GOP Stuck in ACA Replacement “Plan Trap” as Magic Bullet Solution Hides in Plain Sight

MagicBullet

Best Plan is NO Plan

Whether by reaction to charges from Obamacare supporters on the Left, or by their own lack of faith in freedom over planning, Republicans, not one of whom voted for the Affordable Care Act, along with conservative allied groups, think tanks, or prominent individuals, are, by last count, now promoting close to a dozen different concepts of how to replace one version of federal government planning with another less abrasive one.  Despite many replacement proposals, Republicans in congress seem unable to coalesce around any one approach, still leaving the impression they have none.

Some of the proposals are introduced bills. Others are wish lists of items to be in bills.  All have myriad suggestions that either move money around by extending tax deductions or refundable credits, allow formation of small business associations, require price transparency, reform medical malpractice, enhance health savings accounts, shuffle money to states for high risk pools, or various changes to Medicare and Medicaid, among others.

Far away the most popular inclusion is selling health insurance across state lines, itself a dangerous (and here) invitation to Federal micromanagement under the twisted  modern interpretation of the Commerce clause.

Such is the pressure and propensity for government to “do something” that bears on both sides of the political spectrum.  This is the plan trap.

Rarely is there a peep from anyone suggesting that no plan is the proper path, that simple policies to promote, restore, and support the proper functioning of the free market, usually by removing government intrusion rather than supplanting it, should be the goal.  One lone voice, Association of American Physicians and Surgeons past-president Dr Alieta Eck, GOP candidate for the 12th Congressional district from New Jersey, wrote an article defending freedom over planning in January 2014.  She opens:

We constantly are told that “while ObamaCare might not be perfect, the right has not come up with a better plan.” Is it possible that we do not need a “plan” at all?

Think about it. Has the federal government set up a food plan for all? A housing plan? Is the Secretary of Whatever empowered to decide what and when we eat? What kind of house each of us lives in? Of course not. We work, we plan and we buy what we need, saving up for the big-ticket items. Government does not control us, nor should it.

Yet one element contained in a few of the plans and wish lists can be the basis for a market revolution.  Unfortunately, no one seems to have grasped the power of its singular focus.  Had Dr Ben Carson simply stopped at Step 1 of his still in progress 5 step plan he would be almost completely there.

Relatively simple modification, enhancement, and expansion of tax policy surrounding HSAs, done right, has the power to be a true game changer by its potential to encourage employers to drop their long standing provision of health insurance in favor of a defined contribution approach.  It is the magic bullet.  It hides in plain sight, and here is how to get there:

Please follow these simple policy modifications:

1) Decouple HSAs from the requirement to be attached to any insurance policy.  While HSAs could still be attached to insurance (suitable for many), anyone should be allowed (and perhaps even required) to have an HSA.  Monies in HSAs receive rare triple tax advantage and protect others from the owner’s potential inability to pay for needed medical services.

2) Allow the purchase of health insurance or medical services through an HSA.  This establishes favored equal tax treatment without the need for separate legislation.

3) Greatly expand contribution limits to allow #2 to happen.  The HSA can be the tax advantaged conduit for all medically related purchases allowed under it.

4) Allow employers to contribute pre tax to an employee’s private HSA.  This is the crucial trigger for a spontaneous move of employers away from policy provision to defined contribution.  Resulting individual ownership solves portability and suitability issues for those who choose to buy health insurance in the open market through their HSA.  Employers could offer direct contributions or matches to employee HSAs.  Contributions from several employers could be combined, as well as HSA assets among family members’ accounts to purchase one insurance contract if desired.

5) Establish a permanent mechanism whereby Americans can look to each other rather than government for assistance by allowing gifting from one HSA to another both within and beyond family connections.  This is similar to the medical sharing ministry concept without the structure of membership or formal organization.  Any groups could pledge to come to the assistance of each other as needed. Such transfers could keep some people away from Medicaid, where access problems are well known or safely allow lower cost policies with higher deductible amounts.

6) For those in need fund a portion of all government assistance transfer payments into personal HSAs to be used ahead of Medicaid.  The power and influence of ownership is stronger than artificially concocted restrictions on use.  Funds from HSA extend dignity of choice and equal access until exhausted

Nothing more at the federal level may be necessary.  States would have to do their part by discovering their proper constrained regulatory role, requiring sufficient reserves to pay claims and enforcing rather than defining terms of health insurance contracts buyers and sellers find right for them.  All this, of course, requires and follows total Obamacare repeal.

While the benefits of defined contribution in a free market (not to escape or game Obamacare) have been recognized (tops list in American Doctors for Truth Plan) and discussed, no one has suggested a good way to transition. Less attention has been paid to the damage done by employer provision of health insurance, which itself was propelled by government tinkering with wage controls in World War II.

