Under the Dome: First Tuesday Report
by Tim Potts & Russ Diamond
"The General Assembly ...shall meet at twelve o'clock noon on the first Tuesday of January each year..."
-- PA Constitution, Article II, Section 4
Inside the General Assembly, this Constitutional requirement is known simply as "First Tuesday." So at the appointed hour on January 3, Kathleen Daugherty and I as co-founders of Democracy Rising PA, along with Barry Kauffman of Common Cause/PA, convened in the visitors' gallery of the House of Representatives.
If you had tuned your television to the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN), you would have seen House Speaker John Perzel bang the gavel and bring the House to order. He immediately recognized "the gentleman from Washington County Mr. Daley" (Rep. Peter J. Daley II, D-Donora), who moved that the House adjourn the session day that had carried over the Christmas and New Year's break.
The Speaker intoned that the motion had passed on a voice vote, and then convened First Tuesday as required by the Constitution. The House recessed at 12:05 p.m. after recording 57 actions on 26 bills by voice vote.
That's what you were allowed to see because PCN can't control the cameras. What you didn't see was that Speaker Perzel was having visual and auditory hallucinations.
There was no Mr. Daley. In fact, not a single elected Representative other than the Speaker was in the chamber. So when the "ayes" out-polled the "nays," it was by the slimmest of margins - that is, zero. And by this same margin, other business occurred by voice vote without a single voice voting. The constitutionally required session was a fabrication and a fraud.
Our Representatives and Senators take an oath to "obey" the Constitution. The Constitution requires them to show up for work on exactly one day a year. Yet despite abundant work to do and an oath taken on a holy book to do it, only the Speaker among 203 Representatives was there.
If lawmakers can't exhibit integrity in the small things, why should we have confidence that they will exhibit integrity in the large things?
Tim Potts, Co-Founder, Democracy Rising PA
Across the rotunda there were actual Senators on the floor, but only a handful. By my count, less than one-third showed up for work on the one day the Constitution requires the General Assembly to convene.
After the Senate was brought to order at 12:10 p.m., a few House bills were logged and Majority Leader Brightbill was recognized. The purpose was to nominate the Senate Pro Tempore, Robert Jubelirer, for re-election to his post.
The nomination was peppered with accolades and seconded by Senators O'Pake and Wenger. There were no other nominations. Senator Jubelirer was unanimously re-elected and sworn in by his wife, a Commonwealth Court judge.
This was an occasion I shall never forget. Standing between enormous portraits of George Washington at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg in 1863 was Senator Jubelirer swearing to "support, obey and defend" our Constitution in 2006. In the wake of July 7, the moment was utterly surreal.
He then accepted the gavel from the Lt. Governor and proceeded to address the few Senators present. During his speech, he referred to First Tuesday as "ceremonial." And this is when I began to understand.
What I began to comprehend is that on a "ceremonial" day, when the General Assembly only superficially "convenes," it is perfectly logical to swear to "support, obey and defend" a document which for the rest of the year seems more like something to be poked, prodded and cajoled in search of loopholes and shortcuts to benefit those doing the cajoling.
Ironic, isn't it?
Our Constitution is not merely ceremonial. The mandates within shouldn't be only technically met. Supporting, obeying and defending the plain language of the document ought to be a year-round vigil. Our most fundamental law must be returned to its rightful place - shielding liberty from abuse by limiting the power of those who govern.
This is what Pennsylvania wants. This is what Pennsylvania needs. This is what Pennsylvania demands.
And in 2006, Pennsylvanians will settle for nothing less.
Russ Diamond, Founder and Chair, PACleanSweep.com
PACleanSweep is a non-partisan effort dedicated to defeating incumbent elected officials in Pennsylvania and replacing them with true public servants. For more information, please visit www.PACleanSweep.com.