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Governor Corbett Wrong on Food Stamps

In Miguel de Cervantes’ classic novel, “Don Quixote,” the titular character rides off into battle against several windmills he believes to be giant beasts. His hapless sidekick Sancho Panza watches helplessly as the crusader launches his ferocious assault on imagined monsters.

Similar images come to mind when discussing Governor Corbett’s new policy regarding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps. The Corbett Administration recently announced that it would bar people under 60 with more than $2,000 in savings or other assets (home, retirement benefits, and one car not included) from collecting food stamps. A higher limit would be set for seniors. This was all done under the guise of clamping down on fraud.

Yet a closer examination reveals these vague claims of fraud to be more akin to Quixote’s imaginary monsters than to any real threat to taxpayers. A Department of Agriculture report on how well the states administered their food stamps program shows that no fraud claims were established in 2010. In fact, the costs of agency errors far exceeded that of non-existent fraud, raising the question of whether an asset test could have unforeseen costs. It is widely accepted – except, of course, by the Corbett Administration – that the additional training, paperwork and document verification accompanying this policy change will mean higher administrative costs. An increase in agency errors resulting from the added bureaucracy could have a similar effect.

But the cost is not only monetary. Food stamp usage has increased as a result of the Great Recession and its aftermath, which dislocated workers and wreaked havoc on families’ finances. Yet putting a limit on the amount of savings and assets one can hold punishes people that choose to save for the future, encouraging them instead to deplete their reserves.

The Corbett Administration claims this will stop people from taking advantage of the system. But food stamps are already limited to those with low incomes, and food stamp payments are low enough only to help people, not to provide for them entirely. Pennsylvania ranks in the bottom tenth of the nation as far as average state food stamp payment amounts go – below even Texas. The average monthly benefit for a Pennsylvania household ($262.61 in 2010) would only go so far in covering that average household’s grocery bill. The Department of Agriculture’s estimates that monthly food costs for a family of four range from around $550 to $800 per month, depending on how old the children are. And those estimates are for the spending plans it labels “thrifty” and “low-cost.”

Losing such aid would hurt not only the recipients, but businesses and the economy as well. Food stamps help prop up demand, preserving jobs in grocery stores and the trucking and warehouse services they employ. The spending done by workers in those preserved jobs, in turn, ripples through the economy. Moreover, food stamps are the most effective form of economic stimulus, since they are given to cash-strapped individuals who usually spend them immediately. A Moody’s Analytics study found that food stamps generated $1.73 for every dollar spent.

So one could be excused for feeling a bit like Sancho Panza as he watches his leader gallop off full-speed at a windmill. Perhaps Quixote truly believes in the imaginary beasts he seeks to slay, or perhaps he has some inkling of the absurdity of his quest. No matter – the result is the same.


All Politics is Local: The Shape of Narberth

Turn off of Haverford Ave. in Narberth, PA onto Avon Rd., and you may not realize you have just stepped over the invisible boundary dividing the borough from Lower Merion Township. Surprised, you think that this could not possibly be the case! The borough lies to the north, south, and west of you — yet where you currently stand is a peninsula of Lower Merion, surrounded on three sides by a sea of Narberth (for the sake of making this point, we will conveniently ignore the fact that it is Narberth that is the island within the sea of Lower Merion).

Map of Narberth

Looking at a map of Narberth makes it clear: it appears as if a wedge has been removed from the eastern side of the borough. Why is this?

Well, as the old saying goes, “All politics is local” — and, in this case (it would seem), personal. As I was told the other day by Narberth Borough Manager Bill Martin, the Narberth residents lobbying for a separate borough and drawing up the maps delineating their town’s boundaries simply did not like the gentleman who lived in the area in question. So when the time came, they just drew him out of the town.

A humorous story, yes. But also a lesson to those who prefer to ignore history and politics — they directly affect your everyday life, right up to something as simple as your mailing address.


States, Stimulus, and Saving Jobs

One of my recent blog posts (“Balancing Budgets: The Government is Nothing Like a Family“) stimulated a lively discussion about the effects of budget-cutting on the economy. As I noted in that post, large-scale austerity measures (cutting spending and raising taxes in order to balance the budget) have the perverse effect of actually causing deficits by depressing the economy further if the economy is not yet strong enough to withstand the fiscal tightening. Widening deficits add more to the debt and amplify demands for more austerity, which then leads to further depressed economic activity, and a vicious cycle ensues. This is  not an argument against deficit reduction, but rather against deficit reduction while the United States economy (and the global economy, as well) is still incredibly fragile.