Frank Chodorov, in his 1959 book The Rise and Fall of Society, provides clues to understand why employer provision has been the enabling force of most of our problems.  He argues that a natural law of human behavior leads men to seek the highest degree of satisfactions with the least expense of labor to thereby pursue limitless desires, in order to obtain even greater gratifications.  This leads to efficiencies of effort and specialization of tasks via cooperation with others in forming societies.

Unfortunately this natural inclination also presents a weakness to seek something for nothing.  Such is the case when the employer provision of health insurance disconnects the employee from its cost.  As soon as the employee disassociates health insurance with being a part of his employer’s total cost of his employment, rather than realizing he is really giving his employer permission to spend his money in ways that may be against his best interest, he’s in trouble.  He will request or even demand more, without consideration of alternatives that would be likely choices if he was paying directly.

This then is the source of a gradual movement away from direct payment, even for that normally within the ability to easily afford otherwise, to prepayment schemes that defy the normal purpose and function of insurance to protect assets from expenses that are beyond the ability to pay.

This excess third party payment itself bolsters the illusion of getting “covered” services for free or almost free, even as the premium includes the incentivized overuse of others when not getting one’s own.  It is through these false satisfactions that we accept in healthcare what we don’t see anywhere else in our economy, a situation where almost every transaction involves, at least in part, someone else’s money, driving overuse from both the consumer and provider side along with the associated administrative costs to accomplish it.

It’s not hard to imagine how employer provision of car insurance over time would look just as ridiculous.  Oil changes would require a small copay and many other services would be “covered”.  The brake lobby would have used safety as an excuse to convince legislators to require brake “coverage” in every policy issued, all as employees, under the illusion of something for nothing, would keep asking and demanding more “generous coverage” from employers.

On the other hand, employees reconnected to cost through defined contribution, sparked by simple modification of tax policy related to HSAs, in states that likewise get government out of the way to allow multiple market choices, will make wise decisions that fit their specific financial needs.  The abuses of excess third party payment will naturally end and the free market magic bullet solution some say cannot exist will be a reality.  No one thing can accomplish so much by doing so little.

Note: This article shared to Watchdogwire-Pennsylvania

When Mayday Brought Capitalism to the Masses

Capitalism

may 1, 1975

Today is May Day (May 1) 2014.  A search of this holiday that has taken on many meanings will most likely lead to two stories other than the most recent one that brought capitalism to the masses 39 years ago on May 1, 1975.

Story one is May Day’s ancient origin as a pagan festival also known as Beltane, held to celebrate the return of spring in the northern hemisphere, complete with the familiar May Pole, celebrated in many cultures to this day.

More recently, in 19th century America, union and anarchist protests for the 8 hour workday, culminated in violence at a May 1886 union rally outside the McCormack plant at Haymarket Square in Chicago, followed by the trial and executions of several accused. This event led to May Day’s celebration, mostly outside America, as International Workers Day.  In many industrialized countries May 1st is their Labor Day.  Socialists, anarchists and unions especially identify with this version of May Day.

Less familiar but celebrated in financial and investment circles, is the event of May 1, 1975.  This Mayday (most common spelling) was an SEC order  that deregulated fixed commissions on stock purchases that had endured for almost 183 years.  Rather than being driven by small investors, pressure to deregulate had been building through the 1950s and 1960s as large institutions and pension funds began realizing equities held over long periods of time produced superior results to other investments.  They were getting no breaks on larger volume purchases through traditional channels, but were discovering loopholes, and were big enough to bring political pressure for change.  An excellent May 1, 2010 article at ThinkAdvisor.com tells the story.

Following Mayday 1975, large traders could negotiate hefty discounts.  Discount retail brokerages sprung up to serve ordinary investors, but changes came slowly at first.  I can remember into the early 1980s, selling 135 shares of a low cost stock through a discount firm.  The transaction was handled as two separate trades, one for the 100 share “round lot” trade and another for the 35 share “odd lot” trade, along with separate $35 commissions for each.  Clearly liberation for the small investor had not yet fully arrived, except by sticking to a growing number of no load mutual funds that allowed direct purchase from the fund company without a commission, but Mayday 1975 had set the stage for what was to come.

A year later in 1976 Vanguard introduced the first low cost passively traded index mutual fund based on the S&P 500 index of large capitalized American stocks, intended for the individual investor.  This allowed “buying the market” and avoiding the expenses of trading in usually unsuccessful (because of the cost) attempts to outperform it.  Anyone could now guarantee capturing the generous returns equities have been shown to make available when held over long periods of time, less very low management expenses.  Success led to more index funds covering other segments of the market being made available.

