PA State Senator Jane Orie Arrested: Who else might be guilty of illegal activity?
It was announced by WTAE Channel 4 News today that Senator Jane Orie was arrested today on charges that she allowed state funded staff and office resources to be used for campaign activities. You can read the full story on the WTAE website HERE.
The charges were brought by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala, and some are screaming “Foul”. The accusation is that Zappala (a Democrat) is bringing the charges against the Senator because she is a Republican. Some say, therefore, that the charges are simply politically driven.
For goodness sake, people . . . can’t we all grow up.
The Bigger Picture
In light of the charges against Orie as well as the recent guilty verdict against former State Representative Mike Veon, I’d like for us all to step back and wonder if there is a bigger problem here.
Is it possible . . . is there some remote chance . . . it there some odd circumstance where politicians might just break the law because they think they can get away with it?
Robbins, Brooks, Longietti, and Stevenson Dodge Questions
I’ve been engaged in a battle with our state legislators in Mercer County recently regarding this very issue and I’m becoming deeply concerned. Back in March I began a letter/email writing campaign to our state legislators (Senator Bob Robbins, Representative Michele Brooks, Representative Mark Longietti, and Representative Dick Stevenson). The conversation began after it was found that a staff member of Congresswoman Dahlkemper had published a nasty comment on my blog from a taxpayer funded computer during business hours. Since that time I’ve been repeatedly asking our legislators where they stand on the use of taxpayer funded staff and resources for personal/campaign purposes. They’ve dodged my questions repeatedly. I’ve asked the same questions in 3 or 4 different ways, but the responses are always the same . . . silence.
You would think that ‘honest politicians’ (oxymoron alert!) would jump at the opportunity to set the record straight about their own personal records. Sensible people would think that hard-working public servants would have a desire to be totally transparent in order to prove that Veon and Orie are exceptions to the rule, right?
Apparently those sensible thoughts are ridiculous. Instead, elected officials are running to their caucus legal teams and finding out exactly how deep they can hide to escape prying eyes and questions. What is the result? Well, the general rule seems to be “if you don’t NEED to answer questions, don’t”. For those legislators that are lucky enough to have no political challengers this year, they can hide in silence and hope that the storm blows over. Unfortunately, that is currently the case for every single state lawmaker that represents Mercer County.
Lack of Challengers Makes for Lack of Tranparency
Twenty-year incumbent Senator Bob Robbins, ten-year incumbent Representative Dick Stevenson, and relative new-comers Representative Michele Brooks and Representative Mark Longietti (who both began their first terms in 2007) are all running for re-election this year without challengers from their opposing parties. With no pressure to answer hard questions, all four of these lawmakers have chosen the “path of least resistance” by simply shutting up and hiding. They are hopeful that I will eventually disappear (i.e. become uninterested, suffer head trauma and lose my memory, move, die, etc.), and they’d like for me to do it quickly.
A Fine Line Between Legal and Illegal
The issue of using legislative staff members for campaign purposes is a sensitive and tricky topic. Technically, lawmakers can use their staff as long as those individuals do so on their own time and voluntarily. Unfortunately, in many cases staff members were not hired because of their amazing qualifications. Nope. In many instances, legislative staffers were hired because they were long time friends (or friends of friends) of the elected officials for whom they work. For that reason lines become blurred. It becomes difficult to draw a clean line between legislative work and campaign work. It all gets jumbled together into a big melting pot and it is hard to know the difference between legitimate work and illegal campaign activity. I believe that this may be the case with more than one of the lawmakers that represent Mercer County.
I’ve seen lots of things over the past few years. I’ve experienced situations that were questionable and I can direct you to photos that document equally confusing behavior. Rather than relying on politicians to “do the right thing”, maybe we should make the rules more straight-forward. A possible answer is available from my Platform for Good Government (see more about this below).
Solution: Draw a Thicker Line
The solution is simple. The staff of elected officials should NOT be involved in partisan political activity of any kind. PERIOD. The Hatch Act of 1939 prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity. This same concept should be implemented at every level of government. Legislative staff (as well as County and Local) should not be permitted to be involved in any political activity (on taxpayer time or on their own time). For more information about his concept, please read the on-line article titled “Politically Uncorrected : IF MEN WERE ANGELS” which is available for on-line review HERE.
In this example, legislation would prevent legislators from mixing paid staff with campaign staff. HOWEVER, legislation needs to be authored by and passed by LEGISLATORS! Sort of like the fox watching the chicken coop, don’t you think? If legislators aren’t honest enough to draw the lines without a law, how could they possibly be interested in drawing a line officially WITH legislation?
And therein lies the problem. This is the vicious circle of government. How do we fix it? I’m glad you asked!
Platform for Good Government
Those of you that know me realize that I’m passionate about the concept of “good government”. It is my opinion that our county, state, and federal governments could use a good “scrubbing behind the ears”. Government needs to be reformed from the inside out, and it needs to begin with a changing of the guard. “Out with the Old and In with the New” is a perfect slogan for what needs to happen. We need to replace dusty old politicians with fresh new public servants that (above all else) have a desire for “good government”.
How do we find those people? There are plenty of good, honest people out there that would qualify. Unfortunately, those people don’t attempt to run for office because it is too darn hard. Politics is set up in such a way as to discourage good and honest people from getting involved, and incumbents keep it that way. Here in Mercer County we have the “Mercer County Incumbent Party” that controls politics. They are a team of very dedicated Republicans and Democrats who work closely together to protect the inner circle (and keep out any chance of “good government” or “public servants”). The parties are not the answer. Instead, the movement needs to be grassroots in nature. Much like the Tea Parties are rallying concerned citizens, those same citizens need to step up and challenge the status quo.
It isn’t easy, and I say that from experience. However, once you realize what to expect, it becomes less threatening. I did it once (in 2009), and I’m determined to do it again . . . maybe sooner than later.
To set ourselves apart from “politicians”, we need to establish our own platform that goes against the “bad government” that we are trying to reform. For that reason I’ve established my own Platform for Good Government. The Platform is based on a list of specifics that I’ve found to be very wrong with “business as usual” in Mercer, Harrisburg, and Washington DC. It is my wish list of problems that need to be fixed, and it will be my main topics of conversation with elected officials and candidates that are running for office. If elected officials or candidates disagree with items on the platform, then they are part of the problem (and they need to go).
I don’t suggest that my Platform for Good Government is THE only answer. I am only suggesting that we should all take the time to prioritize our issues of concern. Take a few minutes to draft a platform of your own and stick by it. Make a list of the issues that are important to you, prioritize the list, and use the list to determine who is the most qualified to represent you as a public servant.
As always, just my opinion.