Sunday, April 30, 2006

Missing Monday

CHRISTINA WALKER
Case Type: Endangered Runaway
DOB: Jan 3, 1990
Missing Date: Nov 29, 2005, from Abington, PA.
Race: Black
Age Now: 16
Height: 5'3" (160 cm)
Weight: 135 lbs (61 kg)
Hair Color: Black
Eye Color: Brown
Circumstances: Christina was last seen at school on November 29, 2005. She has a pierced nose and a scar on the left side of her neck.

Catching Up: An Interview with Joe Hoeffel

Regular readers will have noticed that I think well of Joe Hoeffel. I wondered what he has been doing lately and thought you might also. He graciously agreed to answer a few email questions.

How are you and what have you been doing lately? Are you lawyering full time? Do you enjoy that?

I am doing fine and enjoying the spring weather. I am doing both legal and consulting work at the law firm Kohn, Swift & Graf. I am enjoying the work and think highly of my colleagues at the firm, but haven't lost my interest in politics and public policy.

Are you concerned about the integrity of electoral ballots in Pennsylvania? I keep reading about voting machines and falsified absentee ballots, etc. What can we as voters do to ensure that our votes count?

I am worried about the integrity of the ballot. It is important that we not only upgrade our voting technology but also provide a paper trail to aid in recounts and to reassure individuals about the accuracy and security of their vote. I don't share all the conspiracy theories we are hearing about pre-programmed machines and hacked-up software, but we need to keep the public pressure on county election boards to verify the accuracy and fairness of their systems. Those meetings are public and need to be attended by the public.

It is very discouraging to read that judicial decisions on such things as petition challenges and challenges to candidate financial disclosure forms don’t follow legal precedent. What can be done about this as well?

There does seem to be some subjectivity in the way judges handle petition and disclosure challenges. Usually, judges seem to favor granting access to the ballot so that the voters can decide on the candidates, and so the courts overlook minor and technical discrepancies in the qualifying paperwork, and I agree with that approach. Now, outright fraud and forgery on nominating petitions is another matter, and maybe it would stop if a few of those forgeries resulted in jail time. Again, public attention and attendance at public meetings is a terrific disinfectant.

What strategy would you recommend for those of us who would like to see a different junior senator sworn in next January?

Unity. All progressives, liberals and moderates (in both parties) need to rally behind Bob Casey after the primary. The primary itself is fine and not the problem - it is healthy for Democrats to have a debate and Pennachio and Sandals are raising good issues and waging vigorous campaigns. But they don't have the financial resources or name recognition to effectively challenge Casey or Santorum - that is not their fault, it is just the way it is in modern politics. But the problem of disunity will occur after the primary if the defeated candidates or their supporters act as if they got screwed or the party got hosed or liberals got disrespected or life is unfair. Actually, life often IS unfair, and Pennsylvanians will get no help from their junior senator to deal with that unfairness as long as their junior senator is Rick Santorum. So, we need to be unified in our determination to defeat Santorum.

You’ve been giving a lot of speeches and talking to a lot of groups lately. Do you ever get tired of that and just want to take up gardening or go fishing or something?

You forgot golf! Please don't leave golf off the list. I like doing all those things and do them as often as I can. But I still have the bug for public service, and I am glad I do.

Philadelphia is a Democratic city. The number of registered Democrats in Montgomery and Bucks Counties are growing. Yet even when officials are from the same party there is dissension. Why don’t we have better regional coordination on matters like mass transit and development?

Tip O'Neill was right - all politics is local. So, local concerns frequently trump party loyalty or the big regional picture. But don't just blame the local politicians, since a lot of times the voters want and reward that kind of parochial thinking. We all need to understand better that we are involved in a regional competition with the rest of the state and the country, and against other countries, for jobs, public and private investment and cultural amenities. We need to reject the politicians that try to divide the region, or demonize and marginalize their opponents, for their own benefit. In the greater Philadelphia region the biggest, most powerful politician is always the Mayor of Philadelphia, and I have never seen the kind of sustained, energetic outreach from a Philly mayor that is needed to kick start serious regional cooperation on anything. Of course, the elected suburban Republicans are usually too busy trashing the city and its residents to even hear a message of regionalism from the mayor or anyone else. But one of the delicious ironies of the outrageous and hyper-partisan GOP redistricting of 2002 is that several state legislative and congressional seats now cross the city-suburban boundary in a big way - and all are currently held by Democrats. So there.

You have served both in the state and federal house, what do you think would be the best kind of ethics reform in each setting?

No gifts of any kind or amount from lobbyists. No trips from lobbyists and no privately financed travel. Taxpayers should pay for all travel (which can be very educational and broadening), and the pols can buy their own meals.

Do we need to repair international relations and if so, how should the country go about it?

Yes, we badly need to repair our relations with the rest of the world. How? Replace George Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and Condi Rice with people who understand that our unilateral foreign policies and cowboy diplomacy have made us less safe, not more safe, and have created more terrorists than we have captured or killed. Acknowledge that we are stronger and safer when we act with our traditional allies, not against them, and when we promote and use international organizations, not trash them.

What was it that originally got you interested in running for office?

Opposition to the war in Vietnam and disgust with Richard Nixon. And a wonderful college professor who made me understand in her American Diplomatic History course that the way to influence American foreign policy is through domestic politics.

You’re not in office currently so you can tell us the truth – what about all those perks we read about? Do you get free movie tickets? Do lobbyists chase you down the halls of Congress trying to give you free trips to Cancun or other sunny places? What is the real influence of lobbyists on government? Are there good and bad aspects?

Never got a free movie ticket. Would have enjoyed that. Never got a free golf trip. Would have really enjoyed that. Once got two freebies to The Flying Dutchman at the opera. Did not enjoy that. As a young state legislator, I used to allow Harrisburg lobbyists to buy me dinner at first, but I stopped that because we always had to talk about their pet issues and it was boring. It was much more fun and relaxing to grab a burger and a beer with my colleagues, on our own dimes. Followed the same policy in D.C. I did turn down a lot of nice trips while in Congress, and was careful to accept only those private trips I could really justify to my constituents as to the host, the purpose and the place. So I accepted trips from AIPAC to Israel, the Sierra Club to ANWR in Alaska, and the Kennedy School of Harvard to two health care conferences. Frankly, all such private travel should be banned, no matter how worthy. If a trip has real merit, the taxpayers should pay and the Congressman should be ready to explain why the trip was beneficial. Actually, the appearance of these trips is much worse than the reality, but appearances count and Congress needs to clean up its act. Then it needs to clean up campaign financing.

On your website Joe Hoeffel and Friends you endorsed some local candidates. At speaking engagements you seem to give some candidates a seal of approval. How do you make those decisions?

I endorse candidates if they are progressive and if I like them.

In the bargain between elected officials and voters, what are the responsibilities of each?

Great question with a simple answer. Voters must stay informed, and officials must stay honest.

What do you see as the top three priorities for the state of Pennsylvania? How should those tasks be divided up among levels of government, other organizations, and the citizenry?

Economic development, improved public schools, health care for all.

Obviously, all the actors and stakeholders must be involved in all three of those challenges. State and local governments must take the lead in investing in job creation and revitalization, but the private sector actually creates the jobs. So the public subsidies, tax breaks and infrastructure improvements that can spur such development must be tied to enforceable commitments with the private companies to create certain numbers of jobs with family-supporting wages and benefits. If the private companies break the deal, the government should get its money back.

Public schools need more federal and state money for remedial programs. We should all support high standards and frequent testing on those standards, but only if we also add funding for remedial programs to help the individual students who don't measure up to the standards.

Health care reform needs everyone's attention. Medicare has 3% overhead. Canada's single payer system has 3% overhead. U.S. healthcare overall has 25% overhead. That is the problem that must be fixed - spending one quarter of every health care dollar on administration, duplication, overhead, unnecessary paperwork and insurance company profits. The healthcare reforms in Massachusetts will get almost everyone in the state covered, which is terrific, but it won't fix the inefficiencies that plague American health care. We need Medicare For All.

I posted a blog entry that quoted from a 1984 Inquirer article saying you had shared an apartmentt with another legislator [David Sweet] that didn’t have a phone. Is that a true story? Weren’t there per diems in those days? (Source: Eshelman, Russell E., Jr., "When House is No Longer Home," Philadelphia InquirerDec. 20, 1984.)

True story. David Sweet and I shared an apartment with two bedrooms, two baths and no phone. Our per diems then were $44. I spent mine on one half of the apartment rent and all those burgers and beers.

Another earlier article I found, from 1982 has this sentence: “For if there is one thing that everyone says about Joe Hoeffel – and they usually say it right away, without prompting – it’s that he is a nice guy who speaks well and works hard.” It is something people still say about you. Having spent so many years in politics, how have you maintained those qualities? [My theory is that it is because you have lost a few elections.] (Source: Von Bergen, Jane M., "He's the Exception to GOP Rule," Philadelphia Inquirer Nov. 11, 1982.)

Yeah, you are probably correct. Every time I lose I get nicer. I am getting entirely too nice. That's gotta change.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

I have probably said enough.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Endorses McDonald Roberts

Today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette endorses Valerie McDonald Roberts for Lieutenant Governor. Editorial/endorsement here. Excerpt:

In this field, in this primary, she is the standout candidate. She would be a fiery, intelligent teammate for Ed Rendell (and not just because she's an African American and he'll be facing an African-American opponent). She is not running so much against the incumbent as she is running for the office -- something the incumbent this spring has chosen not to do.