Today any number of shares can be bought or sold for one low commission under $10 through a variety of online trading companies, without ever talking to a human.  This was made possible as online trading took off in the late 1990s and intense competition and efficiencies and availability of the internet came to benefit the consumer as never before.

Diversification across any number of asset classes is today easily achieved through very low expense ratio exchange traded index funds, avoiding the risk associated with individual stocks or expenses of trading.  Participation in the fruits of capitalism has never been cheaper or more accessible for virtually anyone.

Those who complain of big profits of large corporations only need to step up, themselves becoming owners, at very low expense, to join in the process of voluntary shared ownership that is capitalism, making the fruits of its success finally available to both them and the masses.  That truly is something to celebrate.  Happy Mayday (1975 version) to all!

Note: This article shared to WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania

 

 

 

On Being an Independent Citizen Lobbyist – Lessons and Advice

 

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Before retirement I was politically interested but not so much politically involved with the exception of the healthcare issue, for which I had a fascination going back to Hillarycare days of 1993-94, when I pounded out letters to members of congress and various organizations on a manual typewriter and sent them snail mail, arguing for medical savings accounts and less third party payment.

Of course, that issue died down for a long time.  By coincidence, I retired at the end of 2008, between President Obama’s election and his inauguration.  My old interest was quickly rekindled as I followed the events leading up to what we today call Obamacare in March 2010.  I began writing on the subject again, offering innovative solutions that since have evolved, so that even I don’t support many of those early ideas.

The push to citizen lobbyist came in early 2011 when I showed state Senator Folmer a piece I had written at a class on the Constitution he was teaching.  Despite trying unsuccessfully to get the ear of anyone, for which I thought were some good ideas, Senator Folmer demanded that I come to his office to meet with him!  Wow!

I made the appointment.  Then I felt the pressure.  I dug and dug more and printed what I found.  I showed up at his office with the two pages that had sparked his interest plus 50 pages of “supporting documentation”.  We met for almost two hours.  He and his staff were impressed with my preparation and I was on my way.  When I expressed that I wanted to just get some things done so I could go back to being retired, they suggested that my involvement would linger and move to other issues.  They were right.

Without any formal training I threw myself into the game.  Now three years later, I know almost every nook and cranny of the Pennsylvania state capitol.  Many legislators and even more staff know me and generally they respect that I bring issues of substance, with well reasoned arguments, for or against topics on which they may agree or not.  I shop ideas, and that’s important.

When I disagree I always try to have alternate suggestions.  Learning to disagree amicably is part of the way it works.  Getting personal, playing gotcha, or attempting to embarrass to their face or behing their back, is picked up quickly and results in less access and opportunity to persuade.  From my experience I can now offer a few tips.

First and foremost do your homework.  Know as much about all sides of an issue as possible.  This is how to establish credibility.  Know which representatives are involved with which issues, to which committees bills have been assigned, and who sits on and chairs those committees.

Consider building email lists to feed ideas on legislation simultaneously to all members of a committee  so they may talk amongst themselves.  I’ve done this locally with my school board.

Ask for personal meetings with legislators and staff, and when offered, be respectful of their time and thank them profusely.  Play to their egos.

Understand politics attracts certain types of individuals.  One occasion I’ll never forget is when visiting with a staff person I had gotten to like, the phone rang.  Since this was a mostly personal visit, I told the staffer to take the call, that I could wait.  While waiting he said twice to the person on the other end of the conversation, “No. You don’t understand.  Most of the people in here have a pathological need to be loved.”  That sunk in deep.  I realized how important it is to exploit that fundamental truth!  Always keep that one in mind.

Having self written printed material is good.  I like to hand deliver copies of articles I’ve published to my blog or Watchdog Wire.  It’s important for them to know what you’re giving them is also public and that you may write about them…that need to be loved.  Engage them on Twitter and Facebook.  Here again you are not behind closed doors.

Make phone calls to their offices.  Send them emails.  Stay in touch.  Offer links to stories that may help them better understand issues.  Just be aware that no matter the form of communication, it always carries most weight coming from a constituent.  Knowing this, it sometimes may be most beneficial motivating a legislator’s constituents to work for you.  Business groups or grassroots organizations in their district can be good targets.  Explain the importance of their effort and how they can uniquely make a difference, especially when their representative holds the keys to moving a bill along.

On the constituent issue, when contacting those who don’t directly represent you by your vote, be upfront.  Say you are not a constituent but remind them that in their capacity as chairperson or member of a committee where legislation resides they do represent you and all citizens of the state.

