Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: Book Review: A Capitol Journey

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.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Book Review: A Capitol Journey

Vince Carocci, a longtime reporter who served as an aide to Governor Casey, has written his professional autobiography. This intertwining of remembrances with keen analysis of events makes this a superb book for those interested in recent Pennsylvania government and politics. Readers learn how Capitol reporters in the 1960s were an assortment of grouchy men (there were no female Capitol reporters) ranging from those who sought quotes to verify angles on stories they had already written to those who pretended to write about things they heard secondhand. The press then could be vicious, as noted by the famous “Shapp Denies Rumor He Had Psychiatric Treatment” headline.

The author also worked as a State Senate staff aide, where he observed that political alliances were flexible and changing. Readers learn some Senators believed in the politics of revenge. The book also proposes an interesting theory that the defeat of Joe Ammerman for Majority Leader led to the decline of the Democratic Party. The claim is Ammerman would have objected to activities by then-elected Democratic leadership that led to the Republicans taking control of the State Senate in 1974. He believes the party drifted from leadership that sought to do what was the best to one that sought to do what was best for themselves. Democratic leaders even worked to defeat other Democrats. Republicans have had a near-dynasty of Senate control ever since.

Readers see how Republicans operated even in the 1970s, as when Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Seltzer announced that “I’m ready to sit here until I get this settled the way I want.” In some ways, the art of negotiating with a Republican has changed little.

The 1970s, though, were a critical decade for the legislature. During that decade, it moved from a part-time office to a professional branch of government whose policymaking role became equivalent to that of the Governor. The author notes that professional legislative staffing became more important in shaping policies and subsequently the abilities of political parties to guide policies diminished. With the weakening of political parties, the legislative leaders lost some of their political clout while rank and file legislators increased their political strength. The author notes that Sen. Craig Lewis’s taking the Appropriations Committee Chairmanship from the incumbent Joe Smith would have been unthinkable a few years earlier.

Among important changes the author notes was the removal of the one term limitation for a Governor. Allowing a Governor a second term gave a Governor a longer period of time to work on goals plus the likelihood of such an extended presence gives the Governor greater political clout to achieve those goals. It is noted every Governor since this law was changed has been elected to two terms, thus allowing Governors to take advantage of these extended abilities. Ironically, both the legislative and administrative branches of government have become more influential in recent decades.

Politics in 1962 continues to influence us to this day. Rep. Bill Scranton (whose son is now running for Governor) then disavowed any interest in running for Governor. Yet, Republican political leaders (who included Scranton’s mother, Marion Margery Warren Scranton) were leery of their likely nominee, Judge Robert Woodside. Scranton told party leaders he would run for Governor if all 67 Republican county chairmen would unite behind his candidacy. To his surprise, 66 did, which was close enough. Scranton ran and was elected Governor.

Scranton used a clever ploy during his campaign. His Democratic opponent, Philadelphia Mayor Richardson Dilworth, has been making an issue of being unable to debate Scranton and thus would debate an empty chair. Dilworth bought television time to debate his empty chair, only to be thrown off and lose his composure on television when Scranton appeared at the last moment.

Governor Scranton then raised the sales tax. Surprisingly, the phrase “tax and spend Republicans” so far has failed to gain its rightful place in our lingo. The author, though, offers his opinion that Scranton and Casey were the two best Governors he saw.

As an interesting side note, the author observed how the senior Scranton was an excellent campaigner who knew how to work crowds while the younger Scranton keeps to himself more. Hopefully there will be a continued reluctance in the younger Scranton to learn how to campaign effectively.

Scranton was followed by Raymond Shafer as Governor. Shafer was a Republican who fought with the Republican legislative leadership, leading to the creation of an eight month budget where many budget issues were left for the next Governor. Shafer was followed by Democrat Milton Shapp, the first candidate to broadcast television ads every night for the ten nights prior to the primary and whose ads helped him be an upset primary victor twice and eventually Governor in his second attempt. The author notes that Shapp, who ran as a candidate against the Democratic Party machine, ran afoul of that same machine as it dispensed patronage to people loyal to the party but not necessarily to Shapp. The Democratic Party’s image took a sharp blow with the public as almost 400 politicians were indicted during the Shapp years.

The author notes the selling of patronage jobs appears to have never been traced to Shapp, but that it did exist and seems to have been fairly widespread. Republican legislative leaders took advantage of these scandals to advance their party. When Shapp willingly appeared to testify before a legislative committee, and was then handed a subpoena to testify, it was many observers’ opinions, including the author’s, that Shapp defended himself rather well against Republican efforts to gain political mileage off the scandals and in fact emerged political stronger.

The author sees Shapp as a Governor who had good intentions who truly cared about those with economic disadvantages. Shapp may have survived the scandals, but the Democratic Party did not (and to this day has yet to totally rebound.) Republican Dick Thornburgh was the next elected Governor.

The author views Thornburgh as a paradox as a Governor who expressed integrity yet was as manipulative as the very type of leader Thornburgh claimed to despise. He criticizes Thornburgh for opposing the bipartisan legislative efforts to create a prescription drug program for the elderly and then embracing the program as if it were his own. The author also believes Thornburgh supported abolishing the liquor control system less for reasons of policy but in retaliation for having his nominees to the Liquor Control Board blocked by State Senate Democrats. Further, his administration awarded a weatherization contract to a Democratic State Senator, Milton Street, who switched to the Republican Party. Finally, as the only Governor to use the official Governor’s Mansion for a political fundraiser, the author disbelieves claims that Thornburgh was a Governor above politics.

The author served as Deputy Legislative Affairs Secretary, Government Operations Secretary, and then Press Secretary to the following Governor, Democrat Bob Casey. The author helped Governor Casey transfer responsibility of liquor law enforcement to the State Police and create liquor control administrative judges. Economic times were difficult, and budget negotiations with the legislature once took eight months when three billion in new taxes had to be found. Fortunately, the Casey Administration was able to leave the next Governor, Tom Ridge, with a $500 million surplus.

This book is a fantastic account of state government from someone who observed it both from the outside as a reporter and from the inside as a key aide. The personal observations and accounts make this one of the most insightful books on state government operations. Readers will learn and appreciate much from “A Capitol Journey.”


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