Sunday, December 9, 2012

Political Rules

                                                  POLITICAL RULES

This book is dedicated to everyone in politics who stabbed me in the back. If all those who did so buy this book, at least to see if they are in the book, this will be a best seller.

Rule: Politicians are whores.
Why this rule is wrong: Whores are differentiated from politicians as whores have higher standards.

I first began following politics in 1968 when, as a collector of political items, I joined the American Political Items Collectors. Among the largest changes I have witnessed in American politics over the past few decades have been the decline of the “issue” candidate and the rise of importance of campaign finances in even becoming a competitive candidate for office.

In the 1960s and 1970s, there were candidates who ran for office over key issues of the times. There were pro-civil rights candidates, “law and order” (often key words for anti-civil rights) candidates, anti-war candidates, pro-war candidates, pro-tougher environmental laws candidates, pro-economic development (and anti-tougher environmental laws) candidates, etc. In the 2010s, there are still issues, yet there are very few candidates that appear to be driven by major social issues. People may identify with general movements, such as a “tea party”, yet few enter politics as part of a social movement.

Most people today enter politics because they want to hold political office as some sort of ego or psychological need. With the huge negative advertising and public scrutiny of candidates and office holders, one wonders if they also either have some masochistic tendencies or at least have a personal need for public attention that allows their reputation to be challenged in order to run for office.

What is now an absolute necessity in all but the most local of elections, such as Constable, is access to a lot of campaign funds for spending on a political campaign. It was possible a few decades ago to campaign door to door and get elected to a state legislature or to run around a Congressional district or state giving speeches and be elected to Congress or possibly statewide office. Rep. Bill Natcher, my former Congressman when I lived in Bowling Green, Kentucky, was the last of members of
Congress who never spent money to run for office. Today, one needs a lot of money upfront just to be taken seriously as a candidate.

There are a few rare candidates who are rich enough to self-fund their campaigns. Linda McMahon has spent approximately $50 million twice in two losing races for the U.S. Senate from Connecticut. Quite frankly, maybe if she had spent $75 million on the first race she could have won and saved money in the long run. Yet even that may not have mattered. It is an irony that one needs large amounts of money to run for office, yet there is a severely diminishing marginal utility where additional expenditures have little effect in improving one’s chances of being elected.

Michael Bloomberg spent a large amount of his own money in being elected Mayor of New York City. Yet even his campaign needed outside contributors and the local press has criticized alleged rewards provided to his contributors. Politics has become too costly for even people who can afford to buy elections to buy them. Bloomberg was rumored to be considering a run for President, with speculation that he could spend $500 million of his own money on a Presidential run. Yet, with the two major political party nominees now seeing approximately one billion dollars spent on their behalf, $500 million would not have been enough for a third party candidate to effectively compete.

The reality is most candidates can not afford to pay for their own campaigns. They must rely upon campaign contributions. There are some readers who might believe that there are people who support our democratic process who give money to candidates that appeal to them with no expectations of any reward except perhaps a free sign to post in a window. These contributors exist, yet they are a small percentage of the overall amount of money contributed. Most campaign funds come from Big Business, Big Labor, Big Financial Institutions, and Big Insurance.

A problem exists in our political system in that Big Business and Big Insurance tends to favor Republican candidates while Big Labor tends to favor Democratic candidates. Big Labor has been losing grounds in political and financial strength while Big Business and Big Insurance has been gaining grounds in political and financial strength. This would appear to give Republicans an edge in campaign fund raising. Yet Democrats are learning to also appeal to Big Business and Big Insurance while Big Financial Institutions always seem to have lots of funds for candidate of both political parties.

Elected officials have a general philosophy that tends to coincide with the interests of those who give them campaign contributions. That philosophy is generally what guides these interests to contribute to those candidates whose political philosophies agree with their financial interests. There are rare times when financial interests will contribute to a candidate whose philosophies are against their financial interests. This is often because they belong to a political party whose leadership the interests hope will hold a political majority in a legislative body. Thus, contributors will support a few dissenters are fine so long as they help organize a leadership that will help their interests. Further, sometimes the contributions may help lessen an official’s opposition. What often is seen is what is not seen. Often the workings of interests are to prevent legislation or actions for moving forth. Thus, a contributor’s philosophical opponent who helps prevent something an interest does not wish to occur is in fact a contributor’s friend.

