Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: Predictions for November election

I've been thinking a lot about pundits lately. What exactly is a pundit anyway? How do you become a pundit? Is there a pundit club you can join? Are there membership dues? Is there a secret initiation?

I see a lot of people on TV who are described as pundits, but most of the time they don't know what they're talking about. A lot of college professors are often referred to as pundits, but I wonder about them. Some of these so-called intellectuals have been so isolated from the real world for so long, it's hard for them to tell night from day.

The Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines a pundit as: "A person who gives opinions in an authoritative manner, usually through the mass media." That sounds like me. I work for a newspaper. I've been on more than a dozen radio programs this year. I've been on the Pennsylvania Cable Network twice in the past three months. I'm sure this qualifies me as a pundit.

The one thing the definition of pundit doesn't cover is whether pundits have to be right more often than they’re wrong. A lot of pundits get things wrong.

The pundits never thought the outrage over the July 2005 legislative pay raise would last more than a few weeks. It's 13 months later and we’re still talking about the pay raise. At least I am. The pundits didn't think it was possible for a Pennsylvania judge to lose a retention vote, but tell that to former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Russell Nigro, who was tossed out by more than 800,000 voters in November 2005. The pundits said the legislature would never repeal the pay raise, but the politicians did just that.

A prominent Pennsylvania pundit kept saying right up to the May 2006 primary that only a handful of incumbent legislators would lose. Wrong again. Seventeen lawmakers lost in the primary, including the top two Republican leaders in the state Senate. Considering that the re-election rate for Pennsylvania legislators had been 98 percent, the defeat of 17 incumbents was a political seismic shock. And don’t forget that 30 other legislators "retired" instead of facing the voters.

Now the pundits are saying that Gov. Ed Rendell will coast to re-election this November. The pundits also say that Rick Santorum's days in the U.S. Senate are numbered. They also see Democrats winning control of the U.S. House and Senate.

As someone who's been right so far about the political winds of change in Pennsylvania, I'd like to offer my predictions for the coming elections.

Pennsylvania governor
Gov. Ed Rendell will lose to Lynn Swann. Forget the polls. The only poll that matters is on Election Day. Rendell has broken his promise to cut taxes, has saddled Pennsylvania with the worst gambling law in the country and Pennsylvania has become a more dangerous place to live because of Rendell's neglect of crime. Philadelphia will set a new homicide record this year. Reading, Allentown and Lancaster are places you don't want to be when the sun goes down. All those catchy tourism ads won't change the fact that the average Pennsylvanian is far worse off today than he was four years ago.

U.S. Senate
Sen. Rick Santorum will defeat Bob Casey Jr. The more you know about Casey, the less there is to like about this clueless ultra-liberal career bureaucrat. The U.S. Senate is no place for on-the-job training and Casey needs a lot more schooling. Casey's only foreign policy experience is visiting the Jersey Shore.

6th Congressional District
This is my home district, so I'm paying close attention to it. Rep. Jim Gerlach will beat back challenger Lois Murphy, who is even more liberal than Casey. Murphy wants to raise taxes, force socialized medicine on us and push her radical social agenda in Congress. We already have Hillary Clinton to do that. Murphy's shrill attacks and distortions of Gerlach's record has grown tiresome with voters in the 6th District.

Other Congressional races
Several other Republican congressmen, namely Curt Weldon, Mike Fitzpatrick, Charlie Dent and Joe Pitts, will return to Washington. I see one incumbent from the Pennsylvania delegation (Don Sherwood) losing, but I also think Democrat John Murtha, leader of the "cut-and-run" brigade on Iraq, will lose. Murtha is an embarrassment to Pennsylvania and the nation.

Control of Congress
Forget what the pundits keep saying. The House and the Senate will remain in Republican control, although the GOP will probably lose a few seats in each chamber. Despite President Bush's poor job approval numbers and his bungling of Iraq, Americans understand there's too much at stake to hand over Congress to the Democrats.

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. E-mail him at

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Russ Diamond: PA Supreme Court to Decide Fate of the World

When is an election not an election? What is a “qualified elector?”

These two simple questions may play a pivotal role in what some observers are calling the most important political race on the planet. The answers could very well be the difference in Pennsylvania’s US Senate race and the future of not just America, but the entire world.

Republican incumbent Rick Santorum has openly admitted aiding Green Party candidate Carl Romanelli in his Herculean effort to obtain ballot access. Democrats, fearing Romanelli’s presence will siphon potential votes from their candidate, Bob Casey, Jr., filed an objection to nearly 70,000 of the over 94,000 signatures Romanelli collected.

Since August 14, operatives from all three camps have been hunkered down in a dreary office at the Department of State in Harrisburg, comparing Romanelli’s petitions to records within the SURE database, the state’s new electronic voter registration system. The atmosphere in the room is thick with tension, and tempers at one point flared into a physical altercation.

But the entire tedious and time consuming effort may be rendered moot, depending on the state Supreme Court’s opinions on the two aforementioned questions. These are matters of “first impression,” as no Pennsylvania court has previously offered an opinion on either question.

On the first question, Romanelli attorney Lawrence M. Otter moved and argued in Commonwealth Court that the total number of signatures required to put Romanelli on the ballot should be based on Sandra Newman’s 2005 state Supreme Court retention rather than Casey’s 2004 victory in the state Treasurer’s race, effectively lowering the signature requirement from 67,070 to 15,949.

While the Democrats and the Department of State both maintain that a judicial retention is not an election per se, neither was able to refer to it without calling it a “retention election” in their arguments before President Judge James Gardner Colins. Colins denied Otter’s motion, but virtually welcomed an appeal by inferring in his opinion that the law is subject to a wide range of interpretations.

Otter’s appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was filed on August 28. If successful, the Democrats’ objection would be null and void, as they have essentially stipulated to nearly 25,000 of Romanelli’s signatures by not challenging them in their objection.

The second question could have even more far-reaching implications and would settle an argument which has been raging among the ballot access crowd for years. It is commonly held that individuals who sign or circulate nominating papers in Pennsylvania must be registered voters. However, both the preamble for signers and the circulator’s affidavit on such papers for minor party and independent candidates only requires those persons to be “qualified electors.”

Article VII, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution sets forth the “Qualifications of Electors” as being based on age, U.S. citizenship and residency. No mention is made of being a registered voter.

If the Court rules in favor of the plain language of the Constitution, not only would the current challenge to Romanelli be in serious jeopardy, but the ability of anyone to challenge a minor party or independent petition in the future would be severely hampered. Without the ability to rely on the statewide voter database - the SURE system - to validate signatures, how could a potential challenge even be formulated?

Future efforts by minor party and independent candidates to gather signatures to overcome Pennsylvania’s ballot access hurdles would be bolstered, adding the important element of competition to the electoral process. Those candidates would no longer need to worry over whether a signer has matched letter-for-letter their information on file with the Department of State.

The more immediate implications of these two questions, however, may be far greater. Santorum, if re-elected, could potentially become Senate Majority Leader or run for President of the United States. If Casey is elected, he would merely be Pennsylvania’s junior Senator aligned with that body’s minority party. While a Romanelli victory would be historic in its own right, his mere presence on the ballot will make this race a nail-biter.

