This is part one of a two-part interview with Sylvia Baylor. Part two will be in our mid-month supplemental on October 15th. Readers of CS2 are familiar with Sylvia Baylor and her groundbreaking monthly column called Keystone Scorecard. Why is it groundbreaking? Because it takes a hard look at our State Legislature and tells you the truth about them. That’s a far cry from the crap that most local activists put out, always giving them deference, always touting their miniscule accomplishments as if there’s something to be proud of here. Sylvia will have none of that. Month after month Sylvia documents the lack of work ethic and lack of substance in our State Legislature. With her unique brand of wit and sarcasm, Sylvia doesn’t flinch when calling a spade a spade. This makes Sylvia one of the bravest women I know. When Republicans are mad at you and Democrats are mad at you, you must be doing something right. So all I can say, Sylvia, is, ” Keep on keeping on.” I’m proud that she writes for CS2, and more importantly, I’m proud to call her my friend. – Chuck
CS2: Sylvia, I met you through the Kutztown Democratic Club. Can you tell me how long you have been interested in politics and when that interest started?
Sylvia: My parents were committee people in Rockland Township. As a youngster I grew up in the back seat of a car, putting pamphlets together, going to farmers’ houses. My father could boast that he hit every house in Rockland Township. That was back in the late ’50′s–early ’60′s. I think I started taking a serious interest in politics in the early ’80′s and started paying attention to what was happening.
CS2: And what was happening that got you interested? Was it Reagan?
Sylvia: Yeah, Reagan I definitely didn’t like. Boy, Chuck, that’s a good one…
CS2: Were you outraged at anything or did the rage come later?
Sylvia: (chuckles) The rage definitely came with George Bush, and it’s been growing. George Bush has just outdone anyone I’ve ever seen in Washington as far as tramping on the Constitution. And no one does anything—be it the spineless Democratic Congress—no one. Bill Clinton can get impeached for sexual activity, but here we have people getting killed in a war but as long as you fly a flag from your car everything is honky-dory. It’s absolutely incredible.
CS2: How would you describe your political philosophy, and has it changed over the years?
Sylvia: I don’t think it’s changed much over the years. I believe in a lot of individual liberty. I believe the less government regulation the better—a laissez faire government is a good government. But I also believe in taking care of the poor and indigent that can’t take care of themselves. There should be social programs set up to take care of people. I’m not a Libertarian (in that I don’t agree with the philosophy) that every one is responsible for themselves and beyond that the church can help you.
CS2: At one point you switched from being a Democrat to an Independent, is that right? What was the thought process that made that change come about?
Sylvia: Yes. When the Democrats took control of the Congress and did absolutely nothing to end the war in Iraq, to put the reigns on George Bush, the executive signing statements, Blackwater, literally every policy. They’ve done nothing about any of it. They sit there and kowtow to lobbyists and political pressure from the moneyed people in corporations. (They) do nothing for the people of the country, which is their job. I remember Kathy Ember’s cartoon, with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi opening Christmas presents, and she says, “Look Harry, it’s a spine!” I loved it. It was a protest move, resigning from the party. If it ever gets to the point that it’s worth going back, then I will.
CS2: I’ve wondered about this Congress, more than wondered. Is it more interested in posing and appearing to oppose things than actually opposing them, like the signing statements, the war? I’m sure they’ll say the right things about them, but they’ve done nothing about them. Really, at some point is John McCain going to turn to Barack Obama and say, “I’m sick of being the bad guy here on this war. You’ve voted exactly the same way I did on it.”
Sylvia: I think everything in politics, from the local level to the national level, is all appearance. There’s no substance, no merit anymore, no guts, no integrity. It’s how you appear. It’s what the polls say. Covering the state legislature, I look and see in my mailbox things coming from politicians: the glossy 8×10′s, the PSA’s (public service announcements) that do nothing but promote a candidate. One might consider all these little infractions, but lump everything together and there is just zero integrity. Everyone is worried about re-election. No one is willing to take a stand. My prayer is the one day people will wake up and decide that they want something from politicians.
CS2: Is any of this our fault, the activists? Do we pressure our politicians sufficiently?
Sylvia: I don’t think you can ever say that it is “our fault” because people do what they can do. Different people can do things on different levels. Take Gene Stilp. Gene is personally my hero. He’s just filed a suit against Bill DeWeese trying to recoup Bill DeWeese’s legal expenditures. The indictment didn’t come down yet, but I’m sure that it should if there is any justice whatsoever. Here’s a man that goes out of his way to file lawsuits that bring things to the public’s attention and are right. There is no way the tax payers should be paying for the defense of a criminal action of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. It’s ridiculous, but nobody does anything about it. It’s a two party system taking care of itself. And you have little Gene Stilp going around and filing lawsuits. Without the time and effort he puts in (Stilp), we wouldn’t be aware of half of the things that happen. They would just be covered up. Other people do things as they can as activists. People bring different talents and different amounts of energy, but the fact is you do something.
CS2: Let me just explore this just a little further before we go on to another subject. What I’m getting at is, is Gene Stilp like the average Democratic activist? Is the average Democratic activist doing a damn thing about this scandal? Are they demanding that DeWeese step down? Are they demanding anything from them?
Sylvia: No. Neither party does anything but save their own positions in Harrisburg. Gene and my husband Dennis, who’s been helping Gene for a few years now, they don’t care what party you are. The whole key to this is that when you find criminal acts, when you find that you really have no representation, you’ve got to do something about it irregardless of which party you are talking about. There is no party, there is only people. There’s got to be integrity and you’ve got to be color blind as to party when attempting to make reforms in Harrisburg.
CS2: It really irks me how willing each party is to look the other way, rather than take Bonusgate and look at it as a chance to clean up your own party. They look at it as a chance to cover it up and not talk about it, pretend it’s not there. That’s what I mean when I say how much of it is our fault. I think you could extrapolate that to all kinds of issues - the war, we still have candidates who don’t take a stand on the war and we don’t make them. We have candidates running who have no stand on health insurance. We don’t demand that they take a stand on it, at least on something! And then we wonder why they stand for nothing when they get to (Congress). Ten years from now, we’ll be painting a picture for CommonSense2 of the guys we’re supporting now, showing them without a spine. We don’t demand that they have one, unlike the Republican activists who do. Look what they did to John McCain. They made him renounce his famous maverick positions in order to get the nomination. They did it to Mitt Romney, and at the local level, Arlen Specter. Didn’t Arlen Specter, as chairman of the judiciary committee when it was still Republican, raise hell about the spying on Americans, calling it unconstitutional? Then they send Pat Toomey out here to run (against Specter) and before you know it, Arlen Specter is writing legislation to make the spying retroactively legal. That’s activism on their side. What goes on on our side that makes our politicians stand up?
Sylvia: Nothing. Nothing goes on. The Democrats have become the party of political correctness. You have Nancy Pelosi with her nice smile, surrounded by a bunch of children on a podium. Take Bob Casey who before couldn’t open his mouth during the primary when he ran for election, couldn’t be seen, couldn’t debate any other candidate. Literally, they hid Bob Casey, he was never espousing any view on anything. And now, he’s speaking at the Democratic Convention, he’s going to be at the Energy Festival, I understand, to speak. All of a sudden he’s become a wealth of information. I’m sick and tired of people who do nothing but avoid confrontation and then they can have a position in government and are paid an enormous amount of money, especially here in Pennsylvania, to do nothing for 20 some years. People just sit at home happy to get their 8×10 glossy in the mail, about how you can go to hunting class…just ridiculous things that push and target people.
To be continued, October 15th…