Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Legislative Process Does Not Work

Pennsylvania is not alone with a dysfunctional legislature, many legislative bodies in this country do not work.

In California the leadership was forced to lock people in the chamber so they would be forced to hammer out a budget, I'm sure this violated some fire escape laws. In New York state three power hungry guys switched parties and then switched back but in the mean time younger members were asked to run to the front in order to wrest control of the microphone. Then the three returned to the bosom of the Democratic party and were rewarded with leadership positions. One of the party switchers is on trial for slashing the face of his lady friend.

But states are not the only legislative bodies in a state of disrepair. The Philadelphia city council threatened to strip the mayor's office of vital funding that would have left the city less safe unless the mayor restored funding for their tax payer funded cars. The New York city council voted to ignore the instructions of the voters and allowed themselves and the mayor to run for another term, but just this one time. Sure. The Easton city council voted to appoint the mayor/president's wife to fill an unexpired term. Allentown might as well not even have a council they are so ineffective and impotent. And, then there are the Easton and Bethlehem school boards. Someone needs to contact the Bravo Networks Andy Cohen about a reality show.

The failings of the Congress of the United State are so well documented on an hourly basis that I don't need to go into a details here. The low lights are so bountiful that I don't know where to begin.

Legislatures do not work for a few reasons. There is too much money to be made and spent in campaigns. The parties are so weak and have not real power that they cannot command any loyalty, see money. And, everybody wants to be a star, no one wants to work their way up through the system, it is so bad that freshman are given chairmanships of subcommittees before they even can find the private member only restrooms.

Member loyalties are to the contributors and to the special interests that assisted the candidate during the campaign. The parties no longer contribute anywhere near the money to the candidates that the interests do. Campaign managers come from lobbying / consulting firms and not from the party organization. Party is merely a line to run on and little else.

The government has gotten so big that congress has been forced to expand the reach of it's oversight role, thus creating committees and subcommittees to look at everything from defense spending to the maintenance of the restrooms at parks. Each needs a chair and a ranking member.

School boards are exempt from the money interest since their campaigns cost very little and the members are not paid. School boards don't work because few members really care about the big picture. Many people run for school board to promote a personal agenda, my favorite school board members are the ones who send their children to private school. What really is their motivation in seeing to the education of other peoples children?

One commonly suggested fix to the money problem is to enact strict campaign financing reforms to wring the money out of the system. On it face this appears to be a good proposal but these proposal will not pass Supreme Court review because they violate the first amendment to the constitution. My dear friend Bethlehem City Treasurer Kaija Farber once told me that in Finland a big billboard is set up in the center of the community and candidates running for local office are given the space the size of a poster to list their reasons for running, that's it. Not a bad idea considering there are still posters from the 1968 presidential race along some of our highways.

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