Rep. Fleck Dethroned From GOP, Takes Dem Nomination

State Rep. Mike Fleck, who came out even though he represents a conservative House District in the Altoona area (Pennsylvania’s “T”) was upset in the Republican primary by a write-in candidate.  He did, however, win the Democratic side in a write-in effort.  This is the most unusual result of last week’s primary election.  The moderate Republican has a reputation in Harrisburg for working across the aisle to accomplish things like last year’s desperately needed transportation bill.  Coming out as gay in such a conservative area was a risk.  This was courageous and Fleck became the first openly gay legislator in state history.  Soon afterwards Brian Sims became the first openly gay man to be elected to the legislature.

Sen. Eichelberger, long known for his extreme bigotry and insensitive comments lamented that had Fleck just stayed in the closet everything would have been fine.  The Senator, whose District includes Fleck’s, seems to think living in the closet is fine.  It isn’t, closets are lonely, desperate places to live and the Representative had every choice to move out of his.  This was just one more example of Sen. Eichelberger’s bigotry.  There have been many.

While Pennsylvania finally became the last state in the Northeast to legalize gay marriage last week this is a definitive step backwards.  Mike Fleck deserves re-election and progressives, liberals and Democrats across the Commonwealth should rally behind his run on the Dem side this November.

On another note Montgomery County, ironically, became the final one of our 67 counties to begin issuing same sex marriage licenses.  The State Supreme Court had issued an injunction against MontCo Register of Wills Bruce Haines barring him from issuing them after he did so last year following the SCOTUS Windsor decision.  Since he was still under that injunction gay couples in one of our most populous counties couldn’t get licenses even after Federal Judge John Jones III overturned the state’s ban last week.  The injunction has now been revoked.

Endorsement: Rep. Mark Cohen

Mark Cohen was first elected to the Pennsylvania House in 1974, the year I graduated from college.  He is the longest serving member of the state legislature and is one of the last liberal lions in a leadership position in Harrisburg.  With the departures of Rep. Babette Josephs two years ago and Sen. Jim Ferlo this year we have fewer staunch liberals in key positions in our Capitol.  If Sen. Leach is elected to Congress we’ll have one fewer.

I’ve known Rep. Cohen for a number of years and greatly appreciate his determined leadership.  He is a staunch defender of women’s productive rights and LGBT rights.  As Democratic Chair of the State Government Committee he has opposed the extreme politics of Chair Daryl Metcalfe.  I often chat with him in the halls when I’m in Harrisburg and he always has time for a conversation.  He is very gracious and deserves another term.

I don’t know Jared Solomon though I respect some of those supporting his challenge in this race.  I am disturbed by some of the mischaracterizations I have seen come from his campaign however.  Mark is no doddering old fool walking the halls muttering to himself.  I’ve run into him in those halls far too many times to accept this smear.  Unfortunately it says more about Mr. Solomon’s character than Mr. Cohen’s.

Please send Mark Cohen back to Harrisburg.

Transportation Bill Goes Back to Senate

The state House finally passed a transportation bill yesterday after failing to do so Monday.  On a re-vote a bipartisan group of lawmakers narrowly passed a bill which isn’t perfect but which is critically needed.   The legislation now returns to the Senate which already passed a similar bill earlier in the year.

This bill raises the gas tax by 28 cents/gallon over five years which is steep but we must pay for the roads, bridges and transit somehow.  We do need to find new and more innovative methods of funding transportation as vehicles get more fuel efficient and we gradually rely less and less on fossil fuels.

The prevailing wage didn’t belong in this bill and it made it far more difficult to pass.  The bill raises the threshold for triggering the living wages from $25,000 to $100,000.  The limit hadn’t been raised since 1961 so it was due for review.  Let’s just remind Republicans how important considering cost of living increases is when the minimum wage bill comes before them for a vote.

