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Government Officials: Elected vs. Appointed

A county official in Pennsylvania recently made headlines when he decided to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, defying a 1996 law that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

D. Bruce Hanes, the county official in question, explained his actions by saying that he believed that the law banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and that he “decided to come down on the right side of history and the law.”

Hanes is the Register of Wills in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.[1] Although many Pennsylvanians may not recognize the position, it is one of several county offices they elect every four years in odd-year elections. Pennsylvania has a history of electing minor offices, such as coroner. The state has done so at least since its 1776 Constitution, and has continued to do so with each subsequent redrafting.

Normally, these offices and the political campaigns candidates for these offices run are fairly low profile, overtaken by county commissioner, mayoral, and city council races.[2] However, Register of Wills Hanes burst into the media spotlight in a big way when he announced he would issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Daily News writer Stu Bykofsky succinctly summarized opposition to Hanes’ actions in a column he wrote criticizing the Register of Wills:

Civics 101: The people elect representative who write the laws which are enforced by the state and, if necessary, confirmed by the courts.

Of course, American democracy has never really functioned in this manner. As far back as President George Washington’s administration, the executive branch intruded upon the legislative branch by proposing new laws and pushing it’s own legislative priorities.

President Andrew Jackson even went so far as to ignore a court decision he disagreed with, supposedly responding that “[Chief Justice of the Supreme Court] John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!”

Today, President Barack Obama’s administration has decided to prioritize which laws it has the resources to enforce more vigorously than others.

In Pennsylvania specifically, the General Assembly officially desegregated schools and public accommodations in the late 1800s, but local governments and officials refused to implement these laws and actively circumvented them for almost a century.

Of course, none of this contradicts Bykofsky’s main point. Bykofsky is not saying his “Civics 101″ lesson of separate branches with separate powers is how government actually works in practice; rather, he is saying that this is how government works best in an ideal world. And, as a columnist for a major publication, it is his role to hold public officials accountable to the ideal.

However, I would also say that any discussion of Hanes should consider the political structure within which government exists. Bykofsky may be correct on a theoretical level that government works best when separate branches do not infringe upon each other’s authority, but ignoring the political incentive structure provides only an incomplete picture of the situation.

Hanes’ actions speak directly to the difference between elected and appointed public officials, and the very different incentive structures they face.

Elected positions are the ones people often think of when they think of government: president, governor, mayor, legislator, county commissioner, etc… These are the officials whose names show up on the ballot on Election Day.

Appointed officials are more insulated from politics than elected officials (relatively speaking, because even appointed officials are not totally insulated). In general, there are two kinds of appointed officials: political appointments and merit appointments.

Political appointments, as the name suggests, are more reactive to the politics of the official who has appointed them and holds the power to fire them. So, for instance, a governor who does not believe in regulating oil and gas companies would appoint a Secretary of Environmental Protection that would be friendlier to such companies when deciding how to enforce the law.

Most appointed governmental positions today are merit appointments, which means that employees are hired and promoted based upon their ability, rather than their political ideology. It also means that they are protected from being fired simply due to their political beliefs. This structure attempts to focus their efforts mainly on administering the law and insulate them from political concerns as much as possible.

The United States used mostly political appointments (also known as the “spoils system,” because the winning party would reward its friends with jobs) until the late 1800s.[3] Today, however, most appointed positions are merit-based.

One of the key differences to keep in mind when thinking about elected vs. appointed officials is who undertakes the hiring and firing and how. Generally, the system works like this (though there is some variation): voters elect the elected officials who appoint political appointments who hire the merit appointments.

The incentives for each of these positions are vastly different. Elected officials must court voters in order to ensure re-election, and are thus responsive to their interests. Political appointments must serve the elected officials’ interests in order to keep their positions. Merit appointments, however, because of civil service laws insulating them more from politics, have more leeway to administer the law in a way they believe is fair.

