Friday, July 6, 2012

Rhetoric v. Reality

As I always suspected, Pennsylvania Republican leaders like Mike Turzai say one thing, but really mean another. (Remember his swearing in speech when he waxed philosophical about maintaining decorum in the state House that is respectful, professional, and civil,” but whenever things aren’t going his way he exercises a historically rarely-used, now apparently commonplace, parliamentary procedure to shut off debate).

As luck would have it that was just the preview of the state House GOP’s strategy built on rhetoric rather than reality.

Example #1: Health Care Facilities Act of 2011

Championed by the Majority Leader himself, the Health Care Facilities Act of 2011 largely replicated language from a House bill. Lauded by sponsors and supporters as “…aimed at providing better care for people who may go to an abortion clinic…,” and specifically to prevent another Gosnell tragedy (which incidentally could have been avoided if existing regulation had been adhered to), we found out at a Republican State Committee meeting in June that in reality it is a “pro-life” bill.

In his candid (and recorded) address to party faithful, Rep. Turzai mentioned that this bill, once touted as a way to assure women are “being treated by trained personnel in a safe and sanitary environment,” was actually intended to advance the pro-life agenda.

When rattling off a list of GOP accomplishments (in their opinion), Turzai noted, “first pro-life legislation - abortion facility regulations - in 22 years, done.”

However this comment was largely overshadowed by what Mr. Turzai said next… but I’m getting ahead of myself

Example #2: Voter ID

Voter ID, decried by many as an unnecessary, big-government tactic to keep certain eligible voters home on Election Day, was flaunted by others as …an important piece of legislation; it is also a simple, straightforward piece of legislation,” and aimed at securing the integrity of “one person, one vote.

Supporters of the bill tastelessly compared the action of showing a photo ID to vote, to “When I [Turzai] go to the gym…I have to present a photo ID.” But as someone pointed out to me once: no one ever died for Mike Turzai’s right to take a Zumba class.

In the months following the measure’s passage, the PA Dept of State maintained that it was more than equipped to provide the small minority of people they claimed didn’t have a qualifying ID, and it would be easy for those without one, to get one.

We’ve all heard the actual statistics regarding Voter ID, including the people most likely to be disenfranchised according to the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law (spoiler alert: they don’t traditionally vote Republican).

But it turns out the number of registered Pennsylvania voters disenfranchised under the new law was nowhere near the number DoS had been speculating (side note: DoS dropped that tidbit after the budget passed and the day preceding a major holiday). Turns out 758,000+ registered voters in PA don’t have photo identification cards from PennDOT. That is over 9% of the state’s registered voters -- a whopping 18% of Philadelphia’s voters (not the 1% the DoS Secretary claimed).

However, along with urban counties like Philly and Allegheny, the others making up the highest percentage of disenfranchised include: Cameron, Centre, Cumberland, Delaware, Lackawanna, Lawrence, Montour and Union (all between 10% and 12% disenfranchised).

I guess the national conservative bosses who crafted this legislation figured PA could sacrifice a few GOP stronghold counties if it meant they block nearly 1 in every 5 voters in Philadelphia.

Example #3: Welcome back PayDay Lenders

Putting a little twist on the old phrase “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” the GOP members of the PA House recently decided rather than going through all the trouble of enforcing a law already on the books, we ought to just legalize whatever it is we don’t feel like enforcing.

The payday lending industry, otherwise referred to as the moneychangers in the temple during Christ's time, was kicked out of PA in 2005, and is nearing its way back at the invitation of the House Urban Affairs chairman.

In a column, the bill’s sponsor calls payday lending “potentially dangerous,” and said, “abusive collection practices that encourage borrowers to rollover debt into growing unpaid balances and outright fraud are more common than one might realize,” so naturally he drew the conclusion that we should legalize said “fraud”.

This theory begs 2 questions, 1) why stop with payday lending, with the sponsor’s logic why not legalize drugs and prostitution, and rescind speed limits; and 2) if the state Dept of Banking is too overwhelmed to enforce current law, how will it be able to enforce the new regulations?

The sponsor claims his bill (which still needs Senate approval) is aimed at consumer protection, but short term loan rates could amount to 369% APR.

To recap, according to the GOP the best way to protect Pennsylvanians is to legalize, in their words “potentially dangerous” payday loans. 

Yeah, it makes about as much sense as pouring millions of dollars into combating voter fraud that is virtually nonexistent.

Like many Pennsylvanians I’m giddy with anticipation about what Orwellian “Newspeak,” the GOP will try to deliver next. Will we find out school vouchers are also being promoted by a national interest group with campaign money in Pennsylvania? Or will the Corbett Administration cite different job creation numbers regarding PA’s proposed cracker plant depending on which region they’re speaking in?  Or will Mitt Romney call the health care law, modeled after his own, “bad policy” and promise to repeal it?

Stay tuned for what may be revealed next time the GOP speaks candidly.