Principles




Who's Strangling Whom?

AUGUST 7, 2013

Jodi Hirsh wants you to believe that a shadowy, deep-pocketed, Washington-based organization called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has a "stranglehold on our statehouse."  That's the claim Ms. Hirsh, the Pennsylvania coordinator for the left-of-center People for the American Way, makes in a commentary currently running on PennLive.  As a former ALEC member, I'd like to take a minute to correct the record.

Ms. Hirsh makes three main charges against ALEC:  It's run by evil corporations, it writes bills so legislators don't have to, and it buys Pennsylvania legislators' love.

Her first charge is self-evidently ridiculous.  People for the American Way, Ms. Hirsh's employer, is itself a corporation—one that takes in millions of dollars a year, according to its own website (PDF).  I know a lot of businesses that would love to have that kind of revenue stream.

Her second complaint might sound more compelling, but it isn't.  Yes, at ALEC meetings, members vote on model legislation that, if they so choose, they can then use as the foundation for real bills they introduce back home.  This role isn't unique to ALEC.  For example, there is another national group called the National Conference of State Legislatures where the same thing happens.  And even if legislators don't participate in any groups like this...come on, do you really think they write their own bills most of the time?  If so, I've got a bridge to sell you.

Okay, okay, you say.  I get it.  But what about the nice wine?  Doesn't Ms. Hirsh have a point about ALEC buying legislators' love?  Not in the slightest.  If ALEC, which stands for limited government and free markets, truly had a stranglehold on our commonwealth, do you think for an instant that the Pennsylvania legislators who supposedly dance to its tune would have declined for years now to get government out of the booze business or bring about some sanity in public pensions?  There's not enough free wine in the world to make that argument credible.

Obviously, ALEC is not the kind of organization that has a "stranglehold on our statehouse" and is creating an "increasingly disastrous problem" here in Pennsylvania.  If you want to read about an organization that really does fit that bill, see Jim Panyard's latest piece from Media Trackers Pennsylvania on the so-called CLEAR Coalition.  Mr. Panyard reports that this group and its members have $150 million at their disposal, focus their attention on Pennsylvania, and are quite clearly having a huge impact on our legislators' thinking.  

ALEC takes in one fifteenth of that sum and spreads it across the whole country, politely helping legislators come up with good ideas to increase prosperity. But it is groups like the CLEAR Coalition, dominated by government union bosses who force workers to pay dues that fund politics, that make policymakers afraid to deliver the policy changes most Pennsylvanians want.

posted by CHARLES MITCHELL | 10:44 AM | Comments

New York? Fuhgeddaboudit. Lansing!

DECEMBER 7, 2012

No Soup for YouAs I write this, most of Pennsylvania's political glitterati has its mind on New York City, where the annual Pennsylvania Society gathering is underway. But my mind is on the bustling metropolis of Lansing, the capital of Michigan, where both houses of the legislature approved right-to-work bills yesterday, issuing forth a loud cry of "No soup for you!" to furious protesters.

There will be much more to say about this as the situation unfolds; the legislature's work is not yet finished, Gov. Rick Snyder hasn't yet signed the bill (though he's promised to do so), and you can bet there will be litigation. But right now, I'd suggest there are at least two lessons to be learned from Michigan's breakthrough.

Lesson one: There are now no excuses. Don't let anyone tell you we can't have real reform here in Pennsylvania because the state is just too blue or union dominated. As if Wisconsin were not enough evidence that this excuse is bogus, now there's Michigan, where President Obama's reelection margin was larger and the historic attachment to unions is even deeper than in the Badger State.

Lesson two: Don't buy the hero worship. I hear from people all the time who believe huge advances like passing right-to-work in Michigan only come as the direct result of brave leadership by superhuman governors. I've got nothing against Gov. Snyder, and I'm glad he came out for right-to-work this week, but make no mistake: This week was the first time. As the Detroit News reported, "Ever since he took office in January 2011, Snyder has said right-to-work is not on his agenda and that lawmakers should focus more on issues that will create jobs and a strong economy." Freedom fighters in Michigan didn't take his previous disclaimers of interest as definitive statements of "no soup for you"; they convinced him and others in Lansing to get it done. Rather than losing heart until some future election produces a political messiah, those of us who want to save Pennsylvania should follow suit and bring the successes of Wisconsin—and now Michigan—to our state.

