I’m always interested in reader reaction.
Not so much online commenters. They just seem to fight among themselves.
But readers who take time to email or call? They’re worth attention.
During and after my just-completed five-part series on reforms to improve Pennsylvania politics and government, I heard quite a lot from readers.
Some were inspired. Some depressed. Some thought I was crazy, wasting my time. And a few had their own suggestions for making the state a better place.
George P. from Bryn Mawr, for example, emailed after reading a column on how built-in incumbent protections keep the same people in office and the same dismal policies in place.
He suggested that election ballots include either an asterisk or an “I” beside the names of incumbents. He wrote, “It’s easier to hit a target when you can see it.”
Clearly one of Pennsylvania’s many hunters.
Then there was Bruce S., a longtime Philly lawyer who wrote about a column calling for an end to statewide judicial elections.
He called most judges “hacks” and suggested a system whereby to be a judge you’d agree to a salary less than your prior year’s taxable income: “Take the job to make a contribution to the law and community, not to make a better living.”
Altruism in public service, what a concept.
I liked the email from Mrs. B. in Lansdowne. She wrote after I argued in a column on voting laws that independents should be allowed to vote in primaries.
She suggested that one reason they’re not is they’re not on party fundraising lists and likely don’t contribute. She added, “The entire process runs more on cash than character.”
This is a person who’s paying attention.
Sadly, several folks wrote or called with stories of trying to contact state lawmakers and getting either no response or a form letter.
Seems when you’re protected as these folks are (half of incumbents in 2016 had no general election opponents), why bother with constituents?
But lots of readers blamed voters, and not without reason. You know what our turnout’s like. Apathy’s both a cause and a problem.
Tom M. wrote that our citizens have “the government they/we have because of crushing ennui. Unless the wolf (the animal, not the governor) is at their door, they couldn’t be bothered.”
I got voice messages telling me I’m nuts to think anything in Harrisburg ever will change. I got emails questioning why I keep tilting at windmills.
But some readers seemed appreciative.
“Your articles have made me aware of so many things,” wrote Anne F., “and have inspired me to call and write many people.”
Victor M. from West Chester wrote a thank-you note: “Shining light on this craziness inspires people like me to get involved in the process.”
And a “retiring small-town mayor” in Lancaster County wrote to say he’s considering options “to get involved in reforming state government” and wondered whether the Committee of Seventy and/or Common Cause are good places to start. I suggested they are.
Reform isn’t easy. Especially in places, such as Pennsylvania, so long without it.
But it’s needed. We’re among just 11 states to get an F in a 2015 study of states by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Center for Public Integrity, an investigative journalism organization that measured state ethics, transparency, accountability, and such.
We failed. I doubt we’d pass a follow-up.
Our overarching problem, as spelled out for me by a former state lawmaker, is this: “The people who care about reform are not the people with the power to make reform happen. And the people with the power to make it happen don’t care about reform.”
Still, there are people and groups and public officials who believe change can happen. All that’s needed is for a leader or two or three to step up and push.
And for people to vote. Whether or not there’s an asterisk or an “I” on the ballot.