by Dr. G. Terry Madonna and Dr. Michael Young
Latinate phraseology will be in high vogue in Pennsylvania if Bill DeWeese becomes the next speaker of the state House. The Keystone state’s own walking, talking cornucopia of circumlocution is likely to bring to Harrisburg a certain elevated style of language not seen publicly since the sesquipedalian William F Buckley held forth on public television.
To get things properly started into the Deweesian era, we offer a nifty Latin phrase that sums up the passing year--annus mirabilis-- which roughly translated means miraculous year, or a year in which some pretty spectacular things happened. By any measure 2006 was one heck of an annus mirabilis.
Need some reminders?
So, politically, the year 2006 will be recorded as one of the most memorable in state history--change came to Pennsylvania and not a little drama with it, and the change wasn’t always pretty, but it was always interesting, an annus mirabilis in any language.
But what does 2007 portend? Could budding change become a perennial in state politics? Have we turned a corner, undergone a conversion, or changed our spots. Are we ready for what the pols like to term "fundamental reform?"
But Pennsylvania’s political history counsels caution.
For eons Pennsylvania has been a state where the pace of change was glacial, where reform was not a word used in polite company, and where change usually meant exchanging the tired unimaginative and failed policies of one reviled political party for the tired, unimaginative, failed policies of the other reviled political party.
True, the July 2005 pay hike produced genuine voter anger and spawned statewide reform groups with clear goals and a specific agenda, including:
And the advocates of reform seem omnipresent. Everyone is a reformer now, from the newly elected legislative challengers, to battle-scarred incumbents, and even to Governor Rendell.
But the reality of reform has not yet matched the rhetoric of reform. State politicians have learned how to talk the talk, but there is still only meager evidence that they are ready also to walk the walk. Indeed, it has been some 18 months since the pay hike, and the only reform measure adopted has been lobbying registration and regulation--not trivial to be sure, but not earth shaking either.
At bottom, reform means changing the way things are done in Harrisburg, returning accountability to the electorate, restoring integrity to the political process, and making a better state for all Pennsylvanians to live and work.
One or even several elections will not achieve these objectives nor will a couple of off-the-rack reforms fashioned more to appeal to public opinion than improve public policy. The problems in Pennsylvania are deep rooted and long-standing. The solutions must similarly go deep and prove to be enduring.
The first test of the nascent reform agenda will be whether a newly re-elected governor remembers his promises to the electorate and follows through with a serious and sustained reform program; the second will test the ability of newly resurgent Democrats and reform-minded Republicans to pass a Rendell reform package.
Until both tests pass, we won’t know if reform is real or still only a pipedream in Pennsylvania.
Politically Uncorrected™ is published twice monthly. Dr. G. Terry Madonna is a Professor of Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, and Dr. Michael Young is a former Professor of Politics and Public Affairs at Penn State University and Managing Partner at Michael Young Strategic Research. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any institution or organization with which they are affiliated. This article may be used in whole or part only with appropriate attribution. Copyright © 2006 Terry Madonna and Michael Young.