Yet there is another aspect of the debate over stimulus and austerity that many Americans tend to overlook — the fact their government has been slashing spending and raising taxes to balance budgets, only at a state and local level. Forced by balanced budget provisions in most state constitutions, these government entities have undertaken the kinds of measures many conservatives are clamoring for at the federal level. The result has been a drag on both national and state economies.

This week’s Economist (Jan. 7-13, 2012) had an excellent article on the effects of state austerity packages on the national economy. From that article:

In 2009 and 2010 this austerity offset much of the expansionary effect of federal-government stimulus. Even in 2011, according to a Goldman Sachs estimate, government spending cuts reduced America’s GDP growth by half a percentage point. State and local governments bore most of the blame: they have been responsible for nearly 600,000 government jobs going since the recession’s end.

State and local governments trimmed 16,000 jobs in November—down from 45,000 in May but still a negative number. Yet the worst appears to be over. And just as local austerity amplified the previous economic decline, its end should reinforce the recovery.

A November 2011 study by the Keystone Research Center shows the huge impact Governor Corbett’s 2011 budget cuts have had on Pennsylvania’s economy:

From September 2009 to September 2010, Pennsylvania outpaced most other states in job creation, ranking fourth in the number of jobs created and seventh by job growth percentage. Between April 2011 and September 2011, we shifted into reverse and are now headed in the wrong direction. A wave of public-sector job losses has driven job growth in the Commonwealth into the bottom 10: 47th measured by the change in the number of jobs and 43rd measured by job growth percentage.

It is also interesting to note that the same people calling for fiscal tightening at the federal level also decried the “failure” of the stimulus package. That the stimulus package passed by the United States Congress in 2009 did not suddenly rocket the entire economy out of the recession is not an admission of its failure. The stimulus performed a much-needed role by helping states plug their deficits as tax receipts plunged, preventing an even larger tightening. As the Economist notes, state cuts “offset much of the expansionary effect of federal-government stimulus,” which allows the package’s opponents to get away with the claim that the stimulus had no effect.

It is difficult to run on a political platform of ‘things would have been much worse if we had not passed the stimulus package,’ but nonetheless there it is — things would have been much worse. Without aid to the states, cuts would have been deeper and tax increases greater, deepening the recession. And yet, still, talk of immediate austerity, balanced budget amendments, and the “failure” of economic stimulus somehow persist.

–FURTHER READING–

http://www.economist.com/node/21542445

http://keystoneresearch.org/sites/default/files/Public-sector-job-losses-PA-recovery-11-2011.pdf

http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=711

http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory?id=13003068

http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/06/budget_cuts.html

http://gaudini.wordpress.com/2011/12/24/government-balancing-budgets/


How Pennsylvania Banned Abortion

(Also featured in the Delco Times here)

If you cannot ban something directly, at least make it unavailable – that seems to be the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s view on abortion.

Republican majorities in the state House and Senate recently passed two such laws. One prohibits insurance coverage for abortions in plans bought through the state’s soon-to-be-established health care exchanges. The other requires all abortion clinics to meet new requirements and undergo expensive renovations that will likely force most, if not all, of the state’s 20 freestanding abortion clinics to close.

Both are huge setbacks for women’s health in the Keystone State. It is revealing that various medical organizations, like the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have come out against these proposals, while none have endorsed them.

Abortions should be procedures that are safe, legal, and rare. Instead, these bills institute a de facto ban that makes abortions neither safe nor rare. They create a situation in which middle and lower class Pennsylvanians, unable to pay the travel and medical costs associated with out-of-state abortions, are forced to take matters into their own hands.

Hangers, needles, and other traumatic practices fill the void of a safe medical environment – and leave would-be patients horrifically scarred. And that is if they are lucky enough to survive the self-induced abortion and resulting infection. It would be a stretch to think that making abortion unavailable would deter someone willing to risk such terrible consequences. Even for women whose pregnancies threaten permanent physical harm, abortion would no longer be an option.