The fate of the world could very well lie in the hands of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, who have been under fire of late for allegedly not interpreting the state’s Constitution at face value. Every citizen should pay very close attention to the Court on these two questions.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: Stuck in a state of frustration, Part II

Maybe it's the heat, but I'm still fuming about the state of affairs in Pennsylvania. So I'm going to continue the rant I began a few days ago.

The Associated Press reports that a number of high-profile Pennsylvania politicians have received more than $760,000 in campaign contributions from law firms and lobbyists representing the 22 applicants for slot-machine parlor licenses in the state. (That figure is for Jan. 1 to June 5 of this year, the most recent reporting period.) I know we forced the state legislature and Gov. Ed Rendell give back the money they lavished on themselves with the infamous July 2005 pay raise, but how appropriate is it for politicians to be accepting so much money from casino interests? At the very top of the list of recipients is Republican state Sen. Robert Jubelirer, who received $62,500 in casino money. He is followed closely by Gov. Rendell, who pocketed $60,000 from the friends of the casinos. Coming in third is Republican Speaker of the House John Perzel, who got $46,000. These three men also were the driving force behind the legislative pay grab of 2005. Pennsylvania would be so much better off without this trio in charge. Jubelirer was knocked out in the primary. Do yourself a favor and help get rid of Rendell and Perzel. Don't shed a tear for any of them. With all the money the gambling industry has invested in Rendell, Perzel and Jubelirer, I'm sure each has a lucrative casino job waiting for them.
Four lesser-known politicos are also on the list of top recipients of casino money. Sen. Vince Fumo received $29,500. Fumo was in the news recently when it was revealed that he spent more than $1.2 million in taxpayer and campaign funds to pay lawyers to defend him against a corruption probe by the FBI. You see Fumo is the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee and he decided the best way to spend $1,031,700 or your tax dollars was on lawyers to help keep Fumo out of the clutches of the FBI. Your tax dollars at work. Isn't it nice when you can use other people's money to defend yourself against charges that you’ve betrayed the public trust? Only in Pennsylvania.
Rep. Sam Smith, the No. 2 Republican in the House, received $29,000 from the casinos. Rep. Mike Veon, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, received $26,500. Smith thinks he's going to fill Perzel's shows when Perzel is sent to the back of the room by his fellow Republicans, but Smith has been Perzel's errand boy way too long. There's going to be a new batch of legislators going to Harrisburg in January 2007 and their first duty is to fumigate the place. Veon, in addition to providing comedy relief as the sidekick of Rep. Bill DeWeese, the top Democrat in the House, also has the distinction of being the only member of the House to vote against the repeal of the 2005 pay grab. What do all these politicians have in common? They love money. Our money. They love to spend it. They love to waste it. They like to lavish it on themselves. They like to raise our taxes so they can have more of our money to spend. Every incumbent who accepted money from the casinos should return it. If they refuse, vote them out.
If you've been wondering how the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board could spend between $50 million and $100 million (nobody knows the exact amount) in less than a year, you might want to take a look at the board's payroll. That's what Michael Race, the Harrisburg bureau chief for the Times-Shamrock newspaper group in the Scranton area, did recently, compiling a detailed list of how much our newest "public servants" are earning. It's costing taxpayers $11.5 million a year to cover the salaries of the Gaming Board. In a story headline, "Gaming board ranking in fat paychecks," Race found that 25 appointed officials and top staffers at the Gaming Board each earn more than $100,000 a year. Nearly one-third of the agency's 170 employees pocket more than the $72,187-a-year base pay for state lawmakers, who felt voters' wrath after they briefly boosted their salaries last year, Race says. The average annual salary for a gaming board employee is $67,400 — about double Pennsylvania's per capita income of $33,257, according to state census data. Here's some more gems from Race's investigation: Anne LeCour Neeb, the board's executive director, makes $180,011. She is followed in the pay rankings by board chairman Thomas "Tad" Decker, who makes $150,006. The board's six other voting members earn $145,018 each. Your tax dollars in action, folks.

Even before the first casino license has been issued, we know who's already made out like one-arm bandits: Politicians and their cronies.

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. E-mail him at

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: Stuck in a state of frustration

I've got a lot on my mind today so here goes.

Gov. Ed Rendell is spending millions of dollars in television ads to brag about how Pennsylvania's economy is booming under his leadership. Just the other day, Forbes magazine published its annual list of "Best States for Business." Where did Ed Rendell's Pennsylvania rank? It came in 41 out of 50. The Keystone State finished right behind Alabama. That's not something to brag about. Forbes ranked the states based on such categories as economic climate, business costs, crime rates, taxes and quality of life. So who are you going to believe? A politician who would say anything to get re-elected or a prestigious national business publication that has no ax to grind?
Another disturbing revelation about how Rendell does business came out in the Allentown Morning Call. The newspaper reported that state officials want taxpayers to help pay for promoting slots parlors. The Governor's Tourism Partnership thinks that casinos will be a big draw for out-of-state visitors, but until those casinos start making money, taxpayers should chip in to help promote the gambling palaces. I don't know about you, but I don't want my tax dollars going to help poor Donald Trump or any other multibillion-dollar corporation that operate casinos. It's bad enough that the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has spent somewhere between $50 million to $100 million so far and has yet to award a single license, but why should the state's beleaguered taxpayers have to chip in for Rendell’s latest corporate welfare scheme?
And speaking of the hapless Gaming Board, did you see how quickly it reversed its policy of keeping secret the identities of potential casino owners? The Associated Press reported Monday that the agency had concluded that the 2-year-old state law that legalized slot machines barred it from releasing the information. Imagine that. The people of Pennsylvania don't have a right to know who has ownership stakes in the lucrative casinos. What does the Gaming Board have to hide? Is Rendell’s Aunt Gertrude one of the owners? Is the Gaming Board trying to protect the privacy of mobsters or convicted felons? Do state legislators and their relatives own a piece of the pie? Thanks to the public outrage over the secrecy, state gambling regulators announced Wednesday that they would reverse their policy and will, in fact, release documents showing the potential owners of Pennsylvania casinos. The information will be posted on the Gaming Board's Web site starting Monday. The culture of corruption involving the licensing of casinos in this state is astounding. To keep up with the latest shenanigans involving casinos, check out And while you're there, you may want to sign the group's petition to put a stop to the casino debacle.
Does anyone else think it's obscene to be paying a state worker nearly $500,000 a year? The chief executive of Pennsylvania's college student-loan agency, PHEAA, made $469,900 in 2005, about 7 percent more than the previous year, according to The Patriot-News of Harrisburg. Richard Willey was paid $290,000 in salary and earned a bonus of nearly $179,900, according to the newspaper. That makes Mr. Willey the highest-paid employee in state government, earning about three times as much as the governor. Imagine how many deserving students could attend college if the $500,000 was used for loans or grants instead of fattening the wallet of one individual. And it doesn't just stop with Mr. Willey. PHEEA's six vice presidents also received bonuses ranging from $110,700 to $113,100 for a total compensation of about $330,000 per person, the newspaper reported. Bonuses for those top executives total $852,835 — enough to give the maximum individual grant of $4,500 to 189 college students, according to the newspaper. PHEEA is also notorious for sending its workers on expensive trips and lavishing them with gifts.
When it comes to government, Ed Rendell and I differ in a crucial area. I believe government should not be making a profit from its citizens. A budget surplus means government is collecting too much in taxes. That money should be returned to the people. If Mr. Willey thinks he should be paid like a corporate executive, let him take his skills to the private sector. If he wants to be in public service and help send more Pennsylvania students to college, he should return the bonus money to increase the pool of available grants and loans. I'm sick of politicians and their millionaire pals living lifestyles of the rich and famous on the backs of taxpayers. Election Day is Nov. 7. If you want real change, Rendell and most of the state Legislature must be voted out of office on that day.
I'll be back on the radio Monday at 4 p.m. on WPAZ 1370 AM. Listeners are invited to call in to the Nick Lawrence Show with questions or comments about current issues. The one-hour program can also be heard live over the Internet at Just click on the "live audio" button at the top of the station's Web site and follow instructions.

