We gave politicians the right to be corrupt. We did it when we gave them the power to pass legislation that benefits no one but themselves. It is a power they flaunt and abuse regularly when they give themselves pay raises, manipulate campaign laws and grant themselves immunity from insider trading laws.
Philadelphia is especially adept at abusing its ability to pass laws that benefit the members. The Council sets its own budget, giving the members cars, expenses, cell phones and staff with no hearings or oversight. And, of course, there is the DROP boondoggle that allowed council members to dip into the city’s pension fund without retiring.
Now Council is about to abuse its power by changing the rules again.
Council is attempting to get rid of the “Resign to Run” law that it is a part of the City Charter. The Council members who push to get rid of the rule should be met with the same voter disgust as those who were voted out in a wave of DROP discontent.
There only seems to be two arguments for getting rid of the rule. One is based in envy, the other in self-interest.
The first argument is that Philadelphia elected officials should be able to run for another office without resigning because state and federal elected officials don’t have to resign to run for another office. It’s the adolescent “why can’t I do it, everybody else gets to do it” argument. But, as my mother would point out, just because “everybody else does it, doesn’t make it right.” It would be better if state and federal elected officials DID resign to run for higher office. Montgomery County Congresswomen Allyson Schwartz deserves praise for announcing she would not seek re-election because she was running for Governor. She simply could not ethically or physically do both. In 2007, Senators John McCain, Barack Obama and Joe Biden were conspicuous in their chronic absence from the Senate as the three ran for higher office.
The other argument is that getting rid of “Resign to Run” would create more competition. If by “more competition” you mean it allows City Council members, the District Attorney and City Controller to run for office and keep their jobs, then, yeah, I guess so. But, is that the kind of competition we really want? An onslaught of “What the hell. What have I got to lose” candidates? Council will just keep re-asking the question until they get the answer they want.
You may remember that we already voted on this and said no. That in itself is remarkable. Ballot propositions in Philadelphia are like Internet agreements. Most check the “yes” box without reading anything. But in 2007, 55% of Philadelphians rejected the idea.
This time city council member David Oh is leading the charge to re-ask the question on the 2014 ballot. Oh’s proposal doesn’t call for a change in the rule until 2016, a year after the next run for Mayor. Which is good for David Oh because he wouldn’t run in 2015. But 2019? Maybe. Watch for other council members with more immediate ambitions to try and pull that timetable back a year.
Let me give you five compelling reasons that the rule should not change.
1. Neglect of Duties. If we allow elected officials to run for higher office while still serving, we are allowing them to take taxpayer money to run for office. It would be impossible to run for higher office without the elected official cutting back on his or her “day job.”
2. A City-Financed Campaign. It would be impossible, or at least unlikely, for current elected officials to not use city cars, cell phones, office space, time and staff for their campaigns.
3. More Legal Bribes. Running for higher office is just another reason to ask for money from supporters, special interest groups and lobbyists. It’s a no-lose proposition for those who seek influence. Even if the candidate loses, they still are in a position of power.
4. Thin The Herd. We already get too many people running for Mayor. The “Resign to Run” rule weeds out the weakest candidates. If it passes, watch for every crackpot and their mother to run, because why not?
5. Grandstanding. Since every member of City Council would automatically become a perennial candidate, the sniping and grandstanding would be elevated to nauseating levels. Council would be running a constant mayoral campaign against the incumbent and against each other.
I will close with another reason. We will never have term limits because not only do politicians have the power to pass laws that benefit them; they can also prevent laws that don’t. If we get rid of a couple of council members every four years as they make a do-or-die leap for the next rung, that strikes me as a good thing.
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