posted by CHARLES MITCHELL | 11:09 AM | Comments

Stones to Take on Goliath

NOVEMBER 13, 2012

My friend Jon Caldara of our sister think-tank in Colorado eloquently and humorously offers an important lesson from the election—the results stem not from a short-term campaign, but from long-term work by political institutions and activists:

The left wins because they control the narrative. They control the narrative because they invest their resources, their years, and a ton of our money, to build systems, organizations and institutions that tell the stories they want voters in the middle to believe. Capitalism hurts the country. Hydraulic fracturing is an environmental danger. There is a war against women. Blah, blah, blah...

The right's donors invest too often in personality, not political infrastructure. They invest for the short term. ... The money goes to candidates or their support systems. By then it is usually too late. The left has built unions, think tanks, media operations, opposition research groups, voter registration machines, legal harassment firms and so much more.

What is he talking about? LaborUnionReport over at Redstate sums up the work of Goliath—government unions and their friends—this past election:

  • The SEIU put 100,000 "volunteers" on the ground in swing states.
  • AFSCME put 65,000 members into action
  • The National Education Association claimed to have 175,000 working the campaign
    • "Ohio alone, which is increasingly likely to determine the outcome of the presidential race, has nearly 3,500 educator volunteers in 87 of the state's 88 counties."

The list goes on and on if you want to read it all. 

The election doesn't represent a defeat of free market ideas. No election ever will. As Ed Feulner says, in politics "there are no permanent victories or permanent defeats, just permanent battles." 

We have to prepare ourselves for a long-term battle by building the institutions—smooth stones—needed to take on Goliath.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 04:33 PM | Comments

Happy 225th Birthday, U.S. Constitution!

SEPTEMBER 17, 2012

Today marks the 225th birthday of the U.S. Constitution, and while it may be getting up there in years, the principles it sets forth are no less relevant today than they were at the signing.  Why is this 225 year old document still relevant?

The Constitution, when its plain meaning is applied, is America's most important tool to prevent the arbitrary and abusive rule of men and to maintain the rule of law and the limits on government power.  When correctly applied and enforced, the Constitution, and the people's understanding of the Constitution, protects liberty...To preserve, indeed to revive our Constitution and thereby protect liberty, order, and justice for all, requires an understanding of what the Constitution says, what it means, and what it was intended to achieve.

This explanation is from a series of articles on the Constitution and our founding principles, entitled We the People.  Click here to check out the full series and get the tools to bolster your knowledge of and enthusiasm for this unparalleled document.

Freedom and liberty belong to "We the People," but we must fight to preserve it.  So save yourself 225 candles and celebrate this Constitution Day by strengthening your understanding of our founding principles.

posted by DAWN MELING | 04:02 PM | Comments

Taxpayer Tornado Sweeps Through Kansas, Union Party Swept Away

AUGUST 8, 2012

Wizard of Oz:  The EndWhat's one of the few things stranger than a CF staffer reading the Huffington Post?

Easy.  A CF staffer reading on the Huffington Post about a great victory for the Taxpayer Party.

That's what I did this morning.

As we at CF always say, the true balance of power in politics is not between Republicans and Democrats.  It's between the Union Party and the Taxpayer Party.  That's true in Pennsylvania and it's true elsewhere.  And you can see it clearly in this Huffington Post article about last night's primary results in Kansas!

The gist of the story is that in Kansas, a whole bunch of Republican state senators allied with the key constituencies of the Union Party, particularly government union bosses and trial lawyers, just lost their primaries.  These senators, including the president of the Senate, had previously stood in the way of path-breaking reforms such as those we've seen in Wisconsin, Indiana, and other states.  And while the Huffington Post points out that the Taxpayer Party victors received help from at least one entity linked to those deep-pocketed Koch brothers you've been hearing about, it does not mention that the Union Party legislators outspent their opponents by a factor of three to one.

What's the lesson for those of us back here in the Keystone State?  Easy:  Don't lose hope, and keep fighting both hard and smart.  Had the Taxpayer Party there given up after encountering deep frustrations over the last 18 months, it'd be "The End" right now in Kansas for the reforms our states and our nation desperately need.  Instead, notwithstanding their power and deep pockets, it's the Union Party defenders of the status quo who are seeing the credits roll.