It can often be very difficult to get private sit-down meetings with representatives outside your own district, but there is one important trick that often works.  Attend committee meetings.  Usually in the time just before the meeting commences, and again after it adjourns, opportunity presents itself to go one on one.  Introduce yourself.  Share a handout.  At one meeting I attended the chair gave me permission to place a handout at each legislator’s seat prior to the start of the meeting.  It is sometimes these introductions that can lead to a willingness to meet more formally.  Never hesitate to ask.  The most they can say is no.

Another important step is attending town hall meetings.  If you have a good relationship with your elected representative and visit or contact often (and you should), don’t try to monopolize too much time.  Learn what’s on the mind of your neighbors, unless its something you want to make the representative address publically.  Don’t hesitate to attend town hall meetings outside your district, but admit your status and defer to constituents in the Q & A.  Showing this respect will bring you yours.

Don’t try to nail elected officials to the wall in embarrassing ways with trick or trap questions.  Rather than condemn them outright for taking tens of thousands from a union other special moneyed interest, ask them to tell you, and everyone, how they will avoid being influenced by the expectations attached to the donation, in keeping first the needs of those they represent.  That they know you’re aware who their donors are and that you’re watching is what counts.

One last thing is don’t despair.  Surprises are possible.  One idea I shopped, based on exciting legislation in the New Jersey Senate to reward physicians who volunteer time in free clinics, was introduced in the Pennsylvania House by a representative outside my district.  This truly proves the power of one.

While these tips have been centered on my experience at the state level and I have the advantage of living near the Pennsylvania Capitol, the same basics apply at the federal level on down to local counties, boroughs, townships and school districts.  Pick issues of interest, knowing no one can be on top of everything.  Throw yourself into it, and have fun too!

 

 

Final Thoughts on an Historic but Flawed PA Special Election

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Pennsylvania’s March 18th special election to fill the 28th district senate seat vacated by the resignation of Senator Mike Waugh only lacked normalcy.  Everything about it was wrapped in controversy, suspicion, confusion, arrogance, and incompetence, ultimately producing a profoundly surprising historic outcome, as Tea Party outsider and Republican unnominated, Scott Wagner, won an unprecedented write-in victory helped, in no small way, by public disgust over vicious attack ads directed at him by the GOP establishment.  Added to this was the possibility, due to improper selection of eligible precincts, the election could be contested as invalid, leaving uncertainty and chaos in its wake.

Avoiding possible chaos, hearing no challenges, Scott Wagner will be sworn in Wednesday April 2, as the first ever Pennsylvania legislator elected by write-in.  Not only that, his margin of victory was so huge that the York County GOP Committee-picked nominee, sitting House member Rep Ron Miller, subsequently dropped out of the May 20 primary, which will select candidates for a new full state Senate term beginning 2015, effectively ending his 16 year career in the legislature.

The issue of the election’s validity was raised due to its being held in a time of redistricting transition, and the revelation that another special election for a vacant state House seat had been held only seven weeks prior, on January 28th, set up using existing boundaries, whereas the March 18th Senate election was set up using the adopted, but yet to take effect, new district boundaries, each to fill vacant terms expiring November 30, 2014.

This suggested nearly 50,000 citizens were being disenfranchised, as another nearly 36.000 had been improperly enfranchised, becoming a daily topic of discussion by local talk show host Gary Sutton on WSBA radio.  Only the size of Wagner’s margin of victory, itself driven by public reaction against the vile attack ads from his own party, rendered validity moot, as his nearly doubling the vote totals of each of his two opponents left no room for argument that, even had the election been set up properly, the outcome could possibly have been different.

Questions remain as to suspicions of collusion raised by Senator Waugh’s resignation, his constitutionally questionable appointment as executive director of the Farm Show Expo, run by a Bureau of the Department of Agriculture, by Governor Corbett, and Lt Governor Cawley’s issuance of the writ for the special election, all within hours.

The smell and speculation of conspiracy was aided by Waugh’s August 9, 2013 announcement he would not seek reelection, Scott Wagner’s announcement of intent to run shortly after, and known differences between Wagner and GOP party insiders.  Was this a plot to keep Wagner out?

Setting the special election March 18th with a primary election only 9 weeks ahead added more fuel to the fire, as this would result in additional cost to the taxpayer estimated to exceed $200,000 as opposed to holding the special election in conjunction with the May 20 primary.  This brought speculation also that, because there is no primary for a special election, and the county party committees would select the nominees, outsider Scott Wagner would have to face an incumbent in the May primary, to lessen his chance of success there.

