State Rep. Scott Conklin: The Sorry State of Pennsylvania Politics
Music Intro: Billy Bragg, “You Fascists are Bound to Lose”
[Rick Smith]: Welcome back to the Rick Smith Show! Check out the website at RickSmithShow.com. I gotta tell you, I hope you’re as flipping mad as I am about this stuff. Changes to the workers’ comp system, hocking off all of our state assets. I mean, you look at it. The attacks are fast, they’re furious, and their coming from one party. Look, the Republicans, they’ve got it in for us. Selling off our assets, privatizing education, privatizing the state Wine and Spirits shops, privatizing our transportation systems.
I can’t get it out of my head…last night…Colorado, putting advertising on kindergarteners’ report cards! Is that what we’ve come to? It’s a damn shame. I’ve got State Representative Scott Conklin on the line. Scott, thanks for taking time for me.
[Scott Conklin]: Hello, Rick Smith, how you doing tonight!
[Rick Smith]: I’m angry, I’m frustrated, I’m ticked off. You guys are killing me over there!
[Scott Conklin]: Hey, don’t look at me…for the ninth time this session, they [the State House Republicans] cut off debate again tonight. I mean…you see, the way they run the House floor now, is that they just cut off debate. They make amendments out of order. They cut off debate. So, this way you don’t have to put up with opposition. It’s such a great way to run a democracy. You know, the best way to run a democracy is through dictatorship, because it just keeps things flowing much easier.
[Rick Smith]: Yeah, I mean, the people driving the steamroller…well, you’re not killing me, the guy driving the steamroller, he’s the one killing me.
[Scott Conklin]: It’s bad, Rick.
[Rick Smith]: I look at these bills that I was just talking to Irwin about: House Bills 310 and 11. More Public-Private Partnerships. We’re going to give our money to profiteers. House Bill 310, we’re going to privatize the transportation systems in second-class cities that we’ve built up over the years. House Bill 311…what the heck, let’s get rid of the state Wine & Spirit shops. And now I see the voucher thing going through. We’re gonna pass privatization of education. What are we coming to?
[Scott Conklin]: We’re coming to the way we were….and you and I have talked about this before…they’re trying to put it back to the way it was before the beginning of the 20th Century. It was in the 60s when they realized they had 3,000 school districts, we couldn’t manage them, there was a discrepancy between rich and poor, there was segregation. So what they did was they made 501 school districts in Pennsylvania so it’s easier to manage.
What are we doing today? We’re now tearing the school systems apart into separate entities. We’re going to make winners and losers. In fact, at the end of the day, we’re doing to have less education dollars and less of an education for our children by the time we get done with vouchers, because there is only so much money.
For some reason, I don’t understand the disconnect that these legislators have. They talk about wanting to lower property taxes. Well, the only property taxes that hurt you are your school property taxes. So, their theory is if we give less money to schools, all that is going to happen is that property taxes are going to raise and the private schools who are for-profit—who, by the way, last year Students First gave more money to candidates than the teachers’ union gave to candidates. So, that should be sending up a red flag as it is.
Rick, it’s crazy. It’s upside-down. It’s crazy. There’s no debate. You’re right. The steamroller that is going over the citizens of Pennsylvania. But our problem is that we can’t get people out to vote. This election cycle happened again last week. Less than 23% turnout. We can’t get people out to vote.
[Rick Smith]: And maybe…I’ve been saying for the longest time…you go back to the old labor saying: sometimes your stomach has to be empty before your head gets right. And maybe things have got to get much worse.
Maybe my kid has to bring home a report card with an advertisement in the corner. I am just…I cannot tell you how flipping mad I am. It’s not even my school district. In the Conservative World of Coors Brewery—Golden, Colorado—the school district out there in Golden, Colorado…they’re putting advertisements on kids’ report cards.
[Scott Conklin]: It’d be nice if they put a coupon on it and gave a discount for Coors beer. That way, you know, it’d make it something tempting.
[Rick Smith]: There ya go. Make the kids forget the fact that they’re not getting an education. What’s amazing to me, is that this is a school district with 90,000 kids in it and they get $30,000 a year to put these ads on these kids’ report cards. What’s amazing to me is how cheap we are selling off our assets. I go back to our transportation system, I go back to the Wine & Spirits shops, I go back to education. We’re privatizing all this stuff and we’re not—I’m telling you—we’re not getting anything for it.