Keeping abortion safe and legal is not an admission that our society enjoys seeing the procedure carried out. Rather, it is a recognition that making abortion unavailable is not a credible policy for preventing it. Abortion incidents are high in many countries where abortion is illegal, and low in others where it is legal and safe. Correlations between abortion incidence and legality are weak, at best.

If the majority Republicans in the General Assembly truly cared about women’s health issues or preventing abortions, they would pursue proven policies that address the core issue: preventing the need for abortions in the first place.

Ineffective contraceptive use and inaccessibility of contraceptives are two key areas that should be emphasized when fighting to minimize abortion rates. Policies that promote sex education and access to contraceptives help remedy this.

Unfortunately, these new laws do not do much in the way of actually minimizing abortions. They are counterproductive policies that simply seek to make abortions unavailable. Instead of searching for a remedy, they have ripped the wound wide open.


Subverting Democracy: A Primer on Gerrymandering

Gerrymandering is one of the most important problems facing Pennsylvanians today. We’ll look at what it is, how it occurs, and why it is a problem. This post will be broken up into the following sections:

  • Electoral Districts and Redistricting
  • What is Gerrymandering?
  • What are Some of Gerrymandering’s Effects?
  • How Do We Redistrict in Pennsylvania?
  • The Way Forward
  • Conclusion

–ELECTORAL DISTRICTS AND REDISTRICTING –

In order to understand what gerrymandering is, you first have to understand redistricting.

As you know, Americans live in a representative democracy (also known as a democratic republic). That is, we elect people to represent us at various levels of government. We elect mayors, presidents, congressmen, senators, etc… In Pennsylvania, we elect everyone from the governor and PA Supreme Court justices on down to the local coroner. We march into our polling place on election day and cast our ballots. But how do we know which candidates will appear on which ballots?

Some offices (like governor) are elected statewide, which means the candidates appear on every ballot in the state. Some (like mayors) are elected only in their own municipality. One office (president) is elected country-wide.

But for our purposes, let’s focus on U.S. senate elections. Every state gets two senators, no matter the size. California, with 37,253,956 people has the same number of U.S. senators as Wyoming, with 563,626. Because the number of representatives is not proportional to the representative’s population (A U.S. senator from California represents more people than one from Wyoming), this is known as non-proportional representation. This system was put into place during the Constitutional Convention because small states were worried that their votes would be meaningless if the big states had more representatives.

But, as you know, the U.S. Congress (which makes federal laws) has two houses, the Senate being the upper house. The lower house, the House of Representatives, is elected on the basis of proportional representation. This means that each state is given a number of congressional seats based on how big or small their populations are — the bigger the state, the more representatives. And the states divided these seats up proportionally, so that each congressman represents roughly the same amount of people.

This is where electoral districts come in. In the next election, Pennsylvania will have 18 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Those 18 people will have to each represent roughly the same number of people. In order to account for this, we draw electoral districts. Electoral districts are political boundaries that define who represents you.

But, since populations are always changing — people are born, die, and move all the time — that means electoral districts’ compositions are always changing. And by the end of a decade, two districts that were once the same size could suddenly be very different. So, every ten years, we redraw the districts, to keep the sizes equal and the representation fair. The process by which these districts are redrawn is known as redistricting.

–WHAT IS GERRYMANDERING?–

Unfortunately, politicians since the founding of the country have taken this noble goal of proportional representation and used it for their own means. Gerrymandering is the result. Essentially, gerrymandering occurs when the people redrawing the district lines do so with ulterior motives.

Back in the day, a lot of gerrymandering was racial. Politicians would draw lines that split up minority populations into different voting districts, so that none of them would be represented. Say, for instance, that an outspoken racist had a lot of minority voters in his district. Those voters could pose problems for his re-election. So, when redistricting came around, the lines would be redrawn to divide the minority population into several districts — and also to include people in his district that he knew would vote for him. With less minority voters in his electorate (and more supporters), his re-election was assured.

Though the courts have ruled racial gerrymandering unconstitutional, they have found no workable standard for political gerrymandering, where groups are split up or put together based on voter registration figures. People that redraw political lines use information on how many Republicans or Democrats are in an area to decide where the lines will be drawn. Clever redistricting allows those in charge of the process to consolidate power, reward friends, punish foes, and escape accountability. They are allowed to pick their constituents, instead of their constituents picking them.

