Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Back When Some Democrat Interrupted Republican Domination

Reed Smith. State Government in Transition: Reforms of the Leader Administration, 1955-1959. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1963

It is often difficult for Governors to be strong administrators as they are hampered in what they may effectively implement. It is hard to judge success by how well Governors week and then use what means they find available to implement their programs. The administration of George Leader as Pennsylvania’s Governor from 1955 to 1959, though, is noted for its many implemented reorganizations within state government.

George Leader, as a Democrat, was a change from a century long line of Republican Party domination. Joseph Grundy of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association was a key component of selecting every Republican candidate for Governor and other candidates from 1929 on with added influence from Joseph Pew of Sun Oil Company from 1939 on. Their campaign influence was added by Republican Party political machine organizations, including one in Philadelphia where the politicians, police, and organized crimes had close relations. News reports indicated vote fraud were a part of political machine operations. The Governor controlled much patronage which a main part of keeping the Republican political machinery operating.

The Pennsylvania Governor controlled more patronage into the 1960s and prior than any other state’s Governor. The Pennsylvania Governor could decide who filled about 50,000 jobs. In 1956, Pennsylvania had 52,959 non-civil service jobs compared to 7,433 in New York. These jobs were not personally selected by the Governor yet were allocated to different political party leaders.

The Pennsylvania Governor also had more appointive powers over a broader spectrum of administrative functions than Governors in other states had. George Leader concerned himself primarily with directly appointing department leaders and their deputies. County political chairs chose most highway, prison, and field position within the Labor and Industry Department and mine inspectors within their counties. Robert Jones was Leader’s patronage secretary. Leader insisted on non-patronage recruitment of state mental hospital doctors and nurse, highway engineers, bank examiners and foresters.

George Leader was a farmer, not a traditional occupation for past Governors, and was 36 years old when elected. The average age of previous Governors was 52.

Leader streamlined and delegated operations within the Governor’s office so he could focus on the areas he wished. He was known for his ability of persuasion and in creating a loyal staff. He was idealistic, pragmatic, and had a strong knowledge of state programs and operations. He sought immediate changes rather than holding back in hopes of better future opportunities. This combination won him both many friends and enemies. Friends found his tenacious while enemies found him stubborn.

Leader visited every state institution, prison, and hospital. He was well versed on state issues. He became an advocate on numerous policies involving people with mental and physical disabilities.

Democratic Party leaders did not expect Leader to win. When he won, Leader was an independent liberal who did not feel beholden to the demands of Democratic Party leaders. Leader did not oppose the Democratic Party county leaders and sought to have reformers and party leaders work together. This did not work well with either side as they had differing agendas.

Leader revived the Executive Board, which consisted of the Governor and six department leaders. He also had monthly Cabinet meetings. Leader found the Cabinet too large in size to properly discuss issues, so he used the Cabinet meetings to express common goals to all. The smaller Executive Board was used for deciding how to implement programs.

The Planning Board advised on economic, natural resource, and physical matters.

Leader created the Office of Administration by Executive Order. This office coordinated department actions into unified policies.

A new office of Legislative Secretary was created. This improved communications with the legislators. The Public Relations office was expanded which provided more news to the press, although it is noted much more unfavorable commentary resulted.

A Bureau of Management Methods was created. The office searched for problems in state operations and sought to resolve them. This bureau created several agency reorganizations.

A Bureau of Accounts was created. More modern accounting methods were introduced. Accounting was made more uniform. IBM punch cards helped introduce mechanized bookkeeping and payroll.

There were flaws in the system. The Department of Property and Surplus remained under political patronage. It used practices that were costly and ineffective. Leader discovered favoritism was used in awarding some contracts along with a lack of concern about performance from some administrators. Leader sought to reform these operations yet he met much resistance from the status quo political machinery.

A Bureau of Capital Expenditures was created. Difficulties delayed its becoming operational for three years. While a separate capital budget was produced in addition to the biennial state budget, it was questioned why the Budget Bureau shouldn’t continue handling both budgets.

Leader removed one Cabinet member, Labor and Industry Secretary John Torquato, for using workers compensation jobs for politically connected associates. Leader also removed some Joint Delaware River Bridge Commissioners for misusing funds as well as two sales tax officials who were also Democratic ward leaders for administrative and personality conflicts.

Leader moved 9,000 patronage jobs into civil service by Executive Board decision. A Bureau of Personnel was created to see all patronage positions were filled by qualified people.

Leader achieved much of his legislative agenda. While the majority of State Senators were Republicans in both two year legislative sessions when Leader was Governor, Democrats held 112 House seats to 98 House seats during Leader’s first two years while Republicans held 126 House seats to 83 Democratic House seats in his second two years.

The Mental Health Commissioner became the state’s second highest paid position after the Governor. The Mental Health Department was also reorganized with all positions placed under civil service.

Under Leader, unemployment compensation and workers compensation benefits were increased. The number of weeks a person could collect unemployment compensation was increased. The largest school construction program than ever before occurred. State aid to universities increased. An Industries Development program assisted economically deprived regions. Slum clearance funds were increased. The largest highway construction than was ever before occurred. Agricultural legislation passed exempting farmers from paying tax of gas used on their farms and on improving feed and fertilized quality.

The Pardons Board continued to be a board of mostly nonprofessionals. Despite newspaper criticism of pardons during Leader’s administration about his being soft on criminals, Leader granted fewer pardons than did more recent Governors. It is believed the press attacks were personally motivated because the Philadelphia Inquirer’s publisher’s father had been denied a pardon.

30% of applicants for pardons received pardons in 1930 and 34% received pardons in 1954. Under Leader, 18.3% of applicants received pardons, the lowest rate since 1946.

The Departments of Welfare and Public Assistance were merged under Leader. These two large departments together resulted in one of the largest departments in the country.

Leader moved the Milk Control Commission to greater technical procedures and fewer political connections. Leader’s being a farmer may have led to this attentiveness.

Leader implemented free public education for children with disabilities. This was the first time this was available in Pennsylvania.

Correctional industries were expanded under Leader. Forestry camps were created for juvenile offenders.

Leader’s administration was noted for rapid changes throughout all areas of state government. He is criticized for being more liberal than his more conservative constituency. Leader was an activist who accomplished many reform from his pure energy. The author concludes “Leader is the best recent Governor Pennsylvania has had.”


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