In the aftermath of the pay-raise debacle, elected officials cannot take their office for granted. Now more than ever, candidates must present themselves to the public, interview for the job with the people. Catherine Baker Knoll hasn't done that. Valerie McDonald Roberts has -- and that's why she's earned the Post-Gazette endorsement.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Tom Murt Roundup

Tom Murt, who is challenging GOP incumbent Sue Cornell for the Republican spot on the ballot for the 152nd state house, has been very diligent about sending me his press releases. Here is a recap of what he's been doing lately:

Thomas P. Murt, a candidate for State Representative in the 152nd Legislative District has:

* further articulated his position on PENNDOT’s Woodhaven Road Expressway Project. Murt has pledged to fight against this PENNDOT project and instead, support the Route #1 Alternative proposal.

* called for the re-establishment of a Lower Moreland Historical Association

* pledged to seek state support for storm water management and flooding problems in Lower Moreland Township and in Huntingdon Valley

* pledged his support for the revitalization of the Philmont Avenue corridor

* called for a dialogue regarding the establishment of a walking trail along the former railroad line through Lower Moreland Township and Bryn Athyn

* been awarded the Army Commendation Medal for his service in the U.S. Army Reserve

* pledged to support and seek state funding for prominent and permanent historical markers commemorating the Battle of Crooked Billet which took place in Hatboro on May 1st, 1778. Murt envisions a trail of history in Hatboro, documenting the location of the battle and the historical particulars such as the bivouac and skirmish locations

He always ends his press releases with a district description; this is something I appreciate since it's hard to keep all these things straight in my memory:

The 152nd Legislative District includes the townships of Upper Moreland and Lower Moreland, the boroughs of Hatboro and Bryn Athyn, and sections of the townships of Upper Dublin and Horsham, and the Philmont Heights section of Northeast Philadelphia.


Mike Paston is running for the Democratic slot on the ballot and does not have a challenger in the primary.

Another Online Resource

The Center for Public Integrity has some really interesting state by state comparisons on lobbying and disclosure regulations. Check out the Pennsylvania page here; it isn't pretty. We get an "F" on some things and actually rank 50th in the nation on lobbyist spending disclosures. (hat tip, Tom).

Friday, April 28, 2006

weekly legislative update

As I mentioned in the previous posting, the governor called a special legislative session to look into property tax reform. Information from that session is included here as well. Standard caveats apply (resolutions not generally included, list of sponsors deleted if it was too long - three lines in the originally formatting).

Our accountants friends at PICPA have updated their legislative page.


Other weekly updates are available for this week:

PA House Democrats
PA House GOP daily updates
PA Senate Democrats
PA Senate Republicans

Special Session

Monday In the House, HB 80 was referred to Finance
Tuesday no action
Wednesday no action
Thursday no action
Friday no action

Regular Session

Bills

This is a list of bills that passed the Pennsylvania House and/or Senate this week.

House

HB 567 Prior Printer's Nos. 640, 3658. Printer's No. 3941. An Act providing for administration of employee records; imposing powers and duties on the Department of Labor and Industry; imposing penalties; and making a related repeal.

SB 713 Prior Printer's Nos. 880, 1331, 1376, 1525. Printer's No. 1736. An Act prohibiting a provider of commercial mobile service from including the dialing number of any subscriber without first obtaining the express consent of that subscriber.

SB Prior Printer's Nos. 1180, 1368, 1402, 1414. Printer's No. 1738. An Act amending Title 26 (Eminent Domain) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, providing for limitations on the use of eminent domain; and making a related repeal.

HB 2064 Prior Printer's Nos. 2840, 3481. Printer's No. 3963. An Act amending the act of February 1, 1966 (1965 P.L.1656, No.581), known as The Borough Code, further providing for collections of assessments and for intergovernmental cooperation, joint ownership and maintenance.

HB 2065 Prior Printer's Nos. 2841, 3482. Printer's No. 3964. An Act amending the act of June 24, 1931 (P.L.1206, No.331), known as The First Class Township Code, further providing for manner of assessment and for intergovernmental cooperation, joint ownership and maintenance.

HB 2066 Prior Printer's Nos. 2842, 3483. Printer's No. 3965. An Act amending the act of May 1, 1933 (P.L.103, No.69), known as The Second Class Township Code, further providing for intergovernmental cooperation, joint ownership and maintenance and for liens for assessments.

HB 2185 By Representatives TANGRETTI, HERMAN, ROSS, GINGRICH and LESCOVITZ. Printer's No. 3041. An Act amending the act of August 9, 1955 (P.L.323, No.130), known as The County Code, further providing for required financial reporting.

HB 2186 Printer's No. 3042. An Act amending the act of July 28, 1953 (P.L.723, No.230), known as the Second Class County Code, further providing for required financial reporting; and making editorial changes.

HB 2425 Prior Printer's No. 3490. Printer's No. 3822. An Act amending the act of April 24, 1931 (P.L.48, No.40), entitled "An act requiring the recording of certain written agreements pertaining to real property, and prescribing the effect thereof as to subsequent purchasers, mortgagees, and judgment creditors of the parties thereto," providing for the requirments for valid recording of documents.

SB 723 By Senators WENGER, WAUGH, VANCE, ERICKSON, MUSTO, RAFFERTY, GREENLEAF, EARLL, BROWNE, O'PAKE, LEMMOND, PILEGGI, PICCOLA, ORIE, ROBBINS, FERLO, WONDERLING, ARMSTRONG, THOMPSON and KASUNIC.
Prior Printer's Nos. 867, 879, 975, 1026, 1547. Printer's No. 1749. An Act amending the act of June 30, 1981 (P.L.128, No.43), known as the Agricultural Area Security Law, further providing for statement of legislative findings, for definitions, for limitation on certain governmental actions, for purchase of agricultural conservation easements, for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Fund, for legislative report and for the Land Trust Reimbursement Program; providing for acquisitions by donation; and abrogating a regulation.

SB 925 By Senators THOMPSON, VANCE, CORMAN, BOSCOLA, FONTANA, D. WHITE, COSTA, PUNT, MELLOW, C. WILLIAMS, TARTAGLIONE, FUMO, TOMLINSON, Printer's No. 1216. An Act amending the act of December 18, 1980 (P.L.1241, No.224), known as the Pennsylvania Cancer Control, Prevention and Research Act, further providing for sunset provisions.

HB 1561 Prior Printer's No. 1936. Printer's No. 3981. An Act amending Title 53 (Municipalities Generally) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for municipal police education and training and for powers of home rule charter counties; and making an inconsistent repeal of the Sheriff Fee Act.

HB 2122 Prior Printer's Nos. 2926, 3449. Printer's No. 3985. An Act amending Title 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for sentences for offenses against infant persons.

HB 2203 Prior Printer's No. 3071. Printer's No. 3984. An Act amending Titles 18 (Crimes and Offenses) and 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for grading of the offense of failure to comply with registration of sexual offenders requirements; and providing for mandatory sentencing.

HB 2283 By Representatives MACKERETH and VEON. Prior Printer's Nos. 3195, 3295. Printer's No. 3986. An Act amending Title 23 (Domestic Relations) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further defining "sexual abuse or exploitation"; further providing for persons required to report suspected child abuse, for penalties for failure to report suspected child abuse, for investigation of reports and for information on prospective child-care personnel; providing for information relating to other persons in contact with children; and requiring criminal history record and child abuse record information for certain persons who reside in family day-care homes.

HB 2350 Prior Printer's No. 3357. Printer's No. 3452. An Act amending the act of April 12, 1951 (P.L.90, No.21), known as the Liquor Code, prohibiting the use of alcohol vaporizing devices.

HB 2391 Printer's No. 3415. An Act amending Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for purchase, consumption, possession or transportation of liquor or malt or brewed beverages.

HB 2408 By Representatives MARSICO, RAYMOND, BARRAR, CORNELL, D. EVANS, HARRIS, McNAUGHTON, MUSTIO, PAYNE, QUIGLEY and ROSS. Printer's No. 3442. An Act amending Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for inducement of minors to buy liquor or malt or brewed beverages.

HB 2447 Prior Printer's No. 3523. Printer's No. 3982. An Act amending Title 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for collection of restitution, reparation, fees, costs, fines and penalties; and for, in registration of sexual offenders, information made available on the Internet.

HB 2458 Printer's No. 3570. An Act amending Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for corruption of minors.

Senate

HB 121 By Representatives ROEBUCK, KIRKLAND, KOTIK, LEDERER, McCALL, PISTELLA, THOMAS and WASHINGTON.
Prior Printer's Nos. 126, 3818, 3878. Printer's No. 3939. An Act amending Title 75 (Vehicles) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for period of disqualification, revocation or suspension of operating privilege; providing for passing and overtaking streetcars and for snow and ice dislodged or falling from moving vehicles; and further providing for ignition interlock.

HB 601 Prior Printer's Nos. 674, 3053, 3403, 3758, 3819. Printer's No. 3940. An Act amending Title 75 (Vehicles) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for period of disqualification, revocation or suspension of operating privilege and for chemical testing to determine amount of alcohol or controlled substance.

