Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: Book Review: "Pennsylvania Government in Action"

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: "Pennsylvania Government in Action"

Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny

The book "Pennsylvania Government in Action" details the administration of Democratic Governor George Leader, who in 1955 became the first Democratic Pennsylvania Governor since 1934 and only the second Democratic Pennsylvania Governor in half a century.

According to the author, electing a Democrat as Governor brought increased professionalism and an administration that successfully handled the crucial issues of the day. George Leader, the book concludes, was a fresh thinker unafraid to take unpopular stances for the good of Pennsylvania.

The Democratic Party of the 1950s, not unlike the Democratic Party of today, faced severe disadvantages in competing with Republicans in raising campaign funds. Unlike today, Republicans held a 900,000 voter registration advantage statewide over Democrats. George Leader, a 36 year old State Senator, was nominated to run for Governor after several better-known candidates decided a Democrat could not be elected Governor in 1954. George Leader aggressively campaigned with thoughtful ideas for governance while the Republican nominee for Governor emitted an image of a typical politician. Leader not only won an upset victory, yet was elected by a surprise landslide.

Pennsylvania governance had a long history of Republican political bosses supported by corporate campaign contributors, perhaps not unlike our recent history. As Governor, George Leader was attributed with developing professional governance while working closely with the legislature. Not all of Governor Leader’s ideas were enacted, yet the author credits him with vastly improving Pennsylvania’s state government.

Governor Leader established the first Legislative Secretary in the Governor’s Office. The Governor sought to work with the legislature, especially since the Senate remained in Republican control. Governor Leader reorganized eight state departments in a fashion suggested by the Pennsylvania Economy League. The legislature, though, overturned three of these reorganizations.

A crucial innovation of Governor Leader was establishing the Office of Administration. This was undertaken by executive order without legislative action. This new office, still in existence today, updated the state’s accounting procedures and records practices. Greater scrutiny was provided over state spending.

Other innovations arising from the Leader Administration included creation of the Industrial Development Authority, combining the Departments of Welfare, Public Assistance, and Health into the Public Welfare Department, and reorganizing the Commerce Department. Through Executive Order, Governor Leader expanded civil service to 12,000 jobs yet his proposals for more extensive expansions were defeated by the legislature.

It was the mental health area, though, where Governor Leader shone. "I am proudest…of what we have done for the mentally ill," Governor Leader would proclaim at the end of his term. George Leader was shocked at the degree of suffering he saw in mental health facilities. He actively worked to improve these conditions.

Governor Leader worked successfully to improve public education. He increased the state’s share of public education to 50%, which is noteworthy considering today the state’s share is 39%. The Leader Administration also increased educational standards and made advances in courses concerning computers, economics, and language skills.

Other innovations that emerged during George Leader’s term as Governor were allowing permanently injured workers to receive continual workers’ compensation benefits (rather than limiting benefits to a maximum of 700 weeks), creating regulations on working and living standards provided to migrant workers, and establishing a Civil Right Division with the state Justice Department.

The administration of Governor Leader is a fascinating example of how a Democratic Governor can effect change in spite of a hostile Republican legislative leadership. Students of politics and Pennsylvania history may find this book interesting. Finally, there may be some useful historical analogies for us all.


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