Why Pennsylvania needs Public Sector pension reform

Governor Corbett discusses pension reform in Dresher

Governor Corbett discusses pension reform in Dresher

Last week I had an opportunity to attend one of Governor Tom Corbett‘s mini-town hall meetings on Pennsylvania‘s precarious public pension situation.

The Governor is spending a lot of time this Summer pushing the need for public sector pension reform to improve the State’s financial health and put a lid on spiraling property taxes.  The problem he is facing, along with much of the Pennsylvania legislator – or at least among those who will admit there is a pension problem – is that the Pennsylvanians who pay taxes do not view pension reform as a problem let alone a problem with priority.

Much of this disconnect comes from the plain fact that most of us do not understand how State pensions work; how much they cost us; or how they affect the other real problems with which my fellow Pennsylvanians can readily identify.

Recent polls (Quinnipiac University 2013, Franklin & Marshall 2014) found that Pennsylvanians recognized Unemployment, the Economy, Education, and Taxes as the biggest problems being faced in the Keystone State. These opinions are even more disconcerting from a taxpayer’s point-of-view, because it illustrates a very basic fact about the magnitude of the pension problem …

Few appreciate how the State’s pension mess plays into the perceived problems in Education, Taxes and the Economic Health of Pennsylvania.

For that you must look at the numbers.

  • $47,000,000,000. (billion with a capital “B”) … The current pension funding gap in Pennsylvania
  • $65,000,000,000.  … The projected pension gap by 2019.
  • 63 cents of every $1 in revenue … 63% of PA State revenue currently goes to cover State pension responsibilities
    • $2 Billion per year, all covered by PA tax payers
  • $13,000. … The amount each Pennsylvanian would have to pay to cover the current pension fund gap.

State-pensionsForty-one percent (41%) of the annual State budget goes to Education funding.  Another 40% goes to support Health and Human Services (and yes, that’s BEFORE you factor in the potential of accepting on ObamaCare’s proposed Medicaid expansion, which will be funded by the Federal Government to only 90% of costs after 2016) …

The budget percentages for Education and HHS are equally important in understanding the overall picture.  Why?

For one, they illustrate the impact both Education and Social Services have on the State budget.  When you spend 81-82% of your budget in two specific areas, it doesn’t leave much room for the financing of the other good things State government can do.  These huge obligations place the State in a financial straight jacket.  Pension costs make up a significant burden to school districts and public healthcare providers insofar as those costs are a subset of that same funding provided by the State.

As an example, when a School District receives its annual budgeted funding, they must – each year – immediately set aside a significant portion of that funding to be applied towards that school district’s allotment of pension coverage.  As pensions costs grow, school districts are forced to pay more and more for their pension service; and they will have less and less to spend on actual education.

pension-reformSo when you speak of those “real problems” facing Pennsylvania … Education, Unemployment, the Economy and Taxes … there is a genuine, behind-the-scenes connection between pension costs obligations and all those REAL problems.  And more importantly, to financing any solutions to those REAL problems.

So what’s State Government to do?  What tough choices do you make now?  Do you raise Property Taxes again?  Do you raise Corporate Taxes in a state which is already has the HIGHEST corporate tax rate in the country?  Or do you do something about the most easily identifiable and underlying problem?

As a taxpayer, this is a chilling reality.  If you subscribe to the theory that high taxes kill Economic Growth, raising Corporate Taxes is not the BEST alternative.  (And yes, that includes a job creator like the natural gas industry.). Neither of course is raising Property Taxes, which is what school districts must do to meet the growing pension cost budget hole.

Pension reform won’t lower current property taxes.  Replacing pension plans does nothing to alleviate the pension obligations already facing the State.  It’s a solution for the future, putting a lid on rising property taxes by replacing an unsustainable pension structure with one that lessens the future burden on taxpayers!

If you are not yet convinced, take a look at recent examples in countries like Greece and Italy, where excessive pension costs drove cataclysmic threats to economic stability.  Or take a look closer to home …

CT Emanuel_Method_04.JPG

Chicago Mayor – and former White House Chief-of-Staff Rahm Emanuel

When uber-Liberal Rahm Emanuel left the cozy confines of White House as Chief-of-Staff to become the Mayor of Chicago, the first major initiative he undertook was to tackle Chicago’s financially threatening pension problem.  To take a peek at what could happen to cities in Pennsylvania if leaders like Emanuel and Tom Corbett do nothing, look at what has happened in Detroit!

The Rahm Emanuel story is critically important for one reason a lot of people might overlook.  It illustrates that this is not a problem restricted to one political party or the other.  Pension costs with all its ramifications – from taxes to education to health services to economic vitality – is a Democrat and Republican problem.