David can beat Goliath.  Pick up your sling.  Onward!

posted by CHARLES MITCHELL | 03:03 PM | Comments

Olympic Lessons for Gold Medal Citizens

JULY 30, 2012

Medal blankWhen you watch as much Olympics coverage as I do, you can learn a lot: like the size of swimming prodigy Missy Franklin's feet (13), the weight of the tires Ryan Lochte flips in training (850 lbs) and the secret to synchronized swimmers' immovable hair (gelatin).

But the more I watched, the more I realized the Olympics hold plenty of valuable lessons for all of us fighting for freedom in Pennsylvania.  Below are a few tips for how you can be a gold medal citizen:

Lead with the heart: Did I watch the men's gymnastics opening rounds because I'm enamored by a good pommel horse routine?  No, I watched because one of the gymnasts, John Orozco, while training for the Olympics, took a job working birthday parties at his training facility to help his parents pay their mortgage.  We become invested and passionate because Olympians share personal stories like this one.  The same is true when we talk about freedom and limited government.  Technical details are important, but the heart wins.

Every four years isn't enough: I am obsessed with swimming.  Well, every four years at the Olympics.  So despite all the coverage I watch and articles I read, I'm not a very good fan. I can't tell you who the rising stars are, what a fast 400 IM time is, or how to execute a good turn.  The same is true for political engagement.  If you only tune in every four years, your effectiveness is diminished and you miss opportunities to impact decisions that affect you the significantly, like those by your school board or local municipality.

Train like an Olympian: Ready to take it to the Olympic level?  You don't have to hit the track or spend hours in the weight room (though you can, as I do, try to eat like the Olympians).  Keep informed of what's going on in Pennsylvania politics, develop your understanding of economics and public policy, and brush up on the founding principles that guide us.  Call or drop by your local legislator's office to meet them in person.  Use the hours you already spend on social media to follow liberty-loving organizations like CF and Pennsylvania politicians on Twitter.

It doesn't take superhuman speed or agility to be an Olympic-caliber citizen, but take these tips from those gracing the podiums this week and you'll be well on your way to the gold.

posted by DAWN MELING | 03:09 PM | Comments

This Independence Day, You and I Have No Right

JULY 4, 2012

Frederick DouglassThis morning, spurred by a blog post by Bill Kristol, I've been reading an Independence Day oration given by the famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass in 1852, during the run-up to the Civil War.

Read how this former slave spoke of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence:

The coming into being of a nation, in any circumstances, is an interesting event. But, besides general considerations, there were peculiar circumstances which make the advent of this republic an event of special attractiveness. The whole scene, as I look back to it, was simple, dignified and sublime. The population of the country, at the time, stood at the insignificant number of three millions. The country was poor in the munitions of war. The population was weak and scattered, and the country a wilderness unsubdued. There were then no means of concert and combination, such as exist now. Neither steam nor lightning had then been reduced to order and discipline. From the Potomac to the Delaware was a journey of many days. Under these, and innumerable other disadvantages, your fathers declared for liberty and independence and triumphed.

Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men, too—great enough to give frame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.

They loved their country better than their own private interests; and, though this is not the highest form of human excellence, all will concede that it is a rare virtue, and that when it is exhibited it ought to command respect. He who will, intelligently, lay down his life for his country is a man whom it is not in human nature to despise. Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country. In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests.

They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny. With them, nothing was "settled" that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were "final"; not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men. They were great in their day and generation. Their solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times.

How circumspect, exact and proportionate were all their movements! How unlike the politicians of an hour! Their statesmanship looked beyond the passing moment, and stretched away in strength into the distant future. They seized upon eternal principles, and set a glorious example in their defence. Mark them! Fully appreciating the hardships to be encountered, firmly believing in the right of their cause, honorably inviting the scrutiny of an on-looking world, reverently appealing to heaven to attest their sincerity, soundly comprehending the solemn responsibility they were about to assume, wisely measuring the terrible odds against them, your fathers, the fathers of this republic, did, most deliberately, under the inspiration of a glorious patriotism, and with a sublime faith in the great principles of justice and freedom, lay deep, the corner-stone of the national super-structure, which has risen and still rises in grandeur around you.