With some in the public from both parties upset over an unnecessary $200,000+ expense, the York County GOP committee unwittingly, by selecting any sitting house member at the time, did something that could have doubled the expense, had their chosen nominee won.  Had Rep Ron Miller won the election, yet another special election to fill his vacant seat would not have been an option, in spite of early indications from local GOP officials that it would.

The election code is clear in stating that, on the occurrence of a vacancy, the presiding officer shall within 10 days issue a writ for a special election at least 60 days forward, unless the vacancy occurs within 7 months before the expiration of a term, in which situation there is no special unless the presiding officer makes the case for one.  Waiting for the May 20 primary, therefore also, would have ended the ugly possibility of $400,000+ in two special elections.

It is worth noting here that some also complained about the special election candidate nomination process, being hand picked by the county committees.  Often they were the same people also upset by the $200,000 extra expense, by scheduling the election apart from a primary only 7 weeks hence.  Here, though, is where it cannot be both ways.  Either accept the committee selection process as prescribed in the code, or accept imposition of an added expense of holding a primary for the special.  Those are the choices.

As a final thought on the boundaries used for the 28th district senate special election being incorrect, as radio show host Sutton pressed the validity issue, he reported his repeated attempts to obtain answers of clarity from the Lt Governor’s office, the Department of State, and the local Board of Elections all resulted in unreturned calls, not what would be expected of those capable of and anxious to defend their actions.

Then also, there is one curious post election observation.  Sometime between the election and Saturday March 22, all the “Find My Legislator” information at the General Assembly website was changed to the new district boundaries for Senators but not members of the House. In my case, where Newberry Twp, York County will be moving from Senator Teplitz-15th to Senator Folmer-48th the website now tells me Senator Folmer is my Senator presently.  Questioning Senator Teplitz, who periodically has staff available in the Newberry Twp building, he confirmed that nothing has changed.  Until the end of November his staff will still be there the 1st and 3rd Thursdays of every month as always.  So it seems a mistake, luckily complimented by a decisive outcome aided by arrogance in political advertising, that saved a potential challenge of an election, is now being smoothed over with a lie.  Oh, my!

While the historic but flawed Senate 28th special election of 2014 suggests clarification of the code to guide in times of redistricting transition in the future, the next time it can happen is beyond current sight.  With no expectation of political gain by addressing it now, it is likely the same issues of confusion will arise again, when memory of this experience will long have been forgotten.

Note: This article shared to WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania 4/3/14

 

Further Evidence Brings Clarity – Shows PA Senate 28th Special Election Invalid

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Significant new discoveries and research should finally bring clarity to the confusion surrounding the scheduled March 18 special election in York County to fill the unexpired term of Senator Mike Waugh in the 28th district.  Allegations of significant disenfranchisement of some and improper enfranchisement of others become more certain by examination of new evidence, making any reasonable defense of this election’s validity impossible.

The story of probable disenfranchisement first broke with an article published both at the blog FreeMktMonkey.com and WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania on March 3.  While the first article got some notice and sparked some interest, it was a subsequent follow-up article published March 9, that provoked daily discussion and debate on the Gary Sutton Show, a local call-in talk radio format airing 9am-Noon Monday through Friday on York based WSBA 910.

At my suggestion, following a call to their newsroom, the York Dispatch published their own article on March 13.  Unfortunately the York Dispatch article only heightened the confusion, which further fueled talk show interest and prompted my search and discovery of additional evidence that will shortly make the issue more clear.

Further confusion injected by the York Dispatch article was not the fault of its writer, Christina Kauffman, in that she had no reason to distrust her sources.  They were the experts, assumed to know what they were talking about.  Yet digging deeper suggests her sources were presenting incorrect assumptions rather than facts.

Likewise, Nikki Suchanic, director of York County Department of Elections and Voter Registration, also cited in the York Dispatch article gets her information from the Pennsylvania Department of State, which would be the source of any confusion on her part.  This leaves  Ron Ruman, press secretary for the Department of State, also cited in the article, as the ultimate source of heightened disinformation and confusion.

It is Mr Ruman who was quoted as saying, “…technically the new maps take effect when they are approved.”  Also attributed to Mr Ruman was that “the old representatives and senators will continue to help their former constituents until November 30, when the session ends (required by the Constitution in even numbered years, as new terms begin Dec 1, even though the newly elected are not sworn in until the first Tuesday in January)”.  Ruman asserts that citizens who will move into new districts immediately became “former constituents” of their current elected representatives as of the May 8, 2013 Supreme Court approval of new redistricting boundaries, on which this election is being based.  Why should we doubt the “expert”?

Enter the evidence: First, in the just referenced article on the court approval, upholding the new redistricting plan, it was ordered “…to be used for the next round of legislative elections in 2014″.  There was no suggestion of immediate implementation as to representation.