HB 2380 Prior Printer's Nos. 3396, 3875. Printer's No. 3942. An Act amending the act of July 7, 2005 (P.L. , No.1A), known as the General Appropriation Act of 2005, adding appropriations to the Attorney General for reimbursement to counties for expenses for full- time district attorneys and to the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs for transfer to the United States Merchant Marine World War II Veterans' Bonus Fund; further providing for appropriations for additional Pennsylvania State Police troopers; increasing the State appropriation to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency for the Homeowner's Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program; further providing for lapsing of unused funds; and providing for lapsing of certain Department of Revenue funds.

SB 214 By Senators GREENLEAF, WAUGH, LOGAN, O'PAKE, COSTA, WOZNIAK, ORIE and KITCHEN. Printer's No. 206. An Act amending Title 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for municipal police serving process and enforcing orders.

SB 1069 By Senators GREENLEAF, LEMMOND, COSTA, O'PAKE, BOSCOLA, PIPPY, WONDERLING, FONTANA, BROWNE, KITCHEN, WOZNIAK, C. WILLIAMS, STACK, FERLO, LAVALLE and WASHINGTON. Prior Printer's Nos. 1468, 1519. Printer's No. 1714. An Act establishing the Innocence Commission of Pennsylvania; providing for its duties; and providing for the powers and duties of the Joint State Government Commission.

HB 137 By Representatives FLEAGLE, HERMAN, WATSON, BAKER, KILLION, MAITLAND, DENLINGER, BALDWIN, MUSTIO, HERSHEY, ELLIS, NICKOL, BASTIAN, SATHER, S. MILLER, PHILLIPS, ARMSTRONG, THOMAS, ZUG, McGILL, McILHATTAN, PICKETT, WILT and WOJNAROSKI. Prior Printer's No. 138. Printer's No. 2311. An Act amending Title 75 (Vehicles) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, further providing for lighted lamp requirements for motorcycles and for restrictions on highway and bridge use.

HB 218 Prior Printer's Nos. 244, 2104. Printer's No. 3877. An Act amending the act of June 22, 2000 (P.L.318, No.32), known as the Downtown Location Law, further providing for definitions.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Fleeting Impressions

I have gotten out of the house a few times over the last week, and made it to part or all of some political events. Rather than do long posts on the ones I was able to stay for all of or incomplete reviews of those I had to leave early, it seemed better to give an overview of some of the speakers I had a chance to hear, as some were at more than one event. None of these are as involved as I would like but if I waited until I could write something along the lines of “Meeting Patrick Murphy” on all of these people I probably would never write about most of them.

Let me also put in a good word for multi-candidate forums. The candidates would probably prefer a chance to speak at greater length or debate each other, but sometimes listening to someone for 15 minutes is all you need to get a general impression of them. It helps if you can hear them talk for 15 minutes several times, but in a multi-candidate forum at least you can see at least a handful of people. Most of us can’t get to the number of events we’d like so the opportunity to see candidates at all, even briefly, is better than nothing. In general I like to have seen or heard someone two or three times before writing about them, but in some cases I’m making exceptions because I may not get a chance to see or hear them again for some time. For some other recent event postings see Factesque and next direction.

I’d also like to point out that most of these candidates did not mention the events I saw them at anywhere on their website. Chuck Pennacchio seems to have the most comprehensive list of political events in the area so I check there regularly to see what’s going on where. Seriously folks, if you work on a campaign, do what you can to post where and when people can meet the candidate. I swear, I’m going to start deducting points if I have to hunt you down.

Here goes, in alphabetical order, a miscellany of Democrats:

Bryan Lentz – candidate for 161st state house seat. I’ve heard Lentz speak twice now. Two things that struck me about him the first time I saw him was 1) he’s a big guy, linebacker-like and 2) he looks a little different from some of his photos. At that event I was there with someone else and we stood in the wrong line until we got close enough to read name tags and realized that guy wasn’t Lentz, and then had to scoot over to the other side of the room. If you aren’t sure if it’s him, look for the biggest guy in the room. It’s probably him. He speaks well and has a good sense of humor. The two talks I’ve heard, both very short, maybe 5 minutes long, were tailored for the audience at hand. So far, he says, he’s knocked on over 2000 doors. After working in the Philadelphia DA’s office for 6 years, he went back into the army and served in both Bosnia and Iraq with the 82nd Airborne (aren’t there any 101st veterans around here?). He made those career decisions because his parents taught him service matters and individual leadership matters.

Valerie McDonald Roberts – candidate for lt. gov. I’ve heard her speak once, and it was brief. Her speaking style is warm but crisp. She spoke about her efforts on the Pittsburgh City Council to enact police reform. She worked with police officers in the trenches, on the beat. They wanted to clean things up, too. Elected service is not just about ribbon cutting but quality of life. Officials need to take care of problems in their community and are not there just to get re-elected. Catherine Baker Knoll is a wonderful person but PA needs the best person in the job. It’s about ability and capability. Democrats must not feel too comfortable, must not assume success. She feels she is the best person to help Gov. Rendell.

Alan Sandals -- candidate for Senate. I’ve seen him twice on televised debates and once in person, although his talk there was limited to a particular issue. His speaking style has grown on me. He is even-keeled and reasoned. At present he has my vote in the primary.

Joe Sestak – candidate for the 7th congressional seat. I’ve seen him only once and that was a brief talk. The text was very similar to his remarks on Air America so you can just listen to that. However, in person his voice sounds like velvet, or at least it did at that event, perfect for storytelling. He is not very tall and wiry. While not physically imposing he carries himself with authority. I still have some reservations but would love to see Curt Weldon out of office. He went into the Navy intending to stay for 5 years and ended up staying for 30. Talking with people in the district he doesn’t see the optimism in the inner suburbs that he used to. People at home do not feel secure or think the country is being taken in the right direction. Weldon, he says, is not a bad guy, just strange.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

New PA-08 Poll

PoliticsPA has a copy of poll results from PA-08. The opening paragraph tells the gist:

Our survey shows that Patrick Murphy is well-positioned to win both the Democratic primary against Andy Warren and the general election against incumbent Republican Mike Fitzpatrick if he has the resources to communicate with voters. A Murphy win in this suburban Philadelphia district could be key to Democrats re-taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives.


See the full survey for details.

An Interview with Valerie McDonald Roberts

Valerie McDonald Roberts, the Allegheny County Recorder of Deed, is one of the Democratic candidates for Lieutenant Governor. Prior to that she served on the Pittsburgh City Council and the Pittsburgh School Board. Recently she answered some email questions about herself, her background, and the lt. gov. race. My favorite answer is the one on her background in the sciences and how that reconciles with her religious beliefs. Keystone Politics posted an in-depth interview earlier this year, that I would encourage you to read as well. My thanks to Valerie for taking the time to do the interview.

In contrast to some other county row officers, you are on record as saying you do not allow tickets for campaign events to be sold in your office. How did you come to that decision and did it cause problems with your fellow row officers? (Source: “Officials: Don’t Give at the Office,” by David Conti and Jason Cato Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Dec. 15, 2005.)

I have prided myself on bringing professionalism to my row office and improving the way we do the people's business. It is clear to me that uncomfortable situations could result from this type of solicitation, which could have a negative effect on our work. I never sought to publicize this position but was happy to spell it out publicly when asked. I feel that each row officer has the right to determine policy for his or her office, and believe I have made the right decision for my employees and the public function we serve.

County row offices have been targeted as places where patronage jobs were frequently handed out. One study in 2000 found that some offices had no Republican employees. Did you take party into account when hiring or give hiring preference to party faithful? (Source: “County Row Changes on Back Burner,” by Glenn May Pittsburgh Tribune-Review August 29, 2005)

While I have been aware of the character and abilities of a few of my employees from interaction with them in political circles, I have never hired anyone who I did not believe to be completely qualified and dedicated to the public function my office serves. I am unaware of the political affiliation of the vast majority of my employees.

I have always been a firm believer in merit hiring practices. Under my administration the Recorder of Deeds office does not determine employment based on any factors other than competency. In fact, when I entered this office in 2001, my top priority was reforming the office and bringing it into the 21st Century with a state of the art digital land record management system. This required training and assessments of then current employees and their skill sets, many of whom had never used a typewriter, let alone a computer. Many of the employees had received their position precisely through the kinds of patronage and cronyism that you and the article are addressing. Many of these employees balked at my reform measures and did not attempt to gain the skills necessary, and subsequently some were let go. While it is never pleasant to let someone go I have always believed it is right to insist on competent employees—especially when they are being paid out of the taxpayer’s dollar.

Gov. Rendell rather unceremoniously shoved Joe Hoeffel out of the race. You say he has not discouraged you from running. He and his spokespeople say he intends to run with Catherine Baker Knoll. Is there an inconsistency there?

As women and as Western Pennsylvanians, the incumbent and I have characteristics in common that I believe would lend strength and balance to the eventual Democratic ticket. But though I share the widely held and deserved admiration of Catherine's long service, I feel that ensuring that the advancement of a progressive Democratic agenda over the next four years outweighs old loyalties. I am the best candidate to engage disparate elements of the Democratic Party that must be energized and mobilized in the general election. I will be the most effective running mate for Gov. Rendell, and am the candidate best able to articulate and advocate for the public policy priorities we all believe in.

