Media, PA 19063

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Perhaps Best Not Said

Montgomery County District Attorney and Republican candidate for Montgomery County commissioner, Bruce Castor, is quoted in Times / Chronicle, commenting on case under investigation. He speculates on the motive, with the words "I would not be surprised if..." I'm not a lawyer and don't follow trials very closely but I'm not sure that is something he should be doing. If the DA's office decides to go with another tact in the case, what affect would his public theorizing have? His conclusions are the ones I would be likely to arrive at myself, knowing only what I have read, but unless he has definitive proof or is certain this will be the prosecutor's case, maybe he shouldn't be voicing an opinion to the press. (See "Murder charges pending for teen," by Margaret Gibbons 9/19)

The assistant district attorney that Castor says will be handling the case was far more circumspect when talking with the Inquirer "Symbol of hope mired in tragedy," by Larry King, Martha Woodall, and Jeff Gammage 9/18):

Risa Ferman, Montgomery County's first assistant district attorney, said yesterday that she could not speculate on what might have sparked the assault on the child. "We'll be in a better position to answer that once we've completed the investigation," she said.

Is the investigation complete? If not, why is the district attorney speculating? It is a heinous crime and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent, but in the courtroom, not in the papers.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Philly City Council to Vote on Inspector General's Office

Tomorrow Philadelphia’s city council is scheduled to vote on a measure to restructure the inspector general’s office.

In 1984, the city hired its first inspector general. Then no one heard much about the office for a while. In fact, the IG before the one the city has now left office because he wasn’t really living in the city, a requirement for city employees, and one of the things the IG is supposed to ferret out and stop. However, in 2005 Mayor Street appointed R. Seth Williams as the city’s IG, and things changed.

For details, see the Inspector General’s website, Policies are spelled out, there’s an FAQ, and monthly reports giving statistics on complaints received, etc. The reports follow standards set out by the Association of Inspectors General, which is, incidentally, located here in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia doesn’t do very well by it’s IG:

He has a staff of 11. New York City's Department of Investigation, which also investigates corrupt Housing Authority and education employees, has more than 400. Chicago has about 60. Both New York's and Chicago's offices are independent and covered by city charter. Philadelphia's office, created by mayoral executive order in 1984, has no statutory authority.

New York's budget is about $22 million a year; Chicago's $5 million. Philadelphia's budget? Well its money comes through the mayor's office. Williams doesn't control the budget, and can request resources only through the mayor. (“Give watchdog more teeth – Inspector General office should have more teeth,” [editorial] Philadelphia Daily News 4/26/07)

Williams himself has suggested a few changes:
Williams says the city would be better served by a city charter-based inspector general with a fixed term in office, more independence, and a more secure budget. The inspector general now is a creature of a mayoral executive order. (Source: “Prober seeking independence: Inspector General says post ought to be free of mayor’s office,” by Mark McDonald Philadelphia Daily News 4/24/07)

In June the city council took action:
A City Council committee yesterday unanimously approved two resolutions that would give the Inspector General's Office greater independence from the mayor and a broader investigatory mandate.

Currently, the inspector general serves at the pleasure of the mayor. The office's jurisdiction includes only those departments that either report to the mayor or are headed by a mayoral appointee. It does not extend to independently elected officers, such as city Council members or the city commissioners.

If the proposed changes become law, the inspector general could be fired only for cause, and would be free to investigate corruption and search for waste and inefficiency throughout the government. (Source: “City council moves to give wider power to inspector general, “ by Patrick Kerkstra Philadelphia Inquirer 6/13/07)

Thus, tomorrow’s vote. The Committee of Seventy, described by the Inquirer as “a government watchdog group,” is in favor of making the office more independent (see the testimony of their vp in June) but is currently recommending some further investigation and possibly amending to the proposal on the table.

The Daily News is for the changes. The Inquirer is recommending caution.

We’ll have to see how the vote goes. Regardless, the combination of the likely next mayor, Mike Nutter, with a reputation for ethical reform, and the current IG, with a track record of uncovering corruption, the city looks to be in good hands.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Interview with Diane Marseglia, Candidate for Bucks County Commissioner

Diane Marseglia, Democratic candidate for Bucks County commissioner, is a social worker by trade. She has a Masters of Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania, with a specialization in adolescence and criminal justice. In 1997 she was elected a Middletown Township Supervisor, served until 2003 and was elected again in 2005. She has also served on the Neshaminy School District Board. More complete biographies of Diane and her running mate, Steve Santarsiero are available on

I would like to thank Diane for taking the time to answer these questions; her responses have a consistent theme of public service and she clearly understands the issues I have raised. All of her comments are thoughtful and will surely be of interest to Bucks County voters.

Political battles can often get personal and dirty. How do you heal a community after a particularly bruising battle?

In my view of public service, the goal is always to advocate for the people and to strive to enhance quality of life for all constituents. To that end, I do not engage in dirty tricks or the politics of personal destruction that often poisons modern political discourse. By relying on facts and presenting a credible case to the people, there is rarely a need for healing - I finish each campaign with a clear conscience. After each election I work with anyone who holds honesty and integrity paramount and subscribes to the basic principles of service that I have mentioned above.

What kind of instructions did you give your campaign staff about the type of campaign you wanted to run?

I have asked them to run a factual, honest campaign that will contrast us with our opponents, and make everything they do and say on this campaign something that would make their grandmothers proud.

You have been mentioned as a potential county commissioner candidate for a number of years. How important is it to maintain a pipeline of potential candidates? How is that done and what can be done to get more women in that pipeline?

It is incumbent upon us, as Americans, to think not only of ourselves but the next generation. It is an unwritten contract that should be in the back of every elected official’s mind. Building the pipeline of potential candidates is a way of ensuring there is quality government for future generations. For years the Bucks County Democrats struggled to build an organization and there were few people in the queue for election. Today our party is proud and strong, and it is a wonderful to have such choice and so many high quality leaders in our ranks.

