"What's black and white and read all over?"

Thursday, August 24, 2006
Posted 11:25 PM by

Neither Rendell nor Swann deserves Pa. governorship

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell doesn't deserve a second term and Republican challenger Lynn Swann has shown no signs of leadership.It isn't often I laugh out loud when the article I'm reading is supposed to be taken seriously. But the opening line in a story by Calkins Media's Harrisburg correspondent Alison Hawkes had me howling this morning.

"On the campaign trail this month, Gov. Ed Rendell quietly dropped a bombshell. He announced his support for legislative term limits, a change that if enacted would shake the Harrisburg political culture to its very core," Hawkes wrote.

Sure Ed wants term limits now. He can't run for governor anymore after this. The state Constitution forbids it.

It's just like how Rendell now supports tougher restrictions on campaign financing from gambling interests after accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from them for his reelection campaign over the last four years.

Rendell's hypocrisy doesn't end there, either.

"Some of the legislators in Harrisburg are more concerned with their own power and perks than they are with doing the people's business," Rendell campaign spokesman Dan Fee told Hawkes.

However, that doesn't jive too well with what hizzoner told a group of Bucks County businessmen in April when he tried to explain why he approved last year's now-repealed legislative pay raise.

"If I didn't sign it, I might have been governor for the next five years but I would have gotten nothing done, literally, because I need the cooperation of the Legislature," Rendell said. "... So you have to kiss a little butt."

And if Rendell is so serious about reforming Pennsylvania politics, why did he tell the Philadelphia Inquirer this week he would consider a cabinet position in a Democratic White House - but only after his second term is finished if he is reelected in November.

"I really do like my job and I want to finish it out," Rendell said. "People don't believe this, but all the challenges, all of the fulfillment I need comes from this job, as it did when I was mayor."

Too bad he really has done almost nothing to warrant a second term in his statewide office.

Rendell's own Pennsylvania Transportation Funding and Reform Commission reported this week that the state's infrastructure is crumbling and needs at least another $2 billion a year to support mass transit agencies and rebuild crumbling highways and bridges.

And that's a basic constituent service. Rendell hasn't stopped PennDOT's practice of intentionally paying for shoddy construction work.

In fact, his only suggestion so far on how to deal with the mess is to privatize highways that our tax dollars have paid for and let the new owners charge motorists tolls to ride on them.

And he's the incumbent Democrat, not a Republican.

Meanwhile, Rendell's property tax reform plan was approved this year and will save the average homeowner just $200 annually. It changes nothing systemically in the way our schools tax and hikes tax rates on renters - all to justify the imposition of slot machine gambling across the state.

And if you think I'm being too hard on Rendell, remember, I'm a Democrat too.

If Republican challenger Lynn Swann weren't a political novice with no real ideas of his own, I might have been swayed to vote on the dark side this year.

But Swann lost any chance of getting my vote when he said that while he thinks legalizing slot machine gambling was poor public policy, he would never push for a repeal despite its corrupting influence.

A drive to overturn slots gambling would be "a waste of my time and energy. I'd like to win the election," Swann said.

So the only thing he's missing is a sense of leadership, which is kind of a prerequisite for the job of governor.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Posted 10:50 PM by

Courts keep barriers for Pa. election competitors

This is what it's like to be an independent or third-party candidate running for statewide office in Pennsylvania thanks to the Legislature and courts.Two courts ruled today in favor of keeping Pennsylvania's tough requirements for third-party and independent candidates, forcing them to fight an uphill battle to get on the ballot for statewide office compared to Republicans and Democrats.

First off, a three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia upheld a lower-court ruling against three minor parties that had challenged the constitutionality of the law requiring them to obtain 2 percent of the total ballots cast in the top vote-getter in the last statewide election race.

Based on the total state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. received in 2004, that means a third-party or independent candidate would need to gather 67,070 signatures on a nominating petition this year compared to just 2,000 needed by Republicans and Democrats running for the same office.

The judges' reasoning: "The minimal burdens on minor political parties was justified by Pennsylvania's interest in preventing ballot clutter and ensuring viable candidates."

Yeah, right.

That's why fewer than half of Pennsylvanians go to the poll in non-presidential elections. There's just too many choices to pick from and the candidates are all so good.

What planet did these judges come from? I want to move there.

