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A blog that takes a look at West Chester area government, politics, and community events.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

McIlvaine Smith: candor and laurels

It's rare that a news article about a politician attracts nothing but positive reader commentary. But my story on State Rep. Barbara McIlvaine Smith's decision not to seek reelection did.

Well, until a commentator named "ThinkItOver" had to ruin things by making everyone aware of this streak of positivity.

No sooner did ThinkItOver write: "A rare moment when comments agree . . ." (Nov. 24, 2009, 8:40 p.m.) than someone who goes by the handle "cynical" had to chime in with: "That was a touching story--sob. It was actually a bad case of sour grapes . . ." (Nov. 24, 2009, 9:39 p.m.).

Before that, all 16 comments were positive. After that, well, things turned partisan and bitter. As usual.

What were the first 16 commentators so pleased with?

They praised McIlvaine Smith, D-165th of West Chester, for saying unequivocally, and in a non-partisan way, that Harrisburg is a ridiculous place where it's nearly impossible to pass meaningful legislation or change the status-quo.

Here's an excerpt from my article on her departure:

" 'The system is such that it's not set up to accomplish anything or to resolve issues,' McIlvaine Smith said. 'The way it's set up, the leadership in all four caucuses has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.'

"The Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, she said, continually stand in the way of meaningful reform.

" 'When I was elected, I got to Harrisburg with 50 reformers,' she said. 'But the leaders pulled them in.'

"By means of a combination of nice dinners and special treatment, the leaders convinced the freshman legislators to give up on the ideal of reform, McIlvaine Smith said.

" 'I can't tell you how many times I heard, 'We don't want to hear any more about reform; we're done with reform,' ' she said.

"The problem, she emphasized, is with both political parties. She said that they refuse to work together and to accept change."

McIlvaine Smith told me that, after this year's blown deadline budget negotiations, she knew she had to get out of the capitol. She concluded that the legislature can only be fixed from the outside. If you join it, you either assimilate yourself into the system or you remain on the sidelines. She called for a constitutional convention.

When I was writing the story, I imagined readers criticizing McIlvaine Smith for being a quitter. I imagined them telling her to get back in there and, you know, "be the change you wish to see" or whatever.

Instead, they praised her candor and agreed with her opinions on our state legislature. (The Republicans, of course, might just been using the praise to mask their happiness at seeing a successful, reelectable Democrat go.)

The commentators saw a certain heroism in leaving something you believe is irreparably corrupt. If we remain part of an irreparibly corrupt system, the joy we feel when we get out of bed, I suppose, becomes something dark and stained with motor oil.

Aah, and for the first sixteen comments, we were all reflecting, across ideological lines, on this basic truth. Then, after "cynical" came along, we ended up with:

wrote on Nov 25, 2009 at 6:20 PM: " Let's see, democrat quitting, yes Virginia there is a Santa, I know you Democrats love to blame Bush for all our problems, but the Bushmonster has been gone for a year now and the new guy has put us all further in the hole and all the little dems down the foodchain cheer. hope they all quit!!!! "