If you visit and look at our county-wide Democratic candidates, you will see that our ticket is packed with experienced and qualified women running for office. Cynthia Philo, Kathryn Boockvar, and Polly Beere and I will provide leadership that young women can emulate.

In your youth you were a Republican. What would you say to those who think party loyalty should be absolute and changing registration should not be forgiven?

My years as a Republican were very few and I chose that party as it was the party of my parents and grandparents. I believe that a party’s platform represents your values as an American. As your youthful years end it is important that you choose a party that most closely represents your values. Party switching should be reserved for times when either your values change or your party moves away from its original core representations.

Your tendency to form citizen committees or advisory boards has been noted and I found some examples myself, a committee on littering and another on speeding. Would you continue that practice as a county commissioner and how could such groups be effective at the county level?

Partnering with members of the community is vital for many reasons. First and foremost it allows government to benefit from the expertise and energy of residents at NO cost! Second, it increases resident understanding and faith in their government because their involvement helps them to better understand and appreciate the legislative processes. Finally, the actions of the committees I advocated for allowed our Township and school district to receive services and benefits that would not have been affordable if it had to be paid for with taxpayer dollars. I will continue this partnering and believe it may be the hallmark of my tenure as a Commissioner as there is a wealth of expertise in Bucks County and many are champing at the bit to volunteer their services.

What is your view of joint zoning ordinances across municipalities and townships? In 2003 you spoke in favor of it. Is that something you think the county could encourage, provided you still like the idea? (Source: “Uniting to fight suburban sprawl,” by Ben Finley, Bucks County Courier Time 9/26/03)

I still like the idea. In fact, while not a panacea and not suitable for every municipality, it has to be considered as a vital tool in any plan to preserve Bucks County. The effects of development and zoning do not end at municipal borders; flooding, traffic, and water quality affect residents up and downstream. Therefore it is important that communities interact, plan, and possibly develop mutual ordinances. Steve and I have spoken of our comprehensive plan, which will actively encourage such communication and cooperation between municipalities. The absolute failure of our County Commissioner to curb development and the resistance of state legislatures to increase the tools to do this has resulted in a level of sprawl that threatens the quality of life in Bucks County, and we must begin to proactively fight back.

More people live in Bucks County and leave it to work than come to Bucks County for jobs but live elsewhere. What ramifications, if any, does this have for county government?

A government has to be connected to the pulse of its people; their habits, movements, lifestyles and economic choices, both at work and play. By addressing these issues with the guiding motivation to enhance quality of life, government best serves its people and runs most efficiently. We know that we have a large commuter population, so we should focus on providing the best public transportation possible to help reduce highway congestion, lower vehicle emissions and improve quality of life. Suburban officials who think SEPTA's plight is Philadelphia's problem are seriously mistaken, and they ignore mass transit at their peril and at great cost to our infrastructure.

Less than a fourth of the county’s population is under 18 and the number of age restricted communities has been growing. Do you want to see any change in that situation and if so, what would you like to happen? Source:

The market forces seem to be driving this boom, causing frustration for school boards and municipal governments trying to afford the increased demand for services driven by families with children. I am deeply concerned about the long term marketing of these homes when the population boom shifts to those under 55. This is another example of why a real and absolute comprehensive plan is needed in Bucks County. Steve and I recognize that municipalities need to be cognizant of the short and long term benefits and costs of such communities and plan for a healthy diversity in housing.

Curfews and other laws seem to pit the rights of the individual against the rights of the state (or local municipality). How do you balance those conflicting areas?

This is a difficult balancing act and one that by its nature suggests that people need to be controlled and parented – a concept I approach with sincere reservations but a realistic perspective. As a social worker, I believe the first step needs to be educating the public about their behavior and working to help them set their own limits. When the health and welfare of others are negatively impacted by citizens who refuse to abide by voluntary self-limits it becomes time to set the boundaries with the rule of law. Another important aspect of setting limits by law, however, is that overzealous enforcement -- or inability to enforce because there are too many rules -- is less effective than setting no limits!

Can the county (or the state or any other governmental body) refuse to allow development on privately owned land in flood plains? Should they be able to?

First, I believe it is important to recognize that the flood plain has been expanding, due to the County policies that have allowed for sprawl. Hence, landowners who have a reasonable expectation of using land they purchased decades ago, when the floodplain was significantly smaller, are in an untenable situation. One of the primary issues facing county and municipal officials is the prospect of negotiating financial remuneration to landowners who suddenly find their land in a flood plain. Moreover, the sprawl must stop in order to end expansion of the floodplain – this is clearly not in the current commissioners’ plan. It will be in the Comprehensive Plan that Steve Santarsiero and I are working to develop.

While I oppose heavy-handed laws that restrict personal freedoms, and believe that private land-owners have a right to benefit from their land, those freedoms must be limited when adjacent and/or surrounding residents are adversely impacted or threatened by those decisions. New developers who build in flood plains do so strictly for the profit; they will not be around when a 25- , 50- or 100-year storm wipes-out the development. In these situations Government can, and should, restrict where homes can be built, if that building puts human life and property in peril. In this way, we minimize the taxpayers' expense in bailing-out disasters. Local municipalities are still paying for properties on the Neshaminy Creek that were destroyed by Hurricane Floyd eight years ago.

Are you happy with the arrangement of the county government? If not, what would you change?

My first priority is for political patronage be removed from the process. Although Bucks County employees are generally top-rate, there needs to be a modernization of the process by which they work. I also believe there need to be changes to the way some departments do their work. Studying best practices implemented in other counties can make our departments more efficient and more effective without tax increases. As a simple example, the failure to implement modern computerized services in many departments until quite recently is a example of thinking that is simply backward. Too often departments are designed for the convenience of the government, rather than the citizenry.

Every candidate says they want lower property taxes, better development and fairer government, what are you saying that is different?

Steve and I have said we want to stabilize property taxes and in contrast to spin we have offered a plan.

Our plan is also different because in addition to identifying examples of county waste we have called for professional forensic spot audits so that waste is readily and easily identified.

