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Pennsylvania Voters Hit the Brakes on Runaway Government

Electorate says it's time to reduce spending, lower taxes, and restore self-governance

NOVEMBER 3, 2010 | News Release by COMMONWEALTH FOUNDATION

PA Election: Hitting the Breaks

Yesterday, millions of Pennsylvanians collectively hit the brakes on runaway government in Washington and Harrisburg.  In race after race, they voted against years of over-spending, over-borrowing, and under-performing.  Voters also sent the clear message that they don't want to be governed by the right, the left or the center; the

Constitution Day and the Perilous Future

SEPTEMBER 17, 2010 | Commentary by EDWIN MEESE

Constitution Day

On September 17, we celebrate the creation of our Constitution, one of the greatest governing documents ever conceived by the hand of man. This is the day we commemorate the birth of the United States as a nation, based on the rule of law and dedicated to the preservation of personal liberty, political freedom, economic opportunity, and the

Lancaster Co. Human Relations Commission

Testimony of Nathan A. Benefield to the Lancaster County Board of Commissioners: July 29, 2010

JULY 29, 2010 | Testimony by NATHAN BENEFIELD

I hope the Commissioners will seriously consider both the costs and the benefits of the LCHRC.  They may find that there is reason to continue this work, but I hope not to pay lip service to "promoting diversity," but for the actual results and performance of the LCHRC's work.





Recent Blog Posts

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



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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.


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SAT Scores Slip While Spending Soars

April 16

Pennsylvania education spending is at at all-time high and ranks near the top in dollars spent per student among the states. But all of that extra spending isn't helping kids succeed. In fact, SAT scores have declined while spending has soared. According to a new Cato Institute analysis, Pennsylvania ...