Sunday, April 29, 2007

Russ Diamond: Comments to the Speaker's Reform Commission

The following are comments were presented by Russ Diamond to the Speaker's Reform Commission on April 27, 2007:

Good morning, and thank you for the invitation to speak with you today. Let me begin by stating that the Speaker’s Reform Commission is a step in the right direction and that despite any differences of opinion that may arise, I appreciate your efforts and dedication.

This committee is under direction from the Speaker to address four specific issues at this juncture - open records, campaign finance reform, term limits and the size of the legislature - and I would like to address them all.


Regarding open records, it is very clear in Pennsylvania that access to public records is severely hindered. This is true at every level of government, from the General Assembly to the county level to townships and cities to school districts.

The solution seems very simple to me. Every single record in this Commonwealth, produced at the expense of taxpayer dollars, must be readily available to taxpayers. Other than allowing for the protection of the identities, personal and other sensitive information of certain crime victims and others, there must be a presumption that every document produced by taxpayer dollars is a public record.

I realize there may be some consternation over the expense of providing public records to the public upon request. If we are envisioning some monolithic “Department of Public Records” where citizens must apply in person to obtain whatever particular document they wish to see, such consternation is understandable. But it is also horse-and-buggy thinking.

In the 21st century, we have at our disposal a communications system with which public records can be made available nearly immediately to every one of the Commonwealth’s millions of citizens with access to a computer. If they choose to print out a hard copy, that expense would not be shouldered by government, but by the user. The practice of committing public records to paper form and not converting them to searchable online documents is antiquated, at best.

Every single document generated at the expense of taxpayer dollars, from reviews of letters of interest to the Governor for leasing the turnpike to school district budgets to legislative meetings, must be recorded in searchable electronic form first, and then converted to paper as needed. There is no legitimate reason for any such record to not be presumed a public document or to not be published nearly immediately to the digital realm.


I am adamantly opposed to any and all notions of campaign finance limits in this Commonwealth. Article I, Section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution states: “The free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the invaluable rights of man, and every citizen may freely speak, write and print on any subject, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty.”

Even if I have 50 million dollars at my disposal - so long as those dollars were earned in a just manner - I must be allowed to use that money to express my political thoughts in any way I deem proper. In no way can anyone reasonably interpret my potential ability to earn or spend more than another individual as an abuse of my liberty of free speech.

Beyond this, one only needs to look at the effects of the McCain-Feingold Act at the federal level to realize that campaign finance limitation efforts are somewhat futile. No matter what limitations or restrictions we attempt to place on campaign finance, smart money will always find its way around them.

Another argument against campaign contribution limits is the results the state legislative elections of 2006. It was only due to the ability of certain candidates to raise funding - under the freedoms of the current system - that the citizens of this Commonwealth were able to upset some of the most entrenched members of the General Assembly.

So long as the current electoral benefits of incumbency remain - and despite the insistent efforts of some members of this committee, they do remain - any effort to curtail campaign contributions will only benefit the incumbent class. If the ultimate goal of this notion is to make elections fairer, then the object of discussion should instead be Pennsylvania’s deliberately unfair election laws.


I would like to address term limits and the size of the legislature at the same time. These two ideas might seem to be appealing reforms at first glance, but they’re not panaceas for the current dysfunctions of government. They are both also somewhat narrowly focused tools, in that they prevent us from taking a more holistic look at the structure of government of this Commonwealth, which has not been done for 133 years.

More importantly, both would require fundamental changes to the bedrock of the system of government in this Commonwealth, our Constitution. That document belongs to the people, and only the people should decide whether, or how, it might be improved or altered.

With all due respect, attempting to do so through the regular legislative process, asking 253 members who have distinctly subjective opinions and very personal interests riding on these matters is inappropriate at this time.