More importantly, we have clearly identified the connection between raising property taxes and development and we will be focusing on controlling the development. Our aforementioned comprehensive plan is the hallmark of our control of development.

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

What drives you to be involved in politics?

I was raised to believe that community service is important. It is a hallmark of my professional life as a social worker and I have been fortunate to be elected to the school board and as a supervisor because of a single driving goal – to help make people’s lives better.

Thank you, again, Diane!

Taylor and Vereb Introduce HSCA Funding Bill

State Representatives Rick Taylor (D-151) and Mike Vereb (R-150), both of Montgomery County, have introduced a bill to fund the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund:

Under the bill (H.B. 1810), HSCA would receive revenue from money slated to be transferred to the Rainy Day Fund to keep it available through the end of the 2007-08 fiscal year in June and give the General Assembly time to provide a new, stable source of funding for the cleanup program.

“The Hazardous Site Cleanup Fund gives Pennsylvania the versatility to respond without delay to incidents where hazardous materials or toxic chemicals endanger public health and safety,” said Taylor . “Its other critically important facets include funding for investigation of illegal hazardous waste dumping and dangerous methamphetamine labs, along with cleaning and recycling contaminated industrial land known as brownfields.”

The legislation proposed by Taylor and Vereb grew out of a successful bipartisan challenge in the House to a Senate proposal in July that would have taken money for HSCA out of other environmental programs, which would have greatly hampered efforts such as the Keystone Recreation Park and Conservation Fund and other environmental initiatives. As the attempted fiscal raid was turned aside, Taylor said he would pursue other legislative options to provide the cleanup funding.

I hope to have more on this later.

Gort's Interview with Chris Hackett

For those in the 10th congressional district, my old blogging pal Gort has a terrific interview with Chris Hackett, a Republican running for that seat.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Book Review: Pennsylvania Elections

Written by John J. Kennedy, who teaches political science at West Chester University, this 2006 imprint from University Press of America is a great introduction to, as the title says Pennsylvania elections: Statewide contests from 1950-2004. As someone who didn't grow up in the area, I found the synopsis of individual elections very informative. The subtitle is a little misleading. The chapters on are the political geography of Pennsylvania, senate elections, gubernatorial elections, row offices (lt gov, internal affairs, treasurer, auditor general, and attorney general), and presidential elections. Internal affairs was abolished in 1968. There are maps and a lot of statistics. All in all I'm finding it a good reference and picking up a lot of background of feuds and divisions that happened before I started paying attention to things.

Kennedy doesn't pull his punches in describing elections. For instance, here are two paragraphs from the section on the state treasurer's race of 1976:

Of all the elections discussed in this book, perhaps the most peculiar was the state treasurer's election of 1976. To a casual observer, things appeared normal enough, with the Republicans offering State Representative Patricia Crawford of Chester County and the Democrats Robert Casey (who had defeated future Treasurer Catherine Baker Knoll in the primary). But the Democratic candidate was Robert E. Casey, not the Robert P. Casey who had twice suffered narrow defeats in the Democratic primary for governor and whose term as state auditor general had just wound down.

We'll never know how many voters cast ballots thinking they were voting for the popular veteran politician, but one can assume that just enough of them did to elect Robert E. Casey, the Cambria County recorder of deeds, by a 254,000-vote margin. Casey, who made it no secret that he planned to benefit from the voters' confusion, ran a stealth campaign from the basement of a Harrisburg office building that had no telephones. Although Crawford argued that Casey was "running on the reputation of another man," not enough voters seemed to notice in the midst of highly charged presidential and senatorial contests. The 57-year-old Democrat shrugged off criticism, pointing out that he had the name longer than his younger, more famous namesake.

That's actually one of the tamer passages; I made an effort to find something about a candidate or official who is no longer actively on the scene. If you want to know who called his opponent a "pantywaist" or in what year did both candidates for Attorney General eventually wind up in prison, you'll have to read the book.

In 1999 Kennedy published his first book, called The Contemporary Pennsylvania Legislature. I think it might be time for a second edition.

PA in the WSJ

This is a few days late.

This is a list of articles regarding Pennsylvania in this week's Wall Street Journal. Chances are I missed something, but these are the articles that caught my eye.

It should be noted that I routinely do not read the editorials in the WSJ. So any discussions of the state, its elected officials, businesses, or citizens, in editorials will not be mentioned here.

PA Politicians

Bad news for the gov. In “For Clinton, 2000 fund-raising controversy lingers,” by John R. Emshwiller (9/14), the topic is bundler Peter Paul. Here is an excerpt:

In a court filing earlier this year, Mr. Paul said it was “impossible” for the Clinton team not to have known about his felony convictions because he was thoroughly vetted by Secret Service and Democratic Party officials. He also claims he was asked to lie about his role in the Hollywood fund-raiser by Edward Rendell, then chairman of the Democratic National Committee and now governor of Pennsylvania. Gov. Rendell, who isn’t a defendant in the lawsuit, didn’t know about Mr. Paul’s felonies until the Post reported on them and never asked Mr. Paul to lie, says a spokesman.

Citing a 9/17 Newsweek article, “The Informed Reader” on 9/11, mentions that “The Pennsylvania state legislature has appropriated $1 million for a program aimed at bringing African American men into the classroom.”

PA Businesses

From “GE’s environmental push hits business realities,” by Kathryn Kranhold (9/14):
To cut energy use, GE has launched more than 5,000 ‘energy hunts,’ which Mr. Immelt says have saved GE $100 million a year. At its Erie, Pa, locomotive operations, GE switched to natural gas fired power, form oil, saving money and cutting emissions in the manufacturing of locomotive engines.

PNC Bank of Pittsburgh assures us all is well in “Small banks risk catching credit ills,” by Robin Sidel and David Reilly (9/12)

In “Size of new homes starts shrinking as builders battle housing slump,” Kelly Evans (9/12) we find this:
Even Toll Brothers, Inc, known for its sprawling suburban “McMansons,” recognizes that buyers may want smaller homes, Kira McCarron, the company’s chief marketing officer sys Toll doesn’t track home size, but she concedes that there “probably is more demand for 3,000 versus 6,000 square foot” homes.”