This takes us back to the Montgomery County Register of Wills. The question I pose here is not whether Hanes was right to issue same-sex marriage licenses.[4] The question is whether we can expect elected officials like Hanes to take these sorts of actions, simply due to the fact that they are elected and respond to very different incentives than other officials.

Can we expect elected officials to respond to what they believe to be unjust and unconstitutional laws in a way they think their constituents would approve?

Or, to put it another way: can we ever reasonably expect elected officials to be mere administrators? To this latter question, history certainly seems to suggest we cannot, unless the electorate wants an administrator.

If we, as a society, then, think that officials like Hanes should only administer the law, then perhaps we should consider either automating these positions (thus removing any judgement calls whatsoever) or else transitioning them to merit appointments.[5]

If we wish to keep these positions elected, then the remedy already exists: other branches and levels of government.

Bykofsky presents an image of governmental branches as confined to separate spheres. I would argue that in America, branches of government were not designed to fill completely separate spheres so much as they were designed to battle against each other for influence — and in doing so, provide a check on the other branches’ power.

In this system, it is not only up to Hanes to police himself. It is up to the county commissioners, to the judicial system, to the governor, to the General Assembly, and, ultimately, to the voters to all check Hanes if they believe he is doing something wrong.

So, if you believe Hanes erred in issuing licenses to same-sex couples when he believed that the law banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, then the remedy is for another branch or level of government to push back. And that is exactly what has happened, with the Corbett Administration suing to stop Hanes.

This is not to say that all county officials will take similar actions because they are elected. Many likely will not. But we should not be surprised when elected officials act according to their incentives. Sometimes we may agree with them, other times we may not. Either way, the existing political system already provides the means for opponents to counter them.


[1] The Register of Wills, for his part, is responsible mainly for recordkeeping and other administrative services related to wills and marriage licenses.

[2] As an aside, one of the 2011 Montgomery County Coroner candidates pointed out how many autopsies he had performed and how many death certificates he had issued as part of his campaign.

[3] President Andrew Jackson is closely associated with the history of the spoils system in the federal government. Although presidents before him had made political appointments, he did so on a much larger scale. In Pennsylvania, the commonwealth’s second governor, Thomas McKean, introduced the spoils system to his state’s government. Reformers began to pass civil service reform laws in the late 1880s to switch from the spoils system to merit appointments. In 1881, a disgruntled office-seeker assassinated President James Garfield after he was not rewarded with a patronage position. In response, Congress passed and President Chester Arthur signed a major civil service reform bill, the Pendleton Act.

[4] You might think, like Bykofsky does, that he was wrong to do so. You might think, like State Senator Daylin Leach does, that Hanes was right to do so because Hanes swore an oath to protect the Constitution and he believes the same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional.

[5] The Committee of Seventy, a Philadelphia-based local government watchdog, has already argued that these roles should be appointed rather than elected — albeit, on efficiency grounds.


Bruce Castor Gets It Right.” Stu Bykosky. Philadelphia Daily News.

PA Official Legally Right to Issue Same-Sex Marriage Licenses.” Sen. Daylin Leach. Huffington Post.

Roadmap: Needless Jobs.” Committee of Seventy.

Think Off-Year Elections are Unimportant? Think Again.

(Also blogged on the Narberth-Bala Cynwyd Patch)

For a state that considers itself the birthplace of the United States, Pennsylvania’s attitude towards democracy is decidedly blasé. Pennsylvanians just do not like to vote. Or, more precisely, they just do not like to vote in elections where they have a greatest chance of affecting the outcome.

A solitary vote matters incredibly little in presidential elections, both because millions of other people are casting their ballots simultaneously and because the Electoral College ultimately decides the outcome. Yet these are the elections that have the highest voter turnout numbers.

In contrast, state and local elections – which have a much smaller voting base and, arguably, a much larger impact on a citizen’s everyday life – are determined by a small minority of voters.

Consider this: in 2009, only 21 percent of registered Pennsylvanians cast their ballots. The majority of those select few chose Republican candidate Joan Orie Melvin as the next justice of the PA Supreme Court, solidifying a 4-3 Republican majority on the bench.

