Wednesday, December 14, 2011

When a Democrat Wins a Republican Seat, and Other Sad Tales

Franklin L. Kury. Clean Politics, Clean Streams: A Legislative Autobiography and Reflections. Bethlehem, Pa.: Lehigh University Press, 2011.

The author was elected to five Pennsylvania State House and one State Senate terms.  He won over the opposition of his county patronage-based political organization.  He was first elected in 1966 with the help of many volunteers who were unconnected to the local political scene.

Kury served in the Pennsylvania legislature, an institution dating back to the 17th century.  In the 17th century, the legislature was unelected and was advisory to the Governor.  In 1701, the legislature became elected, then creating a separate branch of government.

The 20th century was one where lobbyists were able to visit Senators while in their seats on the Senate floor.  Lobbyists for the Pennsylvania Railroad and Sun Oil had seats in the Senate chamber.  The Senators were once led by President Pro Tem Harvey Taylor, who controlled much patronage.  Taylor earned a percent of state insurance contracts, believed to be about $450,000 annually.  Taylor divided this commission with Republican Senators, Republican House leaders, and candidates he supported.

Kury went to Penn Law School, where he was campus Co-Chair of Students for Kennedy and Johnson.  He then worked as a clerk in the state Attorney General’s office.  He was involved in keeping a phone line open between the Governor and a warden during an execution.  Hearing the execution on the phone helped make him oppose the death penalty.  He also worked on the state government defending requiring students to read the Bible.  This would help him later when running for office in a politically conservative area.  Kury then worked for U.S. Rep. George Rhodes and then served in the Army Reserves.  Kury returned from Army duties and then became a precinct  Democratic committeeman.

Kury pushed for legislation to reclaim streams that had been polluting by coal mining.  Kury testified before the legislature.  The proposal passed the state House by 190-6.  Kury’s local representative, Rep. Adam Bower, voted against it.

The Northumberland County Republican organization was supported by patronage workers in the county elected row office and in state Transportation Department highway maintenance office.  These patronage workers were expected to donate 5% of their salaries to the county Republican organization.  The county organization mailed literature to all voters.  In the 1950s and 1960s. the organization was led by Henry Lark.  Lark was wealthy and solidified political power.  He was a loyal Republican supporters and did not gain personally from his position.

The Northumberland County Sheriff delivered and collected absentee ballots from the county nursing home where voters delivered 100% of their votes for the Republican ticket. The public began suspecting the integrity of county elections.  Election results resulted in litigation.

Kury ran against Rep, Bower and used Bower’s vote against clean streams against him.  Bower was first elected to the House in 1938.

Kury ran by meeting as many voters as he could.  He focused on issues such as clean streams.  He was helped that parts of the legislative district included Montour County, which was not part of the Lark organization.  Kury felt “awkward” asking people to donate to his campaign, so he and his wife paid the $7,500 his campaign cost.  He had to defeat Paul Becker, the Montour County Democraitc Chair in the primary and then defeat Bower in the general election.

Kury distributed a questionnaire to 500 voters that was similar to one designed by State Rep. John Pittenger.  He personally responded to every returned questionnaire.  Kury campaigned door to door through the entire district.  Democratic Caucus Chair K. Leroy Irvis called with advice.

The clear steams issue resonated once a pollution spill killed about 100,000 fish.  The press raised the issue of the dangers of acid mine draining into streams.  Kury campaigned with a photograph of him holding a jar of visibly polluted water in one hand and a jar of clean water in the other with the caption “The Choice is Yours”. Kury won with 10,564 votes t0 to 7,625 for Bower.  The upset victory was statewide news.  Bower was then appointed Chief Clerk of the House.

Kury learned a state legislator had no office, secretary, nor even a phone.  Kury used his law office to respond to constituent mail.  Democratic Minority Leader Herb Fineman hired some secretary so there was about one secretary serving 20 House members.  Kury observed that the Philadelphia House Democratic members supported their fellow Philadelphian Fineman and that many concentrated more on Philadelphia issues than on statewide issues.  There were only about 12 Democratic members who were not from either Philadelphia or Pittsburgh and few Democrats were concerned with rural issues.

Kury observed it was wise to inform his caucus leaders about what he was doing.  Leaders would tolerate dissent from party positions more if they knew about it beforehand.  The leaders also realized that rural Democrats would have a different focus then did urban Democrats.

Bower, as Chief Clerk, helped Kury by letting Kury know that Herb Fineman had hired Northumberland County Democratic Chair John Mazur as a Research  Assistant.  Kury had nothing to do with Mazur being hired.  Kury asked Fineman to announce that it was  Fineman who had selected Mazur.  Mazur’s hiring was never used by Republicans against Kury.

Kury was impressed that Secretary of Labor and Industry Clifford Jones responded directly about a constituent question he had.  Kury had not expected a Republican Cabinet member would call a freshman Democratic Senator.  Kury and Jones became friends.

