Wednesday, I told you about Norco Democratic party chair Joe Long. He also chairs Bethlehem's Housing Authority, and apparently treats it like his own little fiefdom. Commissioners must clear all communications through him. And he has encouraged routine violations of the Sunshine Act. That included a private meeting about to be sprung on an unsuspecting Congressman Charlie Dent until he was tipped off by the press.
Fortunately, Long's medieval view of open and accountable government is not shared by local Democrats seeking state office. In the Lehigh Valley, there are eight contested seats. Seven Democratic candidates believe our open records and meeting laws must be strengthened. Only three of their Republican opponents agree.
Why do we need to strengthen these laws? Let me give you two examples from my hometown, Nazareth.
If a serious crime is committed in your community, like a rape, don't you think you have a right to know? Not according to Nazareth police. Last year, they hushed up a rape even though the perpetrator was still at large. Express Times editor Joe Owens told a radio audience Nazareth cops actually accused his paper of being interested only in "sex stories" when a reporter demanded to know what was happening.
When a municipality spends your tax money on a project that was never approved, like engineering plans for a government center expansion in Nazareth, don't you think you have a right to know? You don't. As NewsOverCoffee makes clear, we still don't know what was charged or whether it was paid.
We should all know when a serious crime is committed or how our tax dollars are spent. That's why the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association has initiated "Brighter Pennsylvania," a program that improves both access and accountability in local and state government. Brighter Pennsylvania proposes strengthening our Sunshine Act and Right to Know Law. These fundamental reforms are important to good government.
On Wednesday, Linda Minger, Democratic candidate for state rep. in the 131st legislative district, publicly signed this good government initiative. With her signature and public support, seven of eight Lehigh Valley Democrats in disputed state contests now endorse the simple principle that Pennsylvanians should have meaningful access to government records and proceedings. They're in pretty good company. Governor Rendell also agrees.
Five LV Republicans have refused to join this quest for good government. These include incumbents Doug Reichley, Julie Harhart, Karen Beyer, Rob Wunderling and challenger Eddie Tiburcio.
Reichley, whose campaign is heavily funded by developers, is a union-buster who took the illegal midnight payraise. His opponent is Chris "Blue Collar" Casey.
Harhart has done nothing in her many years in office except do as she's told, and that includes a vote to suspend rules that made the illegal midnight payraise possible. She faces Russ Shade on November 7.
Karen Beyer, who was only recently elected, is nevertheless a Reichley protege. That explains her antipathy to reform. Linda Minger has challenged her.
I wouldn't vote for or against a candidate on the basis of a single issue. But Reichley, Harhart and Beyer are displaying a pattern designed to keep voters in the dark. Their records, finance reports and opposition to open government reveal that they are not here to serve us. Their masters are the special interests who finance their campaigns.