So what is the real problem with Pennsylvania’s nightmare pension scenario?  It’s reliance upon Defined-Benefit public pensions …

This is not a new problem, not in the pubic sector, not in the private sector, not in the manufacturing sector, not in the financial industry.  Industry, individual companies, other State governments, even the Federal Government have recognized the threat to financial stability presented by growing defined-benefit pension obligations.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am employed in the Public Sector, employed by the Federal Government since 1980.  In 1986 the federal government introduced a two-tier retirement system under the Federal Employees Retirement System Act of 1986.  The Act essentially grand-fathered all existing employees under the existing Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), while requiring all new employees – hired after the laws effective date – to participate in the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS).  The reasoning behind the switch from a Defined-Benefit CSRS to a hybrid Defined-Benefit/Defined-Contribution plan was much the same in 1986 as it is now for Pennsylvania in 2014.

FERS provides its own two-tiered approach, consisting of a Defined-Benefit where a minimum government contribution is mandated.  Then the federal government fully matches any employee contributions up to 5% of salary (the percentage matched drops on additional employee contributions) made to the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), which acts essentially like a 401(k) with employees able to choose investment options of differing risk and return.

That the Federal Government is out in front of Pennsylvania on anything – by nearly three decades no less – has to be more than a little troubling to Pennsylvania tax payers!  And this again, is problem whose responsibility falls squarely on BOTH political parties.

Former Gov Tom Ridge, not exactly the brightest light on pension sanity

Former Gov Tom Ridge, not exactly the brightest light on pension sanity

In 2001 it was the Tom Ridge Republican administration that cut a foggy-headed deal with the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, where both Democrats and Republicans agreed to significantly increase the pension benefits of Legislators, state workers, and teachers.  They then compounded their stupidity by slashing the taxpayer contribution to service that very same pension obligation.  It’s a case of an entire government turning a blind eye towards its very own economic future!

Changes to the way employee pensions are managed and financed have been rippling through the entire U.S. economy, most drastically of course in the private sector, where change depends not on the consensus of 250 State Legislators who so intimately tied to the very benefits that economic reality demands must change.  But it is virtually impossible to find an employer now who will provide an employee with a defined-benefit pension plan.

It’s a Republican-Democrat problem that will need both parties in the State Legislator to step up to the plate and fix.

Now, I’m not sure Governor Corbett’s approach is the best alternative necessarily for Pennsylvania’s particular pension situation. The devil is always in the details.  However, you must admire Corbett’s tenacity in pushing for pubic awareness of a problem very difficult to fully understand and always controversial … And doing so during an election year!

That, my friends, is Leadership with all its risks and political exposures.

Like the national bi-annual conniption over Social Security insolvency, it’s always the first person who goes through the wall that gets shot.  Yet this is a problem to which even tax & spend liberal Tom Wolf has begun to awaken.  Oh wait a minute … That was for his furniture company, not necessarily the citizens of Pennsylvania!

All politics aside, the message is clear.

If you live in Pennsylvania and believe that the REAL problems we face are Education, Taxes, and Economic Growth, you simply must recognize the threat that growing pension costs pose to the economic health of The Keystone State.  Tell this story to your Pennsylvania neighbors.  Let your voice be heard by demanding your State Representatives and Senators act together with Governor Corbett to address pension reform NOW!

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Reflections on the Spirit of Independence

Declaration_independenceI admit it.  I’m a bit of a history nerd.

Make that an American history nerd.  It’s difficult for me to get interested in the ancient history of Old Europe or the Greeks or the Roman Empire.  For me, it’s a matter of direct effect.  Although American society has its foundation atop the successful and advanced societies that preceded, it’s difficult for those ancient predecessors to elicit an excitement in me that overshadows the more recent authors of purely American success.

But that’s just me …

What really holds my fascination whenever I take the opportunity to reflect on our earliest American history is the foresight and fortitude demonstrated by our Founding Fathers, and the difficult and sordid compromises they made to bring to fruition a tenuous but entirely necessary experiment in Independence from tyranny.

In 1776, an eclectic collection of leaders, renown primarily within their regional communities, met for a second time in Philadelphia.  (The first Continental Congress met in 1774.)  They brought with them the depth and breadth of institutions, economics, religious beliefs, and governing philosophies prominent where they lived to Philadelphia in order to argue and decide the fate of British colonies chafing under the capricious actions of rulers residing a full ocean away.