“Drops in housing, autos pinch Midwestern jobs,” by Kris Maher mentions that a Michigan-based cabinet maker laid off 400 people in Ohio and Pennsylvania. (9/10)

Brief mentions:

Fox Rothschild of Philadelphia (9/14)
Endo Pharmaceuticals Holdings of Chadds Ford (9/11)

Other PA

On Friday, Sept. 14, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine has an ad for it’s Alzheimer’s research.

“Legal loophole ensnares breast-cancer patients,” by John Carreyrou tells a heart-breaking story. According to the chart accompanying the article, Pennsylvania is one of the states that follow this pattern.
Ms. Loewe is one of thousands of women who get caught in a loophole in the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act each year. Under the little-known law passed by Congress in 2000, uninsured women under age 65 who are diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer can have their treatment covered by Medicaid, the government-funded health program for the poor, even if they don’t meet all of its eligibility criteria.
But the law gives states an escape hatch. Rather than provide coverage to all comers, states can choose to cover only those diagnosed at clinics that get funding from a federal cancer-detection program.

If the woman in the story had gone to a difference clinic a few miles away her treatment would have been covered.

A study by two Wharton School professors points out that “The bulk of the average private-equity firm’s earnings come fees not from profits. (“It’s the fees, not the profits,” by Tennille Tracy 9/13)

A University of Pennsylvania professor is quoted in “FDA panel vote is a win for Amgen, J&J,” by Anna Wilde Mathews (9/12). Yet another in “A data-storage titan confraonts bias claims,” by William M. Bulkeley (9/12)

Barry Ginsberg, a Doylestown psychologist, is quoted in Sue Shellenbarger’s “Work & Family Mailbox” (9/12)

Lawyer to the stars Billy Martin grew up outside of Pittsburgh. (“For Billy Martin, media skills must match courtroom ability,” by Peter Lattman 9/12)

Mark your calendars. The Real Pirates exhibit will be coming to Philadelphia in 2008 (as noted in “The who, what, where of the Whydah: from slave ship to pirate vessel,” by Stuart Ferguson (9/12)

Other Interesting Tidbits

In presidential politics…

“Edwards tackles Katrina flap,” by Christopher Cooper (9/14)

From “Lights out for old bulbs?” by John J. Fialka and Kathryn Kranhold (9/13):
”It is not inconceivable that over the next 10 to 15 years that may be all incandescent lights will be removed from the global market,” he said. If that happened, he added, the resulting reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions might equal almost three-fourths of the reductions that industrial nations have promised under the Kyoto Protocol to curb global warming.

I wonder what this means for net neutrality? “Is a web bubble bursting,” by Robert Cryan, Mike Verdin, and Simon Nixon says that Internet traffic growth is slowing world wide. (9/15)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

PCN Profiles: Dennis O'Brien

PCN Profiles: Pennsylvania Speaker of the House Dennis O’Brien / Sept. 16, 2007

Interviewer: Bill Bova

[Update: I'm correcting a few small but important typos/omissions. Apologies for the errors.]

Blogger’s Note: Speaker O’Brien answers questions with thoughtful detailed answers that are often too in-depth for me to capture effectively. You really should watch the profile yourself, either on the PCN website or, if you are really interested, buy the videotape. In many places I just had to put the gist in brackets. Often when I could not catch something I left it out. So this is a very bare bones representation. As always, I apologize for any errors or misinterpretations.

Q: What was it like growing up in NE Philly?

A: Born in [did not catch, parts of Philadelphia presumably], then moved up here, It was the first development, there were fields around us. Have friends from grade and high school. Our parish was the first in the are and other parishes were all part of the school I went to. Probably one of the last Philadelphia farmers. Used to go out hiking from 7 am to 5 pm when only 5 years old, can’t do that now.

Q: Parrish as identifier?

A: Philadelphia was made up of ethnic neighborhoods, everyone house poor so few social activities, everyone supported their parish. Dad helped start activities at Lady of Calvary. Father and others taught me I must give back to community. Took next step by running for office at 23. I took all the guys I grew up with and asked them to help me out. Pulled biggest upset in Phil history, because of those lasting relationships I had as a child.

Q: What did you want to do when growing up?

A: Grandfather a great influence; he sold building materials to developers but at night argued with him about zoning, etc. Dad involved in so many activities, impressed me with influence on community. At 17 had an interest in politics, made an unofficial committeeman, asked to run at 23. Didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to win.

Q: What kind of attention was paid to Harrisburg back then?

A: Back then, legislators didn’t really have offices, telephones in back of house. Many people didn’t know who state legislator was. Harrisburg viewed as a jumping off point, then run for city council or congress or another office. That dynamic has changed, with feds pushing all funding back onto states. Policy is really made in Harrisburg. Legislators are now what ward leaders used to be. Like neighborhood doctors, people went to them with problems. Now with district offices people can come in for help. Very rewarding to have that kind of interaction with district. Can champion issues.

Q: First job?

A: A paper boy like everybody else, delivered The Bulletin. Used to walk, then had a wagon. A customer gave him a bike in lieu of a tip. Used to work for grandfather every day, raking leaves, mowing lawn, shoveling snow. Worked at a machine shop. Worked in an auto parts warehouse. Worked at a grocery store than a restaurant catering place.

Q: Do you learn something from each of those experiences?

A: Justice McDermott told me you have never really been somewhere unless you absorb the culture. People tell me their life experience and their problems and you get to learn from them through their request. Enriched by friendships and partnerships.

Q: When went to general assembly did you have a goal?

A: Someone told me I would first be in awe, “how did I get here” then wonder ”how did these other people get here?” Still in awe. If understand an issue and am passionate about it can champion it.

Q: When went to LaSalle did you know you were going to stay in the area?

