Monday, September 12, 2005

Pay raise furor on the right

Rep. Mark Cohen has expressed concern that, while some progressive organizations have condemned the legislative pay-raise and attempted to use it as leverage for liberal ends (e.g., a hike in the minimum wage), the majority of the outrage has come from the right, where it has an anti-government flavor (and thus quite different goals). The Sunday Inquirer pursues that angle in a story positing a civil war within the state GOP with the grassroots taking exception to the move and the leadership defending it.
And at a meeting yesterday of the Republican State Committee, members passed a resolution knocking the GOP-controlled legislature and Democrat Gov. Rendell for the pay hike - a move that pollster Michael Young, a longtime observer of state politics, called "extraordinary."
In fact, conservative talk radio hosts and groups like the Young Republicans appear to be planning to punish some members of their party in upcoming primaries, perhaps finding Toomey-like super-conservatives to run against raise supporters. An interesting historical analysis of state conservative groups and trends can be found here.


Blogger Dumplingeater said...

So, is the point that in-fighting among Repugs is a good thing, or that joining hands with extreme right-wing elements of the Repugs will strenghten their power base and negatively affect progressive causes? Or both, or neither?

5:57 PM  
Blogger ACM said...

I don't know that I was attempting to argue any "point" when I posted this, but for my take, I'd say I started with the "in-fighting must be good" viewpoint but am now wondering whether I want more conservative moderates under attack by extremists on the right (although I don't necessarily mind moderate liberals being given a run for their money from the left, so I suppose I shouldn't be too unsympathetic to where they're coming from).

I don't know that progressives are really joining hands with the right, to my mind, but I could imagine that increasing the general outrage noise strengthens the grassroots folks in their internicine wars, at least. grist for the thought mill...

6:02 PM  
Blogger Rep. Mark B. Cohen said...

Of course,joining hands with extreme right-wing elements of the Republicans strengthens their power base and negatively affects progresses causes. How can it not do that?

Maybe, some Republican seat somewhere will become a Democratic seat is the Republicans go far enough to the right. This happened for instance in Abington, when Democrat Josh Shapiro, a strong supporter and personal friend of both Joe Hoeffel and Joe Lieberman, upset former Congressman and Newt Gingrich supporter Jon Fox to win the state house seat in 2004. But there is no likelihood that it will happen enough to gain many additional seats.

The progressive attack on the Democratic Leadership Council is that it goes along too readily with mainstream Republican positions. I supported Howard Dean for President because he was an unequivocal supporter of the idea that Democrats should focus on articulating clear positions that distinguish themselves from the Republican Party.

Siding with the more conservative elements of the Republican Party--the people who are against any minimum wage, let alone a minimum wage increase, for example--against the less conservative elements of the Republican Party is moving in a direction totally opposite in the direction of Dean, Kucinich, and other progressive Democrats. It is effectively seeking to move the Democratic Party to the right.

Republicans have always been interested in recruiting Democrats. Arlen Specter was once a Democratic committeeman who had worked for a Democratic district attorney. Paul Wellstone's successor, Norman Coleman, had been elected Mayor on the Democratic ticket. Tom Hayden was famously approached by Ronald Reagan, and told he could have a great future as a Republican.

David Horowitz started out as a left-wing radical. So did Lyndon LaRouche. About half of the original founders of the National Review were former Communists. The original leaders of the neo-conservative movement-- which given us the war in Iraq--were Trotskyites. One can go on and on in this vein.

Supporting higher salaries for the public sector is a liberal position. Public sector unions at all levels tend disproportionately to support Democrats. A higher salaried public is a public sector where people believe in the betterment of society. A low salaried public sector is one with high turnover where people are looking to use their public power to secure private employment.

If $81,000 a year for a state legislator--who has no tenure and can be replaced at any primary or general election--is so outrageous, how does one defend the fact that the average full professor at Penn State makes $116,00 and the average full professor at Temple makes $105,000?
How does one defend the salaries of Paul Vallas and Housing Authority chief Carl Greene, each over $200,000? How does one defend the many governmental professionals each earning more commensurate with their education and work experience than the wage of the average wage earner?