This year, as in the past, the Supreme Court was called upon to choose the tie-breaking member of the commission that redraws the legislative districts in the state every decade. The resulting map was a patchwork of gerrymandering and political protection submitted on a party-line vote in the Republicans’ favor. By carefully designating which group of voters elects which representative, this map will likely dictate the outcome of Pennsylvania’s elections for years.

So if you’re thinking about skipping the polls this Tuesday, reconsider. Off-year elections are neither trivial nor meaningless. To the contrary, they have far-reaching consequences that will directly affect your life and your community for years to come.

Thornburg Weiss vs. Ahn for Montco Clerk of Courts 2011

This November, Moon Ahn will challenge incumbent Ann Thornburg Weiss for Montgomery County Clerk of Courts. Overviews of the candidates’ education,  credentials and priorities are below.

What does the Clerk of Courts do? Check of this description, from Patch.comv:

 The role of the clerk is to manage custody of all original court case records. This position also has to collect bail money in criminal cases and return it to the “surety” (for example, a bail bondsman) upon completion of court action.

The Clerk of Courts maintains records relating to the division of election districts as well as the appointment of election officials, constables and private detectives, according to the department’s website.

For the Montgomery County Clerk of Courts’ website, click here.

Note: Sources for the information are in parentheses. Where no source is indicated, the information was pulled from the candidates’ own website.

For Thornburg Weiss’ campaign site, click here.
For Ahn’s campaign site, click here.

- Ann Thornburg Weiss

  • 1977 Gettysburg College Graduate (magna cum laude)
  • 1980 Temple University Graduate
  • Served as law clerk to a PA Superior Court judge
  • Partner, Timoney Knox, LLP
  • Township Commissioner, Upper Dublin (2002-2007)

    • Chair, Commissioners Planning Committee
    • Chair, Public Activities, Lands and Contracts Committee
    • Commissioner representative to the Fire Services Strategic Planning Committee and the Township—School District Planning Committee”
  • Board of Directors, Community Ambulance Association of Ambler
  • Coordinator, Upper Dublin Lutheran Church’s Interfaith Hospitality Network
  • Council President, Upper Dublin Lutheran Church’s Congregational Council
  • “Implemented RFID technology for file tracking, eliminating hours of time spent searching for files”
  • “Made the internal information processing paperless”
  • “Streamlined the ARD process by allowing program participants to pay in advance”
  • “Worked with the Administrative Office of the PA Courts to reduce the cost for on-line payments”
  • Made online services more user-friendly
  • No new hires are permitted to serve as committee people for either political party”
  • Will not accept political contributions greater than $250 in the aggregate from vendors doing business with her office”

- Moon Ahn

  • 1985 University of California at Berkeley Graduate, BA in Political Science
  • 1987 Michigan State University Graduate, Masters in Political Science
  • 1993 The University of Akron School of Law Grade, JD
  • Private attorney
  • Board Member, Ramsey Educational Development Institute (REDI)
  • Conduct “a ground-up review of all expenditures and procedures” to increase efficiency
  • “Focus on improving the County’s bail-collection system”
  • Vice Chair, Montgomery County Bar Association’s Diversity Committee
  • Assistant District Attorney, Montgomery County

Hofman vs. Clement for Montco Coroner 2011

This November, Dr. Gordon Clement will challenge incumbent Dr. Walter Hofman for Montgomery County Coroner. Overviews of the candidates’ education,  credentials and priorities are below.

What does the Coroner do? Check out this description from the Montgomery County Coroner’s website:

The Coroner is charged by law with many responsibilities, the foremost of which is the investigation and certification of a variety of deaths including all deaths of other than natural causes, and any apparently natural deaths in which no physician can reasonably state the cause. The Coroner can utilize any and all medico­legal investigative techniques, including an autopsy, to establish both the medical cause of death, and mode or manner of death (natural, accident, homicide, suicide, or undetermined).