[Scott Conklin]: Very little. As you saw, first they said we were going to get millions of dollars until they realized that the vendors weren’t willing to pay $2.3 million. So, now it becomes a “moral issue” and the way to the “moral issue” is to put out three times as many liquor licenses as there is now. So, their way to morality is to make getting booze easier. It makes no sense to me, whatsoever. Well, it does….the only sense it makes is you’ve got to follow the money. Where’s the money coming from? And who’s giving it. As Will Rogers once said, “We have the most loyal politicians in the world. Once they’re bought, they stay bought.
[Rick Smith]: Excellent point. You know, I look at this and I’m waiting for this uprising and I’m seeing people around the country at these different Occupations…here in Harrisburg you see 20-30 people out on the Capitol steps, but I’m waiting for the mass uprising. Where it’s not just people you can easily marginalize. To where it’s middle-income people, it’s everybody saying, “enough is enough.”
[Scott Conklin]: What they’ve done, masterfully, is that they’ve made people turned off by politics. I tell folks all the time, when you look at the last few election cycles, to where the Democrats are getting beat right and left, the Republicans are voting at the same numbers they have always voted. When you look at almost any race and you look at what the Republican candidates received, it’s the same amount each time. When you look at what the Democratic candidates receive, it’s going down and down and down over the election cycles.
So, what they’ve done masterfully—and I’ve told people this for years—negative advertising and negativity doesn’t change a vote. What it is, is that it keeps a certain population of people home. And, as the average Democrat, the average blue-collar person, the person who just works night and day, are normally…are pretty moderate folks. They really don’t want to get involved in a lot of dirty play. The dirtier it’s gotten over the past thirty years, the more partisan it’s gotten, it’s turned those folks off and they aren’t coming out. So, the strategy is working.
[Rick Smith]: It is by design. And, you go back…I think it was 1980…Paul Weyrich was one of the co-founders of the Heritage Foundation, he was speaking before a gathering of about 20,000 ministers down in Dallas, Texas and this is…listen to what he told them:
I mean, right there. This is back in 1980, this was the game plan and they have followed it to a “T.”
[Scott Conklin]: That is an excellent clip, I’ve never heard that before. That is an excellent clip.
[Rick Smith]: But it explains everything that they’ve done. The voter suppression stuff—Oh, well we want to have granny who’s been voting at the same poll for 70 years, we want her now to have a photo ID. And, we want to have all of these restrictions on people’s right to vote. I thought it was a right.
[Scott Conklin]: When you look across…in Florida and in other states where they realized that the working class is a majority that votes Democrat. So, what do we do? We give them early voting, we realize that Democratic candidates are doing better because the single-mother, the guy who works night and day and doesn’t take a day off work, is able to vote when [she or] he has the time. What do they do? They realize that and they want to get rid of the early voting now, they want to make it harder for people to vote, because then they know that the folks that work, raise the children, work in the fields, work in the mines, work in your local grocery store, have too hectic of a life to be able to get to the polls to vote. And they know that, so they want to make it as difficult as possible for them to get there.
[Rick Smith]: You know, my question always to Democrats is why don’t we take a page from the Republican playbook? Why aren’t there bills…I mean, you look at Daryl Metcalfe. He’s been proposing the same insane legislation pretty much from the day he came in and now here we are years later and they’re actually talking about it. Why don’t we have Democrats who throw wild ideas out there like…oh, I don’t know…same day voter registration? Hey, try to encourage more people to vote. Why don’t we hear of something like that every single legislative term?
[Scott Conklin]: You know, I mean, you know I have the early voting registration out there. We have other people who have the same day voter registration legislation out there. We just…it’s…we keep going out and we keep beating the drum, but one of the problems we’re having right now, Rick, is that we’re so far in the minority that the agenda…I mean, we really have to beat to control the agenda. They’ve used every parliamentarian move there is to keep any of that stuff off the books.
[Rick Smith]: But, Scott, I thought these were the transparency people, these were the accountability people, I thought these were the people who were going to do government differently, in the open of sunshine. Isn’t that what’s going on?