It is not unusual for incumbents to support other incumbents; especially in an election year such as this where in Pennsylvania many face opposition in the primary for the first time in a long while. When I spoke to Governor Rendell in August of 2005 regarding my candidacy, he indicated that he had no issue with my seeking the office, though he would prefer that I didn’t formally announce until after the General Election in November 2005. A lot has happened since then, but I have still not received a call and he has not made any public statements that either endorse or discourage my campaign efforts.

You have said you want to use the office of Lt. Gov. as an advocacy post. What happens if you are elected and you and the governor disagree on something or he makes a pragmatic decision and reverses course after you have begun an advocacy effort?

I believe strongly in Gov. Rendell’s first term agenda and the goals he has articulated for the next four years. I am confident that we would be able to present a united front on most issues. I believe that I would owe him the courtesy, as Governor, of consulting with him on any issue I plan to take a public position on. However, I would not betray my principles or the public trust placed in me by remaining silent on any issue I feel to be of importance, even if it means disagreeing publicly with him.

Your current position is slated to be eliminated in 2007. If you do not become Lt. Gov. what are your plans? You’ve been in public office for around 17 years. What would be next for you?

There have been many misconceptions regarding the referendum for Row Office reform that passed in May of 2005. The result of the referendum was to eliminate the offices as elected positions, not to eliminate them completely. After January of 2008, they become appointed positions through the County Executive’s office. The position has not been eliminated, only changed from an elected office to an appointed one. I have spoken with Dan Onoroto, the Allegheny County Chief Executive, and he has informed me that he values continuity and that the position is mine if I want it. So I am not running for Lieutenant Governor because I need a job. I am running because I think I can be of service to the people of this state. And while I haven’t ruled out taking the position should my campaign for Lieutenant Governor not be successful, my preference is toward elected office.

Each time I have sought public office, it has been because I believed my service was needed and could make a positive impact on those I would serve. Regardless of the eventual result this year, if I were to feel that call to duty again I would be forced to give it strong consideration.

The Lt. Gov. chairs the state’s Board of Pardons. What criteria do you think should be taken into account when granting pardons?

I don’t believe there is a zero-sum principle when it comes to this particular duty, and I would certainly look at each case separately on its own merits and regardless of either public or personal familiarity. Aside from any overwhelming proof of wrongful conviction, I do believe that active attempts at rehabilitation would be an important factor in determining the process by which someone is granted a pardon. Good people sometimes make terrible mistakes. I would make sure to consider past contributions to the community and the potential for future good works, whether the subject expresses clear remorse for his or her crime, and make sure there is not a pattern of harmful activity.

There are many dichotomies in your background: How did you go from being a chemist to running for office, and do you have any difficulty reconciling your scientific background with strong religious beliefs?

I ran for office as a school board member, because I was asked. School Board Director is not a paid position, and at the time I was working initially in private industry as a chemist, and later as a co-owner of an electrical construction company. I was asked because my neighbor admired my emphasis on education with my own children, and believed that I would be a strong voice for the community’s children.

And the limitations on what I could do for my community in this position led me to look towards City Council. At the time, my school district was facing severe gun related violence on the streets, and I realized that as a School Board member, I could only protect the students in school and on the school bus, but not on their way home on public streets. That was the domain of the City of Pittsburgh, which decided legislation on public safety. I ran for City Council because more needed to be done in my community and having a seat on Council was one of the only ways to do it. I continue to seek higher office because I believe I can continue to do more.

Regarding my reconciling my scientific background with my religious beliefs, I have always considered myself a disciple and servant of Christ and his teachings which, despite the views of the Fundamentalist Christian sect, do not imply a moral superiority and do not contradict science. My beliefs are neither greater nor lesser than another’s. I also think we often forget that our belief in science, like our belief in the divine, is also in many ways a leap of faith. We cannot see with the naked eye the microcosm of a molecule or atom, but we believe it to be there. There are wonders of science that no act of God can explain and wonders of the Spirit that no scientific theory can explain. I have always sought to appreciate both, and have taught my children the same.

You are from a politically active family. Did your interest in politics arise from being around it as a child or was there a defining event that sparked your imagination? Are your other siblings involved in politics?

Though my father was locally known as an influential political leader, I personally was scantly involved with his work when I was growing up. Truthfully, all I really discerned was that twice a year (during the General and Primary) he would disappear completely, and there were these ‘committee people,’ that would constantly be calling the house and bothering my mother. I believe my experiences as a mother and business owner helped to clarify the impact public policy can have on families and communities.

Some people theorize that men are drawn into politics through business interests and women through family and parenting issues. I noticed that your first elected office was on the Pittsburgh School Board. What issue or event led you to run?

The achievement gap between students of different races and the disadvantages faced by economically depressed school districts were two of the issues that I recognized as a parent and felt compelled to address as a public official.

In 2002, you and District Attorney Stephen Zappala, Jr. planned to ask pastors of African American churches to encourage their members to volunteer for jury duty to help balance inequities in jury pools. Was that effort successful? It struck me as a very innovative way to solve a problem. How do you create efforts like that on a statewide basis? (Source: “Number of black jurors ‘shocking,’” by Mark Houser Pittsburgh Tribune-Review July 23, 2002)

This program did not achieve the results I would have liked as there is still a large inequity in jury pools. However, trying is not failing. I think we have to be open to innovation in all public efforts. And this is not without precedent. The Johnson administration funded community based programs to address inequalities. I think statewide this sort of state-local partnership could be a way to craft innovative community specific solutions on a larger scale.

I’ve been very impressed with the materials you have placed on your website – your positions on 10 years worth of bills before the Pittsburgh City Council. What do you think could be done to bring that kind of transparency to state government?

I hope to set an example by making my record and my positions transparent. I believe citizens should not only expect, but insist upon openness from their candidates and elected officials.

What are three things the state could be doing but isn’t to bring more jobs to Pennsylvania?

Of course the traditional methods of bringing in businesses are tax incentives. Programs like the Keystone Opportunity Zone have a proven record of not only generating job growth but also revitalizing distressed areas which goes to towards strengthening the infrastructure. We should continue to provide such incentives to larger employers and smaller ones as well. However it is crucial that these incentives hold recipients accountable to the communities in which they locate. We want to bring in businesses that will stay long term, provide workers with living wage and benefits are responsible community members.

Finally, we should create fertile ground for employers by focusing on training and education. Employers need more than tax incentives to relocate. They also need skilled workers. By providing job training to unemployed workers and improving access to vocational and technical education at the high school level and beyond will ensure that employers find the qualified employees they need to be successful in Pennsylvania.

Should the state require box stores like Wal-Mart to either provide better benefits to their workers or pay the state if their employees are making a significant impact on the state’s Medicaid funds?

There is no excuse for Pennsylvanians who go to work every day to not have basic health coverage. Employers need to be responsible and be partners in the well-being of their employees.

Why is the office of Lieutenant Governor important?

As elected officials, none of us can afford to rest on our laurels while working families and senior citizens are struggling to get by, funding inequities remain between rich and poor school districts, and many citizens lack access to reliable healthcare and prescription drug coverage. The office of Lieutenant Governor can serve as a powerful platform from which I can advocate and work toward the principles of equality, opportunity, and fairness for which I have always stood. I don't believe that any elected office is ceremonial or trivial, and I believe every elected official has an important role to play in improving the lives of those they have been chosen to serve. As Lieutenant Governor, I will never shrink from this responsibility and will use the powers of my office to work every day to improve the lives of Pennsylvanians.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Meeting Patrick Murphy

I wrote earlier about the criteria I use to evaluate candidates and one of these, when possible, involved meeting them. To put this into practice I picked a candidate, Patrick Murphy, and over a period of months I made it a point to observe a him in a variety of settings, in this case at least one of each of the following: candidate fundraiser, organization fundraiser attended by the candidate, multi-candidate forum, as well as one conference call, and a serendipitous conversation on (or actually in) the street. All told I have had a number of conversations with the candidate, however brief they may have been (more my doing than his – I seldom have much to say in person) and heard him speak around four times. I did not identify myself as a blogger and to the best of my knowledge none of the campaign staff know that I write this blog. If an event was a fundraiser I paid at least the minimum amount to attend.

Why Patrick Murphy?

Granted, regular readers will have noticed that I have written positively several times about Patrick Murphy, but I have written positively about other candidates as well. The primary reason I carried out this test on the Murphy campaign is that they made it easy to do so. Their web site posts events in advance with complete addresses and, if it is a fundraiser, the contribution requested to attend. This may seem like common sense but, in my experience, it is a rare thing. Some campaigns I follow will announce that event is happening on a given day and the general area, but you have to email in to find out exactly where it is and if there is a charge. Some will announce that the candidate will be speaking at particular events (no address) but there isn’t any indication as to whether the public can attend. Some say an event is happening at a certain person’s house but details, including something as basic as the name of the town, are missing. I can understand that people hosting house parties may not necessarily want their addresses published, but unless some idea of where something is happening is given, no one outside of the “in crowd” can attend. I, or someone I know, is on the email list for a number of campaigns. Sometimes I’ll see an event listed on a website but never receive an email about it. Some campaigns only send out emails to ask for money. Others distribute press release after press release but no event information. The Murphy campaign is very good about sending out event announcements on email as well as posting them on the web. Perhaps because he is challenging an incumbent, perhaps out of choice, many of his fundraising events are priced at extremely reasonable levels. For many candidates one of these events would take up my entire budget for this project; with Murphy’s campaign I saw several fundraisers that, had time and geography allowed, I could have attended. So, over several months and during several encounters I evaluated Murphy and his campaign on the following measures.