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. E-mail him at

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Democracy Rising Update

Democracy Rising PA News
August 11, 2006

In this issue:
· Tick, Tick, Tick
· Another Repeal Needed

· Can’t These Guys Think for Themselves?

Tick, Tick, Tick
· Days since the pay raise of 2005: 401
· Days until Election Day: 87
· Roadmap reforms enacted: 0

See the complete Roadmap to Reform and its sponsoring organizations: click on the thumbprint!

Roadmap to Reform

Another Repeal Needed
Last year, PA citizens accomplished the impossible by forcing lawmakers to repeal the pay raise (even though lawmakers kept the unvouchered expenses, pension bumps and COLAs).

Now, with two years of experience under our belts, it’s time to repeal Pennsylvania’s slots law, according to none other than one of its architects, Sen. Vince Fumo, D-Philadelphia. Interviewed on the Marty Griffin Show on KDKA radio in Pittsburgh, Fumo said he would support repeal as an alternative to simply making changes to the law.

To be clear, Democracy Rising PA has never taken a position on slots gambling. Our concern is, and always has been, that lawmakers violated the Constitution when they passed the law in the dead of night on the 4th of July weekend in 2004. They gutted a two-page bill and replaced every word with 146 pages of new language. Because there were no public hearings on the final version, ordinary citizens never had the chance to see it until it was too late.

A year later, our Supreme Court OK’d at least three clear violations of the state Constitution in the way the law was passed, and two weeks later the General Assembly used the exact same procedure to pass the pay raise. Voters expressed their dissatisfaction with the Court’s misinterpretation of the Constitution by defeating Justice Russell Nigro for retention on the Court – the first appellate court judge to suffer such a defeat in PA history.

Last month, Casino Free PA,, launched a drive to repeal the slots law. Coordinator Diane Berlin said, “We’ve seen the ugly underbelly of the casino beast exposed during the last two years in Pennsylvania. Lobbyists and people with shady backgrounds have run the show, the state Gaming Control Board has shown itself to be unfit for its job, and the promises of so-called tax relief get fainter every day.”

“Now is the time to tell our legislators to repeal the slots [law], before any casino licenses are awarded, and, if they still want to dump slots in PA, do it the right way.”

A repeal bill, House Bill 2298, has 33 co-sponsors [click here for more info

Among the problems with the gambling law and the Gaming Board so far, according to Casino Free PA, are:

· One Gaming Board employee is accused of killing a Harrisburg woman and two others were arrested for starting fights in Harrisburg bars.
· The Gaming Board has already exceeded its budget and now relies on a $7.3 million transfer of funds from other programs, authorized by Gov. Ed Rendell in a way that some claim violated the Constitution. To do this, the state Revenue Department has proposed “temporary regulations.” Not surprisingly, the slots gambling law makes these regulations “exempt from review under the Regulatory Review Act” (quoting a letter from the Revenue Department) so that citizens are shut out of the process once again.
· Lawmakers are still allowed to own up to 1 percent of a casino operator’s business. However, the Gaming Board refuses to release who owns how big a share of the companies seeking slots licenses, making it impossible for citizens to know how big an interest each lawmaker – or anyone else -- actually has.
· The original law prohibited local communities from having any say in where slots parlors are located. While this provision was overturned by the Supreme Court, some lawmakers have introduced legislation to restore control exclusively to the Gaming Board.

Sign up! Speak up! Show up!
Casino Free PA has launched a petition drive. To get a petition drive kit, go to CasinoFreePA.

· Did your lawmakers vote for the gambling law?
· Will they work to repeal it before licenses are issued?
· If they support slots gambling, will they insist that any new law go through a Constitutional process of public hearings and open debate before enactment?

Can’t These Guys Think for Themselves?
On July 23, the campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann issued a news release titled, “Roadmap to Reform.”

Sound familiar? It is. It’s the name that advocates for greater integrity gave to our agenda back on May 25. See “Tick, Tick, Tick” above.

We thought we’d let this little bit of plagiarism slide until Harrisburg reporter Michael Race of the Times-Shamrock News reported this item:

When state Treasurer Bob Casey announced a bus tour in June to promote his candidacy for U.S. Senate, his campaign dubbed it the “New Direction” tour. The goal, according to the campaign, was for Mr. Casey to “travel the state and … share his ideas about steering Pennsylvania and the country in a new direction.”In other words, a different direction than the one charted by incumbent U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, the Republican Mr. Casey hopes to unseat.This week, Republican gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann released a book outlining his plan for Pennsylvania as he works to oust incumbent Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell. The book’s title?

A New Direction.”

For the full story, go to The Daily Review article.

Tim Potts, Co-Founder, Democracy Rising PA

Thanks, Tim.

Everyone should know our feelings about the Gambling Bill by now. We urge you all in the stongest terms to contact your State Representative and your State Senator and get them off their butts and on board the Repeal Legislation!


Support Russ Diamond for Governor!

“Kick the hubris out of Harrisburg!” -- THE CENTRIST

"It is the duty of every citizen according to his best capacities to give validity to his convictions in political affairs." -- Albert Einstein

Remember in November! Before you vote, GettysBLOG!

Copyright © 2006:THE CENTRIST”. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: Self-serving politicians are everywhere

I spent a few days at the Jersey Shore last week.

New Jersey gets a bad rap on many things, but I noticed during my visit that Jersey does some things better than Pennsylvania.

New Jersey roads are better maintained than the ones in Pennsylvania, where the pothole should be designated the state seal.

True, some of the roads in N.J., especially the ones leading to Shore destinations, are congested, but I noticed it was mostly Pennsylvania drivers clogging up the Garden State's highways.

I liked the law in N.J. that requires motorists to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. What a novel concept. In Pennsylvania, motorists tend to speed up when they see somebody attempting to cross the street. Pennsylvania drivers also seem to be under the wrong impression that stopping at red lights has become optional.

I was curious to see if there would be any complaints about the recent increase in the New Jersey state sales tax. I can report to you that not a single person minded the 7 percent sales tax recently enacted in New Jersey.

The 1-cent increase was negotiated by Democratic N.J. Gov. Jon Corzine and the state Legislature as a way to make up a budget shortfall and to provide property tax relief.

