Thursday, March 10, 2011

It Ain't Beans Watching Sausage Made

John C. Pittenger. Politics Ain’t Beanbag. Bloomington, Indiana: Author House, 2005.

The author was born to a Republican father and Democratic mother. After his father introduced him to a fraternity brother Wendell Willkie, the ten year old informed his mother he was a Republican. When his mother informed him he would have to feed himself as a Republican, he decided to become a Democrat. He remained a Democrat.

While a student at Harvard Law School in 1956, Pittenger co-chaired the Cambridge Volunteers for Stevenson. It was a humbling experience as it was the first time a 20th century Democratic Presidential candidate lost Cambridge.

Pittenger entered politics with a few political beliefs. He compares these at the end of the book to his politics after most of his political career was over. He initially thought politics should be about reason and not about self interest, issues should be decided on their merits and not upon political deals, formal education was more important than experience, empirical research and proper theory could solve policy problems, and progress was the destiny of politics. He labeled this as an “anti-political theory of politics”.

Pittenger found a job with a Lancaster, Pa. law firm whose partner, Dick Snyder, was Republican County Chairman and eventually State Senator. There was a vacancy for the local Democratic committeeman’s position where Pittenger lived, so he offered to fill the job and was accepted. He later became Ward Leader.

Pittenger writes of the importance of political parties. He notes how the Democratic Party has helped defend his legislative successor, Mike Sturla, from Republican efforts to unseat him. Sturla and the Democratic Party work well together and he hints that without a party structure it would be hard to keep good legislators in office.

Mayor Thomas Monaghan taught Pittenger the importance of local politics. The Mayor personally oversaw potholes being filled. The Mayor knew that the viewers would also see this.

Pittenger supported civil service. He unsuccessfully tried to move the state college operations of the Education Department to an independent system. Governor Shapp wanted the power of appointing 14 college Presidents. The bill creating this independence finally passed under Governor Thornburgh. Pittenger notes that patronage did introduce many working class people to politics. He fears there has since been less interest and participation in politics within the working class.

Lancaster County was, and still is, a strongly Republican majority county. Armstrong, a major employer, is believed to have discouraged employees from being active Democrats. The business and political leadership developed strong ties.

Stilll, Pittenger enjoyed being a Democratic Committeeman in Lancaster County. He liked discussing politics with local voters. A committeeman could firsthand see the results of his efforts when the local vote tallies were produced.

Being a Committeeman included recruiting people for run for offices such as Auditor and Constable. This entry into politics would often prepare people to run for Council or legislator. The Committeeman would get people to sign petitions to their candidates listed on the primary ballot. This often involves convincing people who aren’t interested in politics to become aware and involved. Committee people canvass their voters, advocate for their candidates, and see if voters need assistance going to vote. Committee people then work distributing literature and calling for and driving voters to the polls.

Pittenger ran for the State House in every election from 1962 to 1970. He won two of the five elections. In 1962, he raised $2,000 and lost by 2,127 votes. He enjoyed the experience and wanted to run again. He won in 1964 along with the Lyndon Johnson landslide. Gene Rutherford, who he defeated in 1964, defeated him in 1966 by 496 votes. Pittenger then became the Research Director for the House Democrats. Pittenger won his 1968 race by 865 vptes. He notes an increase in Democratic registration of American Americans and Hispanic voters was beneficial to him in the 1968 election. In 1970, Harold Horn spoke out against a scattered site public housing program while Pittenger argued that was a local and net legislative issue, Horn won by 239 votes. Pittenger’s 1970 case cost $20,000.

The author argues campaigns have become too expensive. Contributors to political campaigns want to influence legislation. He favors limited the amount of political advertising.

In Pittenger’s first term, he found Governor William Scranton had a top staff that worked well with legislators of both parties.

Rep. Pittenger argued against legislative districts having multiple legislators. This was often done to avoid redistricting the multiple legislative members into smaller single member districts that could allow the election of a person from another political party. Often this was used to prevent the urban part of an area to elect a Democrat. Instead, the urban Democratic vote would become a minority vote when electing multiple members of a larger district. Pittenger argued this was a civil rights issue as it took away the influence of African American voters. This got the attention of some Republicans who, in 1965, were concerned about the growing alienation of African Americans from the historic party of Lincoln towards the party of President Johnson who signed the Civil Rights Act.