Political gerrymandering has a long and storied history in the United States. The term “gerrymandering” itself comes from Massachusetts Governor and Founding Father Elbridge Gerry, who signed off on a redistricting map that the opposition said looked like a salamander, or (once they combined it with the governor’s name) a “gerrymander.”

–WHAT ARE SOME OF GERRYMANDERING’S EFFECTS?–

Gerrymandering has many effects. First, it undermines democracy. Democracy is based on representative government and accountability. Both of these are subverted if a handful of people are able to redraw the lines in such a way that designs districts with the specific purpose of isolating the opposition. Imagine a district that is 50% Democrats and 50% Republicans, and all around it is surrounded by areas that are 75% Democratic. With a little maneuvering, the Democrats can split the Republicans in that 50-50 district, putting some in one district, some in another until voila! Suddenly, the Democrats have a commanding lead in every district. And the Republicans can do the same thing in the places where they control the process.

Under these circumstances, pretty much everyone knows who is going to win in the general election. The seat is safe. In the words of Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, “The only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy.” Nothing short of a full-blown scandal or major misstep will unseat them. And when voters already know the outcome of an election before it is even held, there is little reason to turn up at the polls. Decreased voter turnout is another vicious effect of gerrymandering. Where’s the democracy or accountability in that?

Furthermore, when an electoral challenge comes, it won’t be in the general election. The opposition doesn’t have enough votes to launch a credible challenge. Under these circumstances, a challenge normally comes from within the incumbent’s party. A Republican, for example, challenging a fellow Republican in the primary.

Voters in primary elections are often (though not always) more partisan or ideological purists. Fending off a primary challenge means an incumbent will pander to his base and take extremist positions on issues instead of cooperating and compromising. That is another effect of gerrymandering: creating a dysfunctional atmosphere of polarization and partisanship.

Gerrymandering also allows political powerbrokers to punish enemies and reward friends. For instance, an annoying legislator can have his district eliminated or merged with another, nearby district in the hopes that he will lose the next election battle against a fellow incumbent. Potential challengers can likewise be redrawn out of districts, in order to reward loyalty with a safe seat.

In the first round of 2011′s PA General Assembly redistricting, State Sen. Piccola’s (R-15) seat was kept safe from an angry electorate. Piccola had sponsored a controversial plan for the state to take over the city of Harrisburg. Piccola represented part of Harrisburg and many of his constituents were unhappy with this legislation. After the preliminary redistricting plan was put forth, Piccola’s new district conveniently lost its Harrisburg bits, insulating the legislator. As an aside, Piccola later announced his retirement anyway, and the map was changed accordingly.

This type of chicanery makes legislators beholden not to their constituents, but to those people drawing the political boundaries.

–HOW DO WE REDISTRICT IN PENNSYLVANIA?–

The PA Constitution lays out the process for redistricting of PA General Assembly (the body that makes state laws) seats. In 1968, Pennsylvania drafted a new constitution and made a major reform to how it redistricts. Before 1968, the General Assembly simply passed a plan as it would any other bill — by a majority vote. This meant that the party that controlled the majority seats in the General Assembly and the Governorship got to pass whatever plan they wanted, no questions asked.

This is how Pennsylvania’s U.S. House of Representatives seats are still redistricted today. The PA General Assembly’s own seats, however, are redistricted through a different process.

After 1968, the PA Constitution provided that a commission composed of the four majority and minority leaders from the PA Senate and PA House of Representatives, and a fifth person of their choosing, would produce the plan. This ensured that both Republicans and Democrats would have a say, and a supposedly neutral chairman of their choosing would break ties. In the event that the four could not mutually choose a chairman, the PA Supreme Court would decide. This has turned out to be the general rule, rather than the exception.

However, this process still results in gerrymandering. Sometimes, as in 2011, the chairman has generally favored one party’s demands over another’s, allowing that party to dominate the process. Yet, even when the chairman is supposedly neutral, the other four members still have a vested interest in maintaining political power, and the result is a bipartisan gerrymander that protects their incumbents.