These men were far from perfect.  Some held some views on women and slavery that many – living now – would characterize as appallingly backward or downright inhumane.  Some of them surely recognized – or at least refused to confront – their conflicted positions on the Equality of all Men, while themselves holding men in slavery.  And in the end, we like to think their better angels had no choice but to kick several very large cans of worms into the future.  These cans or worms required generations to resolve.  The biggest unresolvable issue – Slavery – eventually demanded the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands 85 years later in a civil war that threatened to tear apart a still fragile Union.

These compromises they made because they were blessed with a yearning that rendered one choice paramount to all irreconcilable differences …

Independence from England …. Freedom from oppressive rulers!

What I find most fascinating of all is that this Second Continental Congress was successful at all!

Think of the mindsets that drove a loose collection of men from geographically extended colonies with no standing army or navy; rife with regional differences; and faced with moral shortcomings that differed not just on Equality, but the actual definition of Man to slap the insolent glove of challenge across the face of the largest and strongest empire that existed on Earth at the time!

Battle_of_Guiliford_Courthouse_15_March_1781Yes, they were fallible; and perhaps they were morally weak by today’s standards.  But they were also the social and political elite, who in the end had the most to lose if the insurrection failed.  Many of them would have been hunted down and killed, and their families as well.  Their property scattered among the triumphant British generals, if the miracle of victory was not somehow accomplished.

When I read about those days in the latter stages of the 1700s, I like to think that the stronger minds that were present knew that what they were putting into motion was an imperfect solution to an unavoidable problem.  That their only choice was a somewhat soiled compromise to accomplish a greater good.

They had faith that an initial success, no matter how unlikely to succeed against a well-trained British military, would allow for growth and an abiding strength for future generations to tackle the problems they could not resolve when forming a less perfect Union.  If they did think that way, they were prescient, even if those changes came by way of dramatic sacrifice and untold sufferings.

The image that comes to me this year on Independence Day is a fanciful look back through these 238 years into that hot, stuffy room in Philadelphia.  In that moment those brave men can also see the progress, the obstacles, the conflicts, and the sacrifices that have been experienced and overcome; and what those efforts have wrought.  They can see exactly how far their not-so-little experiment has grown.

At either ends of this fantastic time tunnel, both groups stand 238 years apart and in absolute awe of each other.

Enjoy your 4th of July!

 

Random thoughts for Primary drowsiness

Slow, slow, slow today at the polls …

Saw an interesting blog post from The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Editorial Board that lauds Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett for adding 100,000 jobs in the State since January 2011!  It’s a powerful statement for no other reason than it comes from The Inqy’s Editorial Board …

* * * * * *

Just voted and I was #34 at our polling location.  We might be up to 40 now.

Have I mentioned how slow Primary Days are?

* * * * * *

In our little slice of Horsham heaven I note that the Philadelphia labor and trade unions are nowhere to be found.  The unions have a history for sending union outsiders here to “work” Horsham’s polls as Democrat “volunteers”. Given the almost uniquely Democrat event today’s primary is, it’s obvious the Unions are sitting this one out.

* * * * * *

Geez … Is it really only noon?!?

 

A Primary plan

primary-electionPrimary days … I hate them.

Off year elections can at least be interesting.  The upcoming November ballot will be much more intriguing with Pennsylvania Governor and mid-term Congressional elections to be decided.

That one will be fun.

Primary elections?  bleah …

As a Republican committee representative, it’s always a long day at the polls.  What makes it most interesting however, when the political conditions are right, are the interactions and discussions you can have.  People who make sure they get out to vote are those most likely to be keeping abreast of the political news.

The greater the interest, the more voters show up, the better the day …

Tomorrow, with only one significant Republican race (PA 13th Congressional District) in my district (Horsham 1-3) and a slate of State Republican committee nominees to select, there’s not a lot of sexiness to attract much attention.  I guess I’ll pass the day baiting what Democrats turn out for their primaries for Governor and the PA 13th, which is like trying to pick The Golden Ticket out of a bag of lemons.

For those waiting patiently for my PA 13th Congressional Republican endorsement, you won’t find one.  I am disappointed in what little I have heard – which is nothing – from Beverly Plosa-BowserDee Adcock put me to sleep in 2010.  To win the 13th, you must have the connection and the energy to make inroads into the Northeast Philly chunk of the district.  Neither has convinced me they will have what it takes, so let the voters decide!

I will be at the Horsham firehouse on Meetinghouse Road for most of the day tomorrow.  Stop in and keep me from falling asleep!

Democrats for Governor: Playing Sharks and Jets

West-Side-Story-west-side-story-27587742-461-346The Democrats’ contest to pick a candidate to unseat Tom Corbett in the race for Governor of Pennsylvania is in full swing.  I’m sure I am not the only Pennsylvania Republican who has been enjoying the spectacle of Democrat cannibalism.

The Democrats love eating their own as much as Republicans do.