The new threshold for the prevailing wage won’t, in my opinion, have much of an impact.  I don’t think there are many transportation projects which cost under $100,000.  The prevailing wage means non-union workers get paid equivalent wages as their union brothers.  This illustrates the failure of right to work laws in which freeloaders can piggyback on unions for similar wages, benefits and job conditions without paying for them.

I always thought conservatives hated freeloaders so why do they support right to work for less?

Joe Sestak Hits the Stump for Haas

Joe Sestak found the right exit for the Bowers Hotel (inside local joke) last night and appeared at an event for 187th House candidate Joe Haas.  The Admiral and former Congressman has been traveling all across the state supporting individual candidates.  He even made it all the way to Erie.  I noticed he’s inserted new material pertinent to the Governor’s race into his stump speech.

The video:

Could ALEC be behind PA HB2191 (Payday Loansharking Bill)

The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC has been making more and more news of late. ALEC which prides themselves as a:

“Nonpartisan individual membership organization of state legislators which favors federalism and conservative public policy solutions.” (http://www.alec.org/)

has been a mechanism of a corporate takeover of our state legislatures through the use of model bills that are introduced and voted on by our elected officials and corporate funders of the group. I have written two articles already about ALEC’s involvement in bills introduced to the Pennsylvania General Assembly, and when I was asked to look into HB2191 and an ALEC link I jumped at the opportunity. The crazy thing is while I was planning on doing an article on this bill I never thought of an ALEC angle.

While Rep. Chris Ross (R-158) is not on the list of ALEC politicians exposed by SourceWatch.org, seven of his co-sponsor are reported as ALEC members. These seven representatives to the Pennsylvania House are:

Rep. John Evans (R-5), Rep. Thomas Killion (R-168), Rep. Nick Kotik (D-45), Rep. Ron Marsico (R-105), Rep. Ron Miller (R-93), Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-65), Rep. Stan Saylor (R-94 and the Majority Whip)

These seven ALEC politicians, including Rep. Kathy Rapp the sponsor of the wonderful ALEC model HB1077 (PA Ultrasound Bill) and Chris Ross’ fellow Chester County Republican Thomas Killion who according to sourcewatch is a member of ALEC’s Commerce, insurance, and Economic Development Task Force (which contains the financial services subcommittee), along with Nick Kotik make up two of the three Pennsylvania Representatives on the committee.

One of the main corporate peddlers for this bill that if it passes according to the Center for Responsible Lending states:

“payday loans will be granted an exclusive carve-out from the state’s historic usury laws, thus allowing 400% annual interest rates on payday loans” (www.responsiblelending.org)

is Cash America, a Texas-based company whose core purpose and values according to their corporate site include the claim that they act with a servant’s heart was exposed by the Columbus Dispatch (http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2012/02/04/policy-group-pays-for-legislators-trips.html) as part of a secret ALEC scholarship fund in Ohio. This fund went to pay for twenty Ohio Republican legislators to go to the 2011 ALEC conference in New Orleans. According to Sourcewatch, Cash America donated to ALEC on the “Vice-Chairman” level which included a 25,000 dollar donation in 2010. It should also be noted, that in a press release by Rep. Cherelle Parker (D-200) reminds us that:

“one of the companies pushing for enactment of House Bill 2191 – Cash America – is the same company the state Supreme Court prohibited from making illegal Internet payday loans to Pennsylvanians. In its decision, the court explained that Cash America’s business model is to charge astronomical interest rates” (http://www.pahouse.com/PR/200043012.asp)

Many faith-based organizations have also come together to oppose this bill that would allow companies like CashAmerica to not only exceed the 24% interest rate cap in place, but charge as high as 680% (according to the Center for Responsible Lending). The Pennsylvania Council of Churches, United Methodist Advocacy in Pennsylvania, Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania, Friends of the Poor, Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, and St Martin Center have united with various organizations to stand up to this legislation that would as Martin Luther claimed in regards to exploitation and usury:

“oppress the poor and deprive them of their daily bread” (http://lutheranadvocacypa.org)

The mammoth rates that payday loan companies like CashAmerica and other’s that Rep. Ross’ bill exposes Pennsylvanians to exceeds even Investopedias definition of a Loan Shark, which only goes as high as 100% as the interest a loan shark might consider.