[Scott Conklin]: It’s only good government when it’s good for you to get elected. But once you’re elected, as the Speaker said today, when our leader, Frank Dermody, asked to speak on the suspension of the rules, which they did again for the ninth time—most that’s ever been done under any session was four times, we’re not even half-way through and he’s done it nine times already—he asked, “why can’t we speak?” And the Speaker proudly told him that he has historical precedent that the leaders do not get to speak on the suspension of the rules. The historical precedent was that the leader Sam Smith had done it earlier and that was the historical precedent for why we can cut off debate.
[Rick Smith]: Just amazing. And you know what bothers me is that we’re not seeing that…that should be splashed across every headline in every newspaper across this state.
[Scott Conklin]: Again, we’re having a hard time getting our folks involved. I mean, I’ve been a union guy since 1977. What were the last statistics? Forty-five percent of school teachers voted for Corbett and seventy-two percent of the union people voted for Corbett in the last election.
[Rick Smith]: Yeah.
[Scott Conklin]: I mean, it’s unbelievable. We’re even having trouble getting our own members, our own brothers and sisters to understand how important it is for them to really look at the candidates and really look at these issues.
[Rick Smith]: Yeah, and I go back to it’s because it’s what’s in their ear. And I do believe…I don’t believe they’re bad people, I don’t think they’re uneducated, I think it’s what they’re hearing, it’s the messaging they’re getting, it’s the dominance of the right-wing to get their message out through their talk radio venues and their publications. After all, these newspapers are big conglomerates, it’s big business.
[Scott Conklin]: The last bastions…the last…the only thing that’s holding them up from having control of everything are the unions right now. That’s it.
[Rick Smith]: Which is why they’re trying to destroy them.
[Scott Conklin]: Their number one goal is to destroy the unions, you’re absolutely right. I mean, folks, remember what we are. We’re a group of individuals who put a little bit of money together to grow a big pot to stand up for workers’ rights. If they splinter this and they get rid of us, there is not going to be any way to be able to stand up to them. I mean…prevailing wage…I love the argument on prevailing wage. They say it’s too high. Well, how’s it set? These men who are in business have to submit their payrolls. The only one’s who have to submit their payrolls happen to be union contractors. Why don’t the non-union contractors have to submit their payrolls? They don’t submit them because many times maybe all their workers aren’t verified citizens. Or, they’re doing the bait and switch where they have a carpenter and they pay him ten hours but then they pay him 30 hours on laborers wages. That’s why they don’t them. And it always shocks people when you explain that to them. All they have to do…if these business people are so adamant about lowering prevailing wage, just tell them to submit their payrolls.
[Rick Smith]: Yeah, I had a guy who worked for a non-union contractor who said his boss won’t…they won’t take any prevailing wage jobs because it’s too onerous. And I said, the onerous part is you making a decent wage. That’s the onerous part.
[Scott Conklin]: Absolutely.
[Rick Smith]: But, again, you have to explain those things. And part of it is that I think people have to hear that the prevailing wage is, like you said, it is the prevailing wage of the area. And we need to have those to have local, non-transient building and construction trade here at home so we can have buildings that are built well. Because, why? The people live there, their kids are probably sitting in the classrooms. We want roads and bridges built well by the people who are going to drive over them. I don’t want people coming through, doing the construction work, and leaving and leaving us behind with a mess.
[Scott Conklin]: We’re going to have an interesting next year. As you know, on the House floor right now…you were talking about building bridges and roads. I’m trying to figure out how the Governor is planning on doing building and roads when he signed Grover Norquist’s no-tax pledge, which, by the way, did you see that he just put out a letter stating that a fee is a tax.
[Rick Smith]: Right.
[Scott Conklin]: Half of the Republican body has signed this no-tax pledge. We’re running a bill tomorrow on the House floor—the severance bill—which they cut off debate on tonight, which takes all local control away from your local municipalities to do anything about drilling, it’s in this bill. But how are planning on passing a bill when Grover Norquist, their hero, has called a fee now a tax. Tomorrow should be very interesting for those who are listening, they really want to watch tomorrow’s vote and see exactly how it goes, knowing full well that after members have decided that they will not vote for any type of tax increase.
