Words Of Malcolm X, 'Tip' O'neill Inspire Anti-tax Groups Both Men Felt Local People Were The Key To Politics. The Groups Aim To Change Government Spending.

Posted: January 16, 1994

Want to send an anti-tax message to elected representatives from Main Street to Pennsylvania Avenue? Look no further than Malcolm X and Thomas P. ''Tip" O'Neill.

So says Sean Duffy, president of the Pennsylvania Leadership Council, a Harrisburg-based group promoting greater accountability in government.

Unlikely bedfellows, yes, but the two men's approach to politics was remarkably similar, said Duffy, addressing a roomful of angry taxpayers yesterday at a regional spending cuts conference.

"The people's job," said Duffy, paraphrasing Malcolm X, the 1960s civil rights leader, "is to control the local politicians."

Duffy then tossed in a bromide from O'Neill, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, an old-time Boston politician who died recently:

"All politics," he said, "are local."

And that, agreed a panel of strategists committed to changing government spending, is how to approach all politicians, from school board members to senators, from borough presidents to the chief executive himself.

Never stop pushing elected officials to be accountable and accessible, they said, speaking on the final day of a two-day conference sponsored by the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste of Washington, D.C

"It all boils down to one thing: The only way you can get an official to pay attention to you is if they're scared of you," said Jim Broussard, president of Citizens Against Higher Taxes, another Harrisburg-based organization. "So your purpose each day should be, 'What can I do to strike fear into the hearts of my local public officials?' "

How? Broussard and others offered a few suggestions:

* Begin a letter-writing campaign to local newspapers, stressing the organization's philosophy. Try to get occasional columns printed.

* Plan local political campaigns early. Target the guy you don't like, get voter registration lists and decide who is likely to agree with your philosophy. Start mailing fliers and other material to those targeted voters.

* Keep a close eye on how Congress votes, especially on complicated, Byzantine bills that are hard to understand. Often, that legislation costs taxpayers millions, said Grover Norquist, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Americans for Tax Reform.

* Always ask for donations. "Don't be afraid to ask for money, even if your last mailing just asked for money," said Broussard. Political action, he said, is expensive.

But the money is well-spent if it helps change the status quo, agreed convention-goers, some who came from as far as New York and Virginia to swap ideas, exchange business cards and rail at the system.

"The people who came today?" asked Karen Kerrigan, national field director of the Council of Citizens. She gestured at the participants, most of them middle-aged, white and dark-suited. "They're the pulse of America."

Ray Davis counts himself among that bunch. He traveled from Clarks Summit, a borough tucked in northeast corner of the state in Lackawanna County, to get some tips from the experts.

"It all starts at the local level," he said. "If you can't control your school board, how can you expect Congress to do any different than it does now?"

A financial adviser, he's a founding member of a local tax-reform group formed four years ago. "I really didn't plan to get so involved, but it just sort of happened," said Davis, a Clarks Summit Borough councilman.

Davis shrugged. "You get to meet some nice people, and learn some valuable things," he said. "It beats watching reruns on TV."

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