When this committee was in the early stages of modifying the rules of the House of Representatives, Chairman Shapiro informally asked another reform activist and me to refrain from judging the process until it was complete. I willingly agreed, but concern or impatience for the process itself was not the reason. I agreed because I believe that those internal rules are for the members to set, for the members to follow and for the members to enforce. As a private citizen, I believe I have no place in that process.

On statutory changes, however, the General Assembly must work with the input of private citizens in order to create sound laws to benefit the Commonwealth as a whole. Prospective open records legislation, campaign finance proposals - whether we agree with them or not - and improvement of our election laws are good statutory examples of where we must work together.

But finally, fundamental changes to our Constitution should emanate from the people themselves, not from those whose reach the Constitution is specifically intended to restrict - especially in today’s climate. There is a cloud over the Capitol as a result of some events that occurred in the past few years.

This cloud might only be lifted by putting the people back in charge at a constitutional convention. If this occurs, the House of Representatives could focus its full attention on getting back to the work of governing this Commonwealth. Pennsylvanians like myself could get back to their lives with renewed confidence in the integrity of government.

House rules changes are strictly internal institutional affairs. Statutory change is a team effort between legislative bodies and citizens. But fundamental constitutional change – today more than ever – is the people’s job. I ask that you leave it to them.

by Russ Diamond
PACleanSweep Chair
April 27, 2007

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Tim Potts: Local Judges Silent in Court Reform Debate

[Republished from the Pennsylvania Order of Liberty Blog.]

Opinion by the authors of the 2007 Judicial Questionnaire:
  • Is It Right for judges to hire their relatives and friends for important positions in the court system?
  • Is it right for courts to issue orders without opinions that explain their legal authority and reasoning?
  • Is it right for courts to conceal administrative documents that deal with issues such as how judges spend tax dollars?
  • Is it right for judges to have secret meetings with lawmakers and governors about matters such as the pay raise?
  • Is the court properly interpreting the Constitution to protect citizens from abuses by the other branches of government?
  • Does our court system operate in a way that builds citizen confidence?

These and many other questions are on the minds of voters and advocates for improving our court system. Since the pay raise of 2005, the public has lost confidence in its courts as decision after decision appears to be legally questionable and intellectually indefensible in the Court of Common Sense.

In March, the nine organizations listed below sent a questionnaire to more than 100 candidates who are contending for open seats on our courts, from county common pleas courts to the state Supreme Court. We asked candidates to return their responses by April 13.

The results have been curious to say the least, reflecting a split that begs for investigation and explanation. The split is between candidates for the state courts and candidates for local courts.

Among those on the May 15 ballot for open seats on the Supreme and Superior Courts, the response has been strong:

Every candidate for the two open seats on the Supreme Court has responded or promised to respond soon .

Four of the 12 candidates for the two open seats on the Superior Court have responded.

But only nine out of 106 candidates for 30 vacancies on our county common pleas courts have responded.

Curiously, the same phenomenon is at play with judges seeking retention on the courts at this fall's election.

All eight of the candidates for retention on the state courts have committed to responding to the questionnaire by the end of May.

But none of the 54 candidates for retention on local courts has responded.

A few county level candidates have expressed wonder that they're being asked these questions. Some say they have no stake in many of the issues the questionnaire presents. Some, but not all, contend that judicial ethics prevent them from answering the questions.

Even so, there are compelling reasons for judicial candidates at all levels to answer the questions.

1. Enlightening the debate. Elections, whether for retention or for open seats, can be meaningful only to the extent that voters know the views of the candidates. If those trained in the law refuse to express their opinions about these subjects, how can they expect citizens to make informed decisions about whom to elect as judges?

2. Restoring confidence. Citizens have lost confidence in their court system. By demonstrating that they understand the bigger picture and their role in it, county judges can and should help to restore citizen confidence.

3. Batting practice. The local courts are the farm team for the state courts. Those who have such aspirations should use this opportunity as a way to establish credibility with voters and with the legal community.