[Rick Smith]: Jeez, oh man. And you wonder why the people of the state of Pennsylvania look at Corbett and look at the Republicans and go, “hey, yeah, they’re in the pocket of the drillers.”
[Scott Conklin]: Government by gimmick. The shame is, it works.
[Rick Smith]: And, again, it’s all about the messaging. I hear the ads on the radio: “My drilling company is blah, blah, blah. Oh they’re so wonderful, we love our drillers.”
[Scott Conklin]: And, you know what? What’s so funny about this is that I’m not against the drilling industry. I think the gas industry does a good job. We need the natural gas. What I’d really like to see though is for them to pay property taxes like they used to before 2002, or just be able to reimburse just as the coal company does.
[Rick Smith]: I want to be like Texas. I want to be like Texas.
[Scott Conklin]: Texas, you know, I tell folks all the time—Texas is a wonderful state. Local municipalities, I mean—and I say this tongue-in-cheek—can increase sales tax if they want, there is a high tax ratios. Pennsylvania’s corporate tax might be 9.9% but 70% of the businesses don’t pay it because they use the Delaware loophole.
[Rick Smith]: Oh, Scott, I gotta be honest with you. I could not sit in your chair.
[Scott Conklin]:It’s getting difficult these days, Rick. It’s probably the reason why I’m bouncing around so much on the phones. We as a state—and I know you have have to wrap this up with me—but, we as a state have to get our elected officials to understand that we are there for the people and not for corporations. And the only way we’re going to do that is get the people involved again.
[Rick Smith]: I’ve got to tell you, I think people are finally waking up. My government teacher back in high school, when I graduated back in ’85, but my government teacher back then said that the Republican party is bought and paid for by big business and special interests. The Democrats on the other side, and this is a knock on you, are in favor of big government and big social programs. And his premise was, you people in the middle, you have to decide, are you closer to rich or poor? It was an interesting exercise in thought process if you really go down that road.
[Scott Conklin]: And then you’ve got guys like myself who are business men, who have always been a business man, and who are Democrats. As I tell folks, I’m a small business man and I’ve been fortunate…the business I have is retail, but I was in the construction business for years…the retail business is holding its own, it does a pretty good business here. I’m going to tell you right now…I’m in a group of 80 percent of Pennsylvania business people…and what people fail to understand that there is no corporate—I’m not a corporation, I’m strictly a mom-and-pop shop—and at the end of the day I don’t get any type of kickbacks from the government, I don’t get any type of incentives to hire. I’m based on just like you. I pay a three and a half percentage income tax and what kills me the most is my property taxes. And that’s why I don’t understand when all these guys talk about business, 80% of the employment…or 75%, it depends on what year it is, is employed by people like me. I’m the guy who’s employing these folks and I’m a Democrat. And I’m a Democrat because Democrats are better for me and my small business than what Republicans are. And it always shocks me when my business friends always say, “well, you know, we’re Republican.” And I say, well what does the Republican party do for you guys? You don’t get any of the big corporate breaks, you don’t get any of the stuff, you pay property taxes and personal income taxes. You hire people. It just makes no sense to me as a business man why folks aren’t voting Democratic.
[Rick Smith]: That’s an excellent point. And the other part of it is that I say is that you want to have people, you want strong labor unions so people have more money in their pocket, so they have disposable income, so they come to small mom-and-pop establishments like yours and like others, so that you can feed your kids as well.
[Scott Conklin]: Absolutely. This little mini-mall we have is…as I call it to my wife, I call it the stinky stuff, the expendable cash stuff, the candles, the little gifts. We don’t sell it unless you have extra money in your pocket.
[Rick Smith]: Yep. Well, keep us up-to-date on what’s going on. Tomorrow we’re going to keep a close eye on what’s going on. We’d love to have you back early, often, and any time you’ve got a moment for us.
[Scott Conklin]: Rick, I appreciate it and you know I’ll just call in when you least expect it.
[Rick Smith]: Alright, I look forward to that.
[Scott Conklin]: Thanks, Rick, you have a good night.
[Rick Smith]: Scott Conklin, State Representative, I appreciate the time.