The Utility Test

This test refers to how the candidate reacts and responds to people who do not appear to have any current usefulness to the campaign. When I introduced myself I purposely did so in a manner that made it clear I would not be much help to him. Murphy passed the utility test with flying colors. One thing that struck me in particular is if he is talking to you, he is talking to you. One eye isn’t looking over your shoulder to see if someone more influential or important is within range. If Murphy is talking to you he is focused on you. He is about the only candidate or official I have ever met (and I’ve met more than a few) that does this. He also doesn’t seem to have the internal egg timer that gives each person a set amount of time and then, when he hears the ding, moves on to the next. He talks to people for as long as they want to talk. His segues from person to person are smoothly and graciously done. At one event I was talking with him and, although the conversation was winding down, it had not yet ended. A man came up and said, in a low voice, that he had brought a sizable check. It is possible that I misheard, but I was close enough that I don’t think so. Murphy did not drop me like a rock, kiss the man’s shoes, and do handsprings around the room. He may have wanted to, but he did not. He completed our conversation in an unhurried manner before responding to the man’s comment. I was impressed.

Murphy’s Campaign Staff

Campaign staff tend to reflect the candidate (or whoever is behind the campaign, if the candidate is a party puppet). I’ve met or emailed with a number of Murphy’s staff in a number of contexts, although seldom the same person more than once. In my blogger persona I’ve had regular communication with the primary blog liaison, who has been consistently polite and responsive. There is a good mix of freshly scrubbed young faces and more seasoned campaigners. Murphy has been able to attract quality people and that speaks well of him. I found them to be uniformly hospitable, ethical, and possessing some sense of humor. If the opportunity presented itself, I eavesdropped on the conversations they had amongst themselves, but never heard anything untoward. I’ve also read over his campaign finance reports and at one event I spotted someone who had donated a sizable amount to the campaign. I was in a conversation grouping that included the donor when one of the campaign staff came over to join us. Congressional challengers in tight races need all the money they can get so I expected to be elbowed out of the way and the bowing and scraping to start. I waited and waited and waited. It never happened. I was as much a part of the conversation as “deep pockets.” This is bad news for big donors but good news for potential constituents.

Murphy’s Supporters

In general I don’t like going to political events. I always get too many of the “who let you in?” looks and “you can’t sit at this table” comments. By contrast I found Murphy’s supporters to be extremely pleasant people and enjoyed talking with them. If an event was sponsored by another group you could see that it had a slightly different texture, but that was primarily among the people organizing it. Public events that candidates attend but are not the main attraction, pull in a more diverse audience that may not reflect core supporters. Those attending events solely supporting Murphy or sponsored by another organization featuring Murphy tended to be people you would want to sit next to at dinner or be stuck in an elevator with. They were warm and welcoming, even if I was not part of the expected audience. I found this surprisingly refreshing and am a little sad that I probably won’t be going out among them as much any more.

The Motivation Test

This refers to a candidate or official’s ability to get people involved in things they might not otherwise consider, or inspire people who disagree to work together. In my initial draft of this posting I gave Murphy a B for potential. Then I thought more about it. When planning out this project I had not intended to attend as many events as I did. I considered the effort, expense, and, most of all, time away from home and family, that it took to get to the events. Taking this into consideration Murphy gets an A with flying colors on this one, too.

General Impressions of Murphy

Patrick Murphy is very personable. He’s nice looking but not so handsome as to be intimidating. (Don’t go by the pictures; he doesn’t photograph well.) He seems very at ease among people, all sorts of people. As mentioned earlier he actually engages in conversation with people. At one point I said something he misinterpreted and he questioned me on it. This wasn’t your standard “happy happy small talk;” he wanted to know how I had come to the conclusion I had (or that he thought I had). It is customary to mention how young he appears. Certainly anyone who mistakes a youthful appearance for an untrained mind is making a serious mistake. The choirboy face is an incongruous fa├žade for some impressive mental artillery. He is quick-witted and widely read. He speaks well, with just the right combination of bravado and self-deprecation to be charming. His stories are interesting and applicable to the point he is making. Nor is he afraid to stray from the traditional safe topics of campaign talks. More than once when he was speaking to a group, he would start off onto a new subject and I’d think “No! Stop! Quicksand!” but my telepathy wasn’t working and on he went, strolling through the swamp and coming out the other side, mud and stink free. Again, I was impressed. If you have a chance to hear him speak, make the effort to do so. It won’t be a waste of time. He is a more effective speaker than many more experienced politicians I have heard and certainly more interesting. His repertoire of stories has a much broader range than merely aggrandizing his own accomplishments and he is quick to credit his staff for their efforts. This also speaks well of him.

The Rope Test

My mother’s primary test of character can be summed up in one sentence: If you were dangling off the edge of a cliff by a rope, would you want this person to be holding the other end of the rope? In Patrick Murphy’s case, I would have no hesitation. The 8th district can, in my view, have confidence that he won’t let them down.

Summation

I truly enjoyed talking with Patrick Murphy, his staff, and his supporters. They are bright, intelligent, warm, and concerned people. Having been an armchair political observer for many years I cannot help but wonder if I would be equally impressed with Murphy during his second or third re-election campaign. I hope that I will have the chance to repeat my study and find out.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Evaluating Candidates

There are a lot of ways to evaluate a candidate and decide whether or not to vote for him or her. Certainly party affiliation plays the largest role for most people. Aside from that, you want to see where their money is coming from, and keep watch on their campaign finance reports, how they stand on issues, and so forth. If they’re already in office you want to see how they vote and what bills they suppor, how much time they spend in the home district and who they spend it with, and so forth. If you are active in the community you will know, from direct experience or from others, how responsive the official / candidate is to local interests and concerns. It is harder to evaluate someone who isn’t currently in office or has never held office before.

Candidates can talk about issues, sometimes vaguely sometimes specifically, sometimes taking both sides. Issue positions are a popular way of evaluating candidates. You certainly want someone in office who is going to vote for and against legislation that you do or do not like. However, once people get into office they are faced, daily, with a myriad of decisions. There are vote swaps, bills so overburdened with pork or amendments that even if the basic idea is a good one, the entire bill is offensive. Sometimes events beyond anyone’s control force a shift in priorities. No matter what someone’s priorities were on Sept. 10, 2001, they were different on Sept. 12th. Officials have to navigate a minefield, while simultaneously being pursued by lobbyists and party bosses. A candidate may not have the wherewithal to survive the atmosphere. I like to try to discern their character. Will they make what they think is the best decision, even if it means that an issue I like may be temporarily sacrificed? Can I develop a level of trust sufficient to think they are honest and know what they are doing? How to decide such things?

If possible, I go out and see candidates and officials, see them, hear them, smell them (although in a post 9/11 world leaning in to sniff people is frowned upon). At a political event you can usually get between 30 and 90 seconds of time with a candidate, depending on how many people are there. An experienced candidate has an internal clock, ticking away your time, before they graciously move on to the next person.

There are certain criteria I used to weigh their character, and try to observe a candidate a number of times, because everyone has good and bad days, to see how they interact with a variety of audiences in various settings. Here are some key tests I employ.

The Utility Test
Regardless of how useful I think I may be to a candidate or official, when I meet them for the first time I take a very low profile and keep credentials to a minimum. Why? Because no matter how useful I may be at any given time, there will come a day when I am obsolete or replaced. Maybe I'll make a mistake, maybe the cause du jour will come to nothing. I want to know how this person treats those who they think are of no particular interest. If possible I try to see how they act towards staff and, if we are in a setting with food, those who prepare or serve, waitresses and the like. They don't have to be obsequious but they do have to be civil. Politeness is a plus. If everyone is given a modicum of respect then I can expect to be awarded the same, regardless of whatever situation may arise. If we find ourselves on opposite sides of an issue I can expect a basic level of behavior. My calls are likely to be returned. My concerns heard if not always acted upon.

The Staff and Supporters Test
A person who has a high level of expectation for themselves is likely to hire staff with similar behaviors. You seldom see an ethical, efficient, and engaged politician with a sloppy staff. If you do, chances are the hires are patronage hires and the official is beholden to a powerbroker or party boss somewhere. While all candidates have to constantly troll for money, most will have a core of loyal supporters. See if these are local people or special interests. Talk to others who attend an event. What kind of people are they? The character of candidates is sometimes also reflected in the character of their supporters.

The Motivation Test
One key skill that can be a big help to an elected official is the ability to persuade people to do things they may not want to do, to involve people in a cause, or in their community, to get people who don’t like each other to talk. I have seen extremely skilled politicians getting people involved in issues or organizations in ways that the person would never have expected. It's not a necessity but someone who can do this has a rare gift and one that can be invaluable to those in office.