It’s a real accomplishment for any incumbent challenger to be successful in a general election after surviving a competitive and contentious primary.  The zeal both political parties take in tearing down their own candidates during primary seasons is frankly bizarre.  Whether it’s Allyson Schwartz‘s scorched-earth strategy for defending her 13th District Congressional seat or Republicans playing Whack-a-Mole on their best candidates before challenging a vulnerable President.

It’s hard to win a horse race when your prized steed – “winner” of the preliminary heat – is lame and limping off to the glue factory.

But if you are supporting an incumbent, who enjoys the safety of a challenge-less primary, patiently waiting for the battered primary victor to emerge, it’s a bit more rewarding to grab the popcorn; find a comfy chair; and commit to paper all the great attack lines your primaried opponents will hand you in their attempts to survive the intra-party process.

Whack-a-MoleFor Democrats the home stretch for the May 20 primary is within sight; and the heat has been turned up by the two biggest names in the race; both struggling to keep up with 25-point front-runner, Tom Wolf.  If you have been paying attention during this internecine combat, you have learned much about how for the Democrats will go to unseat Tom Corbett and how they will govern should they win.

For weeks now, I have been waiting for Schwartz to resort to the nuclear option in what must be an extremely frustrating struggle for Schwartz, who had already picked out the Executive Mansion drapes.  Instead, it was Rob McCord who decided to drop the bomb … a race bomb!

Divisiveness has blossomed as a favored tactic of Democrats running for executive offices, seeking to ingratiate themselves with specific – and obvious – voting blocks.  They present their arguments like this …

  • There are two groups.  (Let’s call them the Sharks and the Jets, so I don’t end up being hung at high noon by the Political Correctness Police.)
  • The groups can be split along a few different fault lines … economic (1% vs. 99%), geographic politics (urban vs. rural), corporate/consumer, gender, race, religion, etc.
  • “I am a Jet, just like you!” as opposed to being one of those nasty, selfish Sharks.  (This is aside from the fact that very often those claiming to be Jets are in fact Sharks.  More on that a little later.)
  • “Vote for me and I will level the playing field at the expense of those big, bad Sharks!”

McCord’s tactic was all too obvious.  Appeal to the large concentrations of votes in Pennsylvania’s biggest cities by alleging racism by Tom Wolf.

The incident, a killing during the 1969 race riots in York, Pennsylvania (Wolf’s hometown), returned to haunt the 2001 re-election campaign of then-Mayor Charlie Robertson.  When faced with the 2001 indictment, Robertson was persuaded to resign from the election after having already won the primary.  Wolf was one of several advisers who talked Robertson into resigning.

So really, Tom Wolf was simply standing by a friend,who had not as yet been tried (and was later acquitted) of the charges against him.

Of course that didn’t matter to McCord.  He got what he felt he needed, a wedge with which he could pry votes his way.  But it also gives you an insight into what a McCord Administration of State might look like .. a lot of bodies under a lot of buses.

Divisiveness, then conquer … a recurring theme …

Just ask Nate Kleinman what it's like!

Just ask Nate Kleinman what it’s like!

Schwartz – of course – jumped right on the Railroad Wolf train.  But then again, she doesn’t have much else to fall back on.  Her own Philadelphia connections have not been impressed with her constant harping of support for President Obama and his administration’s stilted, stuttering policies.  Most of all the Affordable Care Act …

Not exactly political genius by the Schwartz campaign, given the abominable handling of the ACA rollout, the Obama Administration’s opaque-ness when it comes to ACA sign-up/payment information, and well, just about everything they do – or don’t do – internationally.

Schwartz’s biggest problem though, when trying to connect to Joe Voter, is that when it comes to playing the 99% Jets off the 1% Sharks, she can’t hide the fact that she is – in fact – a Shark!

Then again, so are all the Democrats running for Governor!

Check out the income tax statements of the Democrat candidates who released their tax returns, keeping in mind that as late as 2012, the standard for being considered a 1% income earner was roughly $380,000.

200397812-001All figures are from 2012 tax returns:

  • Tom Wolf – $2.2 million in total (unadjusted) income (Taxes paid: $263,000 … Secured a loan for $4 million to partially finance campaign.)
  • Allyson Schwartz – $666,000 (unadjusted) income (Taxes paid: $140,000 … $5 million in campaign fund remaining as of April 8)
  • Rob McCord – $333,500 (unadjusted) income (OK … He’s a 1.5%’er!  Loaned campaign $1.7 million.)
  • Katie McGinty – $1.0 million (Taxes paid: $251,000 … Loaned her campaign $535,000.)

