Friends in the Senate
The House may amend a Senate bill, in which case it is returned to the Senate for concurrence in the House amendments. A constitutional majority is required to concur.
"They definitely had an impact," Rep. Cowell told a reporter. "Their lobbying put some of the professionals to shame."1 We had won a victory in the House; now we needed to convince the senators. At least we didn't have to worry about any further amendments.
Senate Bill 154 had originally passed the Senate as a bill which changed the school code by limiting the amount of money school districts could pay for building construction. The House had made some amendments (minor changes like replacing all of the old language with entirely new language!) but still it had already passed the Senate. The Senate had two choices: it could concur with the changes made by the House or it could refuse to concur. It would be a simple up or down vote. No committee shufflings. No amendments.
For years we had been talking to, or trying to talk to, senators. It was generally very difficult to get an appointment. If we did see a senator he would generally be noncommittal: "I'll have to see what the bill looks like when it comes over from the House." Especially important to us were the Republican senators, who had the majority. They generally made their decisions in private and voted together on the floor in a block. Our main task was to get friends among the Republican senators who would argue for us in private. In that quest for friends, more often than not, we found ourselves talking to the senator's staff rather than to the senator himself.
Two years earlier, Tom Eldredge and I had had a very successful visit with Ann Arnstein, Sen. Moore's administrative assistant. Prominent on her wall was a picture showing her with President Reagan. We told her about a letter supporting homeschooling that President Reagan had sent to Dr. Raymond Moore during his first campaign for President. She had already been contacted by several of her constituents and was curious to find out more about homeschooling. She wanted to know concrete details about how our homeschooling days went. She wanted to know, for example, did we men participate, or was it just our wives?
Tom told her about his own practice of teaching several subjects to his own children before he left for work in the morning. I confessed that my wife did almost all of the homeschooling at our house, though I did read aloud and do physical education activities with them, and would take the children completely off her hands for a while each evening to give her a break.
She wanted to know how we had gotten into homeschooling. Tom told about his own background and about his wife's dedication to her children, which he likened to the dedication that John Wesley's mother had to her children. I told of my wife's coming into homeschooling from a background as a La Leche League leader. Ann was acquainted with that self-help group of nursing mothers.
A few years later, Ann Arnstein participated in the drafting of the education plank for the 1988 Republican national convention. She told homeschoolers that she approved the plank supporting legalization of homeschooling because of what she had learned from all of us during our lobbying effort.
Another breakthrough we had had with administrative assistants was when Jim Means and I had given vivacious Roberta Kearney, Sen. Fisher's assistant, a copy of The Three R's at Home by my wife and me. She had read it and liked it. So a few months later I went around the capitol and gave out many copies to other administrative assistants mentioning Ronna's rave review. Ronna was very popular and well known in the other senators' offices, and many of the other administrative assistants promised to read it.
On the Monday before the House vote, Rep. Pitts had told us to make a special effort to lobby senators. He foresaw that with he and Rep. Cowell arguing together on the floor, the House vote would not be a problem. Among the homeschoolers who had come in all the way from western Pennsylvania that day was John Wilson. That morning he walked into his senator's office, "Hi, I'm here to talk with Sen. Scanlon."
Sen. Scanlon's secretaries, Gail and Trudi, looked up from their desks. Gail asked, "Are you here for Senate Bill 154?"
"Yes. I'm one of his constituents."
"He's not here."
"Can I catch him later?" asked John.
"You can wait if you like."
Then Gail asked him some questions about Senate Bill 154 and they started to talk. John knew the importance of winning over secretaries. He had formerly worked for the Council of Churches in Buffalo and had learned, "If you got in good with the church secretary, it didn't matter what anyone else thought of you. You were all right."
For the next hour, he talked about the whole area of education with Gail and Trudi. He told them about his experience teaching in public schools, and why public schools didn't seem to be functioning. "When I was a child, school, church and home were all telling us the same thing. Now schools and parents are fighting. Homeschooling is a different alternative."
Gail understood exactly what John was saying. She had moved to the best school district she could find for her daughter, but had been disappointed with the values her daughter was learning at school. She remembered when schools and homes were all teaching the same values, "Yeah, when I was a kid, that's the way it was."
When Sen. Scanlon stepped in, Gail said, "Senator, while you're walking to your next meeting, you've got to talk to this man." Then John walked down the hall with Sen. Scanlon and secured his support for Senate Bill 154.
