Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

DN Editorial: Exorcise your rights

WHAT KIND OF EVIL spirit has infiltrated Harrisburg? Last week, a Harrisburg teenager was arrested on suspicion he was working on behalf of ISIS.

WHAT KIND OF EVIL spirit has infiltrated Harrisburg?

Last week, a Harrisburg teenager was arrested on suspicion he was working on behalf of ISIS.

That's an extreme example of something foul afoot, but we can't help thinking of all the other twisted stories coming from the capital city: The state workplace, for example, that seems to exist solely for the exchange of pornographic or sophomoric joke emails.

And now, yet another lawmaker has resigned in disgrace after accepting bribes.

Louise Bishop, the longtime 82-year-old lawmaker, pleaded no contest and resigned last week over revelations she took $1,500 in bribes from Tyron Ali. Bishop was part of a sting operation that caught three other lawmakers - Ronald Waters, Vanessa Lowery Brown, Michelle Brownlee - and Traffic Court Judge Tomasina Tynes. All four pleaded guilty earlier this year after receiving money from Ali.

Is it any surprise that so far, all will be keeping their pensions?

Bishop is not just symbolic of a culture of corruption that is embedded in the Harrisburg power structure ... although we're years beyond the point of needing symbols, given how many jail terms have been served for a variety of offenses against the public.

Bishop, who was elected in 1988, is also a poster child for term limits.

Of course, we know why we don't have term limits for lawmakers: They're the ones that would have to enact such limits, and why would they want to give up the nice ride career politicians can get in this state?

We know already that the Pennsylvania Legislature is bloated and expensive. It's also stagnant. Consider the Senate: Nearly half of its members came to the Senate after serving in the House, and taking their overall time in the General Assembly, these stalwarts average 25 years in office, either as representative or senator. (Of the full Senate body, only 42 percent were elected in the 21st century.)

The House also has plenty of elder statesmen; both Mark Cohen (1974) and Dwight Evans (1981) were elected before the invention of the Internet, the cellphone and the compact disc. There's plenty to be said for the value of experience. And holding a seat for decades does not cause corruption. Plenty of long-term lawmakers stay out of trouble. But a calcified culture becomes more interested in maintaining itself than in acting on behalf of others. Add the Legislature's power to make laws to its own benefit, and the word "oligarchy" comes to mind.

It's worth noting that most lawmakers convicted of felony charges in the past few years - Mike Veon, Vincent Fumo among them - were longtime lawmakers.

Without term limits, fewer people seek out office. That means a lack of new ideas, new viewpoints, new perspectives. Without term limits, the patronage mill that is state government never gets cleaned out; the longer a lawmaker is in office, the longer all his or her cronies stay on the state payroll.

Imagine how pension costs would decline if lawmakers had term limits.

While we're at it, let's talk about age limits. Not because we think seniors can't do the job. But the state requires judges to retire at 70. Why shouldn't the same hold true for all elected offices?

Term limits would allow fresh, clean air to blow through the halls of the General Assembly. And there's no place that needs it more.