Note: Sources for the information are in parentheses. Where no source is indicated, the information was pulled from the candidates’ own website.

For Hofman’s campaign site, click here.
For Clement’s campaign site, click here.

- Walter Hofman

  • “Board certified in Anatomic, Clinical and Forensic Pathology”
  • “Pathology internship and residency at the Boston University and Harvard Medical School hospitals”
  • “Fellowship in Forensic Pathology at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Baltimore”
  • “Practiced pathology at Roxborough Memorial Hospital for over 20 years”
  • Medical Staff President, Roborough Memorial Hospital
  • Chairman of Laboratory Medicine, Roxborough Hospital
  • “Full clinical professor of pathology at Temple University Medical School”
  • “Associate clinical professor of pathology at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School”
  • Member, Departments of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP)
  • Lieutenant Colonel, US Air Force Reserve
  • Chairperson, Montgomery County Medical Legal Committee
  • “Personally performed over 10,000 (ten thousand) autopsies, examined over 16000 (sixteen thousand) bodies and issued more than  17,000 (seventeen thousand) death certificates. “
  • “Reviewer for the peer reviewed monthly publication ‘Military Medicine’”
  • “Upgrade the existing computerized record system in order to track cases more efficiently, share information with other agencies, and provide information to the public.” (PhillyBurbs)

- Gordon Clement

  • University of Pennsylvania Graduate, BS
  • Hahnemann Medical School Graduate, MD
  • US Navy Officer’s Candidate School
  • Residency/Instructor in Surgery, University of Pennsylvania
  • Navy Captain (retired)
    • Military surgeon
  • Co-Founder/Medical Director, Montgomery County Emergency Medical Services
  • Faculty, Thomas Jefferson University
  • Medical Coordinator, Emergency Medical Technicians’ Training Course (Montgomery County)
  • Lecturer at Sacred Heart Hospital
  • Director, Center for Wound Healing & Hyperbaric Medicine, Mercy Suburban HospitalMercy
  • Staff, Montgomery Hospital
  • Staff, Mercy Suburban Hospital
  • Board Member, Plymouth Community Ambulance Association
  • “Instrumental in establishing the first walking and exercise trail in Montgomery County”
  • Implement his “Live Safely Initiative”
    • “Personally visiting each Montgomery County High School, Dr. Clement will talk to students about the negative effects of drinking and drugs”
  • Make forms/other services more available online (PhillyBurbs)

Morgan vs. Greenleaf for Montco Controller 2011

This November, Stewart Greenleaf Jr. will challenge incumbent Diane Morgan for Montgomery County Controller. Overviews of the candidates’ education,  credentials and priorities are below.

The County Controller is the watchdog that supervises the county’s fiscal affairs.

To visit the Montgomery County Controller’s website, click here.

Note: Sources for the information are in parentheses. Where no source is indicated, the information was pulled from the candidates’ own website.

For Morgan’s campaign site, click here.
For Greenleaf’s campaign site, click here.

- Diane Morgan

  • Education
  • Experience/Background

    • Founder/CEO of the rehabilitation agency DM&A.
    • Worked with Citizens for Better Ambler
    • “[F]ounding member of the Community Advisory Group that works with the Environmental Protection Agency to find viable solutions to the 32 acre Bo-Rit asbestos site in Ambler”
  • Priorities
    • “[D]emanded that all County contracts be sent to her office since County Code mandates the Controller’s office as the custodian of all valuable documents.”
    • “[I]dentified $15 million dollars in accounting errors in the Employees Retirement Fund accounts in 2008.”
    • Sued county, saying the Controller’s Office was underfunded and understaffed (
    • Started process of converting Controller’s office “from manual processing into an efficient, computerized, county-wide accounts payable system.”
    • Bring the County Employees’ Handbook into line with accepted business practices
      • For example, “County employees should not be rewarded with total annual vacation pay and personal time after working only five days in the beginning of each new calendar year.”