They should really talk to Russ Diamond. He failed to gather enough signatures this year to make the gubernatorial ballot as an independent even though he helped launch a statewide effort last year that successfully forced the Legislature to repeal its own pay raise.

Sam Stretton, the lawyer who represents the Green, Libertarian and Constitution parties in the case, said he would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider an appeal of Wednesday's ruling.

"We're going to take it up and I hope the Legislature will listen in the interim," Stretton told the Associated Press.

You think state lawmakers want more competition at the polls? I don't. It's bad enough having the electorate pissed off at them, why give them a leg to stand on?

Just in case they do, the state Supreme Court gave the two majority parties a financial shotgun to shoot that leg out from beneath future competitors today.

Five justices found former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader and his runningmate, Peter Miguel Camejo, must pay $80,000 in transcription and stenography costs and handwriting-expert fees from when a group of Pennsylvania voters sued to block their names from the state's ballot in 2004.

The amount Nader and Camejo must pay will force a future third-party candidate to decide "whether or not he wants to bet his family home in an effort to have his political views heard," Nader's attorney, Basil C. Culyba, said.

But that's not how Justice Sandra Schultz Newman viewed it while writing the majority opinion.

"Given the magnitude of the fraud and deception implicated in (their) signature-gathering efforts, their claim that the Commonwealth Court acted in an unjust and unconstitutional fashion by assessing transcription and stenography costs does not pass the straight-face test," Schultz Newman wrote.

The Commonwealth Court opinion, issued after three weeks of hearings by 12 judges, described the Nader-Camejo petitions as "the most deceitful and fraudulent exercise ever perpetrated upon this court" and that it "shocks the conscience."

Signatures were filed from "Mickey Mouse" and "Fred Flintstone," and thousands of names were created at random, the lower court found.

Similar concerns have been raised by Democrats about the signatures a paid firm gathered on behalf of Carl Romanelli, the Green Party's nominee for U.S. Senate this year.

Much of the money to pay the company in question came from Repubicans who hope to siphon off some of the vote destined for Casey, who's running against U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum. Some of Santorum's staffers even helped gather the signatures.

Only in Pennsylvania folks.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Posted 9:37 PM by

Ruffing it

Lame duck state Rep. Ken Ruffing had too much to drink at a church fair, crashed his state-leased SUV into a parked car while his kids watched.Don't ask me how, but lame duck Pennsylvania state representative Ken Ruffing, D-Alleghney, got a little too tipsy while attending a church fair Saturday, struck a parked car with his state-leased sports utility vehicle and fled the scene.

Police were called and found Ruffing, 39, of West Mifflin, parked nearby brushing off the bumper of his olive-colored SUV, the Associated Press reports. At first he denied drinking, then admitted to having one or two drinks during the fair, before finally twice telling the officers, "You guys got me."

A blood test later found his alcohol content to be 0.346 - more than four times the legal limit of 0.08. Ruffing was formally charged with drunken driving on Monday.

However, Ruffing had his two children in the SUV at the time of the accident and could face felony charges, Pittsburgh radio station KDKA reported.

First thought: That's my kind of church function.

Second thought: Been there, done that. Turned the tassle. Paid the price.

Third thought: At least he admitted it and didn't call the officers "Sugar tits" or rant about Jews like Mel Gibson did.

A four-term legislator, Ruffing will miss out on free life insurance for his entire family for the rest of his life because he lost his re-election bid in the May primary. He had eight years in office and needed 10 to qualify.

One possible reason he didn't win is that Ruffing did not return the $4,000 in extra pay he received from the state last year once the legislature's raise was repealed.

Instead, Ruffing claimed he donated the money to an autism charity because one of his sons is autistic, but refused to provide any proof of his contribution. "They want to remain anonymous," he claimed.

Ruffing will, however, receive a guaranteed state pension as early as age 50, because he was fully vested in the program after five years in the Legislature.

Now that's roughing it.


Monday, August 21, 2006
Posted 8:49 PM by

Slots of interesting names among Pa. parlor shareholders

Look who's bilking! The owners of Pennsylvania's proposed slots parlors have all been named and how much they stand to gain.This country balked at the idea of having foreign - especially Arab - ownership of our nation's ports.