A: Never thought about it. Got elected at age 23 and has to stay in district. Never really moved. Didn’t think would be in legislator that long. At 26 or 27 ran for congress, lost, then ran again for general assembly and then focused on issues that could have an impact on.

Q: Do you appreciate it more when you are out of it and lose?

A: Yes. Difficult decision to run for congress, torn by decision to run for state house again. Came back with a different focus, selective about issues. Pick issues important to district to me personally. Make me more skillful, more compassionate.

Q: What was it like to lose when running for congress?

A: So young the world seemed still in front of me. If won, wouldn’t have the core issues so important to me today. Has done well in the state house, that’s the world I am in.

Q: Did grandfather live to see him in office?

A: No, died when I was 18.

Q: Served in assembly for many years before becoming speaker, think about leadership?

A: Had been chairman of health and human service. Worked on tobacco settlement, kids with disability, then briefly chairman of consumer affairs. Became chairman of judiciary. Knew Justice McDermott, Justice Castille, Lynn Abraham, and others. Made substantial impact.

Q: Ira Einhorn?

A: Ira Einhorn put himself out as a genius, but wasn’t. Learned from him that violence is progressive, first a bully then killed Holly Maddox. Rizzo assigned Mike Chitwood to go check it out. Found mummified body in trunk. Einhorn released on bail never seen again for over 20 years. Found in France which wouldn’t extradite. Wrote legislation with Lynn Abraham and got him back. New trial. Guilty. Spend rest of life in prison. Message, you can run and hide but hopefully never escape justice.

Q: Becoming speaker, how did that happen?

A: There was tension in the House. John Perzel didn’t realize he didn’t have the votes but Bill DeWeese did realize he didn’t have the votes. Josh Shapiro called me New Years Eve. Wouldn’t have happened if either of us had lives. My wife is a nurse and was working. Shapiro getting Chinese food for his family, called me and asked if I wanted to be speaker. Said DeWeese will step aside. I said okay. Bill DeWeese, Dwight Evans, Shapiro and Gov. Rendell got together to talk. Wanted me to change parties. I said no because if even part of me believed I did this for myself Ie couldn’t do it. Took son with me to gov’s mansion. Shot baskets, played with gov’s dogs. Son said take the job. Honored to have the opportunity. Knowing what I know now about the job if I hadn’t taken this I wouldn’t have the opportunity to have an impact on issues.

Q: Why didn’t change parties?

A: I am a Republican. You have to be good at saying what you’re for and not just what you’re against. Ability to bring leadership and conversation has demonstrated that it was worth rolling the dice. Couldn’t cheapen that by giving the impression that it was done for personal gain or ego. [blogger's note: I initially had "what you're for and what you're against." This has been corrected to "and not just what you're against.]

Q: Go to caucus meetings?

A: yes, in deference to minority leader. Diversity of PA is unique and represented in caucus. Care about things not traditionally Republican but still a Republican.

Q: Has your perception of the caucus changed?

A: People have realized I am the speaker and I am fair. The way I vote is the way I’ve always voted. Does have to be open to macro issues to represent state as well as district.

Q: People get upset with you.

A: This is where you come to work. You’ll have friendships with people. You maximize the reason you go there, issues important to you and district, different philosophies and points of view. All temporary with instant issue, focus on end result.

Q: Do you ever think how long will I be here

A: Can’t think about that because of unique way I got here. Will maximize it, but not weigh decisions on how long I will stay as speaker.

Q: Mention “my kids” and refer to autism

A: Apologies to biological children (3 of them). Means kids with disabilities and autism. If you are a parent you want the most for your child, maximizing developmental possibilities.

Q: What do you hope will be your affect on that issue?

A: Look at best practices, wrap existing dollars around and exponentially increase services. [gives examples] Interagency communications. Identify core purpose, increase effectiveness of dollars being spent. Kids with disabilities and criminal justice are important issues to me.

Q: Do you meet with frustrated parents?

A: Systems don’t work for them. Can’t get your kid diagnosed until age 6 or 7, but better to use early intervention at earlier age. Medical and clinical people talk in different language than educational people.

Q: What happens to developmentally disabled when parents become older?

A: Parents of all parents plan for children’s future. For parents of developmentally disabled more challenging, want kids to be a nurturing environment. Force agencies to look at individuals not what plate the money comes off of.

Q: Turnover in general assembly, calls for reform post-payraise. What is that like?

A: We had substantial reform with speaker’s commission. Chamber became people’s chamber. [lists reforms] Substantial changes. Some people think it won’t work. We don’t need gimics or tricks but transparency and leadership. A great success and a first step. Hopefully result in a more participatory democracy.

Q: Constitutional constitution convention?

A: I think we addressed the lion’s share of those issues in reforming rules. Other issues, open records, campaign finance, will be dealt with this fall. Seniority will always play a role. Perception of size of legislature and term limits is subjective. [discussion of rural vs urban districts] Each legislator cares about job he or she does.

Q: Who are some of the more interesting people you’ve gotten to meet or know?

A: From the rostrum you see people differently. Things that important to some legislators are not as important in my district. There is great diversity in the state. Some of the colorful figures were giants among men. Most legislators work in a quieter way. All are bright and work for districts.

Q: Hopeful for state.

A: The best science is happening here, biomedical research, etc. nanotechnology, Philadelphia port, transformation of Erie, Pittsburgh and Scranton. Every pocket of Pennsylvania is a treasure. We have to find a way of keeping the best and brightest here. I am extraordinarily optimistic.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Few News Updates

A light posting this evening due to working on longer posts for next week, and a few more template tweaks over the weekend.

Here are a few updates:

David Landau, Democratic candidate for Delaware County Council, has been endorsed by the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club.

State Rep Rick Taylor (D-151) has introduced a new bill:

Under Taylor’s legislation (H.B. 1803), sexually violent predators would be prohibited from living within 2,500 feet of a public, private or parochial elementary school; a licensed day-care center; or a public park, playground or swimming pool.