The Rope Test
My mother's basic judge of character is to ask this: If you were dangling over a cliff and hanging on to a rope, would you want this person to be holding the other end of the rope? It's a good question. I've known politicians that I respected overall but if they had been holding the other end of the rope I would have made sure I had a parachute strapped on my back or at least a tube of neosporin in my pocket for all the cuts and bruises I would get after they let go. Sometimes I wouldn't want the official holding the rope but would trust their staff. As long as you know what you are getting into you can be prepared. It's when you misjudge that you get into trouble.

Summation
It is important to look at policy positions, campaign finance reports, press releases, votes, and the like, but it is also important to look at the person. If you find someone you can trust, you can skip a campaign finance report now and then and feel comfortable that if he or she didn’t vote the way you like on an issue, there is probably a good reason for it, even if you never know what that reason is.

An Interesting Contrast

I've been doing some research for a "catch up" interview with Joe Hoeffel (sorry the questions are late, Joe) and found a passage from 1984 that offers such a contrast to the Inquirer article in my previous post that I have to post it.

From "When the House is no longer home," by Russell E. Eshelman, Jr., Philadelphia Inquirer Dec. 20, 1984:

[then State Rep. David] Sweet, in an interview this week, recalled an earlier time, when Hoeffel and he roomed together in a second-floor apartment across from the Capitol.

The room was without a phone, which worried Hoeffel, becasue his wife was in Abington, near the end of her pregnancy.

It's 12 or 1 o'clock in the morning, and this guy who runs the place starts pounding on the door [to tell Hoeffel his wife was having the baby].


At the time the article was written Hoeffel's oldest child was four, so this event could have taken place no earlier than 1980. Think about that, roughly 25 years ago we had state legislators sharing an apt that didn't have a phone. How many of you didn't have a phone in 1980, even when you traveled on business? Even college dorm rooms had phones in 1980 (at least they did at the college I went to). There has been a significant change in the level of expectation among our elected officials. By the way, Hoeffel's legislative salary at the time the article was written was $30,000.

Jus thought I'd throw that out for comparison.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Whose House Is It?

You may have read the story on per diems for state legislators in today's Inky. ("Pa. legislators boost their pay day by day by..." by Mario Cattabiani).

Read it for yourself, but the part that struck me was that a long-time legislator who takes a lot of per diems, purchased a house in Harrisburg in 1989 and paid it off a few years ago, but continues to collect per diems to pay for taxes, utilities, etc. I would dearly love to find out the details of this mortgage. One big question I have is that if this house was bought and paid for and maintained by per diem allowances paid to state legislators, when the house is sold (presumably at a profit) who gets the money? Can we at least be reimbursed for the amounts our tax dollars paid into it?

There are those who say that the Inky has it in for some people in particular. It may or may not be true, I haven't followed individual reporters' stories enough to say. But I do know what I was taught as a child, that just because everyone else is doing it, that doesn't make it right, and I doubt the IRS would have much sympathy for a tax evader whose defense was "lots of people cheat on their taxes, you're just picking on me!" No, you were just unlucky enough to get caught.

Weekend Roundup

I actually went out and about this weekend, getting to at least part of some candidate forums. My thanks to Mr. J for all the extra solo kid care. Over the next day or so I'll put together some of my notes and post some observations.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Mariano to Resign

The Inky is reporting that Philadelphia City Council Rick Mariano will resign May. 1. Read the story here. (via PoliticsPA).

When Proofreading Matters

It is hypocritical of most bloggers to criticize someone else's proofreading, considering that blogs, this one included, can be more than a little sloppy in that regard. In this case, though, that won't stop me.

If you are a candidate for office and are putting together a handout encouraging people to get involved in politics, by all means list things like canvassing, letters to the editor, etc. However, if you want people to leave comments on blogs, etc. you need to direct them to the right places. "Philly Burbs" is iffy, but "Daily Coz" is, as far as I know, just downright wrong.

It reminds me of the flyer for a bookstore event a few years ago on the "innernet."

Rainy Earth Day

As a family we've gone to the annual Earth Day town cleanup for years. Fairly often it's in a park or open area. This year it was in a hilly, wild, wooded area. Even with the rain there was a record turnout, including a scout troop. We pulled about 30 old tires, parts of cars (whole cars left where they were), bottles, unidentifiable plastic and paper items, and what not out of the woods. The dirt was muddy when we got there and became more so as we walked and slid around. The kids learned how to spot deer tracks. Mr. J. showed them a pitcher plant. I pointed out all the wild onions we had walked on, the crushed plants letting out the telltale onion smell. All of our shoes and boots are on the front step, too muddy to wear in.

While the kids thought finding all that stuff was cool, all the adults I spoke to were worried that when we found the half-buried cars we might find the occupants as well. Fortunately, it was just a dumping ground, and not a future CSI episode.

Trying to avoid falling into ravines and getting untangled from briars and watching the kids took up a lot of my attention so I wasn't able to talk with people as much as I usually do. With the larger group and larger area to cover than usual people were more spread out and there weren't as many opportunities for conversation anyway.

I'm glad we go, though. It's a good thing.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Off Topic: Breastfeeding at the King of Prussia Mall

The April issue of Philadelphia Magazine has a note "Bottle Report: Why Philly Doesn't Suck" by Victor Fiorillo, on p. 28, that says Philadelphia is one the country's worst cities for breastfeeding. "It finished 48th out of 50 and earned an F." Later we find this:

According to the Fit Pregnancy report, only half of local mothers attempt breastfeeding, with less than a tenth continuing for the six months recommended by the AAP [American Academic of Pediatrics]. Meanwhile, in places like Portland, Boston and Minneapolist, as many as 88 percent try, and up to a quarter stick with it.


The article suggests that hospitals are not encouraging new mothers to breastfeed. I have some qualms with this conclusion. The hospital where I had my children offered a suite of prenatal classes, included one on breastfeeding, and a lactation consultant visited postpartum moms to see how they were doing. This may not be common throughout the region, but I think there are other factors at play.

The public reaction to breastfeeding mothers may be one of those. Whenever I read in the paper (or on blogs) about nursing moms, there is almost invariably a strong "ick" overtone. As someone who has actually been involved in this activity from both perspectives (though my memory of being the recipient is very fuzzy, and I stopped providing years ago), I thought I’d add my two cents.

First off, regardless of the health benefits and opportunities for emotional bonding the activity provides, there is definitely an “ick” factor involved, but not the way most people think. It’s just messy, and most of the women I know who gave their infants an organic diet felt a little bovine in the process. The attire required for nursing isn’t the most appealing, and leakage is a definite worry.

Second, on the public aspect of feeding a baby, this is often less by choice than by necessity. Let me expound on that. Very young babies need to feed often and even older babies feed regularly. Trying to plan a life around this is tricky. It took considerable planning for me to attend a friend’s funeral between feedings and even then I had to dart out early. Breastfeeding seems to be an acceptable reason to get out of jury duty because when I filled it out on the form no one got in touch to say it wasn’t. If you want to go on an outing that will take more than a couple of hours and you have primary care of the baby (as most nursing mothers do), you have to take the baby with you and, chances are, you will have to feed the child while out.

Pump a bottle or two, you say? That might take care of the baby but it doesn’t help mom much. Remember the law of supply and demand? If the supply line is used to making a delivery every two or three hours then, let me absolutely assure you, it can get very uncomfortable, and sometimes more than a little embarrassing, if you can’t make a scheduled delivery.

But why does that mean women are draping a blanket over their shoulder and putting junior on the feed in public? Primarily because there aren’t any other options. When I was home with each of the little Janes and wanted to get out of the house the local mall seemed a good place to go. It is climate controlled, relatively safe, has places to sit and eat, and provides opportunities to walk around and stretch the legs. Unfortunately it did not provide a quiet place to feed the baby so my trips were few and short. There was a designated breastfeeding stall in the ladies room. You could sit on a hard bench and feed the baby while listening to people evacuate their bowels and empty their bladders in the nearby stalls. Who wouldn’t rather find a seat near some greenery, turn sideways away from traffic, and give the kid a snack?

Where does the King of Prussia Mall (KOPM) come in? When the youngest little Jane was an infant we decided to drive over to the KOPM because we’d never been there and it seemed a baby-friendly outing. However, it was a trek and trying to get there and back between feedings was out of the question. So, there we were, in Restoration Hardware (or something like it) when the baby got the urge and maternal instinct responded. We needed to find a place and fast. I asked at the information booth if there was a mother’s room or something like it. Some months earlier I’d spent the day with a friend who had just had a baby and the mall near her had a designated room, with comfy chair, side table and privacy screen, as well as bathroom facilities. I though KOPM might have something similar. The woman at the information booth sent me to the family restroom. It had a toilet, a sink, and a changing table. I could sit on the toilet and feed the baby or sit on the floor and feed the baby. Neither was appealing. So I put the baby on the changing table and did the deed in a sort of crouch. To get a sense of this, get a 10 pound bag of flour and put it on your kitchen counter, lean over so your chest is near the flour. Put both hands under the flour and bring it up to your chest. Now hold that position for at least 15 minutes. How comfy is that? Wouldn’t it be easier to find a wooden bench near a corner and try to sit so that no one could really see what you were doing? You could have a bottle of water or a fruit drink there to sip and everyone could take their time.

In both malls I wanted to storm the management offices and say “Hey, I’m a woman with a steady stream of disposable income and you’ve just chased me away!!!!” Had I been able to comfortably and modestly take care of my child in either retail arena, I would have visited often and probably continued the habit after the baby was weaned. As it was, I haven’t been back to the KOPM and seldom go to the mall near my house.