Of this fundamental work, this day is the anniversary. Our eyes are met with demonstrations of joyous enthusiasm. Banners and pennants wave exultingly on the breeze. The din of business, too, is hushed. Even mammon seems to have quitted his grasp on this day. The ear-piercing fife and the stirring drum unite their accents with the ascending peal of a thousand church bells. Prayers are made, hymns are sung, and sermons are preached in honor of this day; while the quick martial tramp of a great and multitudinous nation, echoed back by all the hills, valleys and mountains of a vast continent, bespeak the occasion one of thrilling and universal interest-nation's jubilee.

Friends and citizens, I need not enter further into the causes which led to this anniversary. Many of you understand them better than I do. You could instruct me in regard to them. That is a branch of knowledge in which you feel, perhaps, a much deeper interest than your speaker. The causes which led to the separation of the colonies from the British crown have never lacked for a tongue. They have all been taught in your common schools, narrated at your firesides, unfolded from your pulpits, and thundered from your legislative halls, and are as familiar to you as household words. They form the staple of your national poetry and eloquence.

I remember, also, that, as a people, Americans are remarkably familiar with all facts which make in their own favor. This is esteemed by some as a national trait — perhaps a national weakness. It is a fact, that whatever makes for the wealth or for the reputation of Americans and can be had cheap will be found by Americans. I shall not be charged with slandering Americans if I say I think the American side of any question may be safely left in American hands.

I leave, therefore, the great deeds of your fathers to other gentlemen whose claim to have been regularly descended will be less likely to be disputed than mine!

My business, if I have any here to-day, is with the present. The accepted time with God and His cause is the ever-living now.

Trust no future, however pleasant,
Let the dead past bury its dead;
Act, act in the living present,
Heart within, and God overhead.

We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future. To all inspiring motives, to noble deeds which can be gained from the past, we are welcome. But now is the time, the important time. Your fathers have lived, died, and have done their work, and have done much of it well. You live and must die, and you must do your work. You have no right to enjoy a child's share in the labor of your fathers, unless your children are to be blest by your labors. You have no right to wear out and waste the hard-earned fame of your fathers to cover your indolence.

So here's the great freedom fighter Frederick Douglass' question for you today: Is today for you simply the Fourth of July? Is it just a day off work during which you can eat a lot, be fat and happy, and vaguely recognize that some guys in Philadelphia a long time ago did something that allowed you such a sweet deal? Or is it Independence Day—a day commemorating true heroism, a day bought with blood, and a day that obliges you to ensure you don't "waste the hard-earned fame" of those men who "staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country?"

For Douglass, the answer to that question was easy, and the rest of his oration made it clear, laying out the moral evil of his time—slavery—and how he intended to see it eliminated. Is it easy for you? Is your big battle today to get your grill lit without burning the hair off your fingers, or do you see that it's really to hand this amazing country over to your kids and grandkids in better shape than you found it, so that it is still great and they are still free?

If, for you, today is Independence Day, the Commonwealth Foundation is here to make sure you have all the intellectual ammunition you need to be the kind of freedom fighter your nation needed in 1776, needed in 1852, and continues to need in 2012. But if, for you, today is just the Fourth of July, I suspect Douglass' words (not to mention President Obama's and Chief Justice Roberts' recent ruminations) will cut you to the quick, and I hope they inspire you to action.

posted by CHARLES MITCHELL | 11:42 AM | Comments

What Does the Primary Earthquake Mean?

APRIL 25, 2012

Earthquake Richter ScaleI'm writing to you from Pittsburgh, which was, in a certain sense, ground zero of last night's primary earthquake.

Last night, I watched Tom Smith—who has made it a matter of public record that he is a strong supporter of the Commonwealth Foundation—overwhelmingly beat the state GOP-endorsed candidate for the U.S. Senate.  Meanwhile, not far from where I was standing, a sitting state representative endorsed by the majority leaders of both chambers of the General Assembly and the state senator he meant to succeed lost badly.

As Pete DeCoursey is reporting this morning (subscription required), those two races were just the beginning.  In Blair County, one of the most senior committee chairmen lost his renomination fight.  In Cumberland County (where I live) and Schuylkill County, well-known and well-connected state senators had to fight hard in order to keep their seats.  Back where I grew up, in Delaware County, the Senate Majority Leader had more of a race on his hands than people expected.  Even the Speaker of the House had a squeaker.