4. Unifying the system. Many of the issues presented in the questionnaire apply equally to local courts as to the state courts. Do local judges practice or prohibit nepot! ism? Are their financial records and administrative documents readily available to the public and news media? Do local courts claim "inherent powers" that are not granted in the Constitution or the laws?

Pennsylvania's Constitution mandates a unified judicial system. Yet except for demanding full state funding, county courts often behave as though they operate their own judicial fiefdoms.

The claim that county judges shouldn't answer questions pertaining to the statewide judicial system effectively silences those who can and should be the most effective advocates for improving the entire court system. Their silence can only make voters more skeptical about the quality of justice, not less.

It's time for county judges and judicial candidates to step up to the plate and become part of the solution by taking part in the debate about improving our courts.

Citizens and judicial candidates can find the questionnaire and the candidates' responses at the "Justice on Trial" section of .

The Commonwealth Foundation
Democracy Rising PA
The Pennsylvania Accountability Project
The Pennsylvania Association of Retired State Employees
The Pennsylvania Council of Churches
Pennsylvanians for Legislator Accountability
Rock the Capital
Taxpayers and Ratepayers United
Young Conservatives of Pennsylvania

Tim Potts, Co-Founder
Democracy Rising PA

Democracy Rising Pennsylvania 2001-2007. All Rights Reserved.


Copyright © 2007, THE CENTRIST; All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: 22 school districts oppose Act 1 so far

Two more school boards (Daniel Boone in Berks County and William Penn in Delaware County) approved the resolution calling for the repeal of Act 1 Monday evening.

With the Delaware County addition, all counties surrounding Philadelphia now have at least one Act 1 condemnation school district, according to David Baldinger of the Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition.

What about the rest of you out there? Act 1 is a sham that will hurt the majority of taxpayers in your school district. Every school board in Pennsylvania should adopt the resolution calling for repeal of Act and lobby their legislators to get rid of this sorry excuse for legislation.

Here's the of school districts that are putting their taxpayers first:

Act 1 Resolution Schools

1) Antietam (Berks)

2) Armstrong (Armstrong)

3) Boyertown (Berks/Montgomery)

4) Brandywine Heights (Berks)

5) Bristol Township (Bucks)

6) Canton (Bradford/Lycoming/Tioga)

7) Catasauqua (Lehigh/Northampton)

8) Centennial (Bucks)

9) Central Bucks (Bucks)

10) Coatesville (Chester)

11) Conrad Weiser (Berks)

12) Daniel Boone (Berks)

13) Exeter (Berks)

14) Governor Mifflin (Berks)

15) Palmyra (Lebanon)

16) Pennsbury (Bucks)

17) South Williamsport (Lycoming)

18) Tunkhannock (Wyoming)

19) William Penn (Delaware)

20) Wilson (Berks)

21) Wyalusing Area (Bradford)

22) Wyomissing (Berks)

For more information about the anti-Act 1 movement and to read a copy of the resolution, go to the Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition Web site at There's also an Act 1 calculator at the site that you can use to "see how this useless shift will affect your total school tax bill."

Tony Phyrillas

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. He received a first place award for Best Opinion Column in 2007 by Suburban Newspapers of America. He was also honored for column writing in 2006 by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Copyright © 2007, THE CENTRIST Blog; All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: Aliens among us

If you think illegal immigration is somebody else's problem, guess again.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested 61 suspected illegal aliens in Pennsylvania this month alone. Seventeen were rounded up in the Pittsburgh area, the rest in Berks and Montgomery counties.

A search of a home in Reading where two Mexican citizens were living turned up a cache of weapons, including a Chinese AK47 assault rifle, sawed-off shotguns, several other rifles, a large quantity of marijuana, ammunition, $71,000 in cash and numerous fraudulent documents, according to ICE agents.

Illegal immigration is not a problem in Texas and New Mexico and California. It's not just an issue in Hazleton, Pa., where the ACLU sued the city because it dared to crack down on illegal aliens living and working in the community.