My experience was some years ago and both places might have changed their facilities. Maybe there is an area designated as an informal nursing mothers area, at least during daytime hours when you see more moms with babies around. Since I haven't really been back it's hard to say for sure. All I know is, when it was my time things were not very inviting and that’s what I think of every time I see one of those diatribes against women nursing in public. The only other option is just to stay home; in that case those retail areas just completely lose an audience that they otherwise might want to cultivate.

weekly legislative update

As I mentioned in the previous posting, the governor called a special legislative session to look into property tax reform. Information from that session is included here as well. Standard caveats apply (resolutions not generally included, list of sponsors deleted if it was too long - three lines in the originally formatting).

Our accountants friends at PICPA have updated their legislative page, and have a lot to say about property tax reform.

Other weekly updates are available for this week:

PA House Democrats
PA House GOP daily updates
PA Senate Democrats
PA Senate Republicans

Special Session

Monday no action
Tuesday no action
Wednesday no action
Thursday no action
Friday no action

Regular Session

Bills

House

HB 1618 Prior Printer's Nos. 2053, 3306, 3334. Printer's No. 3724. An Act amending the act of March 10, 1949 (P.L.30, No.14), known as the Public School Code of 1949, providing for participation by students with disabilities in high school graduation ceremonies.

SB 513 By Senators GORDNER, THOMPSON, RAFFERTY, D. WHITE, WONDERLING, WOZNIAK, M. WHITE and FERLO.
Prior Printer's Nos. 545, 1654. Printer's No. 1717. An Act amending the act of May 1, 1933 (P.L.103, No.69), known as The Second Class Township Code, removing references to elected assessors.

SB 514 By Senators GORDNER, THOMPSON, RAFFERTY, D. WHITE, WONDERLING, WOZNIAK and FERLO. Prior Printer's Nos. 546, 1676. Printer's No. 1718. An Act amending the act of May 21, 1943 (P.L.571, No.254), known as The Fourth to Eighth Class County Assessment Law, providing for the elimination of the office of elected assessor in townships of the second class; and making a related repeal.

SB 707 By Senators ERICKSON, PILEGGI, M. WHITE, WOZNIAK and WONDERLING. Prior Printer's Nos. 851, 1243, 1674. Printer's No. 1721. An Act amending the act of May 3, 1933 (P.L.242, No.86), referred to as the Cosmetology Law, further providing for definitions, for practice of cosmetology without license, for limited licenses, for practice in cosmetology shops only, for temporary licenses, for fees and for regulations; and substituting the term "salon" for the term "shop" throughout the act.

SB 935 By Senators CORMAN, ERICKSON, GORDNER, BOSCOLA, RAFFERTY, ORIE, REGOLA, WONDERLING, WAUGH, TOMLINSON and KASUNIC. Prior Printer's No. 1226. Printer's No. 1719. An Act amending Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, providing for the offense of failure to provide identification to law enforcement authorities.

SB 957 Prior Printer's Nos. 1254, 1550. Printer's No. 1720. An Act amending Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, providing for the offense of robbery on the premises of a financial institution.

SB 1159 By Senator WENGER. Printer's No. 1608. An Act making an appropriation from a restricted revenue account within the General Fund to the Office of Consumer Advocate in the Office of Attorney General.

SB 1161 By Senator WENGER. Printer's No. 1600. An Act making appropriations from the Workmen's Compensation Administration Fund to the Department of Labor and Industry and the Department of Community and Economic Development to provide for the expenses of administering the Workers' Compensation Act, The Pennsylvania Occupational Disease Act and the Office of Small Business Advocate for the fiscal year July 1, 2006, to June 30, 2007, and for the payment of bills incurred and remaining unpaid at the close of the fiscal year ending June 30, 2006.

SB 1162 By Senator WENGER. Printer's No. 1601. An Act making an appropriation from a restricted revenue account within the General Fund and from Federal augmentation funds to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

SB 697 By Senator STOUT. Prior Printer's Nos. 834, 875, 935, 970, 1036. Printer's No. 1060. An Act authorizing and directing the Department of General Services, with the approval of the Governor, to grant and convey to Basalt Trap Rock Company, a Pennsylvania company, or its assigns, certain lands, situate in Morgan and Franklin Townships, Greene County, Pennsylvania; authorizing the Department of General Services, with the concurrence of the Department of Environmental Protection, to lease to Pier 25 North Associates Limited Partnership land within the bed of the Delaware River in the City of Philadelphia; and authorizing the Department of Transportation to convey to Montour County two tracts of land situate in the Borough of Danville, Montour County, Pennsylvania.

SB 712 Prior Printer's Nos. 859, 898, 1055, 1272. Printer's No. 1410. An Act providing for the notification of residents whose personal information data was or may have been disclosed due to a security system breach; and imposing penalties.

Senate

SB 703 By Senators ERICKSON, PILEGGI, RAFFERTY, COSTA, WONDERLING, PIPPY, TOMLINSON, WOZNIAK, LOGAN, STACK and FERLO. Printer's No. 847. An Act amending Title 75 (Vehicles) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, providing for passing stopped authorized and emergency vehicles.

SB 1150 Prior Printer's No. 1617. Printer's No. 1679. An Act amending Titles 18 (Crimes and Offenses) and 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, providing for offense of protesting at a commemorative service and for commemorative service protest action.

SB 697 By Senator STOUT. Prior Printer's Nos. 834, 875, 935, 970, 1036. Printer's No. 1060. An Act authorizing and directing the Department of General Services, with the approval of the Governor, to grant and convey to Basalt Trap Rock Company, a Pennsylvania company, or its assigns, certain lands, situate in Morgan and Franklin Townships, Greene County, Pennsylvania; authorizing the Department of General Services, with the concurrence of the Department of Environmental Protection, to lease to Pier 25 North Associates Limited Partnership land within the bed of the Delaware River in the City of Philadelphia; and authorizing the Department of Transportation to convey to Montour County two tracts of land situate in the Borough of Danville, Montour County, Pennsylvania.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Senate Journal Update

I've been watching the online senate journals and they were updated recently, with a day in February and two days in March. The March issues don't have anything really interesting in them. A lot of congratulations and proclamations and appointments to boards. I would be tempted to stuff a paper clip in the voting slot, too, if I were a legislator and would otherwise be forced to sit through this stuff.

The February 15th issue, though, had some interesting discussions in it. Pages 26 through 29 pertain to the minimum wage. Pages 15-19 pertain to Cynthia Baldwin's judicial appointment. See the comments on p. 15 about her service with Penn State, and p. 19 where one senator says that since the football team won while she was on the board he's all for her appointment to the bench. Good logic there (yes, I know it was a joke, please don't write and tell me I have no sense of humor -- it's been done). The same senator also wants to point out that teaching first grade is a difficult job. No argument from me on that.

Senate Debate Audio Online

Well, dang! I'm getting comments from the papers now!! What does that mean???

Anyway, this was left as a comment on the debate posting and I think it is important enough for its own post:

We just posted the full audio, at

http://www.philly.com/mld/philly/14388717.htm

Carl Lavin
Deputy managing editor, news
Philadelphia Inquirer


I think in the future I'll limit my debate critiques to neckwear and overall impressions. After a few minutes they all start to sound like the teacher in the Charlie Brown specials (waah waah, waah waah waaah waah). We'll all have to read eRobin, et. al. for the policy statements.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A Night of Three Blue Ties, Interrupted

I was able to catch the first hour of the second Democratic senatorial candidates debate, up until about 7:55. Here are my notes on that portion of the evening. They are very rough. As usual, eRobin has done a far better, more thorough job.

2nd senate debate

Terry Madonna introduces time keeper Ben Donahower (of Keystone Politics fame -- Jane) and moderator Janelle Stelson.

The candidates are referred to by initials, BC for Bob Casey, CP for Chuck Pennacchio and AS for Alan Sandals.

It was interesting to note that all three wore blue ties, which blended in nicely with the blue curtains behind them. A very blue evening.

BC – soothing blue striped tie
CP – blue patterned tie
AS – baby blue tie

Opening Statements

CP – He wants to take politics away from special interests; he is the only candidate that rejects special interests. He wants people politics not money politics. He wants to build bridges between us and other countries.

BC—all 3 will agree a new senator needed

AS – wants more debates

Questions:

1)What 3 pieces of legislation would you introduce first and why?

AS – global warming, pensions, tax free years at age 63 that would allow people to keep working
CP – universal single payer health care, bilateral trade, living wage. Private insurers are fleecing Americans; 25% of American working full time live in poverty. We need progressive taxation
BC – health care fiscal responsibility national security, every 4 year old access to pre-K, government commission dig into the budget to look for special interests, ethics reform

AS – CP unrealistic, BC too timid

2) immigration

CP – national security issues, business violation issues, campaign finance reform
BC – get tough on employers, border control
AS – border control, stop drug trafficking and people trafficking, undocumented workers pull down wages

CP – only candidate looking at real issues, change the way we do politics

3) same sex marriage
BC – no same sex marriage, but yes on civil unions. Accept people for who they are. We should not write discrimination back into the Constitution

AS – Many benefits are restricted only to those who are married. You may not agree with gays but we don’t discriminate in America.

