Like most of you, I’ve been grinding my teeth at each new austerity measure enacted by our governor, Tom Corbett. The man is on a mission — an escalating series of reverse-Robin Hood maneuvers designed to take from the poor (and the elderly, and the school kids, and immigrants, and … well, everyone) and give the proceeds to his rich friends and contributors.
The mega-rich gas drillers raping our natural resources upstate at Marcellus Shale get a pass — no fees or taxes — while the state’s school systems go under and state colleges get by on far less than they need. The governor’s reasoning here is that if we don’t give away the store to the drillers, they’ll pick up their equipment and move to neighboring New York or West Virginia.
Marcellus Shale represents perhaps the largest pocket of natural gas anywhere in the country, and a cash cow for decades for those drillers, their investors and the peripheral businesses that stand to benefit. Other states with exploitable natural resources — Texas and Alaska come to mind — charge a pretty penny to those corporations for the privilege. Those states then use the windfall to pay for things like schools, roads, and maybe even the lowering of property taxes.
This is not a crushing burden on those companies. With the vast amounts of money to be made, those state taxes and fees amount to a small drop in a very large bucket. But here in Pennsylvania, not only do corporations eat free, Corbett has gleefully ignored the environmental and human costs, gutting regulations that would at least keep those corporations from poisoning our air and water for generations.
He’s cut off the money to public schools, made college an unreachable goal for thousands of Pennsylvania families, sat on his hands as Attorney General even with the full knowledge of Jerry Sandusky’s heinous crimes at Penn State, and given us the new voter ID law, the most insidious violation of citizens’ basic rights and dignity since “Colored Only” water fountains.
For these, and a thousand other reasons, there’s only one recourse left for those of us who wish to live in a free commonwealth that lives up to our state constitution: Impeach Tom Corbett.
Yes, impeach him. Storm the castle with pitchforks and torches and throw the bum out on his ear.
Turns out, though, that I’m not the first to come up with this idea. Type “Impeach Corbett” into your favorite Web browser, and you’ll be as surprised as I was. Several petitions to oust Corbett can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Change.org and ipetitions.com. The Internet is bursting with Pennsylvania residents who’ve had the idea for months — some who started their petition drives not long after he took office.
Is success just a matter of the number of signatures collected? Frankly, no.
Unlike states whose constitutions allow for a popular recall vote, like the one mounted earlier this year in Wisconsin to recall Gov. Scott Walker, Pennsylvania depends upon its legislature, specifically the House, to present articles of impeachment.
Because of the Republican legislative majority, there’s probably little chance of getting articles of impeachment through the House, let alone an actual up or down vote. That fact, however, should not stop us from trying.
If enough Democrats in the House are courageous enough to take up the banner, it is possible that even the threat of impeachment will be enough to punish, harass and embarrass the governor into doing the right thing — especially since that embarrassment would come in the middle of an important election season.
Corbett has laid waste to the commonwealth’s constitution, the very document he swore to defend. He has time and again violated present law and common decency in his ongoing effort to make sure his cronies and contributors get fat while the rest of Pennsylvania starves to death.
So how about it, progressive House members? Will you continue to roll over, keeping silent while Corbett and his GOP minions shred your constituents’ state-guaranteed safety net, gut the education treasury in favor of school vouchers and poison our environment?
It will only take a few of you. Get your legislative aides to compile a list of Corbett’s most egregious constitutional violations, and they are myriad — and prepare the articles of impeachment.
Make your colleagues across the aisle defend the indefensible, while hitching their careers and political futures to a callous, partisan hatchet man. Make Corbett look the old folks and school children in the eye while he cuts their throats.
Even if we fail to ultimately impeach him, it will be an effort well spent.
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune's city editor.
Ed Rendell has always been candid. So, when the former Philadelphia mayor was winding up his second term as Pennsylvania governor, he decided it was time to write his life story. “A Nation of Wusses: How America’s Leaders Lost the Guts to Make Us Great” (Wiley, $25.95) is a memoir that tells it like it is.