Why is the American Civil Liberties Union so worked up about protecting the "rights" of lawbreakers? Since when are illegal aliens entitled to "civil liberties" from the country they entered illegally?

Illegal aliens are everywhere. They are living among us. They're working in the kitchen of your favorite restaurant. They probably cut your grass or worked on your landscaping. They may have built your house. They certainly are working on farms, picking your fruits and vegetables.

Some of the illegal aliens are waiting in the emergency room of your local hospital. Others are lining up for welfare and other government handouts.

They're also selling drugs, stealing cars, breaking into homes, killing and raping U.S. citizens. They are driving without a license and might end up crashing into you on a highway and killing you or your loved ones.

Up to 14 million illegal aliens and their families are in the United States today. That's bigger than population of many countries.

Politicians from George W. Bush to John McCain to Ted Kennedy want to grant the 14 million illegals permanent residency in the United States under various amnesty bills being considered by Congress.

One study projects government payments to provide services to illegal aliens, once they're granted amnesty, would cost American taxpayers between $850 billion to $1 trillion.

Some of the illegal immigrants arrested in the four-day roundup in Pennsylvania, which began April 2, had criminal records.

Two of those arrested in Pittsburgh were wanted on outstanding motor vehicle charges, a third was wanted for a sex crime and a fourth for being a deported alien who illegally re-entered the country, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Since the arrests, it was learned that three others were deported who illegally re-entered the country, the newspaper reported.

The 37 illegal immigrants arrested in Norristown included 44-year-old Victorino Anaya Reza, a fugitive with convictions for sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child, according to the Times-Herald newspaper.

The 61 illegal aliens are natives of Brazil, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Lebanon, Mexico, Slovakia and the United Kingdom, the newspaper reported.

Eleven of those arrested have criminal records that include sexual abuse, endangering the welfare of a minor, theft, motor vehicle violations, narcotics violations and driving under the influence, the newspaper reported.

The far left has mislead Americans about the immigration debate. Liberals assume that all illegal aliens are here to do the jobs that Americans don't want. They pretend the illegal aliens among us are all hard-working, decent people who just want to help their families back home. The truth is that many illegals are criminals who entered our borders to target on our society.

The liberal news media has failed to frame the illegal immigration debate fairly.

The millions of people who entered this country illegally over the past few decades broke our laws as their first act upon entering the U.S. Many of them continue to break our laws on a daily basis. Why should we reward them with citizenship?

The blanket amnesty that President Bush and Congressional Democrats are pushing should be off the table. The excuse that these people are already here won't wash. It's like somebody breaking into your home to steal your belongings or do your family harm and when you call the police, the authorities force you to provide food and shelter for the criminal.

No reform of U.S. immigration laws can begin while 14 million illegal aliens hold this nation and our political system hostage.

We must begin by deporting all the illegals back to their home countries. Then, we will consider guest worker visas or applications for legal citizenship.

Tens of millions of Americans came to this country from overseas. In many ways, immigrants built this nation. But they did it legally. They came to this country through proper channels, not by sneaking across the border.

All Americans need to voice their opinion on the immigration debate. This issue is too important to the nation's survival to leave it in the hands of spineless politicians.

Tony Phyrillas

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. He received a first place award for Best Opinion Column in 2007 by Suburban Newspapers of America. He was also honored for column writing in 2006 by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Copyright © 2007, THE CENTRIST Blog; All Rights Reserved

Friday, April 13, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: Minimum wage hike backfires

I posted a column earlier this year about how the minimum wage increase in Pennsylvania was cited by the owner of a Boyertown restaurant as one of the reasons she decided to go out of business, leaving dozens of workers out of work.

One of those know-it-all liberals from the Lehigh Valley quickly posted a response to the column saying one isolated incident doesn't prove the minimum wage hike was a mistake.