I know this is going to be hard to believe, but New Jersey property owners pay more in taxes than their counterparts in Pennsylvania, although N.J. residents make more money than workers in Pennsylvania, so maybe it's a wash.

While Ed Rendell has failed in four years to provide the property tax cuts he promised, Corzine found a way to do it in less than six months in office.

Several newspapers I picked up in N.J. reported that the state Legislature is already meeting to discuss ways to provide additional tax relief to property owners.

In contract, the Pennsylvania legislature is on its annual two-month summer vacation, having failed to come up with meaningful property tax reform for the 30th consecutive year.

Before you get the idea that I like Jon Corzine, I need to remind you that Corzine, like Rendell, lied to voters.

Corzine promised to cut taxes if he was elected governor, but he raised the sales tax in his first year. Turn back the clock and you had a similar scenario in Pennsylvania, where Rendell promised in 2002 to lower property taxes for every Pennsylvania taxpayer. It's 2006 and I'm still waiting for my property taxes to go down. Those are the very same property taxes that rose 22 percent while Rendell has been in the governor's mansion.

In 2003, Rendell pushed for a $1 billion increase in the Pennsylvania income tax. In 2004, Rendell pushed through casino gambling for Pennsylvania, which is a sneaky form of taxation. In 2005, Rendell pushed through the $52 EMS tax, which forces workers to pay $1 a week for the privilege of holding a job in Pennsylvania.

I couldn't help but laugh at Rendell's latest television ads that tout how he balanced the budget for four years in a row and cut taxes.

How dumb does Rendell think Pennsylvania voters are? The state constitution mandates a balanced budget. It has nothing to do with Rendell, who has borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars to finance his pet projects on top of the massive tax hikes he fought for. Long after Rendell leaves office, Pennsylvania taxpayers will be paying for his spending binges.

As for cutting taxes, Rendell is blowing smoke. He's borrowing money from the state lottery to send rebate checks to low-income senior citizens. The other 80 percent of taxpayers get nothing. You call that tax relief? And the only tax breaks for businesses came at the insistence of Republican legislators. Rendell reluctantly agreed to the business tax cuts in return for Republican votes to pass his $26 billion budget.

I guess the moral of the story is that you can travel 150 miles from home, but you still can't get away from self-serving politicians.

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. E-mail him at

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

“Let's Say Thanks”

In an email that arrived the other day, I received information that the Xerox Corporation has a website that will allow you to pick out a post card, then choose a message and give your name and hometown. Xerox will then print out the post card and send it to the troops overseas.

According to their website, they have already sent two million cards!

We wholeheartedly urge you to go to Xerox’s
Let’s Say Thanks website and send a couple of cards. The message options vary and you can even send your own message using the ‘other’ option.

There is no selling besides an unobtrusive Xerox logo, and there is no real exposure of personal data except your name and hometown.

Folks, this is the real deal, a genuine nice thing for the company to do, and a nice thing for you to do. Everybody wins, you, Xerox, and most of all, our troops overseas.

Please give it a shot today, and tomorrow, and the day after that…


Copyright © 2006: THE CENTRIST; All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 14, 2006

108: “What’s wrong with this picture?”

I’m glad you asked.

Daily the headlines and editorials march forward in ever increasing numbers: “Gambling’s Tangled Web in Pittsburgh”, “PGCB Still Withholding Info from Public”, “More Legislators Calling for Changes in Slots Law”, “Trump Faces Angry Phila. Group Over Casino Plan”.

In Pittsburgh, a city that only supports winners, as the fans traditionally stay home when the Pirates and Penguins are not leading their leagues, the politicians and casino investors are tying a new arena to the licensure of a slots casino. It is the only way, they say, to keep the Penguins, a franchise that has been rescued before, in Pittsburgh.

In the Pocono Mountains, an “entrepreneur” who has been convicted of attempting to defraud the United States government of $525,000, for which he received a suspended sentence, is vying for one of the two freestanding slots casinos in the state. Louis DeNaples is also allegedly linked to a mob figure who is the head of the Buffalino Family in Northeast Pennsylvania. Associates of this “entrepreneur” have been named to the Gambling Control Board.

In Gettysburg, a shady former corporate executive (David LeVan) is competing against the Pocono project, and other applicants in the Allentown-Bethlehem area, in spite of worldwide condemnation, and the wishes of his close friend Governor Rendell, and just about everybody else in the world.

The two free standing casinos are supposed to enhance tourism in Pennsylvania. Now, the last time I checked, Gettysburg already attracts a million visitors a year to the area. Allentown-Bethlehem are not your typical tourist destinations, though they do indeed draw some tourism to the Pennsylvania Dutch area west of Allentown, and there is a large amusement park in the area. The Poconos lost their luster decades ago back when they were a haven for honeymooners, skiers and summer visitors. The Poconos need tourists.

In Philadelphia, there will be three free standing casinos, authorized by legislation, and “The Donald”, who enticed a substantial list of popular Philly sports personalities to become investors, is seeking to build a casino in an area struck by the closing of the large employer there, the Budd Company, which made rail cars, and facing the probable loss of the Philly-based Tasty Baking Corporation as it seeks to relocate its bakery operations and its headquarters.

In all of these areas except the Poconos, community resistance to the imposition of casinos in their neighborhoods has risen to the level of a statewide umbrella organization, with friends in the legislature, and with the backing of some of the more powerful newspaper editorial boards in the state.

In the legislature, the House passed an amendment to a gambling omnibus bill by a vote of 199-0 that would prohibit a casino in Adams County. There is a bill pending in the House that would repeal the enabling legislation.

The Gambling Control Board, which has been in operation nearly two years, has run out of money, sparking outrage at the Governor and Senator Vince Fumo when they arranged to take money from several state departments in violation of the State Constitution, and shift it to the Gambling Control Board. It is unconstitutional to supply money without an appropriation, meaning the General Assembly must vote for all funding.

The Board, the chairman (Tad Decker) of which claims is "...neither a board nor a commission”, and therefore has no obligation under the state’s Sunshine Law, has operated in secret, giving preferential treatment to applicants and supporters, while giving short shrift and outright hostility to opponents.

Several employees of the gambling Control Board have been arrested for such crimes as brawling in public, drunk and disorderly, misusing their official position, and even murder. [The board insisted on subcontracting out background checks that the legislation detailed must be done by the Pennsylvania State Police.] The newly hired Executive Director (Anna Neeb) of the Gambling Control Board, who doubled her salary when she was hired away from the same job in Louisiana, barely escaped charges that she turned in false time sheets and was thus fraudulently overpaid by Louisiana.

And the worst still has not emerged from the secret and shadowy world of slots suppliers, a secondary industry created by the legislature as part of the enabling legislation specifically for insiders, lobbyists, personal and political friends and relatives. This industry which just began issuing licenses is already so corrupt and filled with graft that several license applicants, including one group that was actually awarded a license, chose to void its application and another group lost its main investors, both groups doing so because of the graft and corruption already present!

In the State Senate, Democrats and Republicans have been playing a political game of mumblety-peg over an amendment package reforming the Gambling Act [Act 71 of 2004]. The game became visible during last minute budget negotiations when Republicans held up the budget so one of their members could publicly query Senator Fumo about the transfer of funds to keep the Gambling Control Board running. [Fumo is under investigation by the Feds who are looking into his handling of money in and out of a non-profit organization he founded in his district in Philadelphia.]