Taylor is especially anxious to enact the bill to close a loophole in the Pennsylvania Crimes Code that allows those convicted of solicitation to commit an offense against a minor from being subject to the requirements of Megan’s Law. His bill would make online solicitation of a child for sex subject to Megan’s Law, which allows the public to be informed where registered sex offenders are living.

Additionally, Taylor’s bill would:

* require a person convicted of a sexual offense against a minor to wear a 24-hour-a-day electronic monitor when on probation or supervised release;
* allow the district attorney of the county where a released child sexual offender plans to live to testify in the offender’s parole board hearing; and
* empower state police to run twice-annual random verification of the addresses of sexually violent predators and confirm their compliance with counseling requirements. The random checks would supplement quarterly scheduled appointments.

If you are a blogger and want to let the world know where you are, or more to the point, which SEPTA stop you are near, send you info to Since I don't actually have a location but hover over the region like a cloud, I won't be joining the fun.

For those who like to see presidential politics up close and personal, consider a trip to New Hampshire with those zany kids from Campaigns & Elections. Their Presidential Primary Safari will be held Oct. 1 and 2.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Friday Live Blogging at the Pennsylvania Progressive

Hey, kids, don't forget to set the alarm on your watch or pda -- this Friday at 1 p.m. John Morgan, over at the Pennsylvania Progressive, is hosting a live blogging session with Rachel Magnuson of Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz's office. If you can't make it then, you can read the q&a later. Rachel is great at answering questions, everything from "what was that brownfield legislation from a few years ago?" to "what should I wear if I come down to watch Nancy Pelosi sworn in as Speaker?" She's from Pennsylvania and a graduate of one of our fine state schools so you know she's a smart cookie. I hope to stop in an ask a question or two.

New Information Resource: TownWatcher

Hard to believe but there are some people even wonkier than I am. For those people there is You can track the minutes of township committee minutes, not just township council or commission or whatever, but things like parks and recreation committee or planning committee minutes. Developer's plans are also included. You can track your own local government documents or search by keyword across townships or municipalities. So if you wanted to see what was happening regionally on, say, skate parks or dog parks or age restricted housing you could search on those terms. Only a few counties are included at the moment, all in southeastern Pennsylvania, but that may change. It's worth your time to take a look.


Does your hip have hop? Is your hop hip? If so, you might enjoy the FlavaFest, happening in Philadelphia Sept. 20-22. A variety of events are scheduled at a variety of places. A full schedule, complete with musical accompaniment is available at: I listened to the song on the website and liked the music, although such a statement by a middle-aged white woman is probably not the kind of ringing endorsement they are looking for.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

David Landau's White Papers

David Landau, Democratic candidate for Delaware County Council, has posted a number of white papers on various issues on his website. It makes my wonky little heart go pitty pat. Let’s take a stroll through the ones that are up, shall we, and see what is there.

Open and Accountable Government

This is primarily a laundry list of steps he thinks should be taken, and they are good suggestions. Take this one:

All bond lawyers who are paid must have an active participatory role in the bond work. Campaign contribution disclosed at the time of bid for bond work.

I interpret this as a variation of “you don’t work, you don’t eat,” one of my favorite rules, learned at my mother’s knee.

Landau calls for setting up a publicly available database of campaign contributions to county candidates. This seems like an idea whose time should have come years ago.

In the section on bidding we find:
All bidders must disclose all political contributions to any Pennsylvania state or municipal candidate, elected official or political committee for the two years prior to the bid.
All county contractors must disclose within five (5) days, any political contribution to a Pennsylvania state or municipal elected official, candidate, or political committee.

My only qualm here is that it is easy enough for a spouse to make a political contribution. Granted not all spouses agree on politics and contributions from one should not imply the support of both. However, it is entirely possible that campaign contributions could be written from a spouse’s separate checking account and thus would not have to be so disclosed. It is even trickier when neither surnames nor checking accounts are shared. Then it is almost impossible to track household donations unless you are “in the know” as to marriage partners. This is a difficult issue, pitting individual privacy against political transparency.

Economic Development and Job Creation

This is a very meaty document, with a lot of comparative statistics and figures. Here’s one:
A recent study by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) forecasts employment levels in 2035 based on historical workforce and population trends in the Delaware Valley counties of Delaware, Philadelphia, Montgomery, Chester, and Bucks. The forecast percent increase from 2005 to 2035 in employment in Montgomery County is 15.7%; in Chester County, 32.9%; and in Bucks County it is 23.2%. The predicted increase in employment over thirty years for Delaware County is predicted to grow by 2.5%.

Ouch!! That’s gotta hurt. Landau goes on to provide other comparative statistics on how effective the collar counties around Philadelphia have been at taking advantage of government programs and grants for areas like job creation, community revitalization, and commerce. Delaware County tends to be at or near the bottom of the pack.

A New Direction: Infrastructure Planning in Delaware County

Here he covers roads, sewers/wastewaters, and sidewalks and streetscapes. Again he provides comparative statistics with surrounding counties on monies received and spent. He also ties sewer and wastewater treatment into his proposal for a county health department in an extremely effective way. Anyone who can write engagingly about sewers probably should be in county government.

County Health Department

This is another well-written document. The two introductory paragraphs are powerful and direct without being adversarial:
One of the most important issues facing Delaware County today is the decline of public health. Unlike neighboring Montgomery, Chester, and Bucks counties, we have only an ‘Office of Intercommunity Health’ which is limited to “implementing a health coordination program.” On the other hand, Delaware County is home to some of the best private medical practices in Pennsylvania. A county health department would support an approach to community health focused on preventative measures through partnerships with the excellent private medical services in the county. Focus on preventative measures prevents the spread of illness through education, inoculation, screening, and intensive food and water inspection.

Delaware County is currently the largest county in Pennsylvania without a county health department. The lack of a health department severely diminishes the county’s ability to implement preventative practices that lead to a higher quality of life. Furthermore, our superb private medical care providers are unable to procure certain state grant money for public health services because the state requires a county health department as a partner. Creating a county health department will allow Delaware County to maintain a mission of preventing illness and injury through preventative medicine and education in partnership with the private sector.