In it, Rendell explains why America’s leaders rarely call for sacrifice for the greater good — to avoid making any sacrifices themselves. According to Rendell, they’re all wusses — and after more than three decades in politics, he knows a wuss when he sees one. Among current office holders and candidates, he sees politicians pretending to stand on principle while, in fact, pandering to their bases; flip-flopping on issues, not because of new information, but because of new polls; and criticizing rivals for actions they would have praised if done by allies. While not at all shy about singling out Republicans like Scott Walker, Eric Cantor and Mitch McConnell, Rendell has no trouble taking on Democrats who refuse to stand up to the teachers’ unions or distance themselves from allies who run into trouble.
Rendell, 68, said it took him 18 months to write his lively life story in longhand. “I started in July 2010, the last six months I was governor,” recalled Rendell. “And because I was governor, I would write late at night and once and a while on weekends. And then I started my new life where I have 16 different jobs, so as a result I would write on trains, planes. It wasn’t uncommon for me to get home, eat dinner, do my day-to-day work and read my memos and then start writing part of the book at 10:30 — and I would look up, because I’d gotten into it, and it would be 3:30.”
In “A Nation of Wusses,” Rendell revisits some of the toughest fights of his career. “As I wrote I re-experienced, and I lived over again the things that I talked about,” said Rendell. “There were parts of the book that I wrote and I had tears in my eyes. Late at night I would be sitting there writing something, like the chapter on Haiti.”
Rendell was instrumental in the relocation of a group of 53 Haitian orphans in 2010 who were living in the post-earthquake ruins. He then pauses and opens the book to that passage. “I talk about the experience in Haiti, and the children who had never been on an airplane before: ‘As we were taking them back, we were on a huge cargo plane, a B-17, the length of a football field and it only had seats up against the wall of the plane. In between, there’s this huge space for weapons, and that was it. Half of the crew stayed on one side of the plane. The take off was as noisy as anything I’ve ever heard, not like a commercial plane. It should have been terrifying to those kids who had never been on an airplane before, but it wasn’t. They sat there calmly, almost happily. Here they are on this huge cavernous place, leaving a place that had been home all their lives, coming to a place they had never seen before to live the rest of their lives. Pretty amazing. All throughout the ordeal they had been pretty terrific ... Haiti still has a long way to go in its recovery, and the world needs to continue to help make that possible, but if these young children are typical Haitians, then their faith and spirit will someday prevail.’”
Rendell then shuts his book. “I had tears in my eyes when I wrote that. This was a very cathartic book of interesting and challenging moments in my life. When I talk about indicting the police who shot Delbert Africa. Arrgh! That was unbelievable! And in that sense, cathartic and enjoyable to go think about the memories. I had a great time writing the book, and I really wrote the book for myself. If it does well, then it’s gravy.”
This is a Philadelphia story like no other. Other politicians might have left out of their memoirs stories like what happened to their plaque in the park, the story of Swifty the five-legged donkey, a dirty Al Gore joke, the time they considered pretending to faint and who they’re already supporting for president in 2016. Luckily, Rendell is not that kind of politician. Complete with a scathing list of the “Top Ten Reasons Why Most American Politicians Are Wusses” and packed with uproarious tales of politicians in action that will make you wonder why these folks keep getting elected. Readers will delight in the honest revelations contained in “A Nation of Wusses.”
Let’s give Wisconsin voters some credit. While others try to find easy right-vs.-left explanations for Gov. Scott Walker’s decisive victory, Badger State voters appeared to be worried less about politics than about their state’s purse.
That fiscal anxiety reflects a national trend. During the 1990s economic boom, state and local governments awarded generous health and pension benefits to union workers. Now the pensions and the rest are being paid from shrinking revenues in a sluggish economy. The result is a fiscal crisis in cities and states with deepening deficits and threats to public services, ranging from police and firefighters to parks and libraries.
Walker stands out among other deficit cutters only in his bold audacity, fortified famously by the billionaire industrialist brothers David and Charles Koch. Their family helped Walker get elected and become a national star among ultraconservatives opposed to public unions.
Instead of merely working with the unions, who offered to reduce state spending by raising their health care and pension fees, Walker moved shortly after he took office last year to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights. His aim, applauded by the Kochs, was clear: break the unions and weaken their ability to raise money and turn out the vote on Election Day for Democrats.