All of this, however, stems from a series of unconstitutional actions committed by legislative leadership in the wee hours of an early July morning in 2004, when they conspired to pass an act, Act 71, with neither the due process or due diligence required by the Constitution, and using an unconstitutionally constructed bill. Governor Rendell signaled his complicity by signing the act immediately. The State Supreme Court under Chief Justice Ralph Cappy has so far signaled its complicity as well by refusing several attempts to overturn the Act as unconstitutional, regardless of the facts.

Now, citizens of Pennsylvania need to ask themselves a number of questions:

What’s wrong with this picture?

How could our elected official, from the State Representatives in the House, to the State Senators, to the Governor, to the justices of the State Supreme Court, conspire together to create such a conglomeration of corruption, graft, greed, nepotism, incompetence and insider conspiracies and do so by claiming it will bring tax relief to property owners in the Commonwealth? [That “relief” will be about $200 each which will primarily go to our aged population.]

What more will it take to awaken the citizens of Pennsylvania to the absolute danger that our corrupted elected officials have created, more for themselves than for their constituents?

What must the awakened citizenry do to correct this crime, and punish those responsible for it? [Hint: go back and read this again, only this time, write down the names you read.]

Now, armed with your list, go do what you know you must do to correct this. And do not waste any time, for the longer you wait, the closer we get to the issuance of free-standing licenses and once that happens, any roll-back or repeal will generate enormous lawsuits that the Commonwealth will lose, and the litigation will be costly, though not nearly as costly as the awards given to the applicants that sue.

The one name you need to know to go to in order to fix this is Representative Paul Clymer of Bucks County. He has the pending repeal bill. He also has a bill pending to order a moratorium against the issuance of any licenses of any kind by the Gambling Control Board until this can be sorted out in the legislature and in the courts.

What’s wrong with this picture? Aren’t you glad you asked?


We support the Roadmap to Reform!

“Kick the hubris out of Harrisburg!” -- THE CENTRIST

"It is the duty of every citizen according to his best capacities to give validity to his convictions in political affairs." -- Albert Einstein

Remember in November! Before you vote,

Copyright © 2006: “
THE CENTRIST”. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: Rendell's gambling problem

Gov. Ed Rendell is riding high in the polls and sitting on a giant pile of cash as he prepares to seek another four-year term.

He has the state's biggest media outlets (the fawning Philadelphia newspapers and TV stations) in his back pocket. He has the power of incumbency, which allows him to travel all over Pennsylvania at taxpayers' expense for thinly disguised campaign appearances, including handing out millions of tax dollars in areas Rendell needs to buy votes.

But don't bet the farm that Rendell will coast to re-election this November. Rendell has an Achilles' heel.

Rendell promised to cut everyone's taxes when he first ran for governor in 2002. He has failed to deliver on the promise. The best he could do is a rebate plan, where he borrows money from the state lottery to send a few hundred dollars back to low-income seniors. The rest of us — 80 percent of Pennsylvania taxpayers — won't get a dime under Rendell's plan.

Another glaring blunder in Rendell's first term was the middle-of-the-night passage of a casino gambling bill pushed through the Republican legislature. Nearly every Democratic legislator voted for Rendell's gambling plan and enough Republican legislators joined in to form a gambling majority.

Two years later, we are finally beginning to realize how terrible this gambling bill truly is. And politicians are beginning to understand that the anti-gambling constituency is not going away. Many Pennsylvania voters will go to the polls this November with one thing mind: Punish Rendell and the legislators who brought gambling to Pennsylvania.

Republican state Senators, chastised by the drubbing their leadership took in the May primary, have asked the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to delay licensing slots parlors until the Legislature can go back and fix the many loopholes in the gambling law. A citizens' group called CasinoFreePa is organizing a petition drive to have the entire gambling bill repealed.

Even Lynn Swann, the GOP candidate for governor, has figured out that gambling could be his ticket to unseat Rendell. Swann recently called on Rendell to specifically list gambling reforms that the governor favors so the Legislature can act on them.

"Passing a piece of legislation for reform knowing that the governor is not going to sign it means what?" Swann told the Associated Press. "It doesn't mean anything."

So it appears that the first licenses will be awarded in September before the Legislature has an opportunity to fix the holes in the gambling law.

All the nightmare scenarios that gambling opponents warned us about are coming true. We have lobbyists and legislators owning casinos that will be regulated by the state. We have a Gaming Control Board that can't live within its means. The board has already spent all of the money the Legislature has set aside for it and has had to borrow money from other state agencies.

Insiders predict Rendell, if re-elected this November, will go back to the Legislature early in 2007 and propose expanding the slots parlors to full casinos, just like neighboring New Jersey. If the Gaming Board can't get its act together to regulate a dozen slots parlors, what makes you think it can handle full-blown casinos?

Swann also took a shot at Rendell for vetoing a bill two years ago that would have eliminated a provision allowing lawmakers to have stakes in companies licensed under the state's slot machine law. The same bill would have forced Gaming Control Board meetings to be open to the public and it would have imposed right-to-know laws on the board's business. It also would have required State Police background checks of board employees. But Rendell vetoed the bill. Given a choice of looking out for taxpayers or the gambling interests, Rendell always goes where the money is.

Pennsylvania's rush to enact gambling has opened a Pandora's Box of financial mismanagement, shady deals and cronyism. One look at Rendell's campaign contributions from the gaming industry should raise questions about what the governor's motives were in pushing so hard to bring casinos to Pennsylvania.

Outwardly, Rendell promised tax relief from casino revenues, but the numbers don't add up. Several billion dollars will have to be wagered and lost by Pennsylvania residents before one dollar is returned in property tax relief. And there's a strong possibility that no tax relief will come to fruition until after 2010 when Rendell leaves office (should he win a second term).

Eight years is a long time to wait. Rendell promised tax relief in 2002. And something else could have been done in the eight years Pennsylvania residents will probably have to wait for their luck to change.

We know who's already won. Rendell has millions of dollars in his campaign war chest from the gaming industry. Lawmakers can own as much as 1 percent of a gambling company. Political cronies sit on the Gaming Board or have been hired to work for the board. Nearly $50 million in taxpayer money has been spent so far by the board and not a single license has been issued.

We know who the losers are so far: Pennsylvania taxpayers who took Rendell's sucker bet.

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. E-mail him at

Thursday, August 10, 2006

107: DR Rates Swann Candidacy

[see # 106: DR Rates Rendell Candidacy for comparison.]
Following up on DemocracyRisingPA's first installment of their evaluations of the Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidates, here is the latest from DR, and good friend Tim Potts:
Democracy Rising PA News
August 3, 2006


As we did in yesterday’s Special Report on Gov. Ed Rendell, here are highlights of the responses by Lynn Swann to the survey sent to gubernatorial candidates last December. The highlights also include comments by Democracy Rising PA (DR) and by the Commonwealth Foundation (CF).