Landau is also skillful is tying the lack of a health department into the county’s failure to reach milestones set out in the federal Health People 2000 and Health People 2010. While many voters may associate the health department solely with restaurant inspections, he highlights areas that demonstrate how the lack of such a department effects people far more directly. For example, he writes:
Particularly alarming trends emerge in the areas of Maternal, Infant and Child Care and Wellness/Fitness. In the area of Maternal, Infant, and Child Care, low birth weights in Delaware County have increased over the past five years. In the area of Wellness/Fitness, the number of Adults who have visited a physician in accordance with an accepted periodicity schedule has declined from 94.5% in 2004 to 83.4% in 2006. The number of children who visited a physician in accordance with an accepted plan dropped from 98.7% in 2004 to 91.1% in 2006. Also in the area of Wellness/Fitness, the percentage of children who are obese has risen from 11% in 1988-1994 to 24.5% in 2006.

Later he discusses childhood immunization, breast and cervical cancers, chronic disease prevention, and the ever popular sexually transmitted diseases. He also touches on education, food inspection, and emergency preparedness.

Open Space

Again he makes pointed comparisons:
In 2007, Delaware County allocated just under $500,000 for open space preservation. Montgomery County allocated just under $37 million. The County’s refusal to come up with creative finance solutions places the burden of financing open space initiatives directly on municipalities, who lack the resources to implement comprehensive plans. Therefore, municipalities cannot acquire large tracts of land for open space preservation or create or refurbish parks and recreation areas. It simply costs too much.

He also sets out his ideas for developing a comprehensive plan and finding the funds to enact it. At present, according to his data, planning has only been done for the western part of the county.

Overall Impressions

These are all very well done. My only complaint is the lack of sources. There are mentions of Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission documents and standards but no titles of them are given so it would be difficult to replicate or verify the statistics given unless you knew exactly where to look or who to call.

An overarching theme in many of the reports is the poor comparative standing with Bucks, Chester, and Delaware Montgomery Counties. I would like to speak to this briefly. He notes in the infrastructure document:
We see again that the county has outsourced its leadership, planning, and coordination responsibility to the localities. Without a strong vision and a creative plan, our county will continue to lag behind out neighbors in the areas of health, the environment, job creation, community revitalization, and infrastructure. My plan will bring a new vision and new ideas for revitalization to County Council.

My take on the poor comparisons is roughly the same but viewed through a different lense. When I saw those numbers my first thought is that there is a disconnect somewhere in the chain of needed cooperation. Since there is a county-wide pattern that may very well be where the breakdown occurs. Most government, state, or regional funding programs prefer to see a more equitable allocation of resources. Not necessarily even across the board but with varied enough distribution to avoid charges of favoritism on their part. If one county continuous scores near the bottom with its neighbors that tells me it isn’t turning in proposals or isn’t turning in very good proposals.

Many of the projects are initiated not by government officials but by local nonprofits and community groups. A lot of the paperwork associated with funding proposals is actually prepared by grassroots organizations. We are all shocked and horrified to discover that lobbyists and special interests write federal legislation in ways that suit them but somehow having a local chamber of commerce actually write the proposal for community revitalization does not seem as sinister. When I saw the Delco numbers my first thought was that the grassroots weren’t being engaged or listened to. Chances are there are local organizations and groups that are chomping at the bit to get things in their area done and there are impediments somewhere. There are coffee klatches and business lunch networks and other informal associations that have plans ready to go. But somewhere in the system there is a blockage. Mr. Landau seems to think that is at the county level. He might be right.

Regardless, Landau and his campaign have put together some very impressive documents. Voters in Delaware County and others interesting in the election should take the time to read through them.

Monday, September 10, 2007

An Inside Scoop on the New Year's Eve Phone Call

It has quickly moved into legend, the fateful New Year’s Eve phone call that propelled Dennis O’Brien into the Speaker’s role this past January. It sounded like State Rep Josh Shapiro and State Rep Dennis O’Brien were both sitting around their respective houses on New Year’s when, like Newton and the apple, Shapiro was struck by inspiration, called O’Brien and asked him if he’d like to be speaker. O’Brien said sure. And so it came to pass.

Honestly, I’ve had some trouble with this. For all but one or two of my forty-[mumble] New Year’s Eves I’ve been in my house minding my own business and political insights never came to visit like the ghost of Christmas future and no one called and asked me much of anything.

However, this summer as I was flitting around some townhall meetings I happened to hear Shapiro speak and one of the things he did was tell his version. But before I get to that, let’s see what the press has had to say.

From the Pittsburgh Post Gazette of January 3rd, “Dems hold house, but GOP holds gavel – Democrat Deweese engineers a scheme to make a Republican Speaker of the House – but ousts Perzel,” by Tom Barnes. Here are two excepts:

So a few House Democrats, including Mr. DeWeese, Mr. McCall, Mr. Evans and Josh Shapiro of Montgomery, huddled Monday to develop a new strategy.

No other Democrat could round up the required 102 votes, so Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Evans thought of a new direction -- Mr. O'Brien.


Mr. O'Brien said he'd never sought the speakership but got initial feelers from Democrats on New Year's Eve.

A few House Democrats talked to Mr. Rendell by phone Monday night about Mr. O'Brien, and then met with him yesterday morning at the governor's residence here.

No mention of the one heroic call.

Angela Couloumbis, in January 3rd’s Inquirer, “New Year’s Eve call got the ball rolling,” tells a different story:

If Democratic State Rep. Josh Shapiro or Republican Rep. Dennis M. O'Brien had had plans for New Year's Eve, yesterday's historic political maneuver for the speakership might never have happened.

On that night, Shapiro - acting alone - called O'Brien at home with a proposition: How would he feel about becoming speaker of the House? "He reacted favorably and I could tell he was taking the offer seriously," Shapiro, of Montgomery County, said in an interview yesterday. "It's a good thing neither of us had plans that night."