Pittenger served on the Ways and Means Committee. He was asked to hold a hearing on a bill college students wanted that would exclude college textbooks from the sales tax. Pittenger argued with the students that the sales tax was not a burden to the students, but that the $1.8 million raised by it could pay for more scholarships. The bill died in committee.

Pittenger advocated for college scholarships. He wanted them administered by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Association as he was not satisfied with the Education Department operations. Governor Scranton wanted to spend less of scholarships than did Pittenger and other legislators. $4 million was approved in the first year.

Pittenger advocated scholarships that would pay for most of the college costs for poorer students. Instead, legislators preferred giving fewer funds to more people. This was more beneficial politically.

Pittenger attempted to address an inequity in school funding. Lancaster, like most urban areas, has more hospitals, colleges, and churches than do its suburbs. 20% of Lancaster’s tax base was tax exempt, compared to 13% or less that was tax exempt in each of the urban or rural areas. Thus, Lancaster school taxes were 17 mills while the highest affluent suburban rate was 13 mills. Suburban and rural legislators have refused to address this inequity.

Pittenger learned an important political lesson from Rep. Gil DeMedio. Pittenger had criticized DeMedio for being too involved in the small problems of his local constituents. De Medio replied “being elected to the legislature out there is like winning the Buick at the Fireman’s Carnival. You gotta take our friends and relations for a ride.”

House pages then were students from the Harrisburg Area Community College. Pittenger convinced Majority Leader Leroy Irvis to allow a guest page program. Pittenger brought a page each week from his district public high school, including the first female page.

Pittenger notes that Democratic Caucus meetings were where Democratic legislators learned about legislative issues and what leadership positions were. He observed that legislative caucus leaders expected members to follow them yet they understood if, due to conscience or if the interests of one’s district conflicted, a member was allowed to dissent. Pittenger noted this leadership discipline benefited him once. He had a bill yet feared amendments would kill it. Democratic Leader asked in caucus about his bill “is any S.O.B. going to offer an amendment?” None did.

Pittenger clashed on occasion with Eilberg. Pittenger was supporting legislation to allow part of the closing Olmstead Air Base to become part of Penn State. Eilberg objected, stating he “didn’t want any damn college professors within 50 miles of Harrisburg:. When Pittenger pointed out a number of already existing colleges in the Harrisburg area, Eilberg backed down.

Pittenger observed that press coverage of state politics has deteriorated. There are fewer reporters today covering state politics, and those that are there tend to be there for short periods and then they move on to other jobs. In the 1940s, many newspapers had experienced long serving reporters. He notes the press prefers writing about conflict of interest stories which create front page interest while ignoring the harder to research stories on issues which have more impact on the public.

In 1969, Rep. Pittenger chaired the committee that formed the Joint Legislative Data Processing Committee. Computers were brought to the legislature. He found computers a useful research tool. Rep. Pittenger was upset when the legislature kept the public and press away from access to things such as roll call votes.

Pittenger notes in 1974 that Democrats had won a majority of House seats. Yet Rep Martin Mullen, who disagreed with his caucus leader Herb Fineman, had himself and 13 disgruntled Democrats elect a Republican, Ken Lee, as Speaker. Rep. Marvin Miller thought his was wrong. He felt electing a fellow Republican as Speaker undermined the wishes of the voters. Miller and 9 other Republicans voted against Lee. Pittenger notes this took great political courage.

Pittenger met with his successor Harold Horn. Horn lamented the long hours of work where little was accomplished. Horn chose not to seek reelection. Pittenger agrees legislatures are not efficiently run. He observed that the status quo has often exhibited a political equilibrium that slowly gains a short term consensus. He believes legislators should think and act for more long term improvements.