Attached is Swann’s complete response. Also, for the questions and the full response of every candidate, side-by-side, go to the Democracy Rising PA web site at

Overall DR Comment: We’re grateful to have Swann’s response on the record. However, his response contains numerous attacks against Gov. Rendell, the sort of criticism that is conspicuously absent from Rendell’s response. DR made a commitment to put every candidate’s full response, without comment, on our web site. We will honor that commitment. We consider it inappropriate and symptomatic of what’s wrong with electoral politics that Swann uses so much of this opportunity complaining about his opponent rather than explaining his own positive agenda.

Although he says he agrees with “the goal of giving Pennsylvania the highest standards of public integrity in America,” none of Swann’s specific proposals demonstrate that they would achieve that goal. There is no commitment to making Pennsylvania’s government the best in the nation on any standard of public integrity, value for tax dollars, transparency, or earning the confidence of citizens.

Swann’s opposition to a Constitutional convention because he fears its results shows an unfortunate lack of confidence in the judgment of the citizens he wants to serve. Like Rendell, Swann wants the chance to make government in his own image but does not want to give citizens the same opportunity, even though the citizens own the government.

Standards of Public Integrity:
“…[I]t is my commitment…that my administration will work in a way that guarantees open and transparent behavior.”

Regulating Lobbying:
“A lobbyist disclosure measure must indicate what is being spent by whom and there must be strong penalties for those who refuse to comply. Every document filed must be available for viewing on the web.”

DR Comment: By this standard, Swann’s version of a lobbying control law would still give Pennsylvania the worst law in the nation. PA currently has no law to control lobbying.

CF Comment: Openness and transparency must be more than buzz-words and will require a great deal of detail. There are 49 other states with examples from which we can choose, and we hope if Mr. Swann becomes Governor Swann that he will take the very best ideas and implement them in Pennsylvania. However, the fact that a similar kind of statement to this is missing from his answer is rather troubling.

Ending “Stealth Legislation”:
“I have proposed a 72-hour waiting period before I would sign any piece of legislation, provided that it does not deal with a state of emergency issue…. This three day waiting period will allow the people of Pennsylvania to weigh in [on] any piece of legislation…. The General Assembly has the Constitutional power to regulate itself.”

DR Comment: Citizens deserve the ability to “weigh in” on laws before they’re passed, not just after. DR believes any governor should veto any legislation whose passage does not strictly comply with the provisions of Article III of the Constitution. Members of the General Assembly have the Constitutional duty to obey the Constitution.

CF Comment: The 72-hour waiting period, after the legislation has passed both houses, is too late for the people to weigh in. The waiting period needs to be strictly applied in the legislative process, not after the process has already taken place.

Internet Access to All Laws:
“Bills and Acts should be freely accessible to all individuals on the internet or in hard copy. I believe that we should make both available in order to reach all residents…. I believe that state government has for too long made it financially impossible to copy documents from our many agencies. We must ensure that those who request the documents are charged reasonable and affordable rates.”

DR Comment: DR believes that public documents should be available free of charge to citizens in the format most useful to citizens.

CF Comment: We support Mr. Swan’s idea on accessibility, however, this openness should apply to anything and everything state government does, not just bills and Acts.

Support for a Constitutional Convention:
“I am fearful that a Constitutional Convention would present too much of an opportunity for the [sic] some of a particular cause or belief to move items that would harm others…. I am unconvinced that the delegates will all have the best interests of the people of the Commonwealth in mind.”

DR Comment: This response discounts that in order for the Constitution to be changed, the legislature must place proposed changes on the ballot and the voters must approve those changes by referendum. Convention delegates have no power to change the Constitution by themselves.

CF Comment: Fears about the end result of a Constitutional Convention are legitimate and understandable. However, if our elected officials refuse to reform state government, it is within Pennsylvanians’ constitutional rights (Article I, Section 2) to “alter, reform or abolish” their government if they deem it necessary.

Proposed Amendments to the Constitution:
Swann proposes five Constitutional amendments:
1. “an amendment which limits the amount of revenue state government can spend from one year to the next.”
2. an amendment to the Constitution’s uniformity clause to allow “eliminating our [property tax] assessment system and moving to a purchase price system” for determining property taxes.
3. an amendment to allow audits of “the funds within the control of the House and Senate.”
4. “I also support shrinking the size of the General Assembly.”
5. an amendment to allow the legislature to enact a “fair and equitable cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases.”

DR Comment: These ideas are among the more than 120 ideas submitted to DR by citizens around the state as part of the agenda for a Constitutional Convention.

CF Comment: Unfortunately, only 2 of Mr. Swann’s 5 proposed amendments address the issue of more open, transparent and accountable government. We fully support his idea of auditing all of the legislature’s funds. However, his support of shrinking the size of the General Assembly will not likely result in either cost savings or real substantive changes in legislative operations (as noted in the testimony by Mr. Nathan Benefield before the Senate Majority Policy Committee). We also wish that Mr. Swann would join Governor Rendell’s call for legislative term limits and the establishment of an independent commission for the purposes of redistricting. (NOTE: We do applaud Mr. Swann’s proposed amendments that are specific policy changes, including limits on state government spending increases and efforts to curtail lawsuit abuse in Pennsylvania,)

How to Conduct a Constitutional Convention:
“I do not support a constitutional convention, but … [w]hatever process is determined to give the people of Pennsylvania the most assurance that the electors are representative of the diversity of Pennsylvania and that they are interested in all the people should be the process that is utilized.”

A Constitutional Convention Organized and Operated by Citizens:
“I would be very hesitant to endorse such a process but am unable to say with certainty until all such details would be outlined….[V]oters need also be assured that those who are making the proposed changes have been duly selected and are representative of different philosophies and have divergent views.”

Issues to Exclude from a Constitutional Convention:
“I would not want our families and businesses to pay more in taxes… Many social issues would likely be proposed and opening the door to them may put Pennsylvania in a position that is in conflict with the Federal Constitution.”

Roadmap to Reform

Court Interpretation of the Constitution:
“Three days should mean three days. I believe in allowing the people time to review each bill and amendment as it works through the process.”

DR Comment: DR agrees with this interpretation of our Constitution’s requirements governing how laws should be enacted.

Court Interpretation of “Unvouchered Expenses”:
“Unvouchered expenses should be held to be illegal and it is my hope that the Court will rule in such a manner in the case pending before them.”

DR Comment: DR agrees with this interpretation and disagrees with Supreme Court decisions that have permitted “unvouchered expenses.”

Appointment of Judges:
“Any judge nominated by me will reflect my views to a certain degree. Nevertheless, the individual will be called to exercise his or her own positions when performing the duties of a judge…. Diversity is an important aspect of the judicial branch and I would seek such when making my nomination.”

Swann agrees to appoint and consult with a Judicial Nominating Commission when appointing judges. “Nominating commissions are helpful to ensure that the individuals under consideration are not just diverse, but also possess the highest level of academic and professional expertise…. I will select nominating commission members that will search the Commonwealth for attorneys that have a solid history of exemplarily [sic] work experience as well as a variety of different life perspectives.”

DR Comment: DR agrees that the process for selecting judges should be based less on political considerations and who knows whom and more on the legal qualifications and experience of nominees. A well-balanced Judicial Nominating Commission can produce nominees of that caliber.
Tim Potts, Co-Founder
Democracy Rising PA
P.O. Box 618,
Carlisle, PA 17013
[see # 106: DR Rates Rendell Candidacy for comparison.]

Thanks, Tim, for your usual excellence in bringing the facts and pertinaant issue before the voters. It is a sterling service you perform, and the citizens of the Commonwealth owe you a debt of great gratitude for the work you do.


We support the Roadmap to Reform!

“Kick the hubris out of Harrisburg!” -- THE CENTRIST

"It is the duty of every citizen according to his best capacities to give validity to his convictions in political affairs." -- Albert Einstein

Remember in November! Before you vote,

Copyright © 2006: “
THE CENTRIST”. All Rights Reserved.

106: DR Rates Rendell Candidacy

[see # 107: DR Rates Swann Candidacy for comparison.]
Once again Tim Potts and Democracy Rising PA are out in front of the issues, and the candidates. DR combined with several other organizations to put together a survey of the candidates for Governor of Pennsylvania. Here is Ed Rendell's response:
Democracy Rising PA News
August 2, 2006


Last December, a Democracy Rising PA coalition of eight statewide organizations (see below) asked candidates for governor to respond to a questionnaire about public integrity, a Constitutional convention and appointments to judicial vacancies. We asked for responses by the end of January.

The first to respond, Jim Panyard, subsequently dropped out of the race. The second, Russ Diamond, responded the day before he announced his candidacy as an independent.

Following an article by Harrisburg Patriot political reporter Sharon Smith noting that both Democrat Gov. Ed Rendell and Republican candidate Lynn Swann had failed to respond to the survey, both campaigns promised to provide their candidates’ views. On Monday, Rendell fulfilled that promise, and on Tuesday, Swann did as well.

We have summarized Rendell’s responses below with a few comments from Democracy Rising (DR) and the Commonwealth Foundation (CF). Tomorrow we’ll do the same for Swann in another DR News Special Report.

With the apparently successful petition drive by the Green Party, we also have again asked their gubernatorial candidate, Marakay Rogers, to participate in the survey. When she responds, she will receive the same treatment afforded the other candidates.

Attached is Rendell’s complete response. To see the questions and the full responses of every candidate, side-by-side, go to the Democracy Rising PA web site at

Overall DR Comment: It’s a good thing that Rendell responded to these questions. But the responses don’t give us much hope for any real improvement. Although he says he agrees with “the goal of giving Pennsylvania the highest standards of public integrity in America,” none of his proposals would do so. There is no commitment to making Pennsylvania’s government the best in the nation on any standard of public integrity, value for tax dollars, transparency, or earning the confidence of citizens.

Especially disappointing in the wake of the Constitutional abuses of the past few years – by all three branches of government – is Rendell’s apparent fear of allowing citizens to improve their government through a Constitutional convention. Democracy Rising PA has gathered more than 120 ideas that citizens want to debate at a Constitutional convention. Many, perhaps most, are better dealt with through normal laws, but that still leaves a lot more than the three meaningful changes Rendell thinks should comprise the entire reform agenda for our Constitution. Incredibly, he proposes no improvements to our judiciary.

Legislative Districts:
Rendell proposes “ending incumbent protection by amending the Constitution to vest the power to redraw legislative districts in the hands of a nonpartisan independent commission and to enact legislative term limits.”
· The independent commission could not include elected officials, “political party operatives or lobbyists.”
· Lawmakers should be limited to eight years in office, “consistent with the 8-year gubernatorial term limit.”

Rendell calls for these constitutional changes to be introduced next January, “so that they can be ratified by the voters as early as the primary election of 2009 and no later than the primary election of 2011.”

CF Comment: We are highly supportive of both of these proposals. The goal of the decennial redistricting of legislative districts should be to increase the competitive nature of elections rather than protect incumbent legislators. The structure and the details outlining the creation of this commission will truly determine whether or not it is “nonpartisan” and “independent.” Term limits are necessary because of the power of incumbency that suppresses electoral competition. Only term limits will guarantee a return to citizen-led legislature.

Size of the Legislature:
Rendell proposes “right-sizing the legislature by reducing the number of members in order to cut costs and improve productivity.”

The proposal notes that, “The average size of the State House or Assembly in the five states with a larger population than Pennsylvania is 124, compared with 203 in the Commonwealth.” There is no recommendation for the size of the Senate.

CF Comment: This measure is more symbolic than substantive. In fact, as a stand-alone reform, it could possibly exacerbate the current problems in the current system. While we are not opposed to this idea, we believe that other reforms MUST be incorporated with it if a reduction in the size of the legislature is to have a positive impact on the legislative process.

Campaign Finance:
PA alone does not limit the amount of money that individuals can contribute to political campaigns, a status Rendell would change. “Pennsylvania should enact limits on how much can be donated to campaigns, using the federal limits as a model.” Current federal limits are $2,000 per individual for election (primary and general).

However, Rendell does not embrace proposals to limit how much money legislative candidates can raise from outside their districts.

CF Comment: Reducing citizens’ Constitutional rights to free speech through their political giving is not the answer to high-priced campaigns. The answer is complete and immediate transparency.

Lobbying Control:
Rendell calls on the General Assembly to pass a law requiring lobbyists to report, “who is lobbying, on what issues, how much they have spent to lobby, whether they have given any gifts to members, and, if so how much and to whom.”

DR Comment: States with the toughest lobbying control laws, such as the Commonwealth of Kentucky, prohibit gifts to public officials.

CF Comment: PA should strive to be the standard-bearer on the issue of lobbyist control.

Open Records:
“I support…appropriate extension of the Open Records law to include the Legislature and Judiciary.”

CF and DR Comment: Not only should the Open Records law apply to the Legislative and Judicial branches, but it should be vastly improved to provide greater access to the average citizen.

Roadmap to Reform

Constitutional Convention:
Rendell opposes a general convention under all circumstances. He supports a convention limited to proposals for redistricting legislative districts, reducing the size of the legislature and imposing 8-year term limits on lawmakers, but only if theses proposals are blocked in the legislature. “If there were a Constitutional convention, it should occur after all other attempts at enacting good government reform by the Legislature have been exhausted.”

Rendell does not support a constitutional convention organized and operated by citizens. “There is no provision in law for an independent Constitutional convention. As has been done each time a Constitutional convention has been held in the Commonwealth, the Legislature must pass and the Governor must sign legislation authorizing the convention…”

DR Comment: Citizens do not need the government’s permission to change their government. Article I, Section 2 of the PA Constitution states: “All power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their peace, safety and happiness. For the advancement of these ends, they have at all times an inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think proper.” This sounds like a “provision in law” to us.

CF Comment: Article 1, Section 2 reminds us that we the citizens of Pennsylvania—not the governor or legislators or judges—have to power to “alter, reform or abolish” our government. Whether or not it is time for a constitutional convention remains to be seen. Many of the reforms we have called for would indeed require constitutional changes. We believe that a constitutional convention should be considered if/when the governor and General Assembly fail to move the necessary reforms through the amendment process in a timely manner.

Judicial Appointments:
Rendell rejects the idea of a Judicial Nominating Commission to recommend candidates for appointment to vacancies on the courts. “I…consult on a nonpartisan basis with Pennsylvanians from all different parts of the Commonwealth in order to ensure that my nominees reflect the Commonwealth’s rich diversity.”

