I’m thinking about breaking up with the legislature.
I’ve already been cheating on it a bit. Writing about some national politics, which, come on, is hard to resist these days.
It’s not that our legislature’s 253 members, especially its leaders, don’t deserve attention and my journalistic, um, affections.
But lately it occurs to me our decades-long relationship is something of a one-way street.
For example, seven years ago, I wrote a book, On the Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics (The History Press), that, in part, detailed the legislature’s legacy of corruption, inefficiency, regressive policies, antidemocratic incumbent protections, and aversion to reform.
I suggested, given our heritage as the cradle of democracy, home to the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, we should be the national model for good government.
Didn’t turned out that way.
But at the end of the book is a list of things to drag Pennsylvania out of the dark, give the public more say in policy, improve governance, and make elections fairer, more competitive.
The list includes campaign finance limits, smaller legislature, term limits, ending lawmakers’ annual automatic pay raises, penalties for not passing budgets on time, merit selection of state judges, initiative and referendum, recall elections, redistricting reform and voting reforms.
Seven years later?
Not one of these items has been enacted.
And, if you’re thinking, wait, what about 2018 changes to congressional districts after our state Supreme Court ruled legislatively drawn maps unconstitutional?
Well, my friends, that was done by the court, not the legislature, and it’s a temporary fix. Lawmakers retain the power to redraw congressional maps (and legislative maps) after the 2020 Census.
So, basically, despite my undivided and ardent attention over the years, our legislature remains frigid. Even taunting.
Lately, leaders are poking me more than normal, and on multiple fronts.
They’re pushing to end a small assistance program that benefits disabled people, mostly in Philadelphia.
They still haven’t enacted reforms recommended by a statewide grand jury last August following findings of widespread child sexual abuse by Catholic clerics.
They won’t do a basic, easy, image-improving reform such as banning gifts from lobbyists and special interests. As is, they can take anything (and they do). Just need to report it to the State Ethics Commission (and, yes, we have one).
Then, last week, they adopted an official state amphibian, an ugly-as-all-get-out salamander, nicknamed the snot otter.
You can see why I’m considering a breakup.
Yet a few things hold me back.
Many members, especially leaders, would love a quick divorce. But that would make them happy, and that’s really not my job.
Plus, at the risk of being a fool for love, I still sense some chemistry between us.
There are legislative newcomers, interested, aggressive and not yet sucked into Harrisburg’s all-I-care-about-is-reelection culture.
Many ran on reforms, and are pushing reforms.
Freshmen Reps. Andrew Lewis (R., Dauphin) and Mike Jones (R., York) have a sensible, phased-in term limits bill.
Rep. Chris Rabb (D., Philly) wants lawmakers convicted of felonies to pay for the pricey special elections required to replace them.
Rep. Jared Solomon (D., Philly) is seeking recall elections.
And freshman Sen. John DiSanto (R., Dauphin) sponsored a bill, now law, stopping convicted lawmakers from collecting their fat, better-than-most-peoples’ pensions. Because, of course, some of them did that.
Oh, and the state that never elected a woman governor or U.S. senator jumped from a dismal ranking seven years ago of 42nd among states in percentage of women in the legislature to its all-time high ranking of 32nd this year.
From 17 percent to 26 percent. Not great. But better. And promising.
All this could combine, given time, to make a difference.