Then this important clue: A search found there had been another special election subsequent to the May 2013 delayed redistricting approval.

On September 6, 2013, well after the court’s action, 78th House District Representative Dick Hess died in his 14th term.  Following the election code, presiding officer, Speaker of the House, Sam Smith, issued a writ for a special election within the required 10 days, on September 16, 2013.  A special election to fill the vacant house seat was scheduled and held on January 28, 2014.  Jesse Topper, the Republican candidate selected by committee members from the counties involved won the election, was sworn in Feb 10, and now represents the 78th district in the house until the end of Rep Hess’s unexpired term ending this year.

Significantly, Topper’s January 28 special election presented no enfranchisement issues, currently contributing so much confusion and consternation in the Senate 28th District, because it was conducted on the existing (old) district boundaries!  Articles at the time reported this fact, also confirmed by pulling up election results from Huntingdon County.  The six precincts reported in the vote will all be leaving the 78th to the 81st in the new session to be decided in the May primary and November general elections.

So we have two special elections.  One was set up one way, the other, a different way.  Both cannot be right.  Even in the absence of any specific direction in the election code, which may be the case, the basic concept of tying voting to voters actually represented and commonsense should prevail.

Another piece of guiding evidence exists.  Whether it’s the newly elected Jesse Topper in the 78th House District, or any other current member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, a visit to members’ pages on the General Assembly website still shows only the old district maps as the areas they represent.

Press Secretary Ron Ruman’s confusion appears to be in when the newly approved district boundaries apply.  It makes sense, and evidence supports, that upon official acceptance redistricting maps immediately define future district boundaries to be filled in the next round of primary and general elections, not special elections to fill existing terms, where the area of representation has not yet changed.

At this point, clarity should be restored with one exception, what voting precincts to include if the March 18 senate special election were for a senate term expiring 2016 rather than 2014 (half of them do), as discussed in an update to my March 10 article.  That is a situation unique solely to state senate elections and redistricting, since federal senators always represent the entire state and both the state and federal house are on the same two year cycle.  As such, it also should be addressed in needed clarification to our state election code.

A call Thursday to Nikki Suchanic, confirmed the writ issued by Lt Governor Jim Cawley, detailed the precincts to be included in Tuesday’s special election and that her job is to follow the writ.

A call to the Department of State directed me to media contact Matthew Keillor’s voice mail, who never returned my call.

A Friday afternoon call to Lt Governor Cawley’s office, relating my findings was acknowledged by contact Todd Kowalski as raising very good points worthy of legal review.  Mr Kowalski took my email address, but I’ve heard nothing back as of this time.

As a final note, with evidence so strongly suggesting an improperly configured special election March 18th, those feeling disenfranchised may want to cast a provisional ballot at the nearest open polling location.  For complete instructions follow this link and open the tab “Provisional Voting”.

Note: This article shared to WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania

Confusion Reigns in PA on Redistricting, Representation, and a Special Election

KeystoneCops

Last Monday I published an article about the controversial March 18 special election called by Lt Governor Jim Cawley to fill the remaining term of 28th District Senator Mike Waugh, who resigned abruptly on January 13 to take an itself controversial job running the Pennsylvania Farm Show and Expo.  I recapped events surrounding the many twists and turns of a growing drama that now features intense infighting on the Republican side, pitting the party favorite and county committee selected candidate, Representative Ron Miller, against upstart businessman Scott Wagner, who decided to persue a write-in campaign.

While many aspects of this story deserve detailed analysis, I raised an issue no one else seemed focused upon, the unintentional disenfranchisement and improper enfranchisement of tens of thousands of citizens, by an oversight in the Pennsylvania election code that ignores special elections in a year of redistricting transition.  In my article and then in a subsequent letter to the editor of the York Daily Record, I raised the possibility the special election could not be defended as valid and, if successfully challenged, could result in loss to taxpayers of both the estimated $200,000 to conduct it, plus costs of litigation to defend it.

Over the past week, using Twitter, Facebook, email, and phone calls, I promoted awareness of my article in hopes that the special problems I had identified could become part of the wider discussion.  I sent links to elected officials responsible for calling the election, candidates involved in the election, various news organizations, and those who had publicly weighed in with their comments and opinions.

Friday morning I received a twitter response from one I had informed that gave me momentary pause.  Representative Seth Grove, in no way behind calling the election or selecting the Republican candidate, but someone with whom I exchange views, sent me a tweet in response to a tweet I had sent him, linking my letter to the editor and suggesting that “We have a problem”.

