Even here in the People's Republic of Northampton County, people were wondering whether he'd crack. Would he bow to the pressure and threats being exerted on him by virtually every Republican in the universe, from Party Boss to proud tea party member? Would he go along with a last-minute and myopic effort, spearheaded by Glenn "Commissioner 'No'" Eckhart to direct Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham to produce a new budget that completely and unrealistically eliminates a tax hike? Would he knuckle under to political pressure that has more to do with next year's election than good government? Or would he give the people of Lehigh County his best judgment, as opposed to political expediency? Browning decided to do what he, and not Wayne Woodman or Scott Ott, thought was right, even if this ends his political career. He voted with Democrats to defeat what Commissioner Dan McCarthy correctly labeled an "artificial crisis." He rebuked Commissioners for shirking their own responsibilities. Some say it is political suicide, but I thought it an act of courage that sets Browning apart as one of very few government leaders willing to follow his own conscience.
I have lots of video from last night's showdown, but must first commend Jenna Portnoy for a thorough and accurate account of last night's meeting in The Morning Call.
Four Republicans wanted to send Cunningham's budget back, at the urging of Lehigh County GOP Chair Wayne Woodman. Cunningham, who was there, made the consequences of what he called a "party boss" budget, very clear.
"I'll give you a budget back. We will have to take out about $17-19 million to meet your millage rate,Mr. Eckhart, that you propose in your motion. ... I don't need fourteen days. I'll give it to you by Monday. The first thing I'm going to take out is all your staff and your salaries. [applause] I'll tell you why. Let me tell you why. Let me tell you why.
"They just gave me the budget back, and in the world I live in, when you don't work, you don't get paid. You have one job to do as the legislative part-time Council of this government, and that is to set a budget. For two months, you've come up with $350,000 worth of cuts. Five days before the deadline, after the party bosses showed up, twisted some arms, pushed on you and twisted, you sent it back to me. In my world, you did not do your job. You don't need three staff people and you don't need a salary. So the budget you get back will reflect that."
Cunningham went on to say he'd have to take $5 million from the Courts, $5 million from Corrections, as well as money from the DA. This in turn would invite a lawsut by the Courts, the DA and an intervention by the state.
"You can fight the Courts, fight the State, fight everbody to see if you can accomplish what you've tried to accomplish."
But Cunningham makes clear he won't give them a nickel to pay for a lawyer.
"I'm sure tomorrow morning you'll wake up with an awful tea party hangover when people realize that you've effectively shut down this government and gone to war."
Commissioner Percy Dougherty attempted to suggest that this would just give them an opportunity to work with Cunningham, but he saw right through that argument.
"You haven't done your job. You haven't cooperated. That's not a process."
Commissioner Dan McCarthy noted that one group would really love a zero tax increase budget - criminals.
When it was time for the public to speak, the very first person lined up was Lehigh County Party Boss Wayne Woodman.
"I am referred to as a party boss. But after watching our Executive today, I feel I have a lot left to learn. I think the last time citizens of this Commonwealth were referred to the way we were or spoken to the way we were, there was a man on the throne named George."
Scrappleface, aka Scott Ott, told the crowd he's glad he lost his race against Cunningham. So am I.
He portrayed Dean Browning as a "wise advisor" who "schooled" him, kinda' like Yoda schooled Luke. Then he suggests that Dean Browning listen to him.
Dean was quiet most of the evening, and when he spoke, it became very clear that, like it or not, there really is no choice but to accept Don Cunningham's budget.
And that's what happened.
Now there were some harsh exchanges last night, but I was encouraged to see Wayne "Party Boss" Woodman shake hands with Cunningham after it was all over. I also think it was a good thing that so many people were involved in the process. Cunningham was fiery and passionate, revealing a side that many have never seen, and one I actually liked. But the person who impressed me most as the man who impressed Cunningham the most - Dean Browning.