I'd like to direct my Lehigh Valley pal to new survey results released by The Lincoln Institute that found that Pennsylvania's business climate has declined in the past six months.

And what has been the biggest impact on the state's economy in the past six months? The minimum wage increase pushed by Gov. Ed Rendell and the Democrats in the Legislature.

"As predicted by many business groups Pennsylvania employers are reacting to the recent increase in the state's minimum wage by hiring fewer unskilled workers, not hiring new employees and even reducing the number of people they employ," according to the Lincoln Institute's Spring 2007 Keystone Business Climate Survey.

To read the survey results, go to

You can also read a summary of Pennsylvania's declining business climate under Gov. Rendell in an op-ed piece by The Lincoln Institute's Lowman Henry posted at the Commonwealth Foundation Web site,

It appears I was right once again. It appears the liberals were wrong once again. And of course, the national Democrats in Washington are working on raising the minimum wage so they can damage the economy in all 50 states.

The minimum wage increase by Rendell and the Democratic lemmings in the state Legislature was an election-year ploy to distract voters from the fact that Rendell and his lockstep Democrats failed to address property tax relief for the fourth year in a row. It was political pandering at its worst.

The Democrats got enough of a boost with their "feel-good" legislation to take the November election. Pennsylvania workers are now paying the price ... on the unemployment line.

Tony Phyrillas

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. He received a first place award for Best Opinion Column in 2007 by Suburban Newspapers of America. He was also honored for column writing in 2006 by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Copyright © 2007, THE CENTRIST Blog; All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: Where's the tax cuts Rendell promised?

Two liberal Democrats. Two governors of neighboring states. That's where the similarities end.

In just over a year in office, New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine has delivered on his promise to cut property taxes.

A jubilant Corzine signed legislation last week to provide most of New Jersey's homeowners with a 20 percent cut in their property taxes.

Contrast that with Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, who promised to cut property taxes in 2002 when he first ran for governor. Once elected, Rendell reneged on his pledge four years in a row. Inexplicably elected to a second term in 2006, Rendell still hasn't delivered on his promise to reduce taxes.

Rendell originally promised he would cut property taxes by 30 percent "standing on my head." He later promised to cut taxes if the state Legislature legalized casino gambling in Pennsylvania. The Legislature fell for Rendell's pledge in July 2004. It's now 2007 and not a single dollar from casino revenues has been returned to homeowners in the form of tax cuts.

Now Rendell is promising to provide property tax relief if the Legislature approves an increase in the Pennsylvania sales tax by one percentage point. New Jersey raised its sales tax last year from 6 percent to 7 percent to provide the money for property tax cuts and took in $1.4 billion in additional revenue.

Unlike Corzine's plan, Rendell would use only a portion of the proposed sales tax increase for property tax cuts in Pennsylvania.

In the first year of the sales tax increase, only one-third of the $1.2 billion anticipated revenue would go for property tax relief. The other two-thirds goes to pay for the massive spending orgy ($6 billion and counting) that Rendell has pushed through the Legislature over the past four years.

In the second year of the sales tax hike, about 50 percent will go for tax relief. A typical Pennsylvania homeowner might get back $180. The rest goes to cover Rendell's mounting budget debts.

The bill that Corzine signed also caps annual property tax increases at 4 percent. Rendell promised to hold the line on future tax increases when he signed Act 1 into law last spring. But Rendell's Department of Education has allowed 40 percent of the state's school districts to raise property taxes above the cap this year, effectively killing any hope of putting a stop to double-digit increases in property taxes.

If this year's general fund budget proposal is any indication (seven new taxes or increases in existing taxes and fees proposed by Rendell), be prepared to dig deeper as long as Rendell is in office.

New Jersey homeowners pay an average of $6,330 a year in property taxes, which is twice the national average. Pennsylvania ranks 24th in property taxes among the states, but the ranking doesn't take into consideration Pennsylvania's higher percentage of elderly residents.

