Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Pennsylvania Uprising

Some commentators have taken notice of what happened in these parts last night.

There's a tendency to try to read into this result: Do the voters want more conservatives? Fewer Republicans? What does it bode for Bush?

Don't get too excited about any of that. It was a wonderful demonstration that the people own the sovereignty, even in modern America, and that the real term limits are those that are enacted in the voting booth.

The losers lost because they voted themselves a 16 percent pay raise, in the middle of the night, with no debate, and then dove through a loophole that allowed them to take the money right away, rather than waiting till the next year, as the state constitution requires.

Period. Add various character flaws -- chiefly arrogance -- on top of that, and you get the result you see this morning. One of the losers had so little regard for his primary challenger that rather than debate him in public, he invited him to stop by the legislative office any time and share any good ideas he might have.

It's likely the winners in these races will be somewhat more conservative, and independent of party machinery, than the losing incumbents were. But that's not the point. This was an "anyone but" election. A well-behaved orangutan could have turned out an incumbent state legislator in the Dutch counties of Pennsylvania.

One of our reporters staked out a polling place in the district of a state rep who voted himself a 16 percent pay hike, adding $11,403 to his salary with one push of a button, to bring it to $81,050. Next year, he'll have to get a salary from someone else.

Here are some of the comments he heard:

“I hope we have a good shakeup. We need it.” "... took the dough ...” “I’d like that, too. I’d like to have half of that.” “I’m a retired state employee. I didn’t get that raise. I have to wait four years before I get a raise.” “I thought it was underhanded, like they were getting something over us.” “I can understand a 2 or 3 percent raise. Sixteen percent at one time was ridiculous.”

He asked Republicans how important the pay raise was in their choice, on a scale of 1 to 5. More than half said "5." Only 2 percent said "1."