So what happened is obvious:  There was an earthquake last night.  The question is, what does it mean?

It doesn't mean what the left will probably tell you, namely that voters hate Gov. Corbett's long-overdue fiscal belt tightening.  Quite the opposite:  Voters are saying that it isn't enough.

Just look at the context.  It's obvious that the "churn" (as Matt Brouillette says) that began after the 2005 pay raise continues apace.  Secondly, if you look nationally, the old saw that the Keystone State is far too blue for real reform is on its last legs.  In even bluer states, particularly New Jersey and Wisconsin, new leaders have faced down the government unions, have done much more than our new leaders here, and have been vindicated at the ballot box because they offered an overarching vision that inspired people.

Like it or not, the conservative base does not see that kind of inspiring vision here.  That was pretty clear at the recent Pennsylvania Leadership Conference, in whose straw poll 57 percent of respondents said they were dissatisfied with the direction of our state over a year after the departure of Gov. Ed Rendell.  After last night, it is now indisputable.

The base is restless, and the rest are unpersuaded.  The solution isn't to pivot and provide more patented Pennsylvania milquetoast mush, as we've seen time after time in the past, nor is it to argue that the base just doesn't appreciate what our new leaders have done so far.  It is to lead boldly and to inspire.  That's what we're hungry for.

Last night, the voters decided to send some new blood to do just that.  I'm hopeful last night's victors won't be the only ones who get the memo—because middling mediocrity and falling behind other states are what has gotten us in this pickle to begin with, and in many ways, my children's future depends on whether we do something different, now.

posted by CHARLES MITCHELL | 11:13 AM | Comments

Veterans: Let's Do It For Them - VOTE!

APRIL 20, 2012

Why should you vote in the upcoming elections? Hear from three generations of combat veterans, all from the same Pennsylvania hometown, who speak of the selfless sacrifice of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines and how there is one sure way to honor their service -- VOTE!

Please help answer their charge by sharing this video.

posted by COMMONWEALTH FOUNDATION | 09:50 AM | Comments

Principled, Punchy Pols Are Popular Pols

MARCH 15, 2012

Indiana Gov. Mitch DanielsI've written previously in this space about Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has garnered enormous popularity while governing courageously.  Today, with a new Quinnipiac poll about Gov. Tom Corbett's popularity engendering lots of chatter, I want to turn your attention to another relevant governor:  Mitch Daniels of Indiana.

These days, Gov. Daniels is a rock star.  Just yesterday, one of our CF supporters told me how much he wished Gov. Daniels would run for president, and believe me, he wasn't the first.  Observers nationwide have toasted Gov. Daniels' effectiveness in turning the Hoosier State around.  What we forget today, though, is that in the middle of his first term, this prophet had no honor in his hometown.  The Indianapolis Star ran a pretty unambiguous headline on November 25, 2007:  "50% disapprove of Daniels' work."  The story noted that the year before, Gov. Daniels' approval rating had been an even lower 37 percent.

You might think, based on that, that Gov. Daniels subsequently turned tail and/or became a private citizen.  You'd be wrong.  He hasn't let up on taking a scalpel to spending.  Less than a year after that poll came out, he won reelection resoundingly, garnering "more votes than any candidate for any public office in the state's history."  And since then he has signed a right-to-work law and a major expansion of school choice.

Too many here in Harrisburg think constant caution or even cowardice creates confidence.  Gov. Daniels' story says otherwise.  We elect leaders to lead.  Sometimes that entails making difficult decisions, and we expect those to be explained compellingly along the way.  That's exactly what Gov. Daniels has done in Indiana, and the results are obvious—not just in terms of his own political standing, but by the people of his state being better off.

Here's hoping that as this enormously consequential year continues, politicians here in Pennsylvania learn the lessons Gov. Daniels can teach us.

posted by CHARLES MITCHELL | 01:27 PM | Comments

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The Commonwealth Foundation is Pennsylvania's free-market think tank.  The Commonwealth Foundation crafts free-market policies, convinces Pennsylvanians of their benefits, and counters attacks on liberty.