This bill, like most that can be linked to ALEC are a cancer on our state legislatures and must be eradicated at all costs. We should be looking for ways to help Americans out of debt, not overburden them with loans that exhibit interest rates that most mob families wouldn’t charge. The “servants heart” that companies like CashAmerica and the legislators they have ensnared is quite distinguishable. We must stand up to ALEC once again, the fight will not be easy but as Frederick Douglas said:

“Without a struggle, there can be no progress”

Could ALEC be behind the Pennsylvania Ultrasound Bill?

Earlier this week I wrote an article on Pennsylvania House Bill 1077, The Woman’s Right to Know Act. A bill, which would require medical providers to offer an ultrasound prior to an abortion. HB1077 was forwarded to the floor from the PA House Committee on Health with a 15-7 vote on Feb 6, and  appears on the legislative calender for March 12th. Since, the Majority Leader is a co-sponsor of the bill, it would be safe to assume it has a decent chance of being heard. HB1077, has received a lot of backlash, and in the wake of the Virginia bill it has left this writer wondering, where these bills come from.

The question I pondered is who could be behind this legislation requiring a medically unnecessary procedure and purely ideological based bill. Then I remembered the Progressive Media Workshop I attended in Madison, Wisconsin last October and Wisconsin State Assemblyman Mark Pocan who told us about a shadowy group bringing conservative legislators and corporations together. I know it sounds like a mystical conspiracy of JFK like proportions. However, in the current days of Super-PACS and Citizens United it is nearly impossible to know who is funding what and where some of these bills are coming from. ALEC may be the answer.

According to the Center for Media and Democracy,

ALEC is not a lobby; it is not a front group. It is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, behind closed doors, corporations hand state legislators the changes to the law they desire that directly benefit their bottom line. (http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=ALEC_Politicians)

Furthermore, the American Legislative Exchange, or ALEC as it is more commonly known claims it,

has over 1,000 of these bills introduced by legislative members every year, with one in every five of them enacted into law. ((http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=ALEC_Politicians))

with ALEC being one of the forefronts of the conservative ideological infrastructure it lead me to ask the question, is HB1077 one of those model bills.

Of course, I’m not some big time New York Times investigative reporter, with an entire news department, credentials and sources galore. However, I decided to look into this dilemma as a concerned citizen. I cross referenced the proposed bills co-sponsors with the members of ALEC, reported by the Center for Media and Democracy. In a matter of minutes, I found Rep. Rapp (R-65) and 23 other PA Reps are listed as having ties to ALEC, and everyone of her 23 fellow Rep/ALEC members cosponsored the bill; including the Democrats cosponsoring the bill.

Then I took a look at Virginia Delegate Kathy Byron (R-22), sponsor of Virginia controversial ultrasound bill, who I found is a proud member of ALEC. Her webpage she proclaims it under her memberships and touts her Telecommunication Task Force assignment, an assignment she shares with among many other PA ALEC State Chairman and bill cosponsor Representative John Evans (R-5).

I for one would like to see this whole arrangement investigated more, I don’t claim to have the know how, or time to dig into the case completely. Whether it be through legislation that requires more transparency, or a reporter in the heralded spirit of those muckrakers of the past. Pennsylvanian’s deserve to know who is behind the legislation we are seeing. If these bills are one of the 1000’s ALEC claims  to be pawning off on willing ideologues. The only special interests that our local, state and federal elected officials should represent is the constituents, not some faction of conservative extremism.

The Day Pennsylvania Turned Red

I stood in the hallway of the Radnor Hotel as Joe Sestak prepared to take the stage for his concession speech.  His wife was with him and their daughter stood holding her father’s hand, tears remaining on her young cheeks.  Richard Sestak told me “we’ll get them next time.”  I fully expect that to mean the Admiral and Pat Toomey will square off once more in 2016.