When Pittenger was Democratic Caucus Research Director, he was a stsff on one with a $7,500 annual salary. The Senate Research Director Gene Knopf earned $15,000 a year. He analyzed legislation from other states, monitored Congressional actions, attended hearing and floor sessions, wrote speeches, and informed Democratic members about issues. He noted that Rep. Frank Kury made the most use of his resources. Pittenger got upset, and later regretted this, by telling Kury once “I work for all 99 of you. I work 50 hours a week, which comes to about 30 minutes per member. By my calculations, you have used up all your time until next February.“

Pittenger once was the only staff person to criticize a speech Herb Fineman gave. Fineman doubled his salary for being the only truthful staff person.

Pittenger had a good reputation. State Sen. Bob Casey ran for Auditor General and persuaded Pittenger to run with him for State Treasurer. The Democratic Party, though, endorsed a party activist Grace Sloan instead to run with Casey.

Pittenger warns that legislators need more oversight. Legislators pass law after law without examining the totally of their actions. This can make it difficult for laws to work properly.

Pittenger notes there has been an increasing trend towards a lack of competitive legislative elections. He notes that of House seats that were uncontested or barely contested (an opponent received less than 10% of the vote), there was 1 in 1950, 1 in 1960, 2 in 1970, 33 in 1980, 50 in 1990, and 93 in 2000.

Governor Shapp made Pittenger his Legislative Secretary, even though Pittenger had supported his opponent Bob Casey in the primary. Pittenger let Shapp know that Pittenger’s real desire was to be Education Secretary. Shapp agreed to consider him that when that vacancy arose.

Shapp was a thinker who liked to consider many ideas. Pittenger claims staff would pick the best 10% of Shapp’s ideas and work to implement them.

Pittenger credits Lt. Gov. Ernest Kline for being a strong partner in helping Shap get his legislation approved. Kline and Shapp got along even though Kline had been Casey’s running mate in the primary.

The AFL-CIO helped Shapp’s campaign. In return, Shapp was very supportive of labor’s legislative agenda. Much labor legislation passed during the Shapp Administration.

The state adopted a personal income tax under Shapp. It was clear there could not be a balanced state budget without one. Much of the press supported creating the tax. Some business leaders urged Republican legislators to support it. Pittenger helped guide legislation creating this tax through the legislature. It passed 103-97 (102 votes were needed) with one Republican voting in favor and ten Democrats voting against. One Republican Senator Fritz Hobbs supported it but two Democrats were opposed. The Senate amended the bill by lowering the personal income tax rate and raising the business income tax rate. This passed the Senate 26-22. The House then agreed with the Senate bill by 106-90. Pittenger notes the business community suffered by failing to persuade more Senate Republicans to support the original bill.

The state Supreme Court though ruled by 5 to 2 the tax was unconstitutional due to violating the uniformity clause because of the different income tax rates. A bill creating a uniform 2.3% tax rate received the support of 12 House Republicans and 6 Senate Republicans by adding a school subsidy increase that benefitted their districts.

Other Shapp Administration achievements included creating the Environmental Protection Department, taking over operations of Lincoln University, creating new regulations on strip mines, reducing the number of billboards, create a state lottery, and killing attempts to merge the Fish and Game Commissions.

Shapp strongly supported creating a lottery to produce funds for senior citizen programs. Pittenger personally opposed the bill and spoke out against it in staff meetings. Pittenger believes it increases the number of people who gamble and can create financial harm to them.

Shapp did appoint Pittenger as Education Secretary. He served as Acting Secretary for almost a year while the Senate held up his nomination to strike back at Shapp. Pittenger was eventually confirmed by 47-0.

Pittenger insisted, and Shapp agreed, to let Pittenger pick his own staffm, his own deputies, and he could name the State Board of Education, with Sahpp being allowed to veto. Shapp would name college and university Board of Trustees with Pittenger being able to veto. He noted he and Shapp disagreed only a few times.

The Education Department and its 1,100 employees were then located in the Forum State Library building. Only 10 employees were not civil service.

Pittenger hired David Hornbeck, former Board Chairma of the Philadelphia Americans for Democratic Action, as his Executive Deputy Secretary, after reading a letter Hornbeck sent with a treatise on why he wanted the job. Pittenger believes it is important for people to express their ideas clearly in writing.