Rep Grove responded that there is no problem because “[the] Senate is operating that [as if] redistricting was [in] effect on 12/1/2013″.  I mentioned “momentary pause” due to every writer’s fear that something was overlooked, causing erroneous conclusions based on faulty information or assumptions, leading to embarrassment and retractions.  Fortunately I had the remembrance of other encounters to bolster my assertions, and related them to Rep Grove.

Since I’m myself in an area of change by redistricting, moving from representation by Senator Teplitz to that of Senator Folmer, I had questioned Senator Teplitz about my confusion as to when the change would become effective.  He confirmed to me that that would not happen until the end of 2014 and he would continue to represent me until that time.

Also the York County Republican Committee, as referenced in my original article, stated their awareness of a problem, stemming from an oversight in the election code, that would cause a disconnect in who was allowed (or denied) the vote verses the areas they represent, for the balance of the unexpired term to be decided by the special election.

Yet there were and remain signs of confusion.  Sometime prior to Senator Waugh’s resignation, while walking through the halls of the state capitol, seeing staff employees through the glass, and quite ironically, I poked my head into Senator Waugh’s office, and asked what they knew of the change in representation by redistricting.  Their opinion was, like that of Senator Teplitz, that representation would not change until the end of 2014, but they related a story of confusion.  They told me how, in an area within Senator Corman’s district that will be moving to that of Senator Teplitz, Corman’s staff was already sending constituents to Senator Teplitz, who was then referring them back to Senator Corman, leaving constituents feeling unrepresented in redistricting limbo. [SEE UPDATE]

As a further test of my understanding or lack thereof, on Friday, March 7, I called the district office of Senator Lloyd Smucker, since he has represented areas of York County that will be moving into the newly defined 28th district, those areas I contend will be improperly enfranchised in the special election, allowing citizens to vote for someone who will not represent them for the duration of Waugh’s unexpired term that ends at the end of 2014.

I asked Senator Smucker’s staff simply if, in their opinion, they still represent those areas of York County that will be leaving his district.  They said they think they do but are unsure and trying to get answers.  They indicated they’ve contacted the Department of State and still aren’t certain so their policy has been to serve anyone who calls their office.  So it seems one thing is quite clear.  Confusion reigns!

Update March 10:

Two items: First, Senator Teplitz contacted me to deny that his office ever left any citizens in redistricting limbo by sending them back to Senator Corman’s office.  On that, I thank Senator Teplitz for his feedback, for reading my article, and take him at his word.

Second, in the spirit of Thomas Sowell who, in Applied Economics, cautions against not going beyond stage one thinking, that there’s danger in assuming one ever knows enough, I’ve realized my conclusions are only on firm ground to a point, beyond which things become murky.

I remain confident in my assessment of the current Senate 28th district special election as to disenfranchisement or improper enfranchisement by allowing voting along new district lines to fill a vacancy based on the old district lines.  This holds true because the unfilled term expires at the end of 2014 and would apply to any house vacancy, since they all expire at the end of 2014.

For any Senate seat expiring 2016, however, and half of them do, the situation is completely different.  In this case, it could be argued, that areas leaving the district at the end of 2014 deserve the vote for whomever will represent them until that time.  It also could be argued that those newly entering the district at the end of 2014 deserve the vote for whomever will represent them in 2015 and 2016.  In this situation should both the old and new areas (relative to the existing district) be allowed to vote in a special election?

The level of complication almost argues for simply accepting the status quo as a system that’s not perfect.  Yet, the current situation with the Senate 28th, or any like it, is akin to taking 15% of PA citizens, telling them they won’t have a vote for our next governor, so we can allow an equal number of NY citizens to vote for a governor who will never represent them one day!  I don’t see a difference and can’t imagine anyone who would argue for such an absurdity as that!

Note: This article shared to WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania 3/10/14

PA Senate 28th District Special Election / Special Problem – $200k Thrown Away?

Pa Redistricting Website Interactive District Map Green=Old Red=New

Pa Redistricting Website Interactive District Map Green=Old Red=New

The saga of a suspiciously pre-scripted March 18 special election to fill the term of a vacated senate seat in Pennsylvania’s 28th district in York County continues.  Heretofore unreported special circumstances that could only happen in a redistricting year add even more confusion, as unintended consequences disenfranchise tens of thousands of citizens, raising serious questions of the election’s validity, that may provoke challenges resulting in its becoming a $200,000 total waste to taxpayers.

To recap the story, on August 12, 2013 it was reported that Senator Mike Waugh announced he would not seek reelection to another term in 2014.  The next month businessman founder of Penn Waste Inc., Scott Wagner, announced his intention to run.  By January 2, 2014, when the York Daily Record reported the Wagner campaign had already raised $267,730 in contributions, and still over a month and a half away from February 18, when candidates could begin circulating petitions to appear on the May 20 primary ballot, Wagner remained the lone candidate to announce his intentions to enter the race.