Now certainly there’s nothing wrong with being a successful 1%’er as it results from your hard work, highly demanded capabilities, or entrepreneurial spirit.  No, my point is this …

When these candidates look you in the eye and try to tell you they know what you are going through; that they are on your side; and they will help your Jets even the playing field with those richie-rich Sharks, you need to ask yourself the one question that really matters, when your family could live quite comfortably on what these candidates pay in taxes alone …

Wolf may the rue the day his Jeep joined the campaign.

Wolf may the rue the day his Jeep joined the campaign.

Who’s kidding whom?!?

The same story applies to how budgets and taxes will work should one of these esteemed liberals defeat a vulnerable Tom Corbett.

All four Democrat candidates rail against the $1 billion lost to education in the Pennsylvania budget.  They will all restore it.  Cost: $1 billion

By the Way …

The $1 billion cut to education in Pennsylvania was not a Corbett budget cut, as Democrats will lead you to believe.  The cuts were the result of the loss of $1 billion in federal stimulus dollars committed to the education budget by former Governor Ed Rendell and lost when the federal stimulus program ended in 2011. 

The 2013-14 state budget faces a $500 million shortfall, largely the result of overly optimistic projections of tax revenues that have not materialized.  Projections suggest the same could hold true for FY14-15, which begins on July 1.  So the State is really looking at a $1 billion budget gap.

The Democrats running for Governor all want to fix that of course.  Cost:  $1.0 billion over two years ($500K a year)

Total costs of fixing both the education funding gap and the State budget shortfall:  $1.5 billion annually

And how will Democrats fix this problem?  The unanimous answer is RAISE TAXES!  A large chunk of their proposed solution would be extraction taxes on the natural gas industry.

The problem for those of us who identify as middle class?

If you were hoping that Pennsylvania’s huge gas resource would result in cheaper local energy costs, it would be us – as consumers of this Pennsylvania gas – who will end up paying those taxes as increases to the wholesale/retail prices … of the gas itself and the products that rely on that gas for production and transportation.

shark-repellent-sharep-b_2Increased taxes are never paid solely by the businesses that are taxed.  They are simply pushed out to the consumer, who pays those added taxes in increased costs of what they buy and the services they use.  In addition, the fact that Pennsylvania already taxes energy companies with the second highest marginal corporate income tax rates in the country renders further taxation a potential drag on the economy and killer of jobs.

So when a Pennsylvania Democrat candidate for Governor comes calling; looks you in the eye; tells you they are a Jet, just like you; that they have your back; and will work oh-so-very-hard in your interests, make sure you have that Shark repellent handy!

No man is an Island … unless an Island he is

zombie-hands

Now I know what a Zombie Apocalypse
might look like …

I stand alone.  It’s official.

At some point this week, my last hope that good parenting, a quality standard of living, and the example – so often set here – that a grounded political philosophy can hold up to any intellectual challenge was smothered in the simple act of renewing a Pennsylvania driver’s license.

My youngest son changed his voter registration to Democrat.  And he is the smart one!

Was the smart one …

How did he express his change of affiliation when asked?  “I changed my mind.”

He made it sound like he was changing his socks.

Maybe it’s a statement on my Leadership.  Maybe I didn’t politically proselytize enough when the boys were so impressionable the correct politic would have been permanently ingrained, like their Philly accents.  Maybe I made one too many mistakes as a parent.

Oh well …

So now I am surrounded.  But that’s OK.  I can take solace in the following.

    • Neither one of them votes to my knowledge; and unfortunately, getting an Absentee Ballot is about to get a lot harder for one Temple Owl!
    • Mr. Hoot is also going to love taking the Broad St Subway back to school in the company of so many of his Democrat buds!
    • The two lost offspring who still list our home as primary residence do not as yet have to buy their own healthcare on those sterling examples of Government efficacy and Democrat “know how”, those Obamacare exchanges.  (I just want to be in the room when they find out how much they will be paying!)

doctor-obamacare

    • Neither have they had to worry about supporting themselves entirely on their own, and by doing so discover just how hard it is to stay ahead of the curve all the while supporting so many who simply don’t bother trying.
    • Nor do they possess the baseline from which they can gauge all that marvelous Hope and Change to which they are obviously drawn.
    • I still hold very limited influence over my Better Half. Carol votes Republican – I think – but has little interest in changing party affiliation for some reason.

In the end, I will continue to stand as the Lion at the Gate.  Politely accepting the political materials dropped off at the house by my Democrat opposition during elections cycles and quietly sorting the mail.   Not sure why those materials never seem to arrive with their intended receivers.

I guess all’s fair in Love and Poltics!

Of course I told the house’s latest Democrat that he will always be welcomed back into the real Party of Progress … once he regains his senses!