- Stewart Greenleaf Jr.

  • Education
    • 2000 Graduate of University of Maryland, BA
    • 2004 Graduate of American University’s Washington College of Law, JD
      • President, American University Chapter of the Federalist Society of Law and Public Policy Studies (
  • Experience/Background
    • Commercial Litigator, Elliott Greenleaf & Siedzikowski, P.C.
    • Treasurer of the Montgomery Bar Association’s Trial Lawyer’s Section, 2011
    • Volunteer, Montgomery Child Advocacy Project
    • Hearing Committee Member, Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Board
    • Trustee, Upper Moreland Free Public Library
    • Member, Upper Moreland Township Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission
    • Named a Pennsylvania SuperLawyers “Rising Star” in 2008, 2010 and 2011.
    • Clerk at PA Superior Court
  • Priorities
    • “[A]s funding permits, phase in the posting of all County disbursements online, while maintaining an appropriate level of privacy for individuals and security measures.”
    • “[E]nsure that the County government’s financial information is accessible and easily understood.”
    • Believes Morgan’s lawsuit against the county for allegedly underfunding/understaffing the Controller’s Office is a “waste” (TimesHerald)

Judge of the Montco Court of Common Pleas Election 2011

This November, voters will elect two of four candidates to 10-year terms on the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. Overviews of the candidates’ careers and credentials are below.

What is the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas? Check out this description, from

The Courts of Common Pleas are the trial courts of Pennsylvania. Major civil and criminal cases are heard in these courts. Judges also decide cases involving adoption, divorce, child custody, abuse, juvenile delinquency, estates, guardianships, charitable organizations and many other matters.

To visit the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas’ website, click here.

Note: Sources for the information are in parentheses. Where no source is indicated, the information was pulled from the candidates’ own website.

For Austin’s website, click here.
For Clifford’s website, click here.
For Coggins’ website, click here.
For Haaz’s website, click here.

- Cheryl Austin

  • Capital University Law School, JD (
  • Northwestern University School of Speech, BA in Speech (
  • University of Cincinnati, AD in Computer Systems (
  • Navy Captain in the U.S. Navy
  • Assistant District Attorney in Montgomery County
  • Assistant County Solicitor
  • Staff Attorney for Ohio Supreme Court
  • Public Affairs Officer at the Pentagon
  • Public School Administrator
    • Specialized in labor relations
  • Served on the Cable Television Advisory Board in her home municipality
  • Chaired the Cincinnati Women’s Political Caucus
  • Human Resources Director for the Ohio Secretary of State
  • “[F]ounding member of the C.A.L.M. (Committed Activists Leading Many) Society, devoted to bridging the achievement gap of African-American students in the Abington, PA school district.”
  • “[W]as a volunteer mediator in a community program designed to reduce a municipal court case backlog”
  • “[A]warded a Public Interest Law Fellowship that funded a six-week internship with the South Florida Poverty Law Center in Miami, where she assisted Haitian refugees seeking asylum.”
  • Chair, Montgomery County Commission on Women and Families
  • Chair, Diversity Committee of the Montgomery County Bar Association
  • Board member of the Willow Grove, PA NAACP chapter
  • Trustee of the Montgomery County Community College
    • Chairs the Curriculum Committee
  • “[N]amed a “Rising Star” among Elder Law attorneys by Philadelphia Magazine” (
  • Recommendations/Endorsements:
    • “Recommended” by the Montgomery Bar Association (PhillyBurbs)