Then came January 13, the day of surprises and intrigue.  In what could only have been an orchestrated series of events, Senator Waugh announced his immediate resignation to take a job as executive director of the Farm Show and Expo Center, having been appointed by Governor Tom Corbett.  Later the same day Lt. Governor Jim Cawley issued a writ for a special election to be held on March 18 to fill the remainder of Waugh’s term.  Scott Wagner said he would seek the Republican Committee nomination to run in the special election and indicated he thought it would be based on the old district boundaries due to be replaced by court delayed redistricting as the 2014 primary and general elections would use the new district boundaries for the first time.  That would make sense, but as will be explained soon, he was wrong.

From there everything changed quickly as Representative Ron Miller and two others entered the quest for the GOP slot in the special election.  Controversy swirled on everything from the constitutionality of Waugh’s Farm Show appointment by Corbett, to the necessity of holding a special election apart from the primary election only 9 weeks later at an estimated $200,000 cost, to whether the whole series of events was a plot to stymie the chances of Scott Wagner because of his known differences with the party leadership.

On January 18 Scott Wagner withdrew his consideration for the special election and on January 23 Rep Ron Miller was selected to represent the GOP in the special election.  Wagner never surrendered his quest for a state senate term of his own, still intending to enter and win the primary and move on to the general election.  Subsequently, on claimed urging of supporters, Scott Wagner announced on February 17, he was renewing his effort to win the March 18 special election as a write-in candidate.

In a campaign email sent out February 25, the Wagner campaign provided information on the write-in process and the location of polling places.  Apart from his earlier beliefs, Wagner’s email indicated the special election would be based on the new district lines, not the old ones.  This raised obvious questions and concerns.

Either the winner of the special election would represent the area defined by the new district map, leaving some citizens with no representation and others with double representation, or the winner would still represent the old district, meaning that the disconnect would be in who was allowed (or denied) the vote.

A call to the York County Republican Committee office on February 26 confirmed it was the latter.  The problem was recognized at the local level.  It was explained as an oversight in the election code that failed to account for special elections in a year of redistricting transition.  The code required all elections after the beginning of the year to use the new district lines.

Perhaps it was assumed that the voter disconnect would be of little consequence since the vast majority of the district would be left unchanged.  A closer look paints the truth of the situation.  The results are rather stunning.

Based on the 2010 census Pennsylvania’s population was 12.7 million.  Each of the state’s 50 senate districts, on average, must represent about 254,000 citizens.  Identifying those areas that either entered the 28th district or were removed from it by redistricting and looking up census data for each reveals an affected population of 85,541 or 33.7%, fully one third of the total for an average senate district in Pennsylvania.

More specific, anyone living in York County Townships East Manchester, Jackson, Penn, or Boroughs Hanover, Manchester, Mount Wolf or Yoe, with a combined population of 49,815 (19.6% of an average senate district), since they were part of the old district but not the new, will be denied voting for whomever replaces Waugh in representing them.  They will be disenfranchised.  No voting machines or polling places will be available.

On the other hand, anyone living in York County Townships Chanceford, Heidelberg, Hellam, Lower Chanceford, Lower Windsor, Paradise, or Boroughs East Prospect, Hellam, Wrightsville, or Yorkana, with a combined population 35,726 (14.1% of an average senate district), since they were not part of the old district but are in the new one, will be allowed to vote for someone not representing them for the balance of the unexpired term.  Voting machines and polling places will be open where they live.

There simply can be no way to defend the validity of such an election.  The obvious remedy would have been to legislatively change the election code prior to announcing a special election in order to fix the flaw.  Scheduling the special election on the primary election day would not have corrected this problem, and perhaps would have only added confusion, even as it would have eliminated the approximate $200k extra expense.

A call to the Department of State on February 28th was met with a “not our problem” answer, that the senate, specifically the Lt Governor, called the special election, and they were just following instructions. They suggested those denied their vote could cast a provisional ballot outside their precinct but that the vote would be later rejected if not deemed cast by a qualified elector.  In this case who knows what that means?  Meanwhile what about those being allowed to vote improperly?  Would those votes be stricken?

Calls were also placed to the offices of President Pro Tempore, Senator Scarnati and Senate Majority Leader, Senator Pileggi.  In the event they may claim to be unaware of the problem, they can’t say so now.  A call to Lt Governor Cawley’s office resulted in a message for Mr Todd Kowlaski, who never returned the call.

Note: This article shared to WatchdogWire-PA