But for now, I am the lone Grand Old Party stalwart beating back the political zombies seeking to weaken the ramparts, while keeping the inmates calm and reassuring them that they can have their political say the second Tuesday of every November!

Welfare reform through Transitional Living Funds

U.S. REP Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18)

U.S. REP Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18)

OK, OK … I know a lot of people are having a really hard time digesting U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee‘s suggestion that the benefits many of the poor accumulate under “Welfare” should be re-branded to as “Transitional Living Funds“.

Now, putting aside the fact that few people – other than Liberals – would be tricked by simply renaming a Government give-away to some other seemingly innocuous term, I think Representative Lee is actually onto something!

The key to my intrigue is that very first word.

Of the three primary definitions of the word TRANSITION in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, let’s look at the most commonly used.  (The third deals with “musical modulation”.)

TRANSITION: 1. a : passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another :  change;  b :  a movement, development, or evolution from one form, stage, or style to another … 2. an abrupt change in energy state or level (as of an atomic nucleus or a molecule) usually accompanied by loss or gain of a single quantum of energy … TRANSITION

I think she’s on to something!

Transitional Living Fund would suddenly become exactly what they were intended to be for most healthy individuals not strapped with insurmountable life problems … a means for surviving extremely difficult times in life, where one stares into the bleak abyss of abject poverty through no fault of their own.

Those individuals by definition could now be expected – under this new definition of welfare – to change, to seek ways to improve their lot in life, and maybe – EGADS! – be held to a minimal level of Personal Responsibility!

They might be asked to do what any reasonable person would be expected to do when faced with severe life challenges.  They would be given a LIMITED period of time – Let’s say a year. – to TRANSITION themselves towards a better way of life; a plan for their future and their families future success; a job.

After that Transitional Period they would be expected to pass onto a more stringent period of Personal Progress.  Maybe they could still receive some of all of their TLF benefits PROVIDED that they continue to follow a program intended to find them a suitable job and their TLF benefits would be offset by whatever wages they are able to earn.

Think about it … Personal Improvement, a way out of the morass of poverty and helplessness.  Heck, it even sounds like Progressiveness!  And what Liberal doesn’t embrace that term?!?

Nah … It’ll never happen!

But a big “Thank You!” to REP Sheila Jackson Lee for trying!

Montgomery County Republicans: Healing acts, and a recipe for Success

PA State Rep Mike Vereb

PA State Rep Mike Vereb

On a cold night in early December the Montgomery County (PA) Republican Committee took another big step towards dumping a decade of internal discord by the side of the road.  The rifts that seemed insurmountable only a few months ago, have been bridged and will finally begin to fade from memory.  The Party can push on to a brighter future.

And no peeking backwards is allowed …

As new Co-Chair of the MCRC Finance Committee, Bob Asher stated during October’s MCRC love fest, ” … we can’t have any more rearview mirrors on the bus.”  Asher, along with his Co-Chair compadre, Vahan Gureghian will form a solid backbone for future Republican success in Montgomery County.

The struggles that have faced the Montgomery County GOP in recent years have been expensive, costing opportunities for leadership of County Government; control of County Row Offices; and a growing disadvantage to Democrat registration numbers.  In addition, the infighting has cost the County GOP dearly in unity and focus.

Then suddenly the skies cleared; the feud was over!

In the days leading up to the annual MCRC dinner in October, that would feature an appearance by Governor Tom Corbett, the leaders of the Montgomery County Republican Committee put differences aside to form a much stronger alliance, and created a powerful mechanism for promoting Republican ideals that have made Montgomery County among the choicest counties in which to live.

Finance Co-Chairs Vahan Gureghian and Bob Asher with Governor Corbett

Finance Co-Chairs Vahan Gureghian and Bob Asher with Governor Corbett

Then out of the blue MCRC Chairman Robert Kerns submitted his sudden resignation leaving the County GOP leaderless at a crucial time, a crisis that threatened to undo all the progress the Party had recently made.

And into the breach stepped Pennsylvania State Representative Mike Vereb!

Vereb has served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives since 2007, and has run successfully for re-election in 2008, ’10 and ’12.  Previous to his successful run for the PA State House, he worked in the West Conshohocken Police Department and served as President of the West Norriton (PA) Board of Commissioners.

Now, I haven’t been much of a regular attendee at the Montgomery County Republican Committee events despite my membership as a Horsham Republican committeeman.  High-powered politics is not my forté.  I prefer to observe, comment (Hence the blog!) and support in whatever way I can those whose values and policies I agree with.

