Monday, August 15, 2011

A Plea for Civility; a plea for truth

First, watch this video. (very sorry; it's no longer available. Glad I took the time to transcribe so much of it!) It's Joe "Da CEO" Conti wrapping up his testimony at last week's Liquor Control Committee hearings (which were, apparently, largely about Conti and Hereditary Union President For Life Wendell W. Young IV speaking for as long as they could...probably because they know that if you talk till lunch, most legislators will leave and not give any time to your opponents) with "a little bit of a challenge for civility to the proponents of the bill (HB11)."

He then quoted legislative press offices and "a think tank" -- which I assume is the Commonwealth Foundation -- making remarks about the PLCB and him that...well, they were things like "The PLCB doesn't care about the consumer; ineptitude, goofy, or systematic malfeasance," and "a state system that is broke, even Joe Conti realizes it," and "a state of perpetual tone-deafness...the PLCB should stop acting like coneheads and communists."

Okay, Joe's feelings are hurt. (Mine are too; he didn't say anything about some of the stuff I've said about the PLCB.) But he's clearly never been the target of a Tony Auth cartoon (looks like a conehead to me). This is the "rough and tumble of public life:" man up. I get hate mail all the time -- really, people actually bother -- and you don't see me crying about it, and certainly not to a legislative committee...oh, right. Conti is a former legislator (who didn't get re-elected because he was completely tone-deaf about the legislative pay increases a few years back), and he's looking for professional courtesy from former colleagues. Nice. If only we could all expect such courtesy.

But he blew it -- for me, at least, and I hope for anyone else with a spot of brain matter -- when he then immediately started spouting the UFCW party line about newspapers. See, the UFCW has seen that almost every newspaper across the state has editorialized in favor of privatization, often scathingly, and they needed a response. Their response: the newspapers are doing it for money, because of all the advertising bucks they'll make off private liquor stores. (Though the PLCB spends big bucks on advertising now, and the Inky runs full-page ads for cross-border liquor stores -- more proof of border bleed, Joe.)

So Conti's pleading for "civility," and the first thing he says after that "challenge" is this: "Now we understand many of the proponents are financiers of print media. I've met with most of them, they're very up-front about it, we get that. We understand that the think tank perhaps receives funding from these financiers..." And then he drops that, and goes off in a completely different direction of how "we welcome" this debate ("relish it," he also said). But he's slyly planted the stinking smear-seed that maybe the Commonwealth Foundation is just doing this for money, at the behest of "financiers" who are just doing it for money. Says that, and doesn't back it up, or have the guts to stick it home. Does he deserve civility?

And then he -- well, I was about to say "he lies," but let's be civil and say he once again clouds the issue by saying "If we disappear, your income tax has to go from 3.07 to 3.21 [percent]. You know that." What's he talking about? He's talking about The Johnstown Flood Emergency Tax and the 6% state sales tax that make up approximately 3/4 of the PLCB's "contribution" to the General Fund. And he's 'clouding the issue' by leaving you with the impression that if the PLCB is no longer the state's booze seller, no booze taxes will be collected, and the state will make up the difference with income tax. That's not lying, but it's the next best (worst?) thing.

He goes on to shamelessly wrap himself in the flag. Better get a kleenex ready. "We must be mindful when you walk by a playground, speak to a Rotary Club or a local Chamber, or when you visit a senior center, those Pennsylvanians are benefiting by the performance of this agency. And we get up every day, and we want to do a better job for the people of Pennsylvania. There's really no reason for the incivility we see." He's made selling vodka into an altruistic mission; amazing.

So right after saying there's no reason for incivility...he makes a threat!* Conti issues a challenge (he's got a whole pocketful, apparently) "Michael [Turzai] and Jonathan [Newman] and Matthew [Brouillette]" to debate the issues. "But let's keep it on point, because I'm warning you: if you get off point...[dramatic pause] I'm for the people of Pennsylvania. And anything that either purposely or inadvertantly diminishes our performance and diminishes our return, hits the pocketbook of the people of Pennsylvania, the innocent folks who may not be as emotionally invested in this as you, as the proponents are."

Conti calls for us all to be civil. Then he smears the intentions of the proponents of privatization, he deliberately misstates the results of privatization, he claims moral high ground (for an agency that performs retail sales?), and dramatically threatens his opponents. I don't owe Joe Conti anything. He's trying to set the terms of this debate to benefit the PLCB and himself. He says "financiers" perhaps fund the privatization proponents? He benefits directly from privatization not happening; he has a $150,000 a year job that will disappear if privatization goes through! Is it uncivil to bring that up?

What's civil in political discourse? No one's brought anyone's personal life into this (with the necessary exception of the husband-wife relationship between the winner of the PLCB's 'courtesy contract' and his wife, the PLCB regional manager), no one's made any personal threats, no one -- to the best of my knowledge -- has engaged in anything beyond a bit of name-calling. Does Conti ever watch Fox News or MSNBC (or Olbermann, wherever the hell he is now)? There is no need for excess civility; it's clearly an attempt to hobble the debate in favor of the PLCB and the status quo.

Meanwhile, Conti has other problems. It appears that earlier in the hearing he lied -- sorry, Stacey Witalec says Conti "misspoke," whatever -- about the PLCB's committee looking at the wine kiosks. That's in the Tribune-Review today. "In response to a question about that recommendation, Conti told the House Liquor Control Committee the report did not recommend against the LCB's plan." Oops, turns out not to be the case: "A review by LCB Chief Counsel Faith Diehl found the final report "recommends against going forward and does contain the word deficient," Witalec wrote in an e-mail.

Where's the civility in lying -- sorry, misspeaking, I keep getting that wrong -- to a state legislative committee made up of your former colleagues? 

*He also makes an amazingly inappropriate Blazing Saddles reference, but you'll have to watch the video, words don't do it justice. And remember the actual line that Conti bowdlerizes...amazing.


Rich said...

Lew, this debate is starting to heat up. When is the rally on the capitol steps?

Lew Bryson said...

I think that's a fair question, and one that needs to be posed to all allies of this proposal. It's time, Rich.

JohnRz said...

Keep me posted, I love rallys!

Lew Bryson said...

Take a note, Rich: we'll need matching t-shirts.

Rich said... the state surplus store I found the head of THE L.C. Bee on one of the shelves. It looked to be in bad shape, and I do not know if it was for sale (no price), but that would be really fun to wear at the rally.

Anonymous said...

Sorry but the fix is in. Legislation introduced in the summer will be forgotten by the fall. Sen Scarnatti will bury it or forget to have called for a vote.

The republicans only need privatization as a campaign issue. Once they win the election they need the patronage factory for themselves. Thornburg, Ridge and Corbett, history does repeat itself.

Funny how the Rendell donors get a contract for the vending machines and now under Corbett, the contact is being broken. I wonder who has the republican vending machine bid ready.