Dwight Evans turns candid in new book
Students of government need to read Rep. Dwight Evans' book about his life as a state legislator from Philadelphia. He is more than a legislator, of course. He was a premier power broker as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee for 20 years.
The Democrat's book, “Making Ideas Matter,” is published by the prestigious Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania. The subtitle is “My Life as a Policy Entrepreneur.” Proceeds go to the institute.
The book, co-written by Pulitzer Prize winner William Ecenbarger, a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter and author of “Kids for Cash,” is well written, easy to read and informative about what some call the “bad old days” in state government — an era in which the vast majority of Evans' leadership colleagues from both parties went to prison for political corruption.
Evans survived unscathed and, as he points out in an interview, without ever an allegation of misusing a dime of the billions of tax dollars that went through his committee.
I always liked Dwight Evans despite disagreeing vehemently with what he stood for — more and more state spending and higher taxes. But he always struck me as someone at least trying to look at longer-term policies and willing at times to put aside partisanship. Other times he led the Dems' charge on the House floor for Gov. Ed Rendell.
There came a point about three years ago where Evans was clearly the most powerful member of the House. But he was ousted by members in 2010 as budget chairman as a new wave of leadership took over.
What I found fascinating in Evans' book was his candor. He flat-out says that legendary Walking Around Money (WAMs) worked as “grease” to move controversial bills, which can only make one more cynical about state government.
Evans says a $500,000 WAM secured the vote of a Democrat legislator in passing the 1991 tax hike of almost $3 billion. As others often relate, the state faced a deficit of $1 billion. The remainder of the WAM spending went to buy votes to pass the budget and tax-hike vote.
Evans defends WAMs and talks about how he was constantly under suspicion from colleagues for taking too much for himself. He said he “netted” about $10 million a year in WAMs separate from caucus initiatives. He talks about good uses for WAMs, which there certainly were.
The bigger story here in the early portions of the book is about Evans getting elected to the House at age 26 by force of an oversize personality, reading everything he could get his hands on, networking and working his tail off.
Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media (717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org).