For more than 40 years since Lehigh County government became home rule, the Democrats have never controlled both the legislative and executive branch. Until last year. You might think that would make a difference. Which of the many issues that have been neglected should we take on?
This past summer, good people throughout the country had seen enough and were on the streets saying so. Democrats, in particular, tried to seize the high ground and embrace the movement. All kinds of Democrats said all kinds of things about racial tension. And they railed against it all.
This week the commissioners will have a rock solid opportunity to stand up, sound like a Democrat, rant like a Democrat, be indignant like a Democrat and lose the cynicism of a Democrat.
One of the most egregious of the symptoms of the systemic racism in our midst is the pipeline that routes African-Americans, men especially, to prison. The disparities have been widely discussed. It is safe to assume that those same disparities are present here in Lehigh County, too. Unfortunately, the county, led by old-school bully District Attorney Jim Martin, isn’t forthcoming. It certainly leads some to wonder why.
County Executive Phil Armstrong, to his credit, didn’t give Martin all he wanted in his budget but he did give Chief Public Defender Kim Makoul the increases she sought. But we should be doing so much more.
First-term Commissioner Dave Harrington had the courage to stand up on behalf of reform and against complacency to offer a bold collection of amendments to the county executive’s 2021 budget. His proposals are well within the boundaries of sound public policy. They begin to treat our prison system with honesty as it relates to race. They begin to develop programs to ease the transition to the workforce. It stops the profiteering off of those who have nothing. And it saves money. Are the Republicans listening?
While his proposals don’t go as far as the Color of Justice (a coalition of criminal reform advocates that includes the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley) would like, they are a terrific first step.
With Democrats holding a 6 to 3 majority, which is enough to over-ride a veto (hopefully, Phil won’t go there) they should be excited by the prospect of getting some real live progressive change passed.
Not so fast. Board chair Amy Zanelli, rookie Zikiya Smalls, Geoff Brace and, of course, Harrington, need a fifth vote to pass the proposal, a sixth vote to protect against a veto. That means Dan Hartzell and Bob Elbich have to vote like Democrats. Both have indicated they are going to pass on the courage thing. So, I have questions of the hold-out Democrats:
Throughout the last century, nearly every step forward that was taken on behalf of those left behind or those rowing with all they’ve got and getting nowhere has been proposed by Democrats and often opposed by Republicans. Our forebearers were those brave souls who created unions, pushed human rights campaigns like the Equal Rights Amendment, demanded and got freedom for the LGBT community, raised the minimum wage, protected consumers from predatory businesses and stopped the poisoning of our water. Do they not inspire you to take a stand today?
If you don’t stand up for those left behind, what, exactly, does it mean to be a Democrat?
And why are you scared of Jim Martin? First, he actively campaigned against you. And you won anyway, so what more can he do? Second, why would you perpetuate an old-school, bully-style approach that piles people on top of each other in jails and never raises the question of why it isn’t working?
If you wonder why so many people are so fed up with government, look no further than this very issue.
Let’s remember that history is watching us. It awaits direction. Which way are we going?