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John Baer: Setting the '09 record straight

HEY, KIDS, it's my annual mea culpa column in which I 'fess up to errors of fact or judgment committed under my name during the year now ending.

HEY, KIDS, it's my annual mea culpa column in which I 'fess up to errors of fact or judgment committed under my name during the year now ending.

* In a January column on President Obama's pending inaugural, I hoped that his speech would be well short of the record two-hour oration by President William Henry Harrison.

But I said Harrison gave his speech, and died a month later, in 1831.

It was 1841. I was never good at math.

* In a column about Arlen Specter running for five separate offices (D.A., mayor, governor, senator and president), I said that only California's Jerry Brown matches such diversity.

Actually, Brown exceeds it. He ran for six: Oakland mayor, governor, attorney general, senator, president and California secretary of state.

The latter, in Pennsylvania, is not an elective office. I was thinking too parochially.

* In a budget-related June column on Gov. Ed's threat to fire 800 state troopers, I said that such action would give evildoers "free reign" across Pennsylvania.

A few readers noted that it's "free rein," since "reign" derives from the Latin for kingship and kings already have free rein.

Apologies to all good wordsmiths.

* Some kids and parents said that I erred during the budget battle by criticizing state House efforts to make the eastern box turtle the official state reptile.

Unknown to me at the time, this was part of a Montgomery County fourth-grade project.

While I still think that the Legislature should spend its time on actions benefiting people (and I have several candidates for state reptile), I concede that I was tough on the turtle.

* In a June column I predicted a budget settlement by Halloween. There was a general agreement in early October, so I was off by a few weeks.

Still, technically, the budget isn't done. Our dishonorables failed to pass a table-games bill needed to balance revenue. So, technically, I was wrong to suggest that they'd finish by Halloween.

* In July, railing against lawmakers' per-diem expenses of up to $1,000 a week during the budget impasse, I committed an error of omission.

I should have noted that per diems are tax-free, requiring no receipts. I hate it when I underreport abuse.

* In August, calling education funding a critical budget issue, I wrote that Republicans and Democrats sought increased school spending.

This was too broadly stated, since Republicans were looking to cut some areas. I should have said what I meant, which is that both parties will increase spending. They did.

* In November, I said that state Supreme Court candidate Joan Orie Melvin was "vastly outspent" by Democratic opponent Jack Panella. While true, according to available campaign-finance reports, Melvin, who won, ended up outspending Panella.

I should have made clearer that this was only a preliminary assessment.

* In a column questioning chances of Rendell's renewed calls for reforms - smaller legislature, campaign-finance limits, citizen redistricting - I advocated joining Common Cause and the League of Women Voters in pushing a petition for a referendum calling for a constitutional convention.

Neither group is officially pushing this (though when I spoke with leaders of both after the column ran, neither asked for a next-day, printed clarification). The petition is the work of the grass-roots group Democracy Rising PA.

I was wrong. But both organizations should get behind it.

* And in a November column suggesting that His Edness, a la Frank Rizzo, should take a public lie-detector test, I referred to a land deal near the end of Rendell's mayoral stint and said that the city bought land from a Rendell donor just after the donor gave Rendell $75,000. In fact, the agreement of sale fell through and the land was sold privately years later.

This error merited a published, next-day correction. I should have been more thorough.

So. I'm not perfect, though that's the goal and remains so entering 2010.

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