It is generally illegal (meaning it is illegal but there are loopholes) for an official to have an action predicated upon a campaign contribution. The way the system legally works is a contributor rewards an official with a contribution in return for an action that was not directly solicited, excepting of course for public testimony, petitions, letters, and verbal communications protected by our free speech laws.

Thus, it is wrong to associated elected officials and politicians with prostitutes. Campaign contributors only leave money on the dresser as they leave the room.

Politicians are not whores but those who attracts whores, financial and otherwise. I was once told that an aide to a politician who asked him why they do their jobs. “To help people”, the aide naively replied. “No”, corrected the politician, “we do our jobs to get laid.”

I found this a sad commentary that there are indeed politicians who thinks as such. I also believe not all think as such. Yet, I have been saddened to represent my state at national conferences and had women express surprise when I mentioned where I was from followed by an explanation that I was the first man they had met from my state who had not propositioned them. Sadly, there indeed are politicians who see politics as a means of attracting dates. Some state there are women who seek men with power. Although, I often wonder about women who actually believed such men actually had any power.

This reminds me of a time I was at a table with a political leader, an influential person who can be credited with creating at least one major national figure, who has bragging about his female conquests. He concluded with the statement “There is just one thing I never understood, which is why prostitutes never kiss you on the lips.”

To which I immediately gave the dig of the day (not that I actually know such a thing), “That’s odd. All my prostitutes kiss me on the lips.”

Rule: Politicians are great communicators.
Why this rule is wrong: Many politicians often make little sense.

A problem with communicating on a national level is we do not speak the same language across the nation. I recall people someone correcting a friend who was speaking German and overheard him being told “this is America, speak Spanish.” Even our English often needs translators over regional differences. Many journalists had difficulty understanding if Alabama Governor George Wallace was mentioning “farm policy” or “foreign policy”. President John Kennedy often mentioned a country he called “Cubar” who could not be found anywhere on a map or globe.

A Senate aide told me about a time he was at a committee hearing when a U.S. Senator from North Carolina waved over to him and told him “feel hot here.” The aide quickly rushed and turned the heat on the hearing room. The Senator then waved him to return. The aide proudly announced that he had increase the room temperature. The Senator then sighed “no, I am asking if Senator Phil Hart is in town today?”

An interesting speculative miscommunication was alleged by a disgruntled former aide to Ronald Reagan. While this story has been denied by other Reagan aides, it is interesting to think what differences could have occurred if this story is in fact true. In 1976, Ronald Reagan unsuccessfully challenged President Gerald Ford for the Republican Presidential nomination. Knowing that Reagan lacked the support of enough delegates to obtain the nomination, some aides thought that choosing a Vice Presidential nominee with appeal to Ford delegates before the convention might swing enough supports of the chosen running mate in order to secure the nomination. The candidate selected was Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania. Yet Schweiker was unable to get any of even his closest friends to abandon Ford for a Reagan-Schweiker ticket and Ford was renominated. Yet the aide states that when Reagan announced his choice, he stated “get me the guy from Watergate, get me Schweiker.” Now, while Reagan spoke the name Schweiker, the aide observed that Reagan probably meant to state the name “Weicker”, as in Senator Lowell Weicker of Connecticut, who had served on the Watergate committee and had more of a national following than Schweiker. If that story is true, one can speculate on how history may have changed had Weicker been selected.

Rule: At least some minimum skill level is required to be a legislator.
Why this rule is wrong: One need not be alive to perform legislative functions.

The public believes that a legislator requires some minimum skill to arrive at least arrive in a legislative chamber and be cognizant enough to cast a vote one way or another on matters at hand. While there indeed are many legislators who become familiar with the issues at hand and have at some reason for choosing how they vote, even if it is to vote in accordance with another legislator whose views they trust on that issue when they may not be as familiar with the vote underway, there is some logical process for choosing how those votes are cast. Yet, there is no minimal skill required to be a legislator and cast a vote.

Many legislators are not present when their votes are cast. Even when the rules require their presence in order to vote, many look the other way when other legislators cast their votes for them. In some instances, this is permitted. In especially many committee meetings, legislators are allowed by the rules to give their proxy vote to another legislator. In some committee votes, committee members of the same political party will allow their party’s committee chair to cast all their votes and the chair sees fit. This is consensual and often permitted.

Often legislators, which is against legislative rules, are not in their seats when casting votes on the chamber floor. They may not even be in the building or in town. Legislators pretend to not notice as other legislators cast votes for their missing colleagues. Thus, a legislator not need even be present and still be able to perform the duty to which the legislator was elected.