Under Corzine's plan, households earning up to $100,000 will get a 20 percent cut. Those earning up to $150,000 will get a 15 percent cut, and households earning up to $250,000 will get a 10 percent cut. The cut will average $1,051 per household. That's a lot more than what Rendell has promised to give back using both the casino revenues and a sales tax increase.

Not only will 1.9 million of New Jersey's 2 million households get relief, but the state’s 800,000 renters will also get a tax break.

Rendell's various tax-cutting schemes have never included help for the state's renters. And his much ballyhooed Act 1, which voters will decide on May 15, would benefit a small percentage of low-income seniors. In many school districts across Pennsylvania, two-thirds of the residents would see no benefit under the tax shift Rendell is promoting as tax relief.

The Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition, made up of a dozen citizens groups, is urging voters to vote "no" on May 15. Another taxpayers' group, STOP (Stop Taxing Our Properties) also wants voters to reject referendums on May 15 regardless of their language.

So far, 12 school districts in Pennsylvania have passed resolutions calling for repeal of Act 1 and demanding the state Legislature return to the drawing board to fix the state's property tax mess.

A viable option for eliminating Pennsylvania property taxes is the Plan for Pennsylvania's Future (better known as the Commonwealth Caucus plan), which has been rejected in the past by the governor and the majority of Democrats in the state Legislature.

The Commonwealth Caucus plan would broaden the sales tax base to include most goods and services and close current loopholes while retaining key exemptions for basic living expenses. Under the plan proposed by Rep. Sam Rohrer, a Republican from Berks County, the state sales tax would actually be reduced from 6 percent to 5 percent if additional goods and services were covered by the sales tax. In return, all property taxes would be eliminated.

Despite opposition from Rendell and many Democrats to the Commonwealth Caucus plan, Rohrer points out that his proposal is the only plan that has been independently researched and "subjected to the rigors of an independent economic study."

If the voters in a majority of the state's school districts turn down the Act 1 referendum questions on May 15, the pressure will build on Rendell and the Legislature to deal with the property tax issue again.

Pennsylvania residents have waited too long for property tax relief. Rendell has broken too many promises. New Jersey is proof that tax relief can become a reality if elected officials have the political will to act.

Tony Phyrillas

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. He received a first place award for Best Opinion Column in 2007 by Suburban Newspapers of America. He was also honored for column writing in 2006 by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Copyright © 2007, THE CENTRIST Blog; All Rights Reserved

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: The battle against government secrecy

Why should you care about Pennsylvania's Open Records law?

Does it matter that your elected state legislators gave out $4 million in secret bonuses to their staffers?

Did you want to know about the $900,000 spent by the state's student-loan agency on luxury trips and other perks for its employees and their spouses?

Should the governor of Pennsylvania be negotiating with foreign-owned companies to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike?

Is it important to know that more than 3,000 state employees earn more than $100,000 a year?

Do you trust government to do what's in the best interest of the people of Pennsylvania?

Access to public records is crucial in a democracy. It's one of the best ways to make government accountable to the people.

Pennsylvania has one of the worst open records laws in the country. In essence, all government records are considered private unless a citizen can prove in court that the information should be made public.

That's not right. All public records should be easily accessible to the taxpayers of Pennsylvania. The government should have the burden of proving that records should be kept private.

Pennsylvania residents have a new ally in the fight against government secrecy.

The Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition is made up of journalists, librarians, attorneys, educators and community advocates.

The coalition has a new Web site that serves as a clearing house for open records information.

The site is

You'll find all kinds of useful information to gain access to records kept by local and state government.

The site also has the full texts of Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law and Sunshine Act and a guide to submitting requests for public records.

The nonprofit coalition is also willing to help citizens obtain legal representation in open government cases.

You can contribute to the coalition to help defray its costs. You should also write to your state lawmakers and demand a better Open Records law in Pennsylvania.

