Sunday, December 29, 2013

Some Republicans Like Ideas, Honest.

Dwight Evans with William Ecenbarger. Making Ideas Matter: My Life as a Policy Entrepreneur. Philadelphia: Fels Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, 2013.

Evans at age 21 was elected President of the Concerned Citizens of the 10th Ward Iin Philadelphia) and served as a campaign coordinator of Bill Ewing’s campaign for State Senators. He worked to block an arcade and a bar from opening in the neighborhood as well as the get people to oppose allowing the Philadelphia Mayor to run for a third term. He worked 40 hours a week at his Urban League job and another 40 hours a week with the Concerned Citizens group.

Evans ran for state legislator at age 26 in a primary against an incumbent and two other candidates. He had few funds and campaigned by building relationships with individual voters. He received twice the number of votes of the candidate finishing second and went on to be elected.

In his first term, he delved into the lack of minorities receiving state government contracts. He questioned the General Services Secretary regarding this at a legislative hearing only to have the Committee Chair to then suspend the hearing.

Evans personally acted to rid eyesores in the district. He attempted to personally purchase a slum property and have it rehabilitated. He learned that would be a conflict as a legislator. He formed the Ogontz Avenue Rehabilitating Corporation to handle neighborhood economic development projects. He and others worked to fix broken windows and make empty buildings appear occupied. A shopping plaza was created.

Evans supported construction a new civic center. He saw it as providing needed employment opportunities. He knew Rep. Samuel Morris was interested in farmland preservation, Evans invited Morris to Philadelphia to explain the importance of farmland preservation to urban voters while showing the Morris the important of urban economic development. Evans personally lobbied legislators from different parts of the state including Reps. Huck Gamble and Bud George. The state legislature voted against funds for the convention center in two votes. A third vote, the last allowed under House Rules which then killed the issue disallowing any more votes, found the tally heading towards defeat when the voting board malfunctioned. Evans believes Speaker Irvis saved the convention by having someone pull the plug on the vote board. The tally board reappeared and Irvis moved to the next issue. On the third vote, Rep. Ed Wiggins was missing and a helicopter was sent to bring him to vote. The convention center passed on a third vote with one vote more than needed.

Evans also wanted to guarantee employment for previously discriminated against racial minorities. The Supreme Court had struck down hiring quotas by race. Evans successfully urged the Philadelphia Convention Center to hire an Affirmative Action Officer and then make a commitment to affirmative action hiring. He also involved the Opportunities Industrialization Center, who provides job training especially to racial minority students, to be involved in providing employees to work at the convention center.

The Philadelphia Convention Center has been successful, Evans notes. It annually attracts about 350,00 convention and trade show guests and about 600,000 attending ticketed events. The center expanded in 2011 to accommodate increased demand.

Evans observes there is great political power in being Appropriations Committee Chair. He sees this has having more power than being Speaker. Matt Quay previously had similar thoughts. Evans decided to run for Appropriations Committee Chair in 1990. He had to convince Rep. David Richardson, who had more seniority and also wanted to be Chair, that Evans could be more effective that Richardson, who had a more confrontational style of legislating. Rep. William Rieger helped unite the Philadelphia delegation behind Evans. He sought for support outside his home city delegation, winning support from legislators such as Rep. David Mayernik who was against the seniority system method of selecting leadership positions. Evans aligned with Rep. Fred Belardi from Northeast Pennsylvania who was running for Caucus Administrator which created a union between Philadelphia and Northeast Pennsylvania legislators.He won support from Rep. Phyllui Mundy by promising more transparency as chair.He visited legislators such as Dan Surra and Pat Carone in their homes.

Evans had the necessary 55 votes tallied while his opponent had 19 votes. The tally was not completed. Evans became the youngest as well as first ever African American elected Appropriations Commttee Chair, an office once held by Benjamin Franklin.

Evans created a staff handbook and annual performance evaluation system. He created a staff controller who has the only person who could say “no” to him. Evans also insisted on appointing the other Democratic legislators who served on the Appropriations Committee. He wanted members who were worried about reelections so they would more apt to make the tough necessary votes.

His first task was getting a budget passed for Fiscal Year 1991-1992. The fiscal year ended without a budget agreement between the Democratic Governor Robert Casey, a Senate with a Republican majority, and a House with a Democratic majority. State employees were working yet not getting paid. An agreement was reached with increased spending and higher taxes that included House Republican Leader Matthew Ryan and the budget passed the legislature 36 days afterwards. He got Rep. Fred Taylor to vote the budget by appropriating $500,000 for a statute of George Marshall for his district.

Evans learned how to persuade legislators to vote for budgets. Some had budget requests that, if there were no funds that year, Evans would seek to place in the next year’s budgets. Evans reminded legislators they were elected to serve and passing a budget was a major responsibility they had.

Evans studied the budget. He knew every line item in the budget When the Democrats were the minority party when Democrat Ed Rendell was Governor, the Republicans realized Rendell placed great faith in what Evans proposed for the budget. This gave Evans great leverage in budget negotiations. Among items Evans won approval of was $30 million for the Fresh Food Finance Initiative. This initiative became a national model    for selling healthy grocery food in low income neighborhoods that was presented at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Evans realized budgets have little flexibility. There are items that have to be paid, such as debt services and pensions and obligations such as education, Medicaid, and prisons.

Evans used campaign contributions to gain favor with other legislators. This included promising Republican legislators who were helpful in his budget efforts that Evans would not contribute to their Democratic opponents.

Evans notes the costs of legislative campaigns has increased greatly. An average House campaign costs $100,000 with contested races costing even much more.

Evans was ousted as Appropriations Committee Chairman by 45 to 43. He had supported the primary opponent who lost to Rep. Bill DeWeese. DeWeese was under indictment and was later convicted. Evnas was defeated by Joseph Markosek who was from Western Pennsylvania. Markosek received some support from a few Philadelphians.

Evans recalls visiting Fayette County where residents did not have running water. They carried water from wells. The wells were getting polluted and some were dry. A home burned to the ground when the fire department had no water. Evans saw to it to allocate $1 million to get water to these residents. This is an example of the positive uses of earmarks. Earmarks are a legislative tradition dating back to the 18th century where funds are specified for specific projects in local areas. Pennsylvania has the Redevelopment Assistant Capital Program begun under Governor Dick Thornburgh to administer these local programs. Legislators present the needs of these constituents hat can be served by these funds.

Evans fought for job training and job programs funding. He observed a Philadelphia employer could not find enough machinists so he created a program to train more people to become machinists.

Bipartisan cooperation is important to Evans. He notes that bipartisan cooperation was useful in helping Philadelphia improve its financial difficulties. He was part of a bipartisan group of Philadelphia legislators, three of whom were Republican, John Taylor, John Perzel, and George Kenney, along with Democrat Anthony Williams, who worked together on solving local Philadelphia issues such as getting the police to focus more on neighborhood level crimes and creating a School Reform Commission to manage Philadelphia schools. He had legislation that moved powers from a central education office and gave it to the neighborhoods.

The secret to success is hard work. Evans worked hard and mastered policy issues and the legislative process. He calls politics a contact sport where one has to be prepared to get hit. Even when one is hit, the key is to keep working hard.


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