CF Comment: Our courts should not be political playing fields. Pennsylvania’s highly politicized system has effectively neutered an important check and balance in state government. One needs to look no further than the Court’s blessing of lawmakers’ practice of unconstitutionally increasing their own pay through “unvouchered expenses” as an example of the need to increase the independence of the judiciary from the legislative and executive branches.

In addition to Democracy Rising PA, the other organizations sponsoring the gubernatorial survey are:
· The League of Women Voters of PA
· Common Cause/PA
· The Commonwealth Foundation
· The Pennsylvania Council of Churches
· PA Clean Sweep
· Rock the Capital
· PA Citizens for Legislator Accountability
Tim Potts, Co-Founder
Democracy Rising PA
P.O. Box 618,
Carlisle, PA 17013


Thanks to Tim Potts at DemocracyRisingPA for forwarding this survey. This is important stuff. Compare Rendell's answers to those of Lynn Swann in the next post!

[see # 107: DR Rates Swann Candidacy for comparison.]


We support the Roadmap to Reform!

“Kick the hubris out of Harrisburg!” -- THE CENTRIST

"It is the duty of every citizen according to his best capacities to give validity to his convictions in political affairs." -- Albert Einstein

Remember in November! Before you vote,

Copyright © 2006: “
THE CENTRIST”. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

105: "Changes for Clean Sweep"

News just in from OperationCleanSweepPA. We’ll let Russ Diamond tell it:

PACleanSweep Loses Corporate Bureaucracy

Lebanon County Judge Samuel Kline today granted a motion to dissolve the non-profit corporation known as PACleanSweep, Inc. Five members of the corporation’s Board of Directors filed the motion after months of deadlocks within the organization regarding how to follow up the group’s success over the last year.

“This is not the end of the movement,” said Russ Diamond, PACleanSweep founder, “rather this is simply an adjustment in the way the group operates. The corporate structure that we set up last year, while well-intentioned, significantly hampered the effort to compete in the fast-paced political realm.”

Diamond, one of the petitioners, intends to continue maintaining the website, which was established before any corporate structure was put in place.

Bucks County attorney Lawrence Otter was appointed Receiver by the court to wind up the now- defunct corporation’s affairs and liquidate its assets.

Roadmap to Reform

PACleanSweep raised nearly 100 candidates to run in the 2006 primary election in its effort to change the face of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly. 35 of those candidates won their primary race with seven of those victories coming at the expense of incumbents.

The group was also instrumental in the first-ever non- retention of a state Supreme Court Justice when Russell Nigro lost his seat last November.

“We did well over the last year, and that’s something to be proud of. But true reform is not a once-and- done thing. We’ve only gotten lip service and reform- lite so far as a result of the public outrage over the pay raise. The people of Pennsylvania need to maintain their focus on everything that’s wrong in Harrisburg and continue to keep the pressure on elected officials;” concluded Diamond.

About PACleanSweep
PACleanSweep is a non-partisan effort dedicated to defeating incumbent elected officials in Pennsylvania and replacing them with true public servants. For more information, please visit

Russ Diamond

We look forward to supporting Russ’s efforts any way we can. The more incumbents dethroned, the better for Pennsylvania citizens.


We support the Roadmap to Reform!

“Kick the hubris out of Harrisburg!” -- THE CENTRIST

"It is the duty of every citizen according to his best capacities to give validity to his convictions in political affairs." -- Albert Einstein

Remember in November! Before you vote,

Copyright © 2006: “
THE CENTRIST”. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: I want to be a casino boss, too

Let's see a show of hands. Everyone who is not part-owner of a casino or casino-related business in Pennsylvania, raise your hand.

Is it just me or does every politician, every lobbyist, every son or daughter of a politician or a lobbyist own a share of the casinos coming to Pennsylvania? How did that happen?

Why didn't anybody ask me if I wanted to be part-owner of a casino?

Act 71 of 2004, which authorized 14 slots venues with a total of 61,000 slot machines, remains one of the worst bills ever passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Ed Rendell, the prime mover (along with his good friend John Perzel) behind bringing gambling to the Keystone State.

I always like to remind people that the casino bill was passed by 88 Democrats in the House (of the total 94 Democrats), with only 25 Republicans (of a total 109) voting in favor of the bill. So yes, it was Rendell and his Democratic lemmings who brought gambling to Pennsylvania.

How bad is the gambling bill, which as approved in the middle of the night without public hearings or public input?

It's bad enough that members of the state Legislature snuck a provision into the law that allows them to own a 1 percent share in casinos.

It's bad enough that all sorts of political cronies have been appointed to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board or have been hired for one of the cushy jobs available at the gaming board.

It's bad enough that a big-time lobbyist used the names of his "minor children" as casino owners to circumvent the law preventing him from being a direct owner.

Now we hear that former Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Mark S. Singel, a political consultant and lobbyist, is being forced to sever his ties with a company seeking a license to distribute slot machines in Pennsylvania.

Does everybody in Harrisburg have his hand in the cookie jar?

Sixteen companies have been licensed as slots distributors so far and there’s another six firms under review. One of them, Revenco Gaming, had Single on its payroll, but hasn't been able to get approval from the Gaming Board.

Singel wrote the Gaming Board saying that he would no longer serve as a member and director of Revenco, based in Westmoreland County.

"I came to the conclusion that if in fact I ... was drawing too much of the attention and causing a problem for this new potential business, that I should step aside," Singel told the Associated Press Friday. "It's just troublesome to me that somebody who spends a good portion of their life devoted to public service somehow is considered unsuitable or questionable."

Let's just say that Revenco probably hired Singel because of his political background (lieutenant governor from 1987 to 1995 under Gov. Robert P. Casey Sr.) rather than his expertise with slot machines.

It's not the first time politics has gotten in the way of commerce in Pennsylvania's convoluted run to cash in on casinos. The Associated Press noted that one of the licensed distributors — New Century Entertainment, whose partners included former Allegheny County chief executive Jim Roddey — announced Tuesday that it was giving up its license, alleging that it had been shut out of doing business by "politics" and unnamed manufacturers.

I wrote a column shortly after the Legislature approved Rendell’s casino plan in July 2004 saying it was one of the biggest mistakes in Pennsylvania history. The consequences would not be realized until years later, but casinos would be the ruin of Pennsylvania.

That column, "Tony Soprano has friends in Pennsylvania," also hinted at organized crime's influence on casinos. In hindsight, I may have overestimated the mob’s influence on gambling. It's not the Mafia that worries me now. It's the politicians. The state's political elite are going to get rich from casinos. The rest of us will end up paying a steep price.

The state Legislature should take the advice of CasinoFreePa, a statewide coalition of groups and individuals opposing casino gambling in Pennsylvania, which has the following comment posted on its Web site: "The worse the law, the sooner it should be repealed."

Another screaming headline on is: "No one asked us!"

Barring a repeal of gambling by the Legislature (highly unlikely because so many politicians stand to make a fortune), the only other option Pennsylvania residents have is to vote out Ed Rendell and the Democrats who supported gambling in the November election.

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. E-mail him at