It was the narrowest of margins on a day when a red wave engulfed the nation as the reins of Congress changed hands.  Five Congressional seats in our state flipped to the GOP along with control of the State House and the Governor’s Mansion.  Dan Onorato never was able to connect with voters absent much of a personality.  Todd Eachus, Democratic Majority Leader went down in flames in Luzerne County.  I never had much love for him as he blocked a whole stream of progressive legislation in Harrisburg.  John Perzel, former House Speaker also went down to defeat in one of the few House races which flipped to Dems.

As I said last night it was a bloodbath.  It was also a good night for crooked Republicans.  Jane Orie, under indictment, won re-election to the State Senate, Tom Marino palled around with a reputed mob figure as U.S. Attorney, lied about his involvement, got caught lying about it and was then elected to Congress.  Rick Scott, he of the huge Medicare fraud conviction, is the next Governor of Florida.

The Congressional Republicans now have no excuse for obstructing everything.  Unfortunately dreams of subpoenas were dancing in their heads all last night.  Expect Congressional hearings on President Obama’s citizenship and all the other insane conspiracy theories Fox News has been promoting continuously.

Americans are morons.  95% of them got a tax cut.  Jobs turned around from losing 750,000/month under Republicans to gaining 60,000/month under Obama.  George W Bush and his Congressional allies in the GOP put us $6 trillion in debt in only 8 years but voters put them back in power to screw things up more.  Bush’s tax cuts cost 8 million jobs and Republicans voted against EVERY jobs bill in the last Congress but Americans think they’re going to correct this?  Insane.

I don’t blame Republicans however.  Liberals and progressives stayed home in droves and allowed the GOP and their Tea Party allies to win.  Now you get the government you deserve.  The Democratic Party now gets to look in its mirror and see what it looks like without its left wing.  You should be careful what you wish for.

Congressional Republicans obstructed every single bill.  They filibustered everything in the Senate.  What did get accomplished, which was much, was all watered down to get one or two Republican votes.  What was needed was for Dems to respond and seize one or two more Senate seats and keep the House.  Progressives decided Obama had screwed them, and he did, mightily and sent a message which, again, has been missed.  Instead all the pundits are claiming the President needs to move to the center.  news flash:  that didn’t work the last two years so why do you think it will now?  He tried working with the GOP for two years and they refused to respond.  Why start now?  No, what the President has to learn is to do what Bush did:  shore up his base.  Without his base he’s powerless and a one termer.   Obama must begin being who he advertised himself to be in 2008.  He must court his base once again or the next two years will be torture for the nation.

Liberals caused this mess by refusing to vote for two years and now they have caused a colossal mess.  Don’t come complaining to me, if you didn’t vote you don’t have that right.

State House/Senate Endorsements

These are my endorsements in contested races for the State House and Senate.

Senate:

10th  Cynthia Philo

12th  Ruth Damsker

14th  John Yudichak

24th  Bill Wallace

40th  Dan DeMarco (Jane Orie seat)

46th  Tim Solobay    

House

23rd  Dan Frankel

26th  Fern Kaufman

31st  Steve Santarsiero

41st  Gerald Policoff

61st  Mary Lou Readinger

70th  Matt Bradford

120th Phyllis Mundy

121st Eddie Day Pashinski

124th Jeff Faust

128th Bryan Boughter

136th Bob Freeman

137th Charles Dertinger

146th Mark Painter

149th Tim Briggs

150th Andrea Baptiste

151st Rick Taylor

152nd Tom Murt

153rd Josh Shapiro

156th Barbara McIlvaine Smith

157th Paul Drucker

161st Walter Waite

170th Brendan Boyle

172nd Kevin Boyle

179th Tony Payton Jr.

186th Kenyatta Johnson

187th Richard Stine

189th John Siptroth

194th Hugh Giordano