CP – He takes Declaration of Independence seriously. Too many Americans being left behind, denying legal rights when seek to criminalize right to choose.

BC – American family under real stress. Economic trauma puts stress on marriage, gays not a real threat to marriage, losing a job is

4) tax cuts – Bush wants them made permanent, should they be?

AS – no, not in highest earning tax payers, roll back taxes to where they were in Clinton years, tax capitol gains, build private accounts on top of social security

CP – only one who will not run way from this situation, need progressive taxes, filthy rich need to pay their fair share

BC – in front of 1200 business leaders said if there is an opportunity to repeal tax cut for top 1% we should. Fairness and fiscal responsibility,

AS – only candidate with small business who meets a payroll

5 – supreme court nominations contentious, what criteria should be used in selecting judges and when should the filibuster be used?

CP – Partisanship issue is all coming from one direction. BC endorsed Roberts and Alito. He (CP) would have filibustered because he believes in privacy rights. Alito and Roberts at war with privacy rights at the expense of women, workers, etc.

BC – We should keep filibuster not do away with it. There should not be any one litmus test for nominees – should not have any litmus test but instead a series of things, character (integrity), experience, judicial temperament, judicial philosophy

AS – He is only candidate who goes head to head with judges; you are not secure in your rights under Bush judges. We are losing our rights bit by bit, drip by drip. Litmus – is it bad for labor, civil rights, environment, gun control, womens rights

CP – 63 lawyers in senate not a lot of common sense

At that point I had to stop watching. I hope other people caught the rest of it.

Eddie and CBK

Keystone Politics is reporting that Gov. Rendell made some controversial comments about Catherine Baker Knoll, his once and presumed future lt. gov. You can read them here. I have had a confirmation that the remarks were indeed made but the MSM has not picked it up.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Sestak on Air America

Joe Sestak, Democratic candidate for PA-07 was on "Air America" and Kos's "Fightin' Dems" this evening. You can hear "Fightin' Dems" here (http://shows.airamericaradio.com/fightingdems/node/4)

Red State Blue State, Hybrid or SUV State

In yesterday's Wall Street Journal (yes, I traded in more frequently flyer miles for another 3 month subscription), there is an article, "Cars and Politics," by Gina Chon (p. R5) on the correlation between how a state votes and what cars residents drive.

Indeed, just as the country has polarized along political lines between red-state Republicans and blue-state Democrats, a similar map could be drawn when it comes to hybrids: blue-state drives are embracing them much more than their red-state counterares are. Similarly, red-state drivers tend to be bigger fans of SUVs. And as regional preferences for vehicles vary, so does related legislation: It's the blue states that are providing more incentives fo rpeople to buy hybrids.

A Tale of Two Blogs

I like to watch campaign blogs. They aren't on my blogroll but there are a number I check in with frequently. Some allow comments, some don't. In one race two primary opponents have blogs on their campaign pages. Both allow comments. Both have had untoward comments left. One deleted them. In that case the commenter questioned the candidate's position, not in the most gracious way, but it was a remark and question on something that had been in the paper. The comment disappeared. On the other blog someone has left what they no doubt consider spurious comments on the candidate's personal life, with no supporting evidence, just a drive by "you're gay." It says a lot more about the person writing the comment than the candidate. The comments were not removed. That says a lot about the candidate. So, Andy Warren, if you're going to erase comments that question you, what are you going to do when questioned at townhall meetings? So, Team (Patrick) Murphy, classy move.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Campaign Money Stats

Our delightful friends at opensecrets.org (Center for Responsive Politics) have loaded their statistics on first quarter campaign finance reports. PA-08, PA -07 and PA-06 are complete. PA-13 is too, but doesn't have any surprises.

Here are some details, just a sliver of what they provide and I've included links so you can take a look for yourself (and I encourage all of you to do this).

PA-08 (Fitzpatrick, Patrick Murphy, Warren)

Fitzpatrick is the Republican incumbent. Murphy and Warren are Democratic challengers.

Half of Fitzpatrick's money (50%) comes from PACs, 47% from individuals, 3% from other. Murphy received the majority of his money (92%) from individuals, 8% from PACS. Warren has 55% from individals, 2% from PACs, a whopping 42% as a loan from himself, and 1% from other (I know it doesn't add up, not sure what's going on here).

In state / out of state ratio of donations for Fitzpatrick is 85/16, for Murphy 79/21 and for Warren 90/10.

The top industry donating to Fitzpatrick are leadership PACs (they donated 3 times more than the next highest industry), for Murphy it is lawyers/law firms, followed by retired people, for Warren it is construction.

PA-06 (Gerlach, Leibowitz, Lois Murphy)

Gerlach is the Republican incumbent, Leibowitz and Murphy are Democratic challengers.

This race shows a similar pattern. Gerlach received 52% of his money from PACs, 44% from individuals, Lois Murphy has 81% from individuals from individuals, 18% from PACs, Liebowitiz loaned himself 51% of his money, with 49% from individuals.

In state / out of state ratio for Gerlach is 86 / 15, for Murphy is 68/32.

The top industry for Gerlach is Leadership PACS (by more than 2 times the next highest industry), for Murphy it is lawyers / law firms, followed by women's issues.

PA-07 (Sestak, Weldon)

Weldon is the Republican incumbent. Sestak is the Democratic challenger.

Weldon has 46% from PACs 53% from individuals, for Sestak 92% individuals, 6% PACs, 1% from the candidate.

In state / out of state ratio for Weldon is 48 / 52, the breakdown for Sestak is not available yet.

Weldon's top 3 industries are all related to defense. Info on Sestak was not broken down by opensecrets.

PA-13 (Bhakta, Schwartz)

Schwartz is the Democratic incumbent. Bhakta is the Republican challenger.

Schwartz is so far ahead here and Bhakta has so little money that comparisons are hard to make. Schwartz has a 60/40 in state / out of state ratio. Bhakta has an 11/89 ratio. Schwartz received 82% of her donations from individuals, Bhakta 100%. top industries for Schwartz are lawyers / law firms and retired. For Bhakta it is lodging / tourism.

Another Local Reporter with a Blog

Shaun Mullen, a former Philadelphia Daily News reporter, is inviting us all to visit his blog, Kiko's House -- http://kikoshouse.blogspot.com/ He seems to cover national politics and assorted social issues.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

New Blog on the Block

Tom Ferrick, one of my favorite Inky columnists, has started his own blog. Check it out at: http://ferrickspoliblog2006.blogspot.com/

PA Peeps and Bunnies

It is fairly common knowledge that marshmallow peeps, those sugary chicks and bunnies you can't escape this time of year, are made by a Pennsylvania company, Just Born. I was surprised, however, to find that the chocolate bunnies in the kids Easter baskets were also a Pennsylvania product, made by the R. M. Palmer Co. in West Reading. Looking at both corporate websites I didn't see any indication that either company is publicly traded.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Precedent and election challenges

For the legally uninitiated, one of the bedrock components of the American legal system is "stare decisis." It is defined by the 'lectric law library's lexicon as:

STARE DECISIS - Lat. "to stand by that which is decided." The principal that the precedent decisions are to be followed by the courts.


However, as noted by the City Paper this week ("Jockeying for position" by Mary Patel, p. 21):

What is interesting is that judges who rule on [candidate's] financial disclosure forms do not appear to follow any precedent, so the rulings are inconsistent.

For example, in 2003, City Council candidate Vernon Anastasio, who was running against Councilman Frank DiCicco in the Democratic primary, was removed because he failed to disclose 2002 income. Common Pleas Court Judge Pamela Pryor Dembe ruled against Anastasio for what appears to be a similar defect to Josephs'. Judge Friedman was on the Commonwealth Court panel that heard Anastasio's appeal and upheld Dembe's ruling. The state Supreme Court agreed.

The high court also ruled that John Braxton, who ran against Alan Butkovitz for city controller in last year's Democratic primary, could not remain on the ballot because he omitted pension and rental income on his financial disclosure statements.

But in 2004, Democratic state Senate candidate James Tayoun Jr. challenged Fumo, claiming he failed to fill out his first candidate's affidavit properly and that on his second attempt to file the affidavit, an aide signed Fumo's name. (The affidavit accompanies the financial disclosure form.) Tayoun lost in the lower courts and in his Supreme Court appeal.


The article also references a challenge to Babette Joseph's financial disclosure form. This is something that really should be standardized.

Off Topic: A Novel Treat

Over this holiday weekend I treated myself to something special: a novel. When I was in high school I developed a taste for science fiction and fantasy, working through Tolkien, Frank Herbert's Dune series and a lot of really awful stuff along the way. With rare exception the women in the books I found were either "women in jep" needing rescue or buxom amazons sleeping with half of the Martian population. Neither stereotype was appealing. Then I stumbled upon The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip. It was wonderful. I would have followed her later writings but was distracted by some of Anne McCaffrey's dragon books. A few weeks ago I was in the bookstore and saw the newly-published Solstice Wood by McKillip and picked it up for nostalgia if nothing else. This weekend I read through it in rare moments of quiet. Her writing is still lyrical (not as much as Peter S. Beagel's, but whose is?) and it was like visiting with an old friend.

Anticipating the Memorial Day weekend I also picked up the latest novel by Elizabeth Berg (over-30 chick lit at its best).