–THE WAY FORWARD–

There are ways to minimize the dangers of gerrymandering. Other states use independent commissions, comprised of citizens not holding any elected office, to redraw political boundaries. These commissions can be barred, by law, from using political considerations (like voter registration figures) when drawing districts. With specific prohibitions on such practices, the courts would have an easier time striking down blatantly political maps.

Maps could also be judged by contiguousness and compactness formulas that are designed to make preempt the creative drawing that often signals rampant gerrymandering. Such a formula was included in State Sen. Daylin Leach’s redistricting reform proposal for Pennsylvania in 2009. Essentially, it would have mandated that if a circle were drawn around a district, that district would have to fill at least 15 percent of the circle.

Finally, advances in technology are continually providing us with more tools of transparency and accountability, and it is conceivable that the redistricting process could be undertaken by a computer algorithm, and signed off on by an independent, or other appointed or elected, commission (with no powers to amend, only to approve or reject).

At the very least,Pennsylvania’s U.S. House of Representatives seats should be likewise placed in the commission’s hands, rather than allowing it to go through the General Assembly on a party-line vote in which the majority dominates the minority party. And proposals to expand the commission to 7 members instead of 5 would nullify the chairman’s ability to tip the balance of power, forcing more compromise — though it would not adequately address the issue of bipartisan gerrymandering.

–CONCLUSION–

Gerrymandering is one of the most important political issues of our day — but it is complicated and unglamorous. The blatantly gerrymandered maps that are turned out every decade are an indication that those who draw the boundaries know the electorate cares very little about the issue. They do not even try to hide the fact that they are engineering these maps in a way that benefits their political parties and ambitions.

Reform will come only from one place: the grassroots. That makes educating the public about gerrymandering and its effects that much more important. Our democracy depends on it.


Gerrymandering Undermines Democracy in PA

(Also published in the Main Line Times on November 10, 2011)

The preliminary results from one of the decade’s most important elections are in, and the Republicans have won big. Pennsylvania looks like it will likely have a safe GOP majority in the General Assembly for the next couple elections, at least – an impressive feat given they only got 3 votes. I am referring, of course, to the redistricting plan that passed 3-2 out of the Reapportionment Committee on Monday.

The choice of the term ‘election’ to describe redistricting may, at first, appear odd. But if you consider the implications of the committee’s plan, it emerges as the most accurate description. In short, the majority has signed off on a plan that twists electoral districts into imaginative shapes that cannibalize communities and guarantee incumbent protection. By carefully carving sections of the state that tend to vote for one party or the other, they have created a patchwork quilt of districts that will likely not see a competitive General Assembly election again for years.

Essentially, Republican leaders have just elected themselves several more terms as the majority party.

This issue – known as ‘gerrymandering’ – should be a top priority for Pennsylvania voters. Uncompetitive general elections undermine accountability. The most blatant example of this is Sen. Piccola’s new district, which would remove the sections of Harrisburg he currently represents. Clearly, this is just an unexpected perk for Piccola, given the Harrisburg takeover bill he recently sponsored.

But unaccountability functions in subtler ways as well. Certain re-election removes incentives to serve voters’ interests. After all, General Assembly leaders are the ones that assure a legislator’s re-election. Greater political polarization also occurs as uncompetitive elections remove the incentive to reach across the aisle and curry favor with moderate, swing voters.

As former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards once said: “The only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy.”

The solution is clear: Pennsylvania needs a redistricting system with clearer rules forbidding the use of political information in its design. Districts should be compact and contiguous, not divided or shoved inside other districts. And they should be drawn up by a non-partisan committee, not by party leaders with a vested interest in their own political survival.

Such plans have been put forth in the past, but failed to become law, largely due to public disinterest. It is too late now to salvage the 2011 redistricting process, but Pennsylvanians should still pressure their legislators to produce fairer redistricting practices by the decade’s end – our democracy depends on it.


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 (Philly.com)
    • 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 (ElliotGreenleaf.com)
  • 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 PACourts.us:

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 (CherylAustin.com)
  • Northwestern University School of Speech, BA in Speech (CherylAustin.com)
  • University of Cincinnati, AD in Computer Systems (CherylAustin.com)
  • 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” (CherylAustin.com)
  • 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