The state at that time funded 50% of school instructional costs. Pittenger notes this state share has since fallen under 35% .

When speaking, Pittenger was asked by a business owner why he didn’t run his department like a business. Governor Shapp interrupted and took the question. He had the business leader admit his Board of Directors was picked by him and the Board always agreed with him. Shapp then responded that he had to operate “with two boards of directors, one of fifty members, the other of 203, and with 24 out of 50 and 93 out of the 203 out to embarrass you in every way”, thus noting the legislature and his Republican detractors.

The Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children sued due to lack of access to education for children with intellectual disabilities. Pittenger agreed and Shapp negotiated a consent decree placing each child into an appropriate educational setting.

Equality of facilities, scheduling, and coaches for females in interscholastic and intramural athletics was something Pittenger worked for. Lt. Gov. Kline feared this issue could stir enough voter resentment that it could cost him and Shapp their reelections. Pittenger continued working to achieve this and in 1975 it became policy.

Pittenger was once asked to introduce Rep. Dan Flood, who as Congressional Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health, Education, and Welfare was an influential person. Pittenger recalled Flood used to ba Shakespearian actor. Pittenger put several Shakespearian quotes into the introduction. Flood seemed pleased and became supportive of Pittenger’s Education Department.

Pittenger observed that Pennsylvania is one of a few states where its Education Department handles education from Kindergarten through graduate schools. He notes it was harder to make changes at colleges than in other areas. Pittenger unsuccessfully fought to keep Penn State’s enrollment under 30,000. Today, over 40,000 attend Penn State.

Pittenger once decided to grant a teaching certificate to an admitted homosexual. Six Penn States deans voted 3-3 on awarding the certificate. Shapp and Pittenger agreed to award the certificate. Pittenger notes he received four letters supporting the decision, four letters against, and one phone call inquiry, along with one small town newspaper editorial against the decision. Pittenger notes that a few years later, this would have been received with more attention.

Pittenger fired three college Presidents. This is a record for a Pennsylvania Education Secretary.

Pittenger did not agree that Shapp should run for President. He felt Shapp should have concentrated on being a good Governor. Pittenger was offered a job as a visiting lecturer at Harvard. He accepted and resigned as Education Secretary.

Pittenger returned to Pennsylvania in 1978 to chair a commission studying reforming the state House of Representatives. The Philadelphia Inquirer had published a series of articles alleging legislative abuses. Speaker Leroy Irvis created the commission to study possible reforms.

Pittenger decided the report should have proposals that could be enacted. The commission suggested creating a Bipartisan Management Committee for legislative administration that would be separate from partisan politics. This was adopted.

Pittenger ran for the U.S. Senate in 1978. In retrospect, he realized he never developed a theme that told why people should vote for him. When Pittsburgh Mayor Pete Flaherty decided to run, Pittenger realized he couldn’t defeat him in the primary. Pittenger withdrew from the race.

Pittenger then became Dean of the Rutgers Law School in Camden. He was then appointed to the Pennsylvania State Board of Education and later became its Chairman on the Council of Higher Education. He believes legislators should not be appointed to college Board of Trustees, noting that some attempted to use their influence on personnel matters.

Several politically conservative religious organizations fought evaluating education on outcomes. They believed school children were being brainwashed and the schools were making religious a target. The Ridge Administration was able to get performance based testing of 5th, 9th, and 11th graders in reading, writing, and Math by not labeling it “outcomes based.”

Ridge ended the tradition of having bipartisan State Education Board members. He put only Republicans on the Board.

Pittenger believes it was a mistake for community colleges to be created under local government control instead of state government control. This means several areas have no access to a community college, others have access but their residents must pay higher tuitions to attend one in another community, and some localities have failed to provide the required one third support of their community colleges.

Pittenger concludes with discussing how his experiences led him to develop a new set of political principles. He notes that people do not begin discussions with the same ideals as others, that it is difficult to get people with different ideals to agree on solutions to problems, that even when there is a consensus agreement there still needs to be the resources to implement the solution, and that it is difficult to apply a consistent policy over the long term. Programs can be formed and


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