When the House and Senate came back after Thanksgiving, we only had two days left for the senators to vote -- the last two days of the month, Tuesday, November 29, and Wednesday, November 30. Over Thanksgiving weekend we sent out a phone tree message: (1) Senate Bill 154 passed the House with the Cowell amendment 194 to 0, (2) Our presence in Harrisburg was extremely effective, (3) The Senate will vote on it Tuesday or Wednesday. If you missed the House vote, come see the Senate vote! (4) Call your senators in Harrisburg on Tuesday and ask them to vote for Senate Bill 154.
On the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, the dedicated core of homeschooling leaders were in Harrisburg including Tom Eldredge, Bob Finley, Carol Wright, Mary Hudzinski, and Barb Snider. My wife, Susan, represented me, as I could not get off work. She manned the literature table with our four children in tow. Meanwhile, the phone calls from homeschoolers were pouring in. We already knew that we had a majority of senators in favor of Senate Bill 154, but we didn't know if it would come up for a vote. The Senate had a lot on its agenda and it might not choose to vote on our bill.
Jamie Burns, the homeschooling support group leader in Sen. Pecora's district, got the phone tree message. Instead of calling the people in her group, she herself called Sen. Pecora's Harrisburg office.
"I've received a message to get all of my support group calling Sen. Pecora," she told his secretary, "but I know that Sen. Pecora is supportive. So if it's all right with you, you just put down that 50 people called, and I won't have them call."
"Oh, thank you," replied a very grateful secretary.
Beginning in the morning people began to call Republican Sen. Stauffer, the Senate Majority Leader who makes the schedule. Claire Pore and Judy Parker, who had led the successful phone campaign to Manderino's office a week earlier, received ambiguous replies from Sen. Stauffer's secretary about whether our bill would be brought up for a vote, so they decided to start a phone call campaign to Sen. Stauffer's office. Meanwhile, the people in the capitol were going from one senator's office to another, concentrating on the senators who had not yet agreed to support the bill.
Tom Eldredge went into Sen. Lincoln's office soon after the Pennsylvania School Board Association had been there. Sen. Lincoln had heard that there was no need to pass this legislation, that the judge's ruling could be solved through regulation. Tom Eldredge had a long talk with one of his aids but there was no commitment.
The whole day was spent studying the list of senators, and sending out lobbyists to the offices of the uncommitted. It was an exciting time as reports of undecided votes moved to yes one by one.
That evening, Tom Eldredge called me at home and asked me to send out a phone tree message. I may have produced several ulcers with this message: (1) Senate Bill 154 will be on Wednesday's calendar, but with so many other bills, the Senate may not get to it. (2) The Pennsylvania School Board Association is lobbying against it. Some of the senators are wavering. (3) Everyone who can come to Harrisburg tomorrow should come about 11 a.m. and stay until either our bill passes or midnight. (4) If you can't come, call or telegraph your senator in Harrisburg, and get your friends and family to call.
The next day, Wednesday, November 30, was the busiest day of the year in the capitol. Governor Casey had just vetoed a bill that would have permitted off-track horse race betting. The bill's original passage had been supported by Rep. Manderino, the Majority Leader in the House. Lobbyists for the race track industry had calls coming into the capitol from race track employees, race horse owners, and even the farmers who delivered hay to the tracks, and a move was afoot to override the governor's veto. The group held a press conference with lots of media attention in the capitol rotunda, right near our literature table.
Also that day the Senate was preparing to pass Governor Casey's tax reform package. The measure would permit school districts and local governments to lower property taxes and raise money through a sales tax. Many school districts and local governments had reached their legal limits on property tax rates, and were facing growing budget problems. Local government officials were also calling into the capitol.
Also on the schedule was a determination of what would happen to the unpopular CAT fund, the public insurance fund which insured motorists against catastrophic medical costs. We had seen the fund debated by the House just before they had passed Senate Bill 154 the previous week. The House had voted to make the fund voluntary, but the Senate was holding fast that the fund should be abolished. Gov. Casey had said in May that he "would veto absolutely" any bill that would abolish the fund without addressing the needs of seriously injured victims.
In a satirical column describing the rushed events of that day, Gary Dutery, a columnist for the York Daily Record reported the following conversation among legislators on the floor:
"Was that the Sunny Day Fund we just passed?"
"No, we did that two minutes ago."
"So what did we just vote on?"
"I don't know."2
When homeschoolers arrived Wednesday morning, they learned that our bill still wasn't on the calendar. Acting upon the advice of her senator, Carol Wright began to visit the Senators in the Republican leadership.
