Qualifications for Governor (HB 2083)

Testimony of Joe Sterns, Director of Communcations, Commonwealth Foundation to the Pennsylvania House State Government Committee
December 14, 2009

Chairwoman Josephs, Chairman Benninghoff, Members of the Committee:

The Commonwealth Foundation is pleased to have the opportunity to offer insight on House Bill 2083.

Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is a prime exhibit of Lord Acton’s admonition that “power corrupts.”

“Bonusgate” is but the latest episode which calls to mind Thomas Jefferson’s wisdom: “When a man casts a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct.”

House Bill 2083 begs us to consider whether or not an Attorney General longing to be Governor would be inclined to abuse his power to achieve his political goals, and further, whether or not there should be a four-year hiatus between an Attorney General’s transition to Governor.

There is precedent for what I will refer to hereafter as the “hiatus mechanism.” A state Treasurer must wait four years before becoming Auditor General. The premise is sensible: human nature is against implicating oneself for malfeasance, which is the very position a Treasurer-turned-Auditor General would find himself in.

Curiously, the framers of Pennsylvania’s Constitution didn’t apply their logic across the spectrum of state government. The Treasurer isn’t the only state row officer who the Auditor General can inspect, yet the hiatus mechanism only exists between the transition from Treasurer to Auditor General. But why not between the transition from Attorney General to Auditor General?

Moreover, the scope of the Attorney General’s office, like that of the Auditor General, is retrospective. Why, then, is there no hiatus mechanism between a transition from Treasurer to Attorney General?

Similarly, one could argue that House Bill 2083 doesn’t apply the logic of its premise to the spectrum of state government. The bill does not employ the hiatus mechanism between a transition from Auditor General to Governor. Why not, considering that the Auditor General, like the Attorney General, could plausibly be tempted to abuse the power of his office to facilitate his political elevation?

Furthermore, if we agree that it is sensible to preclude Attorney Generals and Auditor Generals from succumbing to political temptations by instituting a hiatus between the transition from these offices to Governor, how could we not deem it equally sensible to implement a hiatus mechanism between a transition from Attorney General or Auditor General to Congress?

And what about members of the General Assembly abusing the powers of their office for political gain? After all, isn’t that what Bonusgate and Datagate are all about? Should there not be a similar hiatus mechanism for lawmakers and other offices?

Scandal notwithstanding, legislators can, and do, avail themselves of a number of taxpayer-funded goods and services that facilitate re-election to the General Assembly and election to higher office. A few examples would be: glossy, full-color newsletters that are mailed to registered voters; public service announcements on radio and television; and calendars, roadmaps, children’s coloring books and numerous other items distributed by lawmakers to voters.

Back to the matter at the heart of House Bill 2083: Philadelphia might be a model. Under the city’s charter, city officeholders must resign upon filing paperwork indicative of their intent to seek another citywide office.

Compare Philadelphia to state government: under our current Constitution, a state Representative can run for the state Senate, Governor, and Congress, at the same time, retaining their seat in the state House, while taking advantage of the aforementioned taxpayer-funded goods and services.

It’s also worth noting that a person can serve in state and local government simultaneously. Rep. David Kessler is a municipal official in Berks County. Rep. Civera has stated he might continue serving in the legislature after he is sworn in as a municipal official in Delaware County. This is a fascinating nuance, with no fundamental difference from simultaneously serving as a Congressman and a state legislator (which is expressly forbidden in our state Constitution).

In conclusion: the Commonwealth Foundation believes that the manifold questions and concerns raised by House Bill 2083 evince the political reality that the only way to ensure that these questions and concerns will be adequately addressed is by empowering the people of Pennsylvania. We believe it’s high time to enact Initiative & Referendum in our Commonwealth, and to convene a citizens’ Constitutional Convention.

Thank you for the opportunity to present; I look forward to any questions and comments you might have.