- Dan Clifford

  • 1984 University of Baltimore School of Law Graduate, JD
  • 1981 Indiana University of PA Graduate, BA
  • Law Clerk, Governor’s Office of General Counsel
  • Norristown Attorney (25 years)
  • Chair, Springfield Township Zoning Hearing Board (14 years)
  • PA and Montgomery County Bar Association Leader
  • Child Custody, Adoption and Diversity Advocate
  • Partner, Weber Gallagher Simpson Stapleton Fires & Newby LLP
  • Director, Adoptions From the Heart Board of Directors
  • Member, Advisory Board, Office of Children and Youth
  • Board of Directors, Equality Forum
  • Authored various scholarly articles (for list, click here)
  • Believes the Family Court system should be more “user-friendly” and responsive
  • “[I]nitiate a case management system on assigned cases—taking control of the cases from the very beginning, being “pro-active” on resolution of issues and ensuring cases move through the system expeditiously.”
  • “[O]rganize a “Custody Action Team” of Family Court Judges to step in immediately to hear those cases where the children are being withheld from the other parent or otherwise being used as bargaining chips in the early days of a party’s divorce.”
  • “[I]mplement a Family Court Motion Court where issues of emergent nature, which require a “referee” to step in quickly, will be heard bi-weekly instead of waiting 6-8 weeks under the current system.”
  • “[M]andate a training program” for attorneys and judges on custody issues “where proven techniques and training are provided to ensure the welfare of the child.”
  • “[I]mplement a “Kids First Program” for children going through the custody process for the first time. A Judge, lawyer and therapist will meet with the children in a seminar setting, in the Courtroom, to explain the process and answer questions in an effort to ease their discomfort.”
  • For a list of awards, click here.
  • Recommendations/Endorsements:
    • “Highly Recommended” by the Montgomery Bar Association (PhillyBurbs)

- Maureen Coggins

  • Widener University School of Law (SmartVoter)
  • Franklin and Marshall College, BS (SmartVoter)
  • Prosecutor, Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office (8 years)
    • Chief of Special Prosecutions Unit
    • Chief of the Major Crimes Unit
  • Special Prosecutor for the PA SPCA
  • Montgomery County Deputy Solicitor
  • Chief Public Defender of Lehigh County
  • Child Advocate for Montgomery County’s Child Advocacy program
  • Advocate for the mentally ill
  • “[H]elped develop and oversee a county task force geared toward the revitalization of Norristown.” (TheReporterOnline)
  • Associate with Black and Gerngross (TheReporterOnline)
  • Recommendations/Endorsements:
    • “Recommended” by the Montgomery County Bar Association Committee on the Judiciary
    • Endorsed by PA State Policy Lodge 37
    • Endorsed by Lower Merion FOP Lodge 28
    • Endorsed by Norristown FOP Lodge 31
    • Endorsed by PA Narcotic Officers’ Association
    • Endorsed by County Detectives’ Association of PA

- Richard Haaz

  • 1975 Graduate of Penn State (with honors)
  • 1978 Graduate of University of New Hampshire School of Law
  • Hearing Committee Chairman, Disciplinary Board of the PA Supreme Court
  • Trial Lawyer (over 32 years)
  • “[I]mprove the system of managing cases so that they are efficiently supervised and brought to trial far more quickly.”
  • Named as a 2011 Pennsylvania “Super Lawyer”
  • Big Brothers/Big Sisters Solicitor and Board Member
  • Lecturer for the Pennsylvania Bar Institute
  • Montgomery County Office of Children and Youth Citizens Advisory Committee
  • Judicial Law Clerk at the Court of Common Pleas
  • Recommendations/Endorsements:
    • “Highly Recommended” by the Montgomery County Bar Association (PhillyBurbs)
    • Endorsed by the Southeastern PA National Organization for Women
    • Endorsed by UFCW Local 1776

Castor/Brown vs. Shapiro/Richards for Montgomery County Commissioner 2011

This Election Day (November 8, 2011), Josh Shapiro will be challenging incumbent Bruce Castor for Montgomery County Commissioner. In this post, I’ve tried to list as much about the candidates’ platforms and stances as I could find.

For brief overviews of the candidates (and their resumes), visit the Committee of Seventy.

To visit Bruce Castor and Jenny Brown’s campaign site, click here.
To visit Josh Shapiro and Leslie Richard’s campaign site, click here.