First she went to Sen. Jubelirer's office. There she was told that the only person who could put the bill on the floor was Sen. Stauffer. It was 10:30 a.m. when she arrived at Sen. Stauffer's office. There she found secretaries constantly getting calls from homeschoolers asking for Senate action on Senate Bill 154! As soon as the secretaries would hang up, the phone would ring again.
When the receptionist finally had a chance to look up, there was Carol Wright. "Is this about homeschooling?" she asked.
"Yes it is," Carol said firmly, but with a smile. "I want the assurance that Sen. Stauffer is going to put Senate Bill 154 on the floor for a vote today."
"I can assure you that your bill will be placed on the calendar for a vote today sometime," the receptionist answered wearily. "Now please -- keep your people out of our office!"
"If you promise me that Senate Bill 154 will be on the calendar, on the floor, and will be voted on today, I will do all in my power to keep our people out of your office."
"Deal!" cried the receptionist. "But what about the phones?"
"I'm sorry," Carol responded. "I can't do anything about the phone calls." Later that morning Carol returned and offered to answer the phone. The receptionist graciously turned down the offer, but thanked Carol for the thought.
After that agreement, a sign went up at the literature table, "Do not visit Sen. Stauffer!"
The homeschooling leaders at the literature table had an up-to-date list of commitments from senators and they targeted those senators who had not yet agreed to vote for the bill. The previous day our total of commitments from senators went up from twenty-six to thirty-two, out of the forty-nine. Still, Tom Eldredge knew that even though it seemed that the bill would be on the calendar, it might not be brought up and voted on.
Throughout the day, homeschoolers were arriving at the capitol in small groups. Many others were calling in from across the state, and getting their friends and family to do the same, especially if they knew that their senators were not convinced of the merits of homeschooling. In Beaver County, Elaine Smith called her sister and mother and got them both to call Sen. Ross. It was the first time that she had tried to enlist their support. Her mother even offered to pay for her sister's phone call. Just a few hours later, a group of homeschoolers led by Mary Hudzinski went in to visit Sen. Ross. They talked with him for about half an hour. Finally he conceded, "I don't like the idea of homeschooling. I think kids should be in some sort of school, public or private, but I've seen you and your children around the capitol this week. You seem like nice people. I'll vote for your bill." He then went on to talk about his own ten children, and they had a very pleasant exchange.
Tom Eldredge and Bob Finley were concentrating on visiting those supportive powerful Republican senators who might be willing to speak for our bill with the Republican leadership, or in caucus where the decision would be made about whether our bill would be voted upon. Sen. Shoemaker, a member of the Education Committee, was very friendly. He mentioned that he had gotten many calls that day from his constituents, but that two of the calls were from homeschoolers who opposed the bill. He was confused -- what did the homeschoolers want him to do?
Tom answered, "Homeschoolers are an independent breed, and there are some who think the state shouldn't have any say whatsoever about how they teach their own children."
"But the vast majority of homeschoolers support this bill," Bob added.
Tom and Bob also got strong commitments from Sen. Pecora and Sen. Armstrong, leaders of the Senate Republicans and Chairs of Senate committees.
Sen. Pecora had long been friendly with homeschoolers in his district. Homeschooler Mark Resetar had worked hard on his re-election campaign. Homeschooler Jamie Burns, the support group leader in his district, was the granddaughter of a former Republican senator, and Sen. Pecora, as a young man, had worked for one of her grandfather's election campaigns.
Sen. Armstrong was our champion partly because of his friendship with Rep. Pitts. Tom met with Sen. Armstrong who agreed to give us the "straight scoop" after the caucus. He would tell us if our bill would ever be voted on or if politics would prevent it.
Early that afternoon, the Republican leadership held a meeting to decide which bills they would bring up during the few remaining hours of the session. These meetings are behind closed doors -- no press, no leaks. I have tried to piece together what may have happened at that meeting. Apparently, there was a dispute about whether Senate Bill 154 should be brought up for a vote. The strong opposition to the bill from the PSEA may have been mentioned. It seems two senators suggested that our bill be placed on the calendar, but not brought up for a vote. But several other senators spoke up strongly for our bill and for bringing it up for a vote. I do not think that they resolved at the leadership meeting whether or not the bill would actually come up for a vote.