I have often wonder how often a legislator has been praised for a courageous vote, or perhaps condemned for an awful vote, and not even be aware of what a controversial stance that legislator has taken. In the thousands of votes legislators make, there often are a few that stand out when the public evaluates their performance. The public is often unaware whether those votes were cast after in-depth research on the issues, with much contemplation, or if they were cast taking cues from a member of the party leadership or another legislator whose views they trust, or even if they were cast with the knowledge of the legislator credited with those votes.

I know at least one legislator who made a point to read every bill and amendment before voting. This was a legislator who was known for raising good questions about details in the proposals. Such legislators are few and far between. Indeed, many legislators insist that doing this takes time away from their other duties, and that they would not be as effective legislators if they took the time to read and evaluate proposals instead of using the time to meet constituents, lobbyists, and raise campaign funds.

On other extreme, I know of one legislator whose grasp of the issues was so limited that he other let the legislator choose how to vote for him, with him sitting in his seat. There was also once a sad case of a legislator who had an accident that resulted in some brain damage. While he was still able to function, he often would come up with ideas for legislation that were unworkable. I often worked with him because, unlike other staff people who would tell him his ideas are crazy, I would help refine his often legitimate concerns but far fetched ideas into a sensible proposal. I never faulted this legislator for the shortcomings which he could not help and tried to help make him a better legislator.

There was a legislator who was known for hardly even appearing at work. There are no prohibitions against continuing to collect a salary if one does not appear at work. There are per diems (money to defray expenses given to those who work that day) that are given to legislators who appear at work. Per diems at least reward those who make show up. It is a strange irony that the press and public often more strongly criticized those legislators who show up for work the most and receive the most per diems, and thus cost taxpayers the most money, yet fail to notice the legislators who do not appear for work and collect fewer per diems.

One may be absent and have votes cast so long as all other legislators look the other way. Yet, if someone decides not to look away and insists that the legislators be present in order to vote, than that is what happens. This is often used as a political mechanism when those in opposition to a vote realize that their side will win an otherwise losing battle if they make such a challenge. This thus leads to a scramble to make legislators seat in the own seats and cast their own votes. If one side on an issue can not physically produce enough actual living legislators sitting in their seats, that side loses.

I state living legislators because one does not need to be alive to cast a vote. This happened at least once when a legislator was recorded as voting until it was revealed that the legislator had died earlier that day. The records are usually changed being going into final print to reflect that the deceased when not present and voting. Yet somewhere someone may still have original vote copies of the dead voting. Granted, some joke that, given the number of deceased voters whose votes are still cast, the dead legislators may have been representing part of their constituencies, it still remains unseemly to have deceased legislators voting.

This was not the case of my former and late U.S. Representative William Barrett. Constituent services were important to Bill Barrett. When in Washington D.C. he would return to Philadelphia every evening to meet with constituents who lined up seeking a meeting, He died in mid-term. His staff office continued functioning and serving his constituents. There are letters of recommendations and other matters that can be found written by his staff and signed by him even after his death. Death does not end constituent needs.

There was a legislator who was known for almost never appearing at work, Instead, the legislator enjoyed spending his time out of state at a beach. It was determined that this legislator’s vote would be required in order to pass an important piece of legislation It is possible to compel a legislator to be brought into the legislative chambers and required to vote. A jet was sent to bring this legislator to work. The jet crashed. A second jet was dispatched. The legislator voted and the legislation passed.

That is how democracy works.

Rule: Elected officials are deeply concerned about their constituents.
Why this rule is wrong: Many elected officials take enormous efforts to place a much distance between themselves and constituents as possible.

Have you ever written an elected official and received a nice reply signed by the elected official? Many letters from members of Congress are pre-written with stock answers in response to your letter and others similar to it. Even some state legislators use a letter writing office to answer their mail. The signature at the end of the office is real in some cases, yet in other cases it the signature of a staff person or perhaps a machine that produces signatures. While you may proudly believe you have transmitted your views or ideas to an elected official, you may have only activated the services of machines and staff members.

This was not necessarily the case where I worked, I answered every letter or email presented to me. Of course, I was not the elected official, so perhaps I am only proving my point. Yet letters and emails we received were individually answered, seen by the elected official, and often changed according to the desires of the elected official.