(Note: For sources, click on the links in the bullet point. If a bullet point does not have a link, it came from the candidate’s campaign site)

- Economy

  • Castor/Brown
    • No tax increases
  • Shapiro/Richards
    • No tax increases
    • Use public-private partnerships to help spur economic growth
    • “They will appoint a jobs council comprised of leaders from the private sector, education, labor and the public to directly advise the commissioners”

- Taxing and Spending

  • Castor/Brown
    • Against tax increase.
    • Do not toll Route 422.
  • Shapiro/Richards
    • Against tax increase.
    • “Will conduct comprehensive reviews of county real estate holdings, use of technology, necessary infrastructure repairs and other aspects of county government” and use this information to increase government efficiency.
    • Do not toll Route 422

- Education

  • Castor/Brown
    • “[M]aintain our commitment to Montgomery County Community College”
  • Shapiro/Richards
    • Fully maintain Montgomery County’s share of funding for Montgomery County Community College
    • “[C]reate a well-staffed, well-funded Veterans Success Center at the county community college to ease the transition from military life to civilian life for students who are veterans.”

- Government Reform

  • Castor/Brown
    • “[R]econvene the campaign finance reform task force, appoint new members to the defunct group to review the task force’s earlier recommendations and to hold hearings on the recommendations.”
    • “[C]reate a home rule study commission to look at the government and decide whether the county would be better served by a council or executive director” — voters would also be consulted via referendum.
    • Fully fund government pensions; consider using pension obligation bonds to do so.
    • Broadcast commissioners’ meetings in their entirety, rather than edited
    • Publish county expenditures in online database
    • Tougher pay-to-play regulations in an attempt to stop no-bid contracts for campaign donors
    • Enact an “ethics policy” that would limit political involvement of commissioners’ staff in the county.
    • Public comment before each vote
  • Shapiro/Richards
    • Publish county spending in online database
    • Broadcast commissioners’ meetings in their entirety, rather than edited
    • Periodically hold commissioners’ meetings around the county

- Open Space

  • Castor/Brown
    • Preserve open space
  • Shapiro/Richards
    • Continue expanding county trail system/maintain current trails
    • Protect open space from over-development

- Transportation

  • Castor/Brown
    • Survey motorists about whether “whether they are using the roadway primarily to get to and from work,” then use the results to approach businesses about implementing flex hours to alleviate roadway congestion
    • Oppose tolling Route 422
  • Shapiro/Richards
    • Oppose tolling Route 422


What You Should Know About Redistricting in PA

Every 10 years, a small group of people gathers to redraw the political boundaries of Pennsylvania. This may sound like the stuff conspiracy theories are made of, but it is a very real political procedure. The process is known as redistricting, and it is in motion right now.

The idea for redistricting comes from a fairly simple premise that all Pennsylvanians should be represented equally in the General Assembly and all legislative districts should have about the same population. But populations are not static, and a lot can happen in a decades’ time – people move, have children, and die. Redistricting is supposed to account for these changes.

Historically, the process has been less than transparent. Before 1968, Pennsylvania let the General Assembly redraw district lines, allowing the majority party to split up entire groups of voters, neutralize opponents, and sustain incumbents – an act known as “gerrymandering.”

The term was named after Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, who signed off on a plan that manipulated voting districts in favor of his Democratic-Republican Party. That was in 1812, but politicians in the Keystone State have been dabbling in gerrymandering for much longer. More than a century before, three counties colluded to neutralize Philadelphia’s political power via gerrymandering, as documented in Elmer Cummings Griffith’s “The Rise and Development of the Gerrymander.”

Then, in 1968, Pennsylvania redrafted its state constitution, and completely revamped the way it redistricted General Assembly seats. Redistricting duties were given to a special, five-person commission made up of the four minority and majority leaders from the State Senate and State House, and a fifth person of their choosing.

This bipartisan commission was a major reform, but it did not end the gerrymandering debate.