In 2003, the last year figures are available, the average average elementary school principal in Pennsylvania earned about $88,000 per year, and the average high school principal earned about $87,000 a year. How does one defend those figures if $81,000 state legislative salaries are so outrageous?

Grover Norquist famously said he wanted to shrink government to size where it could be flushed down the toilet. The Katrina example--where Bush laid thousands of well-paid flood control workers years ago--is an example of the folly of this kind of thinking.

The fact is that wages for lower skilled workers have always fallen without governmental programs pushed by Democrats to keep them up.

That is why Democrats have pushed programs like the minimum wage, the prevailing wage, the living wage, affirmative action, union organizing protections, anti-discrimination laws: to keep wages for the least skilled above where they would be if market forces remained unrestrained.

Anyone who wants to raise the salaries for workers should vote Democratic for all offices. Anyone who is against raising salaries for workers should find some excuse not to vote Democratic.

The Democratic Party can use can an infusion of people who believe in the traditional ideals of the Democratic Party. Those who see in the Republican wing the makings of true spokespersons for interests of progressive Democrats are kidding themselves.

A Democrat who theoretically gets elected to the legislature with the support of the anti-pay raise forces will be a Democrat in debt to a right-wing agenda and a Democrat likely to switch to the Republican Party. The fact that Richard Mellon Scaife, the Lincoln Institute, the Commonwealth Foundation, the Young Conservatives of Pennsylvania, Grassroots Pennsylvania, the Club for Growth, and their right-wing brethren hold a position does not, in itself, make that position unworthy. It is, however, a pretty good hint that it is not a position that progressives will proud of over the long haul.

4:37 PM  
Blogger ACM said...

Of course,joining hands with extreme right-wing elements of the Republicans strengthens their power base and negatively affects progresses causes.

Let me just say that I have *no* interest in "joining hands with" the right. However, that doesn't mean that I'm willing to let their interest in a topic keep me from working on my own interests in that same arena. It will be very rare that the ends will coincide, even if the sparking point is the same, as is clear from the current raise-the-minimum-wage (versus "oust the bastards") response to the legislative pay hike.

I think that you are presuming a coalition where none exists, in either intent or perception (yourself excluded). You have yet to convince me otherwise, or, as far as I can tell, really to address that question at all.

4:45 PM  
Blogger Rep. Mark B. Cohen said...

ACM, please reread the article you posted above: the September 11, 2005 Inquirer article entitled "Pay Raise Strokes Civil War Within GOP" by Carrie Budoff.

In the sixth paragraph of the article, it describes the Commonwealth Foundation as "a free market policy organization that is WORKING WITH LIBERAL GROUPS ON A REPEAL." (Emphasis added)

I do not know precisely what "working with" means. I suspect it means different things for different people. At least one "liberal" anti-pay raise leader, my friend Tim Potts, who heads an organization called Democracy Rising,told me he is in regular touch with the Commonwealth Foundation on legislative payraise and other legislative procedural issues.

Let me suggest this test for Neighborhood Networks: if pro-minimum wage increase legislators are targeted by Neighborhood Networks to have primary opposition because of their support for a legislative payraise, then the organization is "working with" the radical right whether it talks with them or not because it would be pursuing their objectives.

Raising the minimum wage is far from being a right-wing objective. On its own, it has overwhelming support: the most favorable national poll showed 84% in favor and just 6% against. It does not need to piggyback on anti-pay raise hysteria generated largely by right-wing anti-minimum wage people and organizations to get petition signatures or to get the attention of the legislature.

As the prime sponsor of the only minimum wage bill going to $7.15 an hour in 2007, and the only mininimum wage bill providing for annual cost of living increases, I continue to believe that the linkage of the two issues creates a serious obstacle to the passage of a minimum wage increase.

I also believe that the desire to find progressive "interests" in legislature-bashing at a time when other issues--the John Roberts nomination, the war in Iraq, the allowing a predominantly black city that plays a decisive role in the election of statewide officials in Louisiana to be destroyed as a result of federal budget cuts, to cite the three most important examples--are far more important and far more consistent with progressive values as traditionally understood, casts a cloud upon the future of progressive politics in Philadelphia.