Shapiro's call to O'Brien - triggered by Democratic fears that State Rep. John Perzel (R., Phila.) would be able to hang on to the speakership - set off a fast and furious chain of events that led to O'Brien's ascent to the top House job yesterday.


Shapiro said he next called House Majority Speaker Bill DeWeese (D., Greene) about the possibility of nominating O'Brien. DeWeese was intrigued, he said.

Shapiro also spoke with Gov. Rendell and his staff.

The next day - New Year's Day - Shapiro, State Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.) and other top Democratic leaders met with O'Brien at the Marriott hotel in West Conshohocken for three hours.

The January 3rd Morning Call has similar details but with a little less drama, “New state house leader calls reforms – Bucks, Montco lawmakers will lead study panel on issue,” by John L. Micek and Christine Gostomski:

The negotiations for O'Brien's nomination began on New Year's Eve, when Shapiro reached out to him about the possibility of becoming the Democrats' pick for speaker. "I said that he was a good and honorable man committed to reforming the institution," Shapiro said.

New Year's Day, O'Brien met with Shapiro, DeWeese and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, at a hotel in suburban Philadelphia.

Further discussions followed Tuesday, after it became clear O'Brien wasn't willing to change parties. Democrats and Republicans met with Rendell at the governor's mansion at 10 a.m. Tuesday, and followed that session with another at Evans' Capitol offices shortly after 11 a.m.

Later articles have embellished the story a bit.

From the January 15 Intelligencer, “Charting the path of a rising star: with just two years under his belt, Democratic state Rep. Josh Shapiro has a great deal of influence in the party,” by Alison Hawkes:

Shapiro said he "unilaterally" joined the effort to block Perzel, sniffing out O'Brien, a Republican from far Northeast Philadelphia who was friendly to Democrats. Shapiro and O'Brien, whose districts are about 10 miles apart, had worked together on funding for disabled children and had bonded over their own young children. Shapiro has two with his high school sweetheart, Lori. They graduated from Akiba Hebrew Academy in Lower Merion.

He convinced O'Brien to run for speaker, then called DeWeese with the proposal and by swearing-in day was at the governor's mansion finalizing the details. He also helped bring a small group of Republicans on board.

There has been a little dampening of the growing legend as noted in “A new role for two-term Shapiro – after helping persuade O’Brien to run for speaker, he is given new deputy post,” by Tom Barnes in the January 28 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

They'd gotten to know and respect each other during the 2005-06 term, when Mr. O'Brien was House Judiciary Committee chairman. Although several other House Democrats had asked Mr. O'Brien if he'd be willing to run for speaker against Rep. John Perzel, R-Philadelphia, it was Mr. Shapiro's call on New Year's Eve that did the trick. Mr. O'Brien said he'd run, shocking many of his colleagues in both parties.

“Josh adopted football coach Vince Lombardi's tactic of hitting the line one more time, and we struck gold,'' said House Democratic leader Bill DeWeese of Waynesburg.

And as in every legend, there is a naysayer:

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a conservative Republican from Cranberry, is somewhat critical, claiming Mr. Shapiro gets too much credit for Mr. O'Brien's surprise victory over Mr. Perzel.

"That took a lot of players, including [Mr.] Rendell and Mr. DeWeese, plus the six Republicans'' who deserted Mr. Perzel, said Mr. Metcalfe, a Perzel supporter who is still unhappy with the defectors. "Josh seems like a decent young man, well-groomed and well-spoken, but I think he's part of the liberal Democratic, tax-and-spend crowd. He's tied in with Rendell and DeWeese.''

So what did Shapiro say when he told the story?

Like all good husbands and fathers he was going to get take out for his family when he passed a corner where he had campaigned in 2004, his first run at the state house. One day a van with the license plate HR 169 went by and the driver wished the campaign group well. It had been O’Brien, driving his children somewhere in the area. And thus inspiration struck and Shapiro went home and made the call.

Unless one of the two of them writes their memoirs that is probably all we will ever know.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Upcoming Presidential Debates in the Region

There are two upcoming presidential debates being held within the greater regional area.

For the Republicans:

The "All-American Presidential Forums on PBS" Moderated by Tavis Smiley will give Republican Presidential candidates an opportunity to make their case on the issues of concern for people of color. The Forum will take place on September 27th from 9 to 10:30 p.m. (EDT), broadcast live on PBS from Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland.

The Forum will be the first such event for Fred Thompson since he officially entered the race. All other candidates are expected to participate with the exception of former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney who have thus far declined the invitation.

Baltimore is stretching it in defining regional boundaries but it seemed worth mentioning.

The trip will be much shorter for the Democrats. The candidates are coming to us. Get out the costumes and candy because on October 30th NBC News will be hosting a debate in Philadelphia, to be streamed live on MSNBC. I don't have any other details. If anyone has any ideas on how an unnamed blogger with a bag on her head can get into that one, please let me know.

Peter Amuso on the Campaign Trail

Those of you who will not be spending time in a dentist chair tomorrow might be interested in going out to meet Democratic candidate for Montgomery County District Attorney Peter Amuso as he kicks off his campaign:

9:00 a.m. – Springfield – 1507 Willow Grove Avenue
10:30 a.m. – Cheltenham – Corner of Cheltenham Ave. and Shoppers Lane (ShopRite Parking Lot)
12:00 p.m. – Pennsburg – 1096 Bordeaux Lane
1:30 p.m. – Pottstown – Corner of N. Evans and Beech St.
2:30 p.m. – Norristown – Corner of Main and Swede St.

Email Trouble

Brett Lieberman reports in today's Patriot News that some "dirty on your neighbor" emails have been floating around in the 2008 Pennsylvania Attorney General race. Purporting to be from a supporter of Democrat Jim Eisenhower, they actually seem to be coming from someone affiliated with Democrat John Morganelli. Those crazy kids!

The entire article "Candidate linked to critical e-mails," is available online.