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Philadelphia Offers Great Model for Election Integrity

The city requires all elected officials to resign from their current positions before running for another office to help avoid conflicts of interest and leveraging offices for political gain. Some argue the state could benefit from a similar policy.

(TNS) — When elected officials resign from their public office, they often do so in disgrace.

The resignation of a Philadelphia city councilman on Monday occurred under different circumstances, positive ones. He stepped down for the right reason, and his action should be the model for elected officials everywhere in Pennsylvania.

Allan Domb gave up his council seat because he is considering running for mayor next year, and Philadelphia’s city charter prohibits elected officials from running for another office.

That should become a state law, too.

Citizens deserve elected officials who are 100 percent committed to performing the duties of their office. I don’t believe that’s possible to do when you’re campaigning for another seat. That’s also unfair because incumbent officials who are in the public eye have an advantage.

Every action they take — every vote, every piece of legislation introduced, every news release, every statement — creates publicity.

They will tell you that’s not their intention, that they are just doing their jobs. But that’s the reality.

Any local, county or state elected official who wants to run for another elected office should have to quit their current position. That removes the potential to use their office for political purposes, avoids conflict-of-interest and levels the playing field.

The state’s major party candidates for governor in the November midterm election, Democratic state Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano, are perfect examples.

They have the potential to generate enormous publicity in their current roles. And those roles should be full-time jobs that leave little time for big-time campaigning.

Locally elected positions aren’t always full-time, but campaigning still can sap time and energy and divide attention. And the platforms still give those officials an advantage over opponents. Currently, Allentown City Councilman Josh Siegel and Lehigh County Controller Mark Pinsley, both Democrats who are running for the state Legislature, have the potential to get their names in headlines.

Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii and Texas have state laws restricting how elected officials can seek election to one public office while they are serving in another.

The laws vary slightly. They don’t always require an official to resign to run for another office. That’s only required under some circumstances.

In Georgia, elected officials lose their current seat by running for another seat, but only if the term of the new position would begin more than 30 days before the term of their current position expires. Hawaii’s law is similar.

In Texas, candidates for specified offices must resign if they have more than one year and 30 days left in the term of their current position.

Arizona allows elected officials to run for another elected office during the final year of their term.

Pennsylvania should pass a law that has no exceptions. That’s how Philadelphia’s law works. Here is what Philadelphia’s city charter says:

“No officer or employee of the city, except elected officers running for reelection, shall be a candidate for nomination or election to any public office unless he shall have first resigned from his then office or employment.”

Not every government employee should have to resign in order to campaign for elected office. That’s overkill.

Many rank-and-file jobs have no chance of being a conflict-of-interest, or providing an advantage over opponents who do not work in government. Cabinet-level and upper-management posts that can influence policymaking and generate publicity are different and should have resignation requirements.

Many federal government employees are prohibited from running for office under the Hatch Act. It prohibits them from being a candidate for public office in a partisan election, and from soliciting or receiving political contributions. It doesn’t apply to Congress.

Some Pennsylvania officials have done the right thing when seeking a higher office and resigned when they weren’t required to. Republican Scott Wagner gave up his state senate seat representing part of York County in 2018 to run for governor.

I lauded him for stepping down at the time, suggesting that should be the norm.

State lawmakers continue to say they want to improve election integrity in Pennsylvania. This is another opportunity.


Governing's opinion columns reflect the views of their authors and not necessarily those of Governing's editors or management. ©2022 The Morning Call. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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