There are endless number of potential fights to wage. Picking fights with allies and potential allies to be on the side of your most determined adeversaries is never a good political strategy.

7:15 PM  
Blogger Dumplingeater said...

Wow! Quite a lot to read carefully, and I don't have the time now - but I'll come back later. For now, I just want to clarify that I wasn't presuming that you were making a point -- my question was just musing on the keyboard. And yeah, "joining hands" might have been sretching things a bit, but there is a larger philosophical issue here that I'm still struggling with.

10:27 PM  
Blogger ACM said...

I also believe that the desire to find progressive "interests" in legislature-bashing at a time when other issues--the John Roberts nomination, the war in Iraq, the allowing a predominantly black city that plays a decisive role in the election of statewide officials in Louisiana to be destroyed as a result of federal budget cuts, to cite the three most important examples--are far more important and far more consistent with progressive values as traditionally understood, casts a cloud upon the future of progressive politics in Philadelphia.

Am I to take this little lecture, which suggests that local organizations should have deferred to national issues and crises most of which didn't yet exist when we were discussing the pay-raise topic, as an example of bridge-building with allies? Just askin', caus' the effect it has on me is not quite that. [One gets the feeling that you also didn't recognize the tone of the original post as a hat-tip to your arguments.]

Most of my life I have been concerned in the political arena *only* with national issues, but I'm attempting to change that. To suggest that, say, tracking the action of local politicians and attempting to exert pressure on them detracts from anyone's ability to also oppose the Iraq war (which I've personally been doing since 9/12/01) or to participate in humanitarian efforts is at best ludicrous and at worst defeatist of any attempt to convince people that regional activism matters. Surely you are capable of pursuing more than one priority at at time, and likewise with other groups and individuals.


10:08 AM  
Blogger Rep. Mark B. Cohen said...

ACM, I certainly do appreciate your mentioning me in the context of the Carrie Budoff article. It was certainly kind of you to mention that I raised these general points much earlier--although not with all the specificity in Ms. Budoff's article. None of my comments are a personal attack, or are meant to be considered in that fashion.

It has long been my hope that there could be much more cooperation between grassroots progressive activists and Democratic state legislators. When Neighborhood Networks announced its focus on the minimum wage at the founding meeting on June 4, I was elated. This was a moment I had looking far.

But, a little more than a month later, the focus changed. Suddenly, the minimum wage was to be intermixed with opposition to the legislative pay raise, and petitions were suddenly developed raising both issues. As the House leader of minimum wage increase efforts, I believed then--and now--that this is counterproductive to passing a bill increasing the minimum wage.

As a long-time activist for progressive social change, I believed then--and now--that it also counterproductive to building and maintaining progressive strength. As probably the only person in Philadelphia to have attended the 1968 Democratic National Convention on behalf of Eugene McCarthy, and the 2004 Democratic National Convention on behalf of Howard Dean, I am not a latecomer to issues of war and peace and social justice.

The Democratic Party at a local level is consumed with solving many small neighborhood and personal problems. It certainly could use an infusion of people with vision, passion, and a strong sense of progressive direction.

There already is heavy pressure to go along with Republicans from numerous interest groups more interested in getting some minor thing accomplished than in forging a worthwhile long-range direction. When I think of groups that are needed, I do not think of groups identifying with the rhetoric and outrage towards governmental spending that comes from the right wing of the Republican Party.

One builds worthwhile social movements by working on the same side as allies. One does not build worthwhile social movements by working on the same side as strong adversaries.

Obviously, Neighborhood Networks does not see the progressives in the Pennsylvania legislature as actual or potential allies. If it did, it would not be siding with the more conservative members of each caucus against the more liberal members of each caucus. (Yes, I know there are occasional exceptions to this generalization.)

Please make a list of important issues that you want state government to resolve. Then look at who is likely to agree with you on these issues. I am confident that it will virtually never be the right-wing groups beating the drums against the legislative pay raise with millions of dollars from Richard Mellon Scaife and other right-wing financiers.

4:13 PM  

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