Those who stumble from time-to-time on this tiny slice of the internet super-megatropolis may be familiar with some of my more pointed rants and ravings when it comes to issues like wayward Liberal logic or deception, poor leadership, and – more recently – the dangerous tendency by my political party when it comes to marginalizing its moderate wing of thought.

If it comes to this, so be it!

If it comes to this, so be it!

That last point is one that’s been weighing on my mind for quite some time.  For me, the issue illustrates just how willing the GOP is – on both regional and national levels – to take seriously the depth and breadth of viewpoints existing within those who labor for the ideals the Party represents.

It has been a discouraging to hear constantly that only Big C Conservatives speak truly to the important issues of the day.  That, if you do not share their vision, you are not pure somehow as a Republican.  That only those who hold tight to the hard Right vision are worthy of expressing their views.

Worse from my point-of-view, it’s really very, very bad politics, particularly in a region where so many Moderates live, work and raise families.  And when it comes to Electoral Math, it certainly does not improve the chances of success Nationally.

It was with this mindset I resisted the idea of attending Mr. Vereb’s unchallenged rise to the MCRC Chairmanship.  That was until he made a somewhat personal appeal that I attend such an important event. (OK … It was simply a personal Facebook plea, but nonetheless …)

So on a chilly night in early December I schlepped out to the Westover Country Club to see what would happen for myself.  I wanted to HEAR the message that would come from the prospective Chairman.

I was quite pleasantly surprised!

Chairman Vereb recognized that the Party had become complacent, living off past victories, and not consistently or effectively communicating its message.  It’s a message that should ring loudly for many, including our Democrat neighbors, who have chosen Montgomery County as the place to live for its good schools, safe communities and low taxes.

The message to be stressed is that these things do not occur by accident.  That such development was the result of excellent leadership, sound policies, and effective management.  That throughout the County these successes resulted from decades of Republican stewardship.

The strategy worked quite well for Horsham Republicans on Election Day 2013.

imagesThe message should be a tone-setter for all efforts to promote Republican leadership, the foundation for MCRC efforts to win elections in those areas where the Party’s leadership has a demonstrated record of Success.

At this point of Vereb’s speech, I still wasn’t really totally listening.  It was what Mike said next grabbed me and convinced me the County GOP is headed towards much, much better days!

” … the best interests of our party must always come before personal agendas. … we must be inclusive and welcoming not only of different ideas about how to effectively promote our party and its candidates, but as to what the practical policy goals of our party must be.”

Music to my ears … But the best what yet to come.

“No political party ever expanded its base by requiring unquestioned adherence to a single ideology or perspective. … We are residents of a diverse county in one of the most diverse states in our nation …”

A lesson with which those at the highest reaches of the Grand Old Party will someday have to come to grips.  To win elections – and with that the opportunity to lead, to shape, to find success – the Republican Party has to maximize its philosophical reach to those of moderate economic and social viewpoints.

“Demanding uniformity from our fellow Republicans will only invite electoral losses and policy disasters.  However, by accepting reasonable differences of opinion we will be better positioned to achieve our overall goal of electing Republicans who will make sure government operates efficiently, effectively and is responsive to the interests of hard-working taxpayers.”

Now, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure whether Vereb was speaking of outside political fortunes or the exorcism of past Committee sectarian conflict, but I chose to interpret his message on the broader political stage.

The simple fact is that Republicans can not be politically successful in the four suburban counties surrounding Philadelphia without embracing some moderate social and economic views.  So the MCRC must find a way to accommodate such thinking in concert with traditional Big C Conservative ideals.

A challenging task?  Certainly … But Mike Vereb’s take on diversity, inclusiveness, and Republicans of all stripe working together to extol the civil virtues of Republican leadership to voting taxpayers, who enjoy living in Montgomery County, sure sounds like a recipe for Success!

In Horsham, the dust settles

imagesIt’s been a crazy 8 weeks since Labor Day in Horsham, Pa!

Maybe when you look at the Election Day results, you might conclude it was much ado about nothing.  Maybe this episode revealed a few more insecurities in our Republican leadership than we care to admit.  Maybe it was a good shot of cold water on the face of complacency.  Maybe it simply proved the point that Success breeds Content among those who pay the bills.

This is not written as a Victory lap.  There was just a little too much anxiety for me despite the registration numbers.  Certainly, there are a number of lessons to be learned here.

The first ones are for the Democrats.  And no, I’m not inclined to share what I think they are.  Let’s just say I was disappointed in their approach.

As for my fellow Republicans, the message is clear.  You are doing a great job – so far – in keeping Horsham a vibrant, healthy, and desirable community.  But we better not fumble the ball!

It’s fairly obvious that the Democrats see Horsham as one of the next prizes in their regional growth.  No surprise there.

