Pa. pols ply oldest tricks of the trade

Giant inflatable rats are fixtures of local union protests like this one by Teamsters in 2010.
Giant inflatable rats are fixtures of local union protests like this one by Teamsters in 2010. (Inquirer archive)
Posted: January 31, 2014

PERHAPS YOU'VE seen the Geico TV ad featuring "the oldest trick in the book."

It reprises, comically, an ancient version of tricking someone with "look over there" where there's nothing to look at.

It's misdirection. It's pretending. And it's like Pennsylvania politics.

Take the issue called "paycheck protection."

This is a national conservative Republican effort ostensibly offered to help members of public-employee unions keep more of their pay.

It would do this by banning deduction of union dues from government paychecks because taxpayer-paid government services are used to effect such deductions.

So, look over there: Conservative Republicans are simply extending their well-documented empathy and compassion with and for working folks.

You know, just as they do with regard to unemployment benefits or minimum-wage reform.

It is not, they will tell you, "union busting" or anything close to a partisan effort to reduce union money and/or clout.

And if you've seen reports in, for example, the Wall Street Journal that after GOP Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker got "paycheck protection," unions in his state took a dive? Well, that's probably coincidental.

(The Journal reports that an AFSCME local near Milwaukee County lost a third of its dues income in 2012 and that the Wisconsin chapter of the American Federation of Teachers dropped from No. 1 in spending among state lobbies to 40th.)

Union leaders fight this as a "war on workers" aimed at ending unions.

Overreaction?

Sort of like Second Amendment absolutists opposing expanded background checks for gun buys as foot-in-the-door moves toward firearm confiscation.

Reality can be a movable feast.

The political reality here is that troublesome GOP issues such as selling off state stores, getting school vouchers or cutting public pensions could be more easily tackled if not for the influence of pesky unions.

So conservative lawmakers, Gov. Corbett and others favoring "paycheck protection" should simply pitch it as a political tool, not a payday present to workers.

Speaking of political tools.

Corbett's crack legal team, evidently seeking to extend its string of losses in high-profile cases, is asking a Commonwealth Court judge to reconsider rejection of the voter-ID law.

This is the lookest-over-there law pretending to purify elections by ending never-substantiated fraud. If it happens to result in lower urban/aged (read Democratic) turnout in a state that voted Democratic in the last six presidential elections, well, that's probably happenstance.

Or political pickpocketing.

Judge Bernard McGinley this month ruled that the law "unreasonably burdens the right to vote." Because the governor's asking nicely, perhaps McGinley'll reconsider and say, "Oh, wait, maybe it doesn't."

Voter ID, its lame defense and the current effort to keep it on life support might not be the oldest trick in the book. But it's not far from a flaming bag of dog poop on the doorstep.

Other tricks include calling legislation mandating vaginal ultrasounds "to protect the health of women" seeking abortions the "Women's Right to Know Act."

It got pulled in early 2012 after women got to know it. And after Republicans started to sense that it might not help them politically.

Then there was a GOP effort to redistribute the state's electoral votes to bring "fairness" (a/k/a Republican gain) to the process.

Senate Republican leader Dominic Pileggi offered two versions of change: One awarded electoral votes by congressional districts; a latter version (still in a Senate committee) awards votes proportionately.

All these measures are slick. All are ambitious products of ideologies pushed along by raw politics.

Why not call them what they are - rather than tap the public on the shoulder and point to something else?


Email: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer

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