There were exceptions. We once received over 1,700 emails on a specific issue. These emails did receive a stock reply, especially since all but two of them were in agreement with my boss on the issue. In one of the cases where the person disagreed with my boss, my boss personally phone the dissenter. They had a lengthy discussion where the person changed his opinion into agreement with my boss.

My job was meant to be primarily research. Legislative research is difficult when it can be interrupted at any time without notice from a constituent phone call. I can not imagine too many researchers in most fields having such constant interruptions. I doubt that are many research scientists who have their phone numbers published in local media for people to call at any time to comment on their research or on just about anything.

A problem I developed when I received a reputation for being good with handling constituents, especially those who certain types of difficulties. Much of my career wound up being spent on telephone conversations with people who were heavily medicated. Such people require a certain understanding. Unfortunately, having this skill is similar to being one of the few people who knows how to defuse a bomb. Whenever there is a bomb, the bomb defuser is called. A Leadership legislative office transferred a call to me to speak with a person on a topic with which I was familiar. The situation was the person  calling announced he had his rifle trained on an insurance adjuster and was threatening to shoot the insurance adjuster. I kept the gentleman with the rifle calm by taking the call  as a normal call where I kept the conversation on listening to and advising him about his problem. Of course, I was sweating for about 20 minutes until the insurance adjuster finally left his gun’s range. The police arrived much afterwards and informed the gentleman that aiming a gun at someone is not polite.

We used to have some interesting threatening calls. Before the terrorist attacks in 2011, these calls were often disregarded. This upset me, as I know of cases where people attacked officials. Before September 11, 2001, bomb scares were much more common. After that, I believe those making the calls realized the calls would no longer be treated lightly. Before then, threats were mostly ignored.

We had a person testify at a public hearing that he had six bullets in his gun and he was saving the sixth bullet for himself. I believe most of the legislators looked and tried to guess which five were targets. No shots were fired. The same person later threatened to blow up a government building. I understand the police finally took a statement from him. To the police, threatening to kill elected officials was nothing. But threaten to damage a building, they that raises concern.

I recall receiving a phone call once where the caller announced he was going to assassinate the Lieutenant Governor. I thought it was just common courtesy to at least inform the Lieutenant Governor’s office regarding the call. When I called, whoever answered informed me they were too busy to take down the information and they hung up. Again, prior to 2001, it seems most people did not take threats seriously.

In case anyone is wondering, the Lieutenant Governor was not assassinated.

One of the most memorable constituents was someone who arrived and spent the entire day in the office because he was being followed by people he was not allowed to tell us about. When he left, he told us that if he ever telephoned to hang up because it would not be him, but someone impersonating him. We never saw or heard from him again, nor anyone pretending to him.

A woman called once demanding to know why her son had been arrested and was not being given bail. I called and discovered that the son was charged with first degree murder and there was no bail in this case. When I informed her of this, her reply was “why not, it’s only his first time?”

A woman once telephoned and explained all five of her daughters were given the same first name, which had led to a bureaucratic error. She explained that she differentiates between her daughters by calling them by their last names.

For a long time, we received daily phone calls from someone who claimed that the FB was beaming radio waves into her head. Her calls ended abruptly. Some time later, I was discussing constituent stories when someone from another office told me their office used to receive daily phone calls from her as well. Her office had a meeting where they discussed the ethics of doing this, and they finally decided it was worth trying because her repetitive phone calls were becoming burdensome upon office operations. They informed her that they had contacted the FBI and the FBI had agreed to turn off the beams. They and we never heard from her again. I guess people such as that just needed someone to solve their problem, even if the problem is imaginary.

A problem I note is while staff people are familiar with constituents, many staff members have told me their bosses show little interest in what the constituents call or write about. This varies greatly among different elected officials. I remember once commenting on how much time it takes to handle constituent services, and a legislator stood up and challenged me stating no one had ever once come up to him and thanked him for being helped by a staff person. While the legislator continued to never recognize the amount of time constituent services takes, it is true that I have seldom heard of a constituent mentioning the assistance of a staff person to the legislator, except for one horrible exception.

An intern was assigned a constituent project in order for her to learn how to handle constituent services. I recall overhearing her as she told the constituent that she tried her best yet there was nothing she could do to help him. She then came back and told me she never even tried and that she lied about making lots of phone calls. The constituent, though, wrote a letter to the elected official giving high praise to the intern for all her help. The legislator then held this office as the shining example to which we should all aspire. Sadly, the reality is some constituents would rather deal with an attractive member of the opposite sex who make no effort to assist them than to deal with someone who really does try and help them.