They are here to stay.  They will be back.

Take that to heart.

Republican leadership faces any number of challenges at any given time.  But none will be bigger than how they approach the future redevelopment of the NAS-JRB Willow Grove property.

Many of us may be too old by the time shovels start piercing the ground there.  However, Horsham’s future will be tied to those decisions like no others in the coming years.

Choose wisely, my friends.

That being said, I would like to thank all Horshamites who voted – be they Democrat or Republican – for taking the time to voice their opinions on past performance and who should lead the Township into the future.

The mantra of “All politics are local.” is one I firmly believe in.  So I am flummoxed by the fact that less than 40% of registered voters bother to vote in the most local of elections.  One would think the closer an election is to your home, your family, your way of life would be the elections most important to you.

But maybe that’s just me.

On a personal note, I took the step this year of sending a personal appeal to every Republican voter in Horsham’s Ward 1, District 3.  It was an attempt to underscore the importance of Tuesday’s vote and the decisions we would be making.

The turnout numbers as a percentage of registered voters in the 1-3 was disappointing, given the effort.  So I will have to consider other options.

But to those who listened, and to all those who voted in the 1-3 and throughout Horsham, thank you!

Judges for Montgomery County (PA)

UnknownTo be honest, I don’t pay a lot of attention to Elections for Judges.  In my humble opinion, this should always be viewed – first and foremost – as a competency issue, as opposed to a question of political philosophy.

Choices for Courts of Common Pleas are preserved The People of Pennsylvania to decide.  On Tuesday, November 5, Montgomery County voters will be choosing between four candidates for two openings in the Court of Common Pleas for Montgomery County (PA).

It’s an important decision for Voters, particularly in Pennsylvania where it’s purported to be easier to become a judge than it is a cosmetologist!

So where does one go to find out which Judges are considered to be most competent?  Answer – for me at least – is the Montgomery Bar Association, which every year offers its recommendations for the election of Judges.

There are four candidates for two open positions on the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas.  In Pennsylvania the Court of Common Pleas hears and decides major civil and criminal cases.

The Montgomery (PA) Bar Association’s Judiciary Committee gives only Maureen Coggins, Esq. its Highly Recommended rating.  She was the ONLY Montgomery County lawyer to receive this recommendation.

The remaining three candidates, Sharon L. Giamporcaro, Esq., Steven C. Tolliver, Sr., Esq., and Gail Weilheimer, Esq. are provided Recommended ratings.

Maureen Coggins, esq.

Maureen Coggins, esq.

Maureen Coggins is the only one of the four candidates I can remember having met or heard speak.  I caught her presentation for support from Montgomery County Republican Committee members in January 2011 in which she was unsuccessful that November.

I was much impressed by her passion, commitment, and no-nonsense plan for making the most of a judicial position if elected.  At the time, I felt that Montgomery County missed a great choice for The Bench.

Of the other three candidates, I was most impressed by the backgrounds and experiences of both Ms. Giamporcaro and Mr. Tolliver.

As a citizen however, you should rightfully be most concerned about the Quality of the Judges you elect; and for that, Maureen Coggins comes Highly Recommended!

Of the others, choose wisely.

.

A Scott Freda update for Horsham Township voters

Last week, I gave my not so surprising views on the upcoming election for Horsham Township Council.  But I missed a BIG piece of information on candidate Scott Freda, who served as an advisor to President Bill Clinton.

It appears that Freda’s name was prominently mentioned in an investigation into illegal campaign contributions related to the 2000 Presidential campaign of Al Gore.

The L.A. Times in an article published in June 2007 described the sordid connections between a California businessman, Ray Jinnah, and advisors to the Clinton Administration as they worked to get Gore elected.  The network allegedly ran to Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat fundraiser and close friend of the Clintons.

McAuliffe, in another interesting twist, is currently running to become Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia!

In part, the Times article notes …

“The Times obtained a copy of a stock certificate showing 10,000 shares in the name of Scott Freda, a fundraiser and McAuliffe associate. Freda said he recalled Jinnah promising stock to him, but never receiving it.”

It’s best to read the entire L.A. Times article in order to draw your own conclusions.  (See the June 2007 link above.)

Jinnah eventually fled to his native Pakistan to avoid prosecution, returning to face the music and plead guilty in 2006.

Freda was never prosecuted for his involvement; but he freely admitted that Jinnah promised him stock.  The “Big Aha!” for me is that the L.A. Times piece fails to mention whether Mr. Freda ever went to the authorities with the first-hand information he knew of Jinnah before being confronted with it years later.

My thoughts on this?

Where there’s Smoke, there’s Fire!

Voters of Horsham Beware!