'Vote 'em all out'
"It takes courage to overthrow your government," Russ Diamond, founder of PACleanSweep, told a gathering Saturday at Uniontown VFW Post 47.
The organization, founded after the passage last summer of a legislative pay raise, aims to remove every incumbent from state office by following the slogan "Vote 'em all out."
Diamond, of Annville, Lebanon County, said he believes his organization's Operation Clean Sweep was responsible for removing state Supreme Court Justice Russell Nigro from the bench, the first time Pennsylvanians have voted not to retain a sitting state justice.
Although the General Assembly did eventually repeal its pay raise, Operation Clean Sweep wants a legislature that is responsible to its constituency. "I'm going to retake ownership of my constitution," Diamond said. "The constitution was written to limit the power of those we elect to office. This fight is a very important one. There are 12.5 million Pennsylvanians and 253 people in office in Harrisburg, drunk on the power. They don't get it. Out here, it's us versus them."
Operation Clean Sweep
Two Fayette County House seats, held by Reps. Larry Roberts, D-Uniontown, and James Shaner, D-Dunbar, are open. "We chased them out because they retired," Diamond said. "I'm real proud of what we've done at PACleanSweep."
So far, the organization has declared support for 89 candidates, including four from Fayette County seeking House seats: Bobby Danko, a Democrat, who aims to upset Bill DeWeese in the 50th Legislative District; Gary Gearing, a Democrat, and John Makita, a Republican, who both want Larry Roberts' 51st District seat; and Bill Earnesty, a Republican, who wants Shaner's 52nd District seat.
"All these have been through our support period," Diamond said. "Others are going through the process." Operation Clean Sweep does not back any particular party.
The movement began with a three-point declaration, now down to two since the repeal of the pay raise: bring all future pay raises to a voter referendum and require a 10-day cooling-off period before any legislation is passed, to allow voter input.
In addition to the four already being supported by PACleanSweep, nearly a dozen other potential candidates attended Saturday's meeting.
Diamond encouraged everyone at the meeting to find 10 people and encourage them to sign a nominating petition for a PACleanSweep candidate and to volunteer to circulate petitions. Those running for the House require 300 valid signatures and those running for the Senate require 500 valid signatures.
For challenged races, Operation Clean Sweep hopes to defeat incumbents in May's primary races. "It's easy to run with no opponents," Diamond said.
He also pointed out that primary elections historically draw far fewer voters than general elections, generally about 30 percent of registered voters. "Primaries are the elections that count in Pennsylvania because of gerrymandering (redistricting to favor one party or another) and, chances are, the low turnout at primaries this year works in your favor." He told all candidates to plan "get out the vote" efforts the week before the May 16 primary.
"PACleanSweep is about uniting across party lines. Clean house first, then talk about term limits and reducing the size of government," Diamond said in response to a question regarding the movement's position on term limits. He did add, "Nobody should be a career politician."
He also responded to a question regarding the influence of party committee endorsements by saying that they did not work anymore. He supports term limits on committee chairmanships. "Look what it got us. No property tax relief, bad schools, bridges falling. You have to educate yourself. Any candidate who has contacted PACleanSweep and signed the pledge has received a copy of the Pennsylvania Constitution. We only have one recourse in Pennsylvania: Vote them out."
Despite current circumstances, Diamond remains optimistic that Pennsylvania will become a better place for future generations, with stronger support for business and a better infrastructure and education system. He said Pennsylvania is the only state without a lobbying disclosure law and that must change. "I don't like all these lobbyists having the ear of my senators and representatives. That's no way to run a constitutional republic."
He said change begins with citizen education and citizen involvement. And voters must keep their eyes on the goal. "We don't send them up there to be our friends, but to support, defend and obey the constitution of the state of Pennsylvania and of the United States of America."
And, for every candidate looking to fill a vacant seat or unseat an incumbent, PACleanSweep has a message, "We'll keep an eye on you."