All of that is well known. What should alarm union leaders is how little Walker’s overreaching got in the way of his 53 percent to 46 percent victory over his challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Exit polls showed union voters supported Barrett by a 71 to 29 percent margin anyway over Walker, but their coattails didn’t even reach deep into their own families. Barely half — 51 percent — of the non-member voters who live with a union member voted for Barrett. Voters with no union ties supported Walker by about 20 points.
And let’s not diminish the significance of Walker’s war chest. His campaign raised seven times as much money as Barrett’s, much of it from the same deep-pocket business interests that give to Republican “super PACs” in this presidential election year. Money talks and, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, it talks in today’s big league politics more than it ever did.
That reality does not bring me joy because I am not anti-union. I’ve even been an active member at various times in my checkered career. As the late Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill used to bemoan ironically, I appreciate what unions have done to make working-class Americans prosperous enough to vote Republican.
But Walker’s victory sends a message: Public workers cannot rely on voters to be generous about pensions and other benefits when so many of their own wages and benefits are suffering.
On the day of Wisconsin’s recall, for example, voters in San Jose and San Diego decided to reduce retirement benefits for current and future city workers. The measures easily passed with two-thirds of the vote in San Diego and 70 percent in San Jose. With some California police and firefighters able to retire with up to 90 percent of their salary while private sector companies have been eliminating pensions, the voter backlash is not surprising.
Next door to Wisconsin, Illinois’s Gov. Pat Quinn wrestles with the nation’s largest unfunded pension liability, according to the Pew Center on the States. As a Democrat, he’s been trying to reduce the pensions of current Illinois workers without violating protections in the state’s constitution or excessively offending union leaders.
The same can be said for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s efforts to put a dent in the Windy City’s roaring pension liabilities by, among other changes, suspending annual automatic cost-of-living adjustments for retirees.
Providence, R.I., Mayor Angel Taveras recently negotiated a similar cost-of-living deal in a tentative agreement with union leaders — and is keeping his fingers crossed as it awaits ratification by union members. So are a lot of taxpayers.
Wisconsin’s unions may have overreached by attempting a recall instead of trying to change the law, as Ohio voters did to overturn Republican Gov. John Kasich’s restrictive collective bargaining law. Recalls should be reserved for cases of official misconduct, not policy disagreements. Now Walker, as the first governor to survive a recall, looks like even more of a hero to the right’s union busters. That’s too bad, in my view. But he’s earned it.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s victory over a recall challenge Tuesday should be a wake-up call for organized labor and the Democratic Party.
Walker, a rising star in the Republican Party, became the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall attempt with his defeat of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
Union leaders rallied for months against Walker, who sparked the recall effort after successfully pushing laws that eliminated collective bargaining rights for most public-sector workers.
In addition to his anti-union measures, Walker repealed a law giving discrimination victims more ways to sue for damages, made deep cuts to funds for public schools and higher education, and required voters to show photo identification at the polls.
His victory will likely embolden Republican governors in other states to take similar positions.
The governor’s victory was a disappointing defeat for the Democrats and organized labor, which spent millions against Walker but were overwhelmingly outspent by Republicans from across the country who raised more than $30 million to Barrett’s $4 million.
But it is important not to underestimate Walker’s victory, either.
It is difficult to recall an incumbent. This was only the third gubernatorial recall in U.S. history. Exit polls showed that many of those who opposed the recall disagreed with Walker’s political stance. Exit polls also showed that most Wisconsin voters still support President Obama over Mitt Romney.
Republicans and big business are well organized, mobilized and prepared for a fight. They have been successful in communicating an antiunion message to the public. Walker’s antiunion actions sparked a successful grassroots movement in Wisconsin that fell short when it turned into a more conventional political campaign.
Wisconsin is also the result of the post-U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that allows corporations and multimillionaires to give unlimited sums of money to conservative causes.
Labor and the Democrats will not be able to counter such a well financed onslaught unless they are proactive in proposing pension and other reforms and clearly explain to financially strapped taxpayers why antiunion measures are not in their best interests.
Despite record-setting corporate profits, many workers face stagnating wages and rising insecurity on the job.
Some Americans see organized labor as part of the problem and not part of the solution. Labor is perceived by some as too stubborn, demanding and unnecessary.
A Pew Research Center for the People & the Press poll released last year found that more Democrats have more favorable views of unions (56 percent) than do independents (38 percent) or Republicans (29 percent).