In a 2010 study, software design firm Azavea, sought to measure potential gerrymandering by examining the districts’ shapes. The Pennsylvania constitution requires districts to be “compact and contiguous,” but the courts have found this vague and unenforceable because the law does not establish a clearly defined standard.

So Azavea created an ‘ideal’ standard against which to just the nation’s voting districts for its study. The resulting analysis identified Pennsylvania as “a particularly egregious offender in its State Senate districting” and ranked it fourth worst in the nation for State Senate districts. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives fared a little better, coming in at fifteenth.

Another measure of potential gerrymandering is longevity – how long elected officials end up serving without being voted out of office or retiring. By the next election, the median House representative will have served eight years in the General Assembly. Meanwhile, the median senator (many of whom have also served in the House) will have spent 16 years in the legislature.

Temple University Political Science professor Joseph McLaughlin notes that today’s Pennsylvania legislature is actually fairly young – the result of natural turnover from elections, retirement, and the 2006 bonus scandal.

Some groups think the turnover rates usually seen in General Assembly elections are unnaturally low, and do not want to wait around for the next scandal to turn out incumbents.

The League of Women Voters is one such group. Lora Lavin, its Vice President for Issues, says that lack of competition in gerrymandered districts “discourages public debate on the issues that are important and it can also discourage voter turnout.” After all, if you know who will win before the election is even held, why vote?

The League’s solution: a commission that is completely independent of the legislature. One that, as Lavin describes, “would be prohibited from using data such as party affiliation, voting histories, residences of incumbent legislators, potential challengers, or other persons in drawing the districts,” and that has to draw compact districts.

Still, there are obstacles. One of the largest challenges comes from the Pennsylvania Constitution itself. Because the state constitution lays out the redistricting process, a constitutional amendment is required to change the current system. And amendments must pass through the legislature two years in a row before they can become law.

State Sen. Daylin Leach knows this better than most. The Democratic senator from Montgomery County has introduced redistricting reform in past sessions, and intends to continue pushing to amend the state constitution.

“It’s the single biggest political reform that we need in Pennsylvania and around the country,” Leach says. He believes gerrymandering makes representatives unaccountable, and that it has a “polarizing effect” on politics.

“If you don’t have to worry about losing to the other party in November, there’s no incentive for you, politically, to reach across the aisle,” Leach says, suggesting that many representatives then fail to compromise in order to fend off any potential primary challengers.

Unlike the League of Women Voters, Leach does not want to completely overhaul how General Assembly districts are drawn. He wants to keep the commission in the hands of legislative leaders so that redistricters can be held accountable at the ballot box, but he would also like to foster greater consensus by expanding the commission to include the whips.

Leach thinks his bill’s strongest component is that it “actually creates a mathematical formula for a district to be compact and contiguous.” The formula itself is fairly simple – you draw a circle around a district, and that district must fill in at least 15 percent of the circle.

Still, not everyone believes that such redistricting reform can or should be passed.

Erik Arneson, the Communications and Policy Director for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, notes that “there are a lot of areas of this state where you just cannot draw competitive seats.” He also thinks redistricting is inherently political, and that it is impossible to divorce the two.

Professor McLaughlin echoes these sentiments, and adds that trying to make districts competitive could also have its downsides. He notes that in districts that re-elect incumbents by a large margin “there’s probably more satisfaction among voters with the way the representative votes.”

Either way, McLaughlin sees technology pushing both the commission and government as a whole towards greater transparency.

Arneson says that Sen. Pileggi hopes to use the internet to make this one of the most transparent redistrictings to date, with letters, videos from public hearings, and “everything that people need to be able to draw their own plans” posted online.

No official redistricting website has been launched as of yet.

New ideas aside, the commission has already fallen in line with one historical pattern. It failed to select a chairman in the allotted time, forcing the Supreme Court to choose the fifth member. Their choice: Stephen McEwen, a senior judge on the PA Superior Court. Whether the commission will break from other precedents over the roughly two months’ time it now has to file a preliminary plan has yet to be seen.