Shedding Party Labels

Member Group : Commonwealth Foundation

Have you heard the term "fight the good fight"? At first glance, the phrase seems incongruous. How can a fight be good? However, when we come to understand the nature of advocating for beneficial public policies — often working for years to see results — the words meld seamlessly.

The same applies to a question posed to me after my recent election as chair of the Board of Directors of the Commonwealth Foundation, an organization with which I have been proudly associated since 2011. How did a registered Democrat and the daughter of former Democratic Gov. George Leader find a place on Commonwealth Foundation’s Board?

Some might say the relationship seems a stretch. Or does it?

Many know the Commonwealth Foundation as the champion of issues ranging from pension and labor reform to educational opportunity, liquor privatization and responsible budgeting. My first interaction with the Commonwealth Foundation, however, centered on an issue near to both my heart and my father’s heart: prison reform.

For two decades, my father worked tirelessly to reform our broken corrections system. He was passionate about delivering a common-sense solution to a very real problem affecting thousands in Pennsylvania. Together, we led the creation of a transpartisan coalition to address the corrections crisis.

Groups joining this coalition came from across the political spectrum and included the ACLU and the Commonwealth Foundation. Working for a common cause, we saw the fulfillment of a multi-year vision: the historic 2012 criminal justice reforms, passed unanimously by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Tom Corbett.

While those reforms were signed by a Republican governor and implemented by his corrections secretary, John Wetzel, Gov. Wolf — a Democrat — also praised the reforms and retained Secretary Wetzel. In fact, Wolf and Republican leaders in the General Assembly are leading a new push to build on the successful results of the 2012 reforms. Why? Because good policies transcend political parties.

In the same way, the policies Commonwealth Foundation advocates are not driven by partisanship but by principles that transcend party labels.

As my father and I — both lifelong Democrats — became more familiar with the work of the Commonwealth Foundation, we found not one policy proposal with which we disagreed. Whether prison reform to fix an ailing system, pension reform to put our state on solid financial footing, or paycheck protection to respect the use of taxpayer dollars, the Commonwealth Foundation’s proposals represent common-sense polices.

And, as we saw with prison reform, sound ideas pledge allegiance to no political party. Indeed, as I talk with friends — many of whom are also Democrats — about policies such as pension reform and paycheck protection, to a person, they agree.

Unfortunately, labels distract from this truth, and they can rob us of the ability to join together to enact lasting change. But remove the labels, and we can achieve great things, as we did with prison reform.

Some look at organizations like the Commonwealth Foundation, assign partisan motives to their work, and cast unfounded aspersions on the makeup and intentions of their supporters.

But the truth is, the Commonwealth Foundation’s supporters are people like my father, an entrepreneur and avid believer in the positive power of free markets and the value of common-sense reforms that enable all Pennsylvanians to flourish.

Throughout their lives, my parents started three successful healthcare businesses. They understood the requirements of launching an enterprise, providing a quality service and creating jobs in Pennsylvania.

That’s why, as entrepreneurs, they chose to invest in the Commonwealth Foundation’s work — because good policies transcend parties. And that’s why the overwhelming majority of the Commonwealth Foundation’s 1,300 investors across Pennsylvania are also entrepreneurs, like my parents.

Today, the Commonwealth Foundation continues working to create opportunity for all Pennsylvanians, help the poor break cycles of poverty and empower parents to choose the best education for their children.

I am honored to be part of the Commonwealth Foundation neither because of my political party nor in spite of it, but because common-sense policies can erase party lines and elevate people rather than a political system.

Jane Leader Janeczek is a member of the Commonwealth Foundation’s Board of Directors and will assume the role of board chair in July of 2016. Janeczek is also an owner and director at Country Meadows Retirement Communities, a company founded by her late parents, former Gov. George Leader and First Lady Mary Jane Leader.