A greater percentage of African Americans have a more favorable view of unions (59 percent) than whites (37 percent).
A Gallup poll released last year found that a slim majority of Americans, 52 percent, approve of labor unions.
Labor will continue to lose the public relations and legislative battles until it shows how average workers, both union and nonunion, lose when unions are weak. The Economic Policy Institute finds that economic inequality has corresponded to the rise and fall of unionization in the United States “to a remarkable extent.”
“The passage in 1935 of the National labor Relations Act, which protected and encouraged unions, sparked a wave of unionization that led to three decades of shared prosperity and what some call the Great Compression: when the share of national income taken by the very rich was cut by one-third,” said Ross Einsenbrey and Colin Gordon of EPI. The “countervailing power” of labor unions (not just at the bargaining table, but in local, state, and national politics) gave them the ability to raise wages and working standards for members and non-members alike.”
However, over the past 30 years, labor’s bargaining power has collapsed, union membership has fallen and income inequality has worsened — “reaching levels not seen since the 1920s.”
Mitt Romney finally has it figured out. He knows why he lost. Guess what? It was all President Barack Obama's fault.
Of course, that's not exactly the way Romney puts it. He puts it in a way that sounds even sillier than that. Or perhaps, depending on your worldview, more tragic.
In a 20-minute afternoon conference call with his major donors and fund-raisers eight days after Election Day, Romney blamed his loss on Obama's bestowing what Romney called "gifts" to various groups of voters, "especially the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people."
Zounds! As we used to say back in the day when most people received their news on newsprint, stop the presses!
As the sly prefect in the movie "Casablanca" might say, I am shocked, shocked. Thanks to the former Republican presidential candidate, I now realize that the president openly and shamelessly -- Gasp! -- offered programs and policies to America's voters that actually would help Americans to improve their lives. Those Chicago guys will stop at nothing.
"In each case, they were very generous in what they gave to those groups," Romney said. A simple question came to my mind upon hearing this news about "gifts": Where's mine?
Romney was proud to contrast Obama's "gift"-giving strategy with his own tight-fisted talk about "big issues for the whole country: military strategy, foreign policy, a strong economy, creating jobs and so forth."
"With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest was a big gift," said Romney, who probably never had to take out a college loan in his life.
"Free contraceptives were very big with young, college-aged women," he said. Sounds like he's been listening too much to Rush Limbaugh, the conservative radio talker who called law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" and "prostitute" for advocating government-funded contraceptives. Republicans fume at Democrats for suggesting the Grand Old Party is waging a "war against women," although it's not hard to see where the Dems get that idea.
In that light, I congratulate Ohio Sen. Nina Turner, a Cleveland Democrat, for introducing a bill in April that would require men to visit a sex therapist before getting a prescription for erectile-dysfunction drugs like Viagra. What's good for the gander should be good for the goose.
"And then, finally," said Romney, "Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents' plan, and that was a big gift to young people." And, I would add, to many of their parents.
That President Obama sure is a clever fellow, giving so many Americans what they want. I wonder why that notion, apparently, didn't appeal to Romney? Oh, right. It did.
He promised seniors, for example, that he'd restore President Obama's $716 billion in Medicare cuts, despite his passionate pleas for cuts in soaring budget deficits. He also promised that, no matter what, he wouldn't touch Medicare and Social Security spending for at least a decade?
He looked like Santa Claus to upper-income earners with his promises to protect them from Obama's proposed income tax hikes. He also promised Wall Street that he would roll back the Dodd-Frank financial regulations that were legislated to rein in the abuses that led to the 2008 financial crash.
Yet Romney referred to none of these offerings as "gifts" on the campaign trail. Now his sour-grapes postmortems have sent even his fellow Republicans Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, among others, fast-walking away from him. Wise move, gentlemen.
Romney's remarks echo his earlier secretly-recorded comments to donors last year in Boca Raton about the "47 percent of Americans" who "don't pay taxes," refuse to take responsibility for their lives, and will support Obama no matter what. "I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives," he said. What is it about talking to donors that brings out Romney's inner upper-class twit?
"My job is not to worry about those people," he said. That's OK. I don't think they're too worried about him, either.
E-mail Clarence Page at cpage(at)tribune.com.