Tony Phyrillas

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. He received a first place award for Best Opinion Column in 2007 by Suburban Newspapers of America. He was also honored for column writing in 2006 by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Copyright © 2007, THE CENTRIST Blog; All Rights Reserved

Monday, April 02, 2007

Russ Diamond: Rendell Hijacking the Reform Train

Governor Ed Rendell should step aside from his bid to become the state’s reformer-in-chief. While some of his ideas may have merit, the Governor has no more right than the average citizen to prescribe the structure of state government in Pennsylvania and his viewpoint is distorted by his position.

Perhaps his goal of a better open records policy is desirable, but his suggestion of creating an Office of Public Records Advocate might be just another plump patronage position to be filled by political pals. Maybe the people can come up with a better plan for making government more transparent.

Perhaps merit selection for state appellate judges is an idea worth considering, but what if the people would rather make all judicial races non-partisan affairs and ban contributions to those races by lawyers?

How could Rendell’s proposed Appellate Court Nominating Commission, dominated by a majority of legislative and executive appointees and confirmed by the Senate, improve the independence of the judiciary? Independence from the other two branches should be encouraged, but independence from the sovereign people at the voting booth should not.

Perhaps the Governor’s suggested campaign finance limits appear to level the electoral playing field. On the other hand, maybe the people of this Commonwealth realize that the voter revolt of 2006 would not have been possible under those limitations and that no financial ceiling could ever negate the current incumbency protection program.

Perhaps Rendell’s legislative term limits sound like a good idea, but reality in Pennsylvania suggests that if the General Assembly was truly part-time and was stripped of the unconstitutional perks it now enjoys, term limits would be utterly unnecessary.

Perhaps Pennsylvanians want a smaller legislature, but maybe they’d like a larger one, or to keep its size the same, with some of the above mentioned features and fewer expenses. Maybe they want to look at the other 49 states to see what others are doing before deciding which path is best for the Commonwealth.

Perhaps the time has come for citizen redistricting, but Rendell’s 11-member commission would include four legislators and three appointees of the governor, two of whom would be legislators. The remaining four would be appointed by - you guessed it - the four legislative caucus leaders. Pennsylvanians just might have a slightly different notion of how a citizens’ redistricting commission should look.

On constitutional issues in Pennsylvania, the governor’s opinion has no more real or deserved weight than the average citizen’s. Perhaps the Governor has some good ideas. Perhaps he doesn’t. Either way, today’s climate dictates that constitutional change should not be viewed only through the myopic lens of the chief executive.

The merit of Rendell’s ideas have should be discussed openly among citizens, not quietly between the three branches of government. Other citizens should be able to discuss their ideas as well. The proper forum for such a discussion is a constitutional convention. Surely, the Governor would be free to provide his vision for consideration at such a gathering.

“Citizens will not rest until there is an end to perks, an end to control by private interests and an end to political rules that shut them out of the process,” the Governor said in a press release. But his plan eliminates no perks, suppresses the freedom of speech in political races and utterly shuts the people out of the process of structural change.

Nearly two years after the reform train left the station as Ed Rendell signed the pay raise, the Governor is using his bully pulpit to try to hijack it. Perhaps he doesn’t realize that many other citizens were on board well ahead of him. Their voices on constitutional matters deserve an equally fair hearing.

In announcing his preferred reforms, Rendell expressed trepidation at the prospect of a constitutional convention, but if he truly believes in the right of self-governance as enumerated by Article I of the Constitution, a carefully crafted citizens’ convention provides no cause for hand wringing, anguish or hesitation of spirit.

A plan for such a convention of the people is available at

Russ Diamond

About PACleanSweep:PACleanSweep is a non-partisan effort dedicated to returning honor, dignity and integrity to government in Pennsylvania. For more information, please visit

For More Information:

Russ Diamond, Chair

Copyright © 2007, PACleansweep; All Rights Reserved
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