This is why I understand what a legislator meant when he once commented “this job would be great if it weren’t for the constituents.”

It was my pleasure and it was fulfilling helping so many people over the years. There often were constituents who could be helped. Sometimes they were lost in the maze and confusion of government and needed guidance of what proper avenues and forms to fill. I at first was surprised yet later learned that, for most of my years of employment, that a phone call from a legislative office often was given priority treatment. People would extend deadlines and make an extra effort to help constituents who had called legislators. In fact, many Departments had offices designed to give special treatment to constituent calls from legislative offices. I do believe there were some people who were aware of this and often took advantage of this. Yet, in many cases, there were constituents who deserved some attention from government who had become lost in the shuffle or had reached out to the wrong office who received deserved attention.

It is my observation, though, that this priority treatment began declining during the administration of Governor Ed Rendell. It is noted that I seldom use names in this book, yet this will be one of the exceptions because this is a unique case that I believe had far fetching ramifications. Let me also state that I personally and politically like Ed
Rendell. I supported him in his first primary when he ran for District Attorney and continued supporting his since. He once told me when he first ran for Governor that the first contribution he received was from me. I like Ed Rendell and this criticism is of his administration on how it handled legislative constituent requests.

Prior to Rendell becoming Governor, Governor Tom Ridge resigned to join the Bush Administration. Lt. Gov. Mark Schweiker served out the remainder of Ridge’s term yet did not seek to run for the office. Many of the legislative constituent staff people left, some knowing that their Governor would soon be leaving office and some realizing that the administration was changing from Republican to Democrat and left to accept jobs with another Republican.

When Rendell became Governor, he and his staff seemed unfamiliar with the legislative constituent process. They took what was probably the lowest number of people working on the process in years and cut positions. Many new people unfamiliar with the process were hired.  Thus the process were operated by inexperienced people handling what likely were record numbers of cases per employee.

Some Departments responded in a way that slowed down the process, which is not a good thing. They began insisting that constituent service requests no longer be made by telephone but in writings. Thus, a process that used to take minutes took days to even find someone’s attention.

The process itself changed philosophically in a few Departments. I spoke to several people who were supposed to be helping with constituent services who refused to help. They challenged that people should not be given priority simply because they had contacted a legislator. This may well be a valid point on a technical level yet it is a destructive point on a political level. I believe that Ed Rendell, when Mayor of Philadelphia, understood the importance of responding to constituents. Constituents are voters. Complaining constituents often result from some government process failure. It is the job of politicians to respond to voters. The people Ed Rendell hired as Governor did not appear to understand the political importance of this.

Certainly Mayor James Curley of Boston understood the important of constituent services. He used to tell the story of when his opponent was asked by a voter if the opponent would hire the opponent’s own brother for a City job. The opponent replied he was never consider doing that. To which the voter responded that if the opponent won’t help his own brother, how could he expect the opponent to help him?

As constituents received delayed and often no service from the Rendell Administration, I could detect an increasingly angry tone from constituents. There are 253 state legislators and State Senators in Pennsylvania and each has at least one district office and most have several offices. I knew that every day constituents were being told in hundreds of offices across the state that state government cared little about their problems.

I recall making one of my many incorrect political predictions. I could see the building anger of the Pennsylvania constituency. I believed that Ed Rendell would have problems being re-elected Governor. I foresaw his campaign doomed by a death of thousands of paper cuts from the angry constituents. I was wrong. Ed Rendell was reelected in a landslide.

My forecast was not totally inaccurate. What I did not foresee was that the voters would direct their anger, not at the Governor, but at the legislators, whose offices they went to seek help and whose offices they left disappointed. The anger erupted when the legislator voted themselves a pay raise.

In past instances of when the legislators voted to increase their pay, and has happened in other states as well, there is often a short outcry followed by little political retaliation. There have been the occasional legislative election where the issue of a pay raise was dominant, yet these were rare. This time, the outrage was loud, long, and had much effect. The outrage was in part driven by an unforgiven media including several newspapers that devoted front page news to the pay raise vote for weeks afterwards and included updates before election time. I do believe that the public outrage over the pay raise, partially fueled at their anger at reduced satisfaction with legislative services, was felt by several legislators on election day.