After that meeting, some of our strong Republican supporters in the House of Representatives got into the act. Rep. Pitts had gotten sick earlier that day with strep throat. His secretary had come out to our literature table to see if we could find someone to drive him back to his home in Chester County, and a homeschooling father had taken him. If Rep. Pitts had been there, he would have lobbied the Republican leadership in the Senate. In his absence, two of his close friends, who had also sponsored our bills from the beginning, filled in for him. Rep. Freind said, "We've gone too far on this thing to lose now." He and Rep. Peter Vroon began to phone and visit Republican Senate leaders to ask for their help. Greg White, the Republican staff person on the House Education Committee who had helped us so much in the House, was also actively getting information about the bill to Republican senators who wanted an analysis.
Meanwhile, Tom realized just how desperate our situation was. Although we had 36 promises from the 49 senators that they would vote for the bill should it come up, the bill might not come up. Again, he got on the phone to constituents of wavering Republican leaders, asking them to once again call their senators.
It was getting towards evening, and some of the homeschoolers were thinking about leaving because they couldn't imagine staying there with the children until midnight. Tom said, "I've worked on this for four years. I can keep going for six more hours."
Somehow he got a contingent of homeschoolers, including Betty McElroy and Charlotte Freed, phoning other homeschoolers and getting reinforcements into the capitol. Homeschoolers were still arriving late into the evening.
At about 5 p.m., several homeschooling families were sitting in the gallery, waiting for the senators to come in. One of Carol Wright's sons had binoculars. He thought he saw copies of Senate Bill 154 lying right on top of all the senator's desks. Elsewhere in the gallery, several other mothers were peering down. Their eyes were feeling strained, but they also thought they saw Senate Bill 154. Maybe things would go our way.
Then late in the afternoon the Republicans caucused, and we were told that our bill was scheduled to be up for an early vote. At about 6:15 November 30th, Tom Eldredge heard the news. The Senate would put the bill on November 29's supplemental calendar, and it could be voted on at anytime -- get people in the gallery!!!
Tom Eldredge was jubilant. He went to Sen. Armstrong and asked for one last favor, "Could you have the Senate recognize the homeschoolers who will be in the gallery?"
"Who should we recognize?"
"Parent Educators of Pennsylvania. There should be 65 or more up there."
"Write down what you want to have said. I'll see what I can do."
At about 7 p.m., the Senate gallery was packed with people, many of them homeschoolers, and more homeschoolers were still streaming in. Every available seat was taken. All of my family, except me, were in the gallery. No one was hungry because Bob Finley had managed to get ten pizzas delivered to the capitol rotunda about an hour earlier. Our fifteen-month-old baby Hannah started to fuss, so Susan took her out in the hall leaving Jacob and Jesse in the gallery. Senators looking up could easily make out the many bright-red, house-shaped name tags.
The Senate was voting on various bills. Then at 7:10, Senator Loeper brought our bill up.
The President of the Senate said, "Sen. Loeper moves that the Senate will concur on the amendments placed by the House in Senate Bill 154. On the motion . . . the Clerk will call the roll."
Sen. Afflerbach: Aye.
President: Are there negative votes? Are there negative votes on the motion to concur with the House amendments? The clerk will now proceed with the roll call. . . . The vote of concurrence is ayes 49, nays 0, the majority having voted in the affirmative. The amendments are concurred with and the House shall certify.
Gallery: [One second pause, and then applause. It took them a second to realize what had just happened.]
Sen. Loeper: We have with us a group of Parent Educators of Pennsylvania, parent educators from all across Pennsylvania. We have sixty plus in the gallery, and we'd like to welcome you to the gallery, and we're glad you enjoyed your legislative success.
At this point the homeschoolers who were filling the gallery stood up and applauded. The senators, several at first, and then all of them, stood facing the gallery, and applauded us.
A few minutes later Don Wolf, a reporter, told Bob Finley, "I have covered the capitol for a long time, but I have never before seen the senators give a standing ovation to the gallery!"
The vote in the Senate was the tiny visible tip of a very large iceberg. The discussions that decided matters occurred behind closed doors. We will never know about all of our friends who spoke up for us. A few days later, homeschooler John Wilson got a note from two of those friends, Sen. Scanlon's secretaries: "Trudi and I are pleased over your `win!' Good luck! -- Gail."
1Cheers greet passage of home schooling bill, in the Waynesboro Record Herald, November 23, 1988.
2Lawmaking: A comedy in one act by Gary Dutery, reprinted in the Kittanning Leader Times, December 14, 1988.
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