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Status quo' Try nonpro

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Sunday, July 24, 2011
 

HARRISBURG

A since-deceased legislator told me in the 1980s that he hoped then-Rep. John Kennedy would be "hit by a Mack truck."

So to say Kennedy was despised would be an understatement.

"I got my brains beat out," Kennedy says, thinking back to his state House tenure (1980-88). "I got my teeth knocked out" by fellow members, including those in his own Republican Party.

Why?

Kennedy turned down a state pension. He criticized lawmakers' growing number of perks. And he talked out of school about it to any reporter who would listen.

After his self-imposed term limit took effect, Kennedy went back to the private sector in the railroad industry.

Fast-forward to 2005 and the middle-of-the-night pay grab by lawmakers. Kennedy jumped into the fray again as a reformer and one of those calling for repeal. Under intense public scrutiny and burgeoning anger from the electorate, the Legislature -- in November 2005 -- rolled back the pay hike for themselves and the executive branch. Judges would take the money and run, thanks to a state Supreme Court ruling approving it for the judiciary.

In 2009, Kennedy, seeing little post-pay raise change in the General Assembly, decided enough was enough. He became chairman of Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, based in Camp Hill, which is committed to changing the face of the Legislature.

"We have a choice: follow the status quo driven by attorneys and organized labor or move to a nonprofessional Legislature," he says.

Kennedy frequently cites Article II, Section 8, of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which provides that lawmakers receive salary and mileage and "no other compensation whatever." It doesn't allow for Cadillac pensions and health care or state-paid car leases and per diems.

Kennedy's goal through Citizens Alliance is to elect candidates, enough to eventually reach a critical mass in the House and Senate, willing to take the tough steps to scale back the excesses built up over the past 40 years. The goal: 15 senators and 50 House members. By no means a majority, it is, however, enough to demand change. Candidates must be willing to turn down a pension and agree not to make the Legislature a career.

He says 13 more in the Senate and 46 more in the House will help CAP reach its goal. Two senators who Kennedy believes meet CAP's standards are Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Altoona, and Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon.

Legislators, in lieu of a state-guaranteed pension, should be able to have a 401(k) plan -- the "same as the marketplace, the same as taxpayers," Kennedy says.

"We have a professional Legislature now, professional politicians. I'd like to see a Legislature with payroll producers and employers" committed to improving the business climate, Kennedy said.

You can connect with Kennedy's group at empowerpa.org.

A column last week might have given the wrong impression about protester Gene Stilp's antics at a Marcellus shale commission meeting.

The column said Stilp called Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley a "prostitute" and crawled under a table rather than exit the room. Stilp crawled under the table -- not to hide, but to get better access to Cawley -- then called him a "prostitute."

This is important to Stilp, the dedicated reformer and prolific litigant.

He says he doesn't hide from anyone.

Having observed Stilp's numerous protests and stunts over the years, there is no doubt about what he's saying.

 

 

 
 


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