"We don't need no reform! I don't have to show you any stinking reform!!"
Ever had the wind knocked out of you? Then you know how the members of the Speaker's Commission on Legislative Reform felt like during Monday's voting session to change the way the Pennsylvania House of Representatives does business.
This was supposed to be easy. The reform commission consisted of 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans. They met for two months and came up with recommendations to make fundamental changes in how the House conducts the people's business. A total of 32 reforms made it out of the commission meetings by garnering support from a majority of both Democrats and Republicans on the panel.
Those were the ground rules. Nothing would get to the floor for a vote by the full House unless it had the support of the majority of the bipartisan commission.
These were the no-brainer reforms like not voting on bills after 11 p.m. (unlike the legislative pay raise of 2005 or the casino gambling bill of 2004, both of which were approved at 2 a.m.)
A funny thing happened on the way to the state Capitol.
Turns out that the majority of the 203 members of the House don't want to change. They like the way things are. They enjoy basking in wealth and privilege. They want to keep all their perks. They don't have a problem with denying the wishes of the majority of their constituents.
As I have been telling you for two years, the only real reform in Harrisburg will come when more incumbents are thrown out of office. Voters knocked out 55 incumbents in 2006, but that wasn't enough. Voters returned nearly 200 others. Therein lies the problem.
We're not talking about 300 Spartans here. These are not brave men and women who will stand up for what's right. These are cowardly career politicians who are perfectly content with gorging themselves at the public trough.
They came, they saw, they chickened out.
Among the most cowardly votes on the House floor Monday were the defeat of measures designed to get more power into the hands of the rank-and-file, term limits for committee chairmen and a ban taxpayer-supported election-year public-service broadcast ads.
All were voted down by the House.
Democratic and Republican leaders led the opposition to a measure designed to prevent the Appropriations Committee from amending another committee's bill beyond fiscal matters. This continues to concentrate power in a small group of legislative leaders.
"This is, quite frankly, about power — nothing more, nothing less," said Rep. Curt Schroder of Chester County. "There is too much power concentrated in the hands of a few members of the General Assembly. It would be better for that power to be diffused somewhat so all representatives could better represent their districts."
The final vote was 149-50 with nearly every Democrat in the House voting against the reform measure. I warned you about those brain-dead Democrats you voted into the majority last year. They do as the party bosses tell them to. They dance to the tune of Ed Rendell and Bill DeWeese. They are not looking out for you.
The House also rejected a proposed election-year ban on buying broadcast time to air public-service announcements that feature representatives' voices, faces or names.
"For the most part they've been used to promote a member's name recognition as the primary purpose, and public benefit only as a secondary purpose," said Rep. Greg Vitali, a Democrat from Delaware County.
Vitali said incumbents spent $6 million of your tax dollars in 2006 on public service announcements. The ban on PSAs was defeated 39-160.
The House also rejected, by a 67-132 vote, a measure sponsored by Rep. Scott Perry, a Republican from York County, that would have limited committee chairmen to four consecutive terms.
Committee chairman are often the targets of lobbyists who can keep important legislation bottled up for years as long as they keep the committee chairman on a short leash.
Two measures regarding state-subsidized vehicles were both defeated, allowing lawmakers to continue riding around in luxury automobiles paid by taxpayers.
House members also turned down a proposal to ban smoking in most areas of the state Capitol. While the Legislature is moving forward with plans to ban smoking in public places in Pennsylvania, it appears the lawmakers will exempt themselves from the smoking ban.
If you're keeping score, here's how things went Monday. The House voted on 18 of the 32 reform recommendations, approving 10, but rejecting 8 others. All 18 should have been approved. All 32 reform recommendations deserve approval.
The House resumed debate on reform measures Tuesday morning, but don't get your hopes up. The jig is up. We've met the enemy and it's the 253 lawmakers we keep sending back to Harrisburg.
It's clear the only way the people of Pennsylvania can take back their state government from the political aristocracy that has usurped all the power is to drive out the majority of House members.
All 203 House members (and 25 members of the Senate) will seek re-election in 2008. Maybe this time, you'll take my advice and vote out most of the incumbents.