I got my say, and they're welcome to disagree. That applies to Charlie Snelling, who Wednesday morning defended his fellow Republicans from my call to vote out anyone who supported the GOP congressional redistricting plan.
I heard similar comments from other readers, some of whom suggested that I'm just picking on the Republicans because I'm part of the liberal media.
On that last point, my record speaks for itself. I've devoted far more column inches over the years to ripping legislative Democrats — Keith McCall, Roy Afflerbach, Bill DeWeese, Vince Fumo, Michael Veon and others — than I have Republicans. And almost every time I've written about the Republican redistricting plan, I've noted that they have no exclusive claim to gerrymandering. Democrats have worked just as hard to protect their incumbents when the opportunity has presented itself, and it was Democratic committee Chairwoman Babette Josephs who buried the most recent attempt to reform the state redistricting process in 2008, which made her howls of protest this year absolutely laughable.
For the most part, I've tried to follow the advice of one of my college journalism mentors, who advocated, "The stiletto, not the meat-ax." The one exception has been the behavior of our state Legislature. Our elected representatives have demonstrated over and over that they will do anything in pursuit of their three priorities: 1. Enriching themselves 2. Ensuring their perpetual re-election 3. Making sure the rank and file of both parties vote as they are told.
It is a source of endless frustration to me that the people of Pennsylvania haven't risen up en masse to throw these bums out, with the exception of a brief flurry of retribution in the wake of the 2005 payjacking. If my last column on Lehigh Valley representatives who supported the outrageous gerrymandering of the 15th Congressional District and the rest of Pennsylvania and showed utter disregard for the letter and intent of our state constitution — PAT BROWNE, BOB MENSCH, DAVID ARGALL, GARY DAY, JULIE HARHART and DOUG REICHLEY — seemed a bit over the top by my standards, it was an accurate reflection of my anger.
I got a call once from then-House Minority Leader DeWeese, and I was struck by his smug amusement over the inability of good government types, including me, to do anything about party leaders' shenanigans. He obviously thought we were saps to believe we could make a difference.
McCall, D-Carbon, made it clear he felt that way. A triple payjacker and inveterate perkmeister, he refused to return his ill-gotten booty from the 2005 money grab, even after it had been repealed and declared unconstitutional. He retired at the end of 2010 after 28 years in office with an estimated $100,000 state pension — and then almost immediately was appointed to the state Gaming Control Board, where he is earning $145,000 a year, even better than his roughly $120,000-a-year salary as House speaker.
We were told that one of his chief qualifications was his role in writing the state gaming law, in effect praising him for violating our state constitution and crafting an institution and process that have been a fiasco.
This is what we reward in Harrisburg.
That brings me back to the one point in Snelling's column that I would like to address, because I think it's important. Should we base our vote on one issue, ignoring the rest of the legislator's record?
If that issue is ethics in government, my answer is an emphatic yes. It's why I've made this same call on each of the payjacking votes, hounding legislators for years afterward, and why I feel the same way about this one.
It's unreasonable to demand that elected officials agree with us on every issue. But I think it's entirely reasonable to say that if my representative not only doesn't understand how desperately we need to raise our ethical standards in Pennsylvania but is in fact part of the problem — and has displayed an utter disregard for protecting his own region to boot — I need to elect someone else.
I evoked the words of "Star Wars'" Obi-Won Kenobi some years ago by proclaiming Harrisburg to be a wretched hive of scum and villainy. That will never change until enough Republicans and Democrats rise above their party labels and make it clear from their words and their votes that they're committed to changing that.
If not, we should kick them out.
Bill White's commentary appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays