McGinnis gives farewell at final town hall session

It isn’t often that a retiring politician highlights the ambitions he failed to fulfill.

But State Rep. John McGinnis did that recently at his farewell town hall meeting — comparing his efforts during three terms to those of Don Quixote, the fictional 17th century hero whose idealism came a cropper on the realities of the world.

Speaking to an audience of about 30 outside his district office, McGinnis used a PowerPoint presentation that included an image of the knight of La Mancha poking his lance into the teeth of an anthropomorphic windmill whose arms wielded a mace and whose face resembled an early 20th century caricature of a robber baron.

McGinnis tried, but failed, to persuade his peers to enact pension reform, term limits, elimination of per diem allowances, a right-to-work law and “paycheck protection” — that is, elimination of automatic union dues deductions that go for political causes from the salaries of public sector workers, an effort that ultimately became moot with the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that does away with mandatory union membership for those public sector workers.

“I pretty much got beat up,” McGinnis said. “I can’t say they accepted anything.”

McGinnis, however, highlighted his “kept promises,” which — in contrast to the Quixotic failures — were under his personal control.

Those promises included his refusal to accept a pension for himself, his return of net salary increases during his time in office, his rejection of per diem allowances, his frugality with office operation expenses and a three-term limit, self-imposed.

He made those promises up front and carried them out without permitting himself wiggle room, he said.

“I’m no wiggler,” he stated on one of the PowerPoint slides. “Establish a contract with voters and be as specific as possible. Citizens deserve that.”

House operatives were nonplussed when he declined to sign for the pension, thinking at first there must be a misunderstanding, then thinking he was crazy, according to McGinnis.

The net salary increases amounted to $7,000 over the course of his time, money that went in annually allotments to the Altoona Area School District, Allegheny and Logan townships and the City of Altoona; the Altoona Area Public Library and the Hollidaysburg Veterans Home, he said.

His refusal to accept per diems saved the state $82,000 — the difference between reimbursements that he accepted for documented expenses and the allocations he could have taken, he said.

His collective office expenses of about $183,000 were $126,000 less than what the state was willing to pay, thanks to such tactics as not sending out mailers, despite the wishes of some constituents, he said.

He retired after three terms because working as a lawmaker shouldn’t be “a career job,” he said.

A.C. Stickel, former chairman of the Blair County Republican Committee, credited McGinnis for keeping those promises.

“I didn’t always agree with him,” Stickel said. “But here’s a guy who said, ‘This is what I’m going to do,’ and he did it.”

A day after the town hall, in the aftermath of a Logan Township supervisors meeting, McGinnis illustrated his approach as a lawmaker while talking about two major issues — the proposal to eliminate retroactively the statute of limitations for sexual assault and the proposal to put the question of redistricting to a referendum vote.

Eliminating the statute after the fact violates the principle against tyrannical ex-post-facto fiats established with the Magna Carta, McGinnis said.

The failure of Repub­licans to put redistricting to a vote of the people — who deserve to have such a vote — is a massive example of Republican hypocrisy, as party leaders advocated for it for many years, but rejected the opportunity to actually do it when they had the chance, for fear of reducing their chances of keeping their jobs, he said.

“It’s just so self-centered,” he said.

“We need more people who stand up for their principles,” Stickel said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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