Friday, December 26, 2014

John Baer | Ed: Make your speech a ripping good tale

GOV. ED gets sworn in at noon today for his second term and what might well be his last public office.

He gets to make an inaugural address. I hope he rips it up.

Literally.

I hope he stands at the podium, takes his speech in both hands and tears it in two.

He can't read speeches anyway, no matter how well-written. He doesn't have the patience. He attacks them like a chore. Or a cheesesteak.

But what he can do is talk up a storm. There are few as good.

So I'd like him to toss the speech and speak from the heart.

He is, after all, a politician who actually believes in what he does, who believes government can make a positive difference in people's lives, who believes public policy can change a city or a state for the better.

He should say that.

There's no need to recap his first term. We all know about it. That's why he re-won his office. So spare us the "When I stood here four years ago."

There's no need to quote a Kennedy or Dr. King. We've heard the quotes. Including four years ago.

There's no need to wax on about the natural beauty of Pennsylvania or the boundless potential of its people. That's boilerplate.

Instead, how about plain, straight talk?

First, he should stress he won't be a lame duck because he has lots to accomplish and intends to accomplish lots while serving out his term.

I wouldn't mind hearing, "I'll neither seek nor accept another job until I've done the one you reelected me to."

He should say he's staying because of big, progressive things on his plate that could take (at least) four years to finish.

And even though lots of his top appointees, people he trusts, will likely look to leave after this year (once vested in the state retirement system), he should say he intends to persuade them to stay.

Second, he should stress he's serious about fundamental reforms affecting real people and will work as if he's campaigning to get them into law.

And lay them out: health care (a shame in a nation as rich as ours), further property-tax relief, better ways to fund mass transit, and innovations such as his $1 billion Salk Legacy Fund to promote bio-medical research.

Items, in other words, long ignored or played around the edges due to deference to special interests and political cowardice.

Third, he should stress he's serious about reforming the state's political process, a process that promotes and protects incumbents, that inhibits broad participation and discourages openness and new ideas.

I'm talking some kind of campaign-finance control (who better to change the system than its all-time master?), term limits for lawmakers, merit selection of judges, a citizen redistricting commission, and efforts to shrink the size of the Legislature and to move up the date of the presidential primary to give the state a say in picking national leaders.

These changes can make Pennsylvania politically progressive, make it relevant to presidential selection and better engage its citizens in their government.

They are all things Rendell agrees are good and says he wants. But he needs to hammer them, starting today, because they will not come easy.

He has spent a career in public life as a prosecutor, a mayor and governor. At 63, he can add to his legacy of changing a city by also changing a state.

I don't know what he'll say. (You'd be surprised how infrequently he seeks or follows my advice.) But I hope, if it's a standard speech, he goes ahead and rips it up. *

Send e-mail to baerj@phillynews.com.

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