PHOTO INDEX: SENATOR TRENT LOTT, A DALLAS COWBOY CHEERLEADER, THE LUZERNE COUNTY COURTHOUSE AND THE GREEN BAY PACKERS LOGO.
When I was Youth Coordinator in Luzerne and Wyoming counties for the Hubert Humphrey Presidential campaign, I met a lot of characters along the way. One of them was a guy out of Wisconsin named Regis Goyke. Goyke was the field coordinator for the eastern part of the state and had a colorful way of framing things. Come to think of it, he might have even been James Carville before James Carville realized he was James Carville. But I digress. One day Goyke had a volunteer meeting and proceeded to talk about the controversial busing issue. He told the group to avoid the busing discussions because it was "Ugly Town". He kept on repeating that over and over again. Afterwards, I asked him what "Ugly Town" meant. He told me it was a political issue or controversy where no one won. No side could defend it. Ugly Town, death in politics.
I thought of that this week when the discussions started fast and furious about the debit card discussion in Luzerne County. Just before the election, when this was bubbling to the surface, I knew it was going to be trouble. But the Luzerne County lawyers staved off the newspapers long enough to elect a Democratic majority. But the day before Thanksgiving, the proverbial stuffing hit the fan. Predictably, no county official was around to issue a comment. Then on Tuesday, the Citizen's Voice (which broke the story) had a front page headline on the debit card usage by county employees.
County officials were lambasted for using debit cards for personal travel and expenses. It was pointed out that it was for county business. But this issue is a tough one for the public to swallow, especially when the county has to borrow money for next year's budget. On the Steve Corbett radio program tonight, callers were characterizing public officials "as pigs feeding at the public trough". It was not a real good discussion. And it does not bode well for the team of Skrepenak and Petrilla as they attempt to govern in this new term. As I pointed out when this story broke before the election, this can be a damaging issue because the public, God bless 'em, understand it. They don't understand the nuances of the Juvenile Detention Center or even the complexities of reassessment. But in the area where my father used to say, "people would rather see a hearse in your driveway than a Cadillac" the issue will resonate. Public officials are viewed as people "on the dime". When they go to a conference in California or a dinner in New York, the average citizen gets envious and asks "why them and not me?" They don't take into account the time away from family and friends. Having been on a few business trips myself and for the ride along with Mrs. LuLac a few times, I can say it isn't all peaches and cream. (Like Mrs. LuLac taking 2 days to get back from San Jose last March due to the idiots at the airlines). But perception is everything and all the public sees is the cost and what it buys. The Time Share in New York gets $208.00 for a nightly rate for a room. Your average hotel room in NYC starts at $500.00 a night on weekdays, $750.00 on weekends. But all the public sees is the cost. And the other major thing here is the vehicle, the debit card. My parent's generation paid cash (and those still living) for everything. Most of this generation knows what it is to have a credit card, use it, run it up and then all of sudden be stuck with a huge payment. People understand debit cards. They understand they have to pay off their credit card or not get one again or pay for it through late fees or a lower credit rating. With the county debit card, there are no such penalties. The balances are not paid by Misters Skrepenak, Vonderheid, Brace, Hyder and Richards, they are paid by the General Fund budget. And even the most dense and uninformed citizen knows that comes from taxes. The county expenses run up by the boys are an easy target but understand this: education, conferences, and seeing how other cities do things is an invaluable experience. They should be encouraged and in some cases even celebrated. BUT and this is a big BUT, the mistake here was not documenting expenses. It is mystifying to me in this political climate here why these guys didn't save receipts or write a report on what was going on. Did they not remember the controversy over the Intermediate Unit 18's lobster dinners fiasco in the eighties? And how about Frank Harrison's defeat by Paul Kanjorski because Harrison went on a trip (at the behest of House Speaker Tip O'Neill) while his constituents were having clean water problems? You don't expect the average citizen to remember those stories but these officials are POLITICAL PEOPLE. They wouldn't have their jobs if they weren't. Brace has been in public life since after the '72 flood and the Hyder name has been politically strong for years. The huge mistake here is that no one covered their tracks. Someone in the Courthouse or in the Democratic party should have demanded accoutability. They sweep the county races this year and then have to govern under this cloud? Where was the one voice of reason? And Skrep's phone interview with Joe Holden apologizing and then saying "we get too busy with things" was not helpful. He'd have been better off not saying anything. As a taxpayer, I am all for public education and out of town trips for county officials. My feeling is that even if it's a bit of a junket, unless the person going is a complete moron, they pick up something of value. And meals and hotels, again no problem with that. You send someone out of town away from their family, a dinner isn't going to raise my hackles. But the fact that these guys hid it the facts, didn't save receipts, didn't have a show and tell when they came back from their trips (if they had, there'd be no issue today) is colossally stupid. In one of my favorite political movies of all time, (The Best Man) former President Art Hochstader tells candidate Joe Cantwell, "I'm not against you because you're so arrogant or you love power, I'm against you because you are so stupid". Our guys under the Dome should rent the movie. And pay cash for it.
So Mrs. Curley, Robert Curley's mother lost her motion to have money withheld from her son's killer Jo Anne Curley. Keep in mind this whole thing came about because a lawyer, Mrs. Curley's lawyer, missed a filing deadline. I'm sure he'd be on time for his spa appointment or dinner at the Saber Room but for an attorney to miss a filing deadline, especially for a client like this who needs and wants legal recourse in every way possible to make up for the murder of her son is horrible. But then again, most lawyers around here are....horrible, greedy, stupid and not on time.
Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott, the Senate's No. 2 Republican, announced Monday he will retire from the Senate by end of year. Lott, 66, said he had notified President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour on Sunday about his plans. Barbour, a Republican, will name someone to temporarily replace Lott. Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, who helped broker a bipartisan immigration bill that went down to defeat this year despite President Bush's support for it, will run to replace Lott as the Republicans' vote-counting whip, said spokesman Ryan Patmintra. Lott described his 16 years in the House and 19 in the Senate "a wild ride - and one that I'm proud of." He said he was leaving with "no anger, no malice." A return to power Lott's colleagues elected him as the Senate's Republican whip last year, a redemption for the Mississippian after his ouster five years ago as the party's Senate leader over remarks he made at retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party. Lott had saluted the South Carolina senator with comments later interpreted as support for southern segregationist policies. As you may recall, President Bush did not stand behind Lott after his remarks about Thurmond, increasing pressure on the lawmaker to step down from the No. 1 Senate job.
Lott first gained prominence as a member of the House Judiciary Committee that voted to impeach President Nixon in 1974. He has been a mainstay of Sunday morning talk shows for years and even though he was a right winger, he was articulate and added to the discourse.
THE BIG GAME
You'd think I'd be a Cowboys fan just for the cheerleaders. But I'm not. My team, the Packers face off against Dallas Thursday night on the NFL Network. Both teams are 11-1. This is a preview of the NFL Championship game and it will be exciting. My prediction: Dallas 14-Green Bay 13. It kills me to say it but I think it will be a game of defenses. And no, my pick had nothing to do with Green Bay's lack of cheerleaders.