But apparently it's perfectly fine to have some foreign investors profit from the quarters plunked down in Pennsylvania's 14 future slots parlors.

Watche "Bob" Manoukian, a Lebanese businessman considered one of the wealthiest men in the United Kingdom, would own the planned slots parlor at Philadelphia Park, the Bucks County race track he already owns, the Associated Press reports.

Manoukian's name appears among a lengthy list of investors and their shares of ownership in the 22 applications the state Gaming Control Board released today after first refusing to disclose it.

To tell you the truth, I have far more of a problem with the fact that Manoukian lives in England than I do with his native war-torn homeland of Lebanon.

It just adds to our foreign trade imbalance.

I just think Pennsylvania's dollars - even those pissed away at a race track - should stay as much as possible within the state to benefit its residents through the economic multiplier effect.

But that's not likely to happen if some of the applicants receive slots parlor licenses starting Sept. 27.

For instance, one group vying for a slots parlor in Philadelphia is headed by the family of billionaire Chicago real-estate developer Neil G. Bluhm.

The Connecticut-based Mohegan Indian tribe stands to gain from another proposal, this after Legislators refused to let Pennsylvania's native tribes gain a piece of the action.

Oh well, at least some Pennsylvanian residents stand to gain from the slots parlors.

One of them is Charles R. Zappala, the uncle of Allegheny County's district attorney. Should be fun if his proposed Pittsburgh parlor ever runs afoul of the law.

The group behind the proposed Riverwalk casino on Philadelphia's riverfront includes a handful of labor leaders among its more than 30 investors. (I guess there will be no work stoppages, slow downs or missing supplies on that construction site.)

Brian P. Tierney, chief executive of the company that owns The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, and Pat Croce, the former president of the 76ers, would also each own a little over 7 percent of Donald Trump's proposed slots casino in Philly.


To see a complete list of investors and what share they have in proposed slots parlors in pdf format, click here.


Sunday, August 20, 2006
Posted 10:56 PM by

Slots of gambling money still buying Pa. influence

Lawyers and lobbyists for gambling interests have contributed $750,000 to the state's top politicians despite a ban on donations from slots-related businesses.Gambling interests are supposed to be barred from giving political contributions under Pennsylvania's two-year-old slots law.

But the law only outlaws direct contributions, not those passed through a lawyer or a lobbyist.

And since this is the only state without a lobbyist disclosure law, those who really want something are continuing give - to the tune of $750,000 in political contributions this year so far, according to the Associated Press.

Last year $125 million was spent on lobbying lawmakers, of which $4.5 million came from gambling interests.

And just what are these high rollers getting for their money?

For once thing, the Pocono Record reported July 30 that gambling lobbyist Stephen R. Wojdak was one of several who had a hand in getting 17 Pennsylvania House members to switch their votes and grant a handful of companies an unprecedented monopoly on distributing slot machines.

A group of senators would like to see at least some of the money pipeline closed off - specifically, contributions from lobbyists for gambling interests.

"Our concern is the public perception of the campaign contributions," said Sen. Jay Costa, D-Allegheny. "It's the public perception of the connection of the gaming entity to the lobbyist and the lobbyist to the politicians, and we're trying to sever that connection."

House Speaker John Perzel's spokesman, Al Bowman, agreed. "I think it's more perception than reality, but public perception is important to public trust."

So just for public show, those donations may be barred.

Perzel, R-Philadelphia, would be also willing to consider barring attorneys and other professionals from making political contributions that draw from fees paid by gambling-industry clients, Bowan said.

It's a bit like letting the fox in charge of the hen house. Perzel has taken $46,000 so far this year from gambling lobbyists and lawyers, the AP says.

Besides, that still leaves the loophole for gambling interests to give to Political Action Committees and trade groups, who will then turn the money over to the politicians.

Gov. Ed Rendell was reportedly in Las Vegas on April 26, 2005 soliciting donations from gambling executives to the Democratic Governors Association. The association has since contributed $300,000 to Rendell's reelection campaign.

Different players. Same corrupting effect.

By the way, Rendell has received $60,000 this year from gambling lobbyists and lawyers.

So you see, any last-minute attempts to plug holes in the slots law before licenses are handed out is going to be a bit like the little Dutch boy plugging the leaky dike with his thumb.


This Week's Rants | The Daily Rant Archives

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.