Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: Book Review: "Never Use Your Dim Lights, Not Even in the Fog"

Is this where I put in key words such as sex, lesbians, vampires, Christopher Lloyd and others things to which this blog do not pertain, but by putting them here, I may get hits from all the Christoper Lloyd lesbian vampire fans (and you know who you are)? This is the primarily humorous and occasionally rambling writings of Leon Tchaikovsky, humor writer. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Book Review: "Never Use Your Dim Lights, Not Even in the Fog"

Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny

"Never Use Your Dim Lights, Not Even in the Fog" is a factual autobiographic record of a former Pennsylvania state legislator and School Board member, Peg George. Only the names have been changed in the book, but not, according to the author, the events. As a current legislator Bill DeWeese has stated of this book, "for anyone who wants to understand the machinations of Pennsylvania politics, this is a must read."

Peg George began her political career attending local Democratic Party meetings in 1967 in her suburban community where Republicans greatly outnumbered Democrats. Her entry into office seeking began when, seeking a sacrificial candidate for local Auditor, someone suggested her name be placed on the ballot since she had gone to college. "Even though I lost, I enjoyed the experience", and Peg George next sought election to the School Board. Campaigning against an opponent who was a traveling salesperson, Peg was able to go door to door and assure voters that she would be more accessible than her oft absent opposition. The tactic help get her elected. As female elected officials were scarce in the 1970s, her diary notes "I invaded a men’s club last night—the local School Board…Everyone was polite, but I felt like an intruder."

The machinations of School Board politics, from budgeting squabbles to visiting schools and attending obligatory football games are described along with her reactions. The positive response she was receiving as a School Board member led some to suggest she run for State Senator. Thinking she was running for the Democratic nomination unopposed at the encouragement of the party leaders, she discovered to her surprise that an opponent with more finances who then won the support of the party leaders emerged. Peg’s supporters advised her to seek an open primary as her best way of heading off her opponent. At the party endorsement meeting, someone who she had thought was a trusted friend, yet was likely working for his opponent, advised her to seek an endorsement vote so "you know where you stand." She realized too late she had been crossed and her opponent was endorsed. She continued with a primary, and was defeated.

Asked afterward to give a speech at a community college, she writes "Should I tell them I was a wounded person, sick at heart over the deceptions inflicted upon me by friends? Should I reveal that would-be supporters were bought off by promises of jobs or lucrative contracts? Should I tell them that some people were actually threatened with the loss of their jobs? Should I tell them how a small group of people control election outcomes through the use of money, favors, and patronage?"

Peg recovered to suggestions that, in 1976, she run for the State House. There was hope that a good candidate could win an open seat following the Democratic surge felt after Watergate. She won in a close election. Among the first things she observed was how accessible Governor Milton Shapp was, meeting with her even before she was sworn into office.

She mentions many difficulties serving in the legislature, the first of which was finding her office in room 606 Main Capitol (just a few doors away from what is now the "D"Tails editorial office.) Staff today will appreciate how things have changed as she writes how she shared that room with four other legislators and two secretaries. Among her observations of legislators was "the atmosphere is such that these men have no regard for the presence of women, as opposed to the careful courtesy of the men on the School Board."

Within two months, she faced her first challenge when a motion was presented asking the Speaker, who had been accused of illegally assisting children of contributors get into graduate schools, to resign. She voted in favor of asking the Speaker to resign, and was relieved when the local press praised her political independence.

At her first legislative committee meeting, she was astonished to find the committee chairman moving votes to pass bills which she knew nothing about without discussion. She requested that future meetings come with an agenda of bills. The committee chairman and staff conferred, and responded that, for then on, that would be possible.

Peg learned quickly about various legislative matters. When she was opposed to the budget and the budget bill was short votes for passage, the Majority Leader asked if she wanted any money for a museum or a park "or something like that" in order to get her to change her mind. She declined. She also notes the decorum of some legislative sessions, when paper clip throwing would escalate into using rubber bands to better propel the paper clips.

Peg writes of the legislature that "this place does something to you and you begin to like what it does…I have become accustomed to this way of life…the feeling that I am a part of important decisions. Sometimes it seems my real life is here, in Harrisburg, and that I am just visiting when I go home."

She recalls several important legislative moments, such as when a legislator accused of illegally registering phony voters, even using names of dead people, was defended by another legislator with the argument ‘which or us has not done the same thing’. The accused legislator resigned shortly afterwards.

She tells of the time the legislature literally stopped time. The legislature met its midnight on June 30, legal requirement to pass a budget, by stopping a clock from hitting midnight for an hour. She also lets out some legislative language secrets. "A very important matter" refers to a proposal to increase legislators’ salaries. "The voting machines are not working today" means the leadership does not have enough votes to pass the bill. "Trust me" means everyone may begin laughing hysterically.

Peg releases another secret when she writes "as much protesting as politicians do about not being influenced by contributions, they’re lying. Since even small contributions make me feel more kindly toward the donor, I cannot imagine what the depth of my gratitude would be toward a $5,000 contributor."

After returning from her brother’s funeral, Peg was surprised to discover that not only had her legislative voting switch been opened, but it had been used to vote in opposition to how she felt on a bill. A legislative leader explained how such matters can happen with "we needed your vote."

Another legislative lesson Peg learned was when she offered legislation on an idea she had. Sshe then discovered that a Republican Senator stole the idea and introduced the same bill in the Senate under his sponsorship.

In 1980, the year of the Reagan victory, Peg lost reelection. She was appointed to the Labor Relations Board by a Republican Governor, only to find Democratic Senators upset with her appointment because of her views of labor issues. The Senate did not confirm her. At that point, she decided she was done with politics. The book ends with her expressing that she was glad her political life was over as "I like myself better now. I seem to be a nicer person." Yet, as the book admits, she "wouldn’t have missed it for the world."


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