Pittenger worked as Research Director for the Democratic Caucus after losing his reelection to the House.  Kury found Pittenger to be very bright, able, and knowledgeable about issues.

Kury worked on election ballot reform.  Paper ballots could easily be tampered with and altered after voters cast them.  Kury helped lead to having Northumberland County switch to machine voting.

Kury worked for passage of strong water protection.  The coal industry had political power prior to block these laws from being enacted.  The power of coal mine operators was lessening and the public was becoming more aware of environmental issues.  Kury also fought for other environmental legislation, including increasing more fish being able to migrate up the Susquehanna River.

Kury decided to make the right to a clean environment a part of the State Constitution.  The legislature and public both approved and the amendment was created.

Kury voted against a bill Governor Milton Shapp wanted to create 51 new Judgeships including 25 in Philadelphia.  Kury did not want to be seen a supporting Philadelphia interests and he opposed the bill.  Kury told Shapp the bill did nothing for his district.  Kury wanted a new bridge in his district in Sunbury.  Shapp agreed to a 1971 engineering design and right of acquisition for the Sunbury bridge.  Kury writes he realized political “horse trading is as old as the country.”  The bridge, though, took until 1986 to be realized.

State Sen. Preston Davis decided not to run for reelection in 1972.  Kury decided to run for that seat.  Kury won by 46,535 to 42,778 over Republican George Dietrick even though Nixon defeated McGovern by a 2 to 1 margin in the district.

The Senate had more accommodations for its Senators than the House did for House members.  Senators had an office, a secretary, and staff, The Senate had a Senate barber and a private dining room. 

Kury noted Senators listened when other Senators spoke on the Senate floor.  This was unlike the House where only a few listened and only a few such as Leroy Irvis could attract other House members’ attentions.

When Democrats achieved a majority in the State Senate, they removed reserved seat on the Senate floor that were used by lobbyists William Reiter of the Pennsylvania Railroad and Harry Davis of Sun Oil.  All lobbyists were banned from the Senate floor.

Even though Kury was a freshman Senator, the leadership called him to work on reforming the process where the Senate confirms nominations made by the Governor.  Governor Shapp in 1972 sent 887 nominations to the Senate and 41 were confirmed.  Kury led a committee that concluded too man positions required confirmation and some should not require the approval of two thirds of Senators.  The committee also concluded that there should be a requirement that a rejected nominee should not be allowed to continue serving in an acting capacity should not be allowed to continue serving in that acting capacity.  These proposals were adopted and approved by the voters as a Constitutional amendment.

Kury learned about compromise in getting the confirmation changes passed.  Kury was on a Senate and House Conference  Committee to resolved differences in how each chamber passed the bill.  An agreement was made to apply a two thirds vote requirement on judges and certain position and a majority vote on all others.  As Kury notes, “politics is the art of the possible.”

In 1975, Kury became Chairman of a new Senate Consumer Affairs Committee.  For decades prior, public utility legislation that became laws were drafted by DavidDunlap, a lobbyist for the electric industry.  The committee decided it was time to conduct the first ever Senate investigation into the Public Utility Commission (PUC).  It was found the PUC favored the utility industry over consumers.  The PUC lacked the staff to properly review utility rate increase proposals, that Commissioners were allowed ex parte communications with those they regulated, and public hearings on rate requests were not required.  Kury worked on changing the laws to give the PUC more staff, created Administrative Law Judges, and create a Consumer Advocate.

After flooding in 1972, Kury researched floods.  He realized Pennsylvania is a state more at risk to flooding with 2,428 community flood zones.  Each community had its own flood management plan.  This did not allow coordinated, comprehensive action.  Flood management actions upriver could cause more flooding downriver.  Kury sought floodplain zoning laws that could restrict building in areas prone to flooding.  It took two sessions to get floodplain laws passed.

Kury, noting Churchill’s belief “that political victors should show magnanimity” was very disappointed that Richard Thornburgh, when inaugurated as Governor, did not acknowledge or shake hands with outgoing Governor Shapp.  He then found Thornburgh held a “firm control on staff and departments, even requiring departmental press releases and speeches be approved by his office.” Kury agreed with Thornburgh on using merit to appoint more positions previously were picked by patronage.

Kury ran for Auditor General in 1980.  He lacked name recognition and found the experience “frustrating and disappointing” as he lost the primary.  Kury decided not to seek a third Senate term.  Kury remained politically active and helped the Mondale for President campaign fund, pick, and win more Delegates in the 1984 Pennsylvania Primary.  Kury continued helping other candidates, such as Sen. Harris Wofford, future Sen. Bob Casey, Jr.;, and Auditor General Jack Wagner.

In reflection, Kury urges legislators to continually fight for their policy positions while being open to compromise.  He found support from leadership as “essential” for achieving legislative goals.

Kury notes there have been an increase in “partisan animosity